FACING OUR GIANTS
41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field." 45But David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down … 48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
(I Samuel 17:41-46a, 48-49, NRSV)
I try not to make people mad, but I guess it’s just a matter of time when you speak publicly as much as I do. Not only do I speak publicly, but sometimes the topics are dicey. That’s probably the reason why most ministers don’t stay in one church for 25 years. I’ve been lucky, for the most part. One Sunday morning about 10 years ago, I was not so lucky. I was preaching about something I considered noncontroversial: taking care of the Earth. A few minutes in, I alluded to the title of Al Gore’s book, An Inconvenient Truth. I didn’t think this would offend anyone since he had been out of office for at least a decade. I was wrong. Suddenly a person got up, stormed down the aisle, and slammed the back sanctuary door. I’ll say this: It woke everybody up! I was a bit rattled, but of course had to finish the sermon and the rest of the service. Here’s the part of this story I love: At the end of the service after I walked down the aisle, a group of men from our church surrounded me for protection, in case the person I’d accidentally angered came back. For the record, he didn’t. He moved upstate to Buffalo, which I hope was not because of me. The men encircled me, one by one, in our narthex as I shook people’s hands. I love that about our church. We take care of one another.
When David faced Goliath, he faced someone much more dangerous than an angry congregant, and he didn’t have a church community protecting him. He did have God on his side (with apologies to Bob Dylan) which always helps. David was not a soldier. He was a shepherd boy known for playing a harp and composing psalms to sing to God. Travelling to the front lines on an errand to bring provisions to his brothers, you could say he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. With no armor, no military strategists, and no combat experience, suddenly he found himself in a one on one battle with the taunting giant Goliath. And yet he did so without flinching. From a purely human point of view, David didn't stand a chance. But armed with his faith in God, victory was just a stone's throw away.
Here's how it happened. David was acting as delivery boy to the front lines when he heard Goliath taunting the God of Israel. Young David brashly announced that he would take on the giant. King Saul, a tall man, encouraged David to borrow his royal armor. When David tried it on, he must have looked something like a turtle trying to walk on its two back feet. The king had the best armor money could buy, but it was not a good fit for David.
Understandably, Israel's army was shaking in its boots as David strolled out wearing his flip-flops. For protection, David had his shepherd's staff, five smooth stones, and a sling shot. As the Israelites’ army cowered, Goliath's booming taunts could be heard for miles. He knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he could make mincemeat of this pipsqueak in no time flat. This thought caused Goliath to grin just about the time the stone hit him right between the eyes and he fell to the ground. Not one to leave a job half done, the victorious pipsqueak runs over to Goliath, takes the fallen giant's sword, and finishes him off. Their ace in the hole dead and gone, the Philistine army flees while the Israelites suddenly find courage to charge after them.
David's famous triumph over Goliath was what rocketed him to stardom in the eyes of all Israel. The boy wonder, the kid hero, the obscure shepherd who becomes the giant slayer--humanity has long loved stories of little people who beat the odds and prove the naysayers wrong. There is a part of me that wishes that David's story ended right there. Goliath defeated, the credits would roll and David would live happily ever after.
But David's life story is no fairytale. For the triumph he knows in defeating Goliath will later elude him as new giants emerge, ones that in their own way proved more difficult than Goliath. When King David was at the pinnacle of his reign, he battled his lustful heart and lost, having an affair with Bathsheba whose husband, Uriah, was off fighting in David's army. Bathsheba became pregnant, so David arranged to have Uriah sent to where the fighting was fiercest and there he was killed. Indeed, this spiritual boy-wonder, once called "a man after God's own heart," lived for a time as if God did not exist. This man who penned the 23rd Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," found himself confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sordid affair and blood stained hands. Caught red handed, David lamented with the words of Psalm 51, begging God to, "Have mercy on me...blot out my transgressions.....Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin."
Like so many of us, David's life is one of contradictions, extremes, paradox. From Psalmist to sinner, utter jubilation to total dejection, David lived it all. And yet for all of his mistakes, he has always been considered Israel's greatest king, military leader, and poet. He is right up there with Moses in Israel's hall of fame. What made him great and a slayer of giants, probably also helped contribute to his downfall--his impulsiveness. David was impulsive enough to step forward armed with only his staff and slingshot to face a giant. But it wasn't mere impulsiveness. He went forth in the faith that the God whom Goliath taunted would accompany him. And he was right. The Lord was his shepherd and would be with him even if he lost and "walked through the valley of the shadow of death." David would "fear no evil," for God was with him. With no guaranteed outcome, David found courage because of his faith in God.
This story is not just for military historians. It is a story for all of us, because it is our story too. We all face Goliaths, those things in our lives which loom like giants: our fears, our unhealed hurts, our bitter disappointments. We all have them. For no matter how good we may look in our shiny armor that the rest of the world sees, we all become vulnerable at some point in our lives.
Name your giant. Is it an illness--cancer or depression, heart disease or alcoholism that has affected you and your family? Is your giant an addiction to food, or work, or drugs, or busyness? Is your giant insecurity about the future--will there be enough money to send the kids to college, can we pay the bills if one of us loses our jobs, the financial uncertainty of retirement mixed with the real desire to slow down a bit. Is there unhealed grief from a broken relationship or the loss of someone you loved? These are all real life issues and there are countless others. We all have our giants. And we're tempted to hide in our armor and quake in our boots. But like David when he did the right thing, we can face our Goliath with God's help. This does not guarantee that we will defeat our giant, but win or lose, God is with us until the end and beyond.
Part of facing our giants has to do with truthfulness, to ourselves and to others. Jesus said the truth would set us free. Dishonesty has the opposite effect. When we are in denial about our problems, when we deal with a situation in an unrealistic way, the giant gets the upper hand. Only when we face the truth about ourselves and our reality can healing begin. As people in various 12 step groups tell us, admitting that one has a problem is the first step to recovery.
Some of life's giants are the result of making mistakes, either intentionally or unintentionally. People who abuse others, in whatever way, create a giant. The flip side to making mistakes is making amends. We have all made mistakes in the past, and will again. Some of us face a giant that won’t allow us to forgive ourselves. Some of us are perfectionists which can be a giant problem. Accepting that we live in an imperfect world can help. Learning to accept others' imperfections, as well as our own, can inch us in a better direction.
Will we be as victorious over our giants as David was with Goliath? Ultimately yes. Some giants can be overcome in this life--addiction, anxiety, grief, unemployment, disease, and discouragement can be faced and overcome by some people, though not by all. At times it may seem like the battle is a stalemate with little progress. And sometimes just holding our own in the face of overwhelming odds should be counted a success. We all face giants. When we do, may we find strength in God, and a loving community that encircles and protects. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
November 10, 2019
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York UCC
Eternal God, we praise you for your wondrous creation. The beauty of autumn surrounds us: the yellow gingko leaves and the iridescent sugar maples, the ducks and geese flying south in formation and the early ice on Copley Pond. May the beauty that surrounds us also fill us with a deep sense of awe.
We are mindful of those who need your help including people suffering as a result of the wildfires in California and refugees worldwide. Closer to home we remember those facing a terminal diagnosis and those who’ve recently lost loved ones.
Be near these we pray. AMEN.