Text: 1 Samuel 17:31-37
Theme Verse: “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”(1 Sam 17:32)
The starting gun fires and a rush of adrenaline is released into your body. The multiple stimuli you experience can be overwhelming even as it is exhilarating. The moment of “go” is one that is full of potential and possibility. All of your preparation, all of your hopes, all of your nerves are squeezed into the now. Some go it alone. Some go with God. Who is powering your ‘go’?
(* Note, the sermon opens with a 1min video. The audio is included here. You can find the video embedded at the start of the transcript below. *)
anthem : "Be Still My Soul" (K. von Schlegel) :: Todd Maxwell, tenor; Billie Kay Sawyer, piano
reader : Keenan Barnard
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
closing : "Touch the Sky" (HillsongUnited) :: The Rising Band; Andrea Gross, lead vocal
I had a number of tough conversations this week about the state of racism in our world – some with you, neighbors, colleagues, my own daughter. Perhaps you have as well. In the middle of grieving such realities, I had other pain-filled conversations with friends who are dealing with tough personal realities of other kinds. They all are the kinds of things that make you throw up your hands or shake your head without adequate words to describe your anger or fear or sadness. We experience hard things in life. It can be hard to make sense of it all. We do need to be mindful that there are some hard things we don’t experience because of the color of our skin, the family that raised us, or any other set of particular circumstances that have provided some bubble of protection – sometimes invisible, sometimes more than visible if we can see what Jesus must see. I feel the need to say from the onset of this message: “I love you.” Many aren’t hearing that right now and I wanted to say it out loud. And I do, I love you. It was Nelson Mandela who famously said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” In the heaviness of this time, we can teach love to our kids. We can show love to our hurting siblings of another race. We can take time to be love in solidarity with others who need our voices to say, “There is no place for hate.” For a Savior who walked this very planet said, “Love your neighbor,” whom my nine-year-old son, without solicitation, reminded me this week is everyone. “Love your enemies,” Jesus said. Then he said the most important thing is to “love God and love others.” Then, he simplified it further, “Love as I have loved you.” And if that still isn’t clear, John writes in his first epistle, “God is love itself.” Love is the light in the darkness that can’t lose. Hate as a total eclipse cannot snuff out the light of love even if it streaks across our country tomorrow, the next day, or beyond.
In such a heavy week, I cherished the relief of one phone call I had from a dear friend in this church who said, “This is ‘Go!’ Sunday, right? I’m ready for the ‘Go’!” Heck yeah, “It’s ‘Go’ Sunday!” And I hope you’re all fired up about it. We have blessed our students and educators for another remarkable year and we stand with them on this formative and frontier moment in their lives. To prove my solidarity, knowing that many of you will be posting courageous first-day-of-school pics this week, I thought I’d share a first day of school pic from my own childhood. Now – let’s think about this image for a minute. My sister and I actually pass most timeless tests though when I sent this to her this week, she noted her mullet. She actually responded, “Not sure what I think about that. Let me mullet over.” I’m rocking the Umbro shorts so you can call me on that but the Royals gear is timeless. My big brother, however, clearly dates this picture for us. Here’s the sad news. As any little brother can attest, you live in a world of hand-me-downs. This means, I wore that tragic outfit my brother is wearing some two years later which was at least ten years out of style already. Little brothers out there – I feel you. Nonetheless, kids – rock your outfit this week whatever it may be. Be you and know that you are more than treasured. This church family takes seriously that commitment we make to you to live in such a way that you know we love you, God loves you, and you are welcome among us with open arms and hearts. When many of you were carried as a baby up and down these aisles, we made that very promise and we dedicated you to God, committing to walk with you. You’ve got a village.
So get on with the “Go!” right? That’s what my friend said this week and I hope you’re ready for the “Go!” too. We are in week three of a four-week series we’re calling “Ready, Set, Go!” Ready covered all of the hard spiritual preparation you need to do to ready yourself for the call on your life or the challenge of a new season. Set is the place of greatest potential – you’re aligned with the God of love, you’re read up, prayed up, and friended up for the journey and awaiting the call of Christ to launch. Waiting for clarity, you listen: “Is that the voice of Christ? Is this the time?” ‘Set’ is often the hardest of the three. You can catch up on the first two sermons in the series on our website if you missed them. But today, the ‘Go’ has found us. All of your preparation, all of your hopes and nerves and patient (or less than patient) waiting are squeezed into the now. Some go it alone. Some go with God. Today we ask, “Who is powering your ‘go’?”
David’s not yet the King. Not even close really. He’s just a back-to-school kid who tended his father’s sheep as a summer gig. David was quite clear about who was powering his ‘go’. Imagine David wearing a go-pro camera and the view that would provide for you and me. When the Philistine army put out their program with their soldier’s stats (height, weight, year in school), Goliath stuck out. The text says, Goliath’s height was “six cubits and a span,” which is about 9 feet 9 inches. I also know every coach bolsters those numbers in the program to intimidate the other side. The text of Samuel found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as other early textual witnesses, puts the figure at 6 feet 9 inches, which, while still gigantic perhaps, is more in the Andre the Giant realm. All of that detail is not overly important but you can imagine David’s view the day he faced the giant.
King Saul had sold out already. He was desperate, really. The Philistines put forth their version of Floyd Mayweather or Connor McGregor who challenged the Israelites to put up their best fighter and let the two of them settle the battle between them. None of the Israelites would step up and nobody else was blaming them for that. But Jesse had sent his youngest son, David, to the military camp where three of his older brothers were serving Saul’s army. David, equipped with a care package from home, arrives and finds his brothers. He hears Goliath’s one-on-one challenge to anyone brave enough to fight him from Saul’s army. David began asking soldiers enthusiastically about Goliath’s challenge saying, “Who’s going to step up?” “And just who does this guy think he is challenging God’s army like that?” David’s brothers tell him to “Buzz off” but David persists and word gets back to Saul that somebody’s talking a big game in the Israelite camp as if he can take down the giant. Saul says, “Find that guy and send him to my office.” When David shows up, Saul surely looks beyond him out into the hallway, peering down both directions thinking, “This can’t be the guy.” David says, “King Saul, I got this.” “Uh, no,” Saul immediately responds. He knows this would be a bad political move – the public would tear him apart for throwing a boy out into the ring. David is headstrong but the answer remains. “No!” David persists. “No!” He speaks of lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!) and bravery and dreams. “Absolutely not.” But then David speaks the one word that brings the record player to a screeching halt. “Yahweh,” says David. Saul is as still as can be. “Yahweh?” “Yeah. Yahweh… the great Yahweh who delivered Israel from Egypt, the God who delivered Israel from oppression and destruction time and time again, the God who made you king of this nation. That God has delivered me too many times to count and that God will deliver me against the Philistine.” This moves Saul. He says to the boy, “Then go with God and may the odds be ever in your favor.”
There’s something about the conviction of faith that inspires us to move forward. Maybe this is because we know we struggle with the faith sometimes ourselves. We get challenged by circumstance or heartache or ambiguity and uncertainty – it is a time when all we can offer is a fragile testimony, a contested word, an honest utterance – “Be not afraid, for you have found favor with God.” Even when in mustard seed size, that faith is enlarged by the strength of another’s conviction. This is why we need each other. As iron sharpens iron, our faith – even in the struggle – strengthens one another. A DoC pastor in Kentucky went for a long run one morning. He was in a bit of a spiritual funk himself – it’s not that he didn’t believe or couldn’t lead – his spirit was just a little off and the challenges of ministry were especially full at that time. His long run took him past a Catholic church and, being pretty winded and spiritually weary, he decided to slip into the sanctuary and pray for a minute. He discovered they were having mass and he sat his sweaty-self down in the back row. As he wrestled with his internal fragility, he looked across the aisle where there was an elderly man sitting alone. His appearance left no uncertainty that chemotherapy was a current companion. The oxygen tank and necessary tubing were his only companion in that pew. But he knelt and prayed and when it was time for the Eucharist, he found his way out of the pew to the aisle and forward he went. My friend thought, “That guy right there. That’s the guy I want to ask to pray for me.” As David said to Saul, this man seemed to be the one to say, “Let no one’s heart fail because of this giant; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”
Saul, amazed by his eyes but somehow emboldened by David’s faith, says “Let’s get you dressed.” He pulls out his own armor and starts to put it on David. This is a hand-me-down situation that is going to need another decade to even come close to fitting this kid. Saul puts on the last piece of armor and steps back from David with sort of a bitter beer face, “Feel okay?” David can’t move. It’s like Hayes’s baseball team last spring. One of my jobs as occasional Dugout Manager (put that on a business card) was to dress the catcher each inning. By the time I got the last piece of gear on any of those five year old kids and stepped back, it looked like a bobble head doll – the heavy mask teetering on their little necks, their legs as stiff as boards attached to the 2×4’s meant to protect their shins. I’d pick them up, turn them in the right direction and pat them on the shoulder, “Go get ‘em buddy.” It truly wasn’t fair but…
David quickly notes, “This isn’t me and I don’t need all this stuff.” David trusts his relationship with God, the gifts he has been given, the preparation he has spent investing his life for a moment such as this. Out he goes to line up against the giant. That view! Can you imagine? David saw it differently than most. He pointed to God when most people could only see giants in their eyes. It has been said that faith is believing in spite of the evidence, and watching the evidence change. David was determined in his faith, desiring not to fail God’s heart with hopelessness and despair, but to cling to God as if everything he had known about God was so and true. Mark Feldmeir, a great Methodist pastor, helped me think more deeply about this. “For David,” he wrote, “failure, even to the point of defeat, was not the thing that disappoints God. The way David saw it, hopelessness and despair were the things that fail God – the excuses for why we can’t act, why we can’t try, why we can’t consider doing something that is seemingly impossible according to the world’s standards. There comes a time in life for all of us when, if we are to act as if the promises of God are true, we must realize that we do not have to be qualified to do what must be done. There comes a time when we just have to go ahead and do it, even though we are not convinced by the evidence at hand that we can do it as well as we think it ought to be done. This is a distinguishing feature of a person of faith and it is a feature that has changed the world time and time again. It will either bring down the giants before us or, in the event that those giants get the best of us, it will turn our failure into a sacrament – a means of grace by which God raises us up again.”
Sometimes all we can see are the giants in our midst – the terrifying diagnosis for which we are completely unprepared; the debilitating regrets that keep us stuck in the past; the mountains of problems that keep us stuck in the present; the sin, the fear, the shortcomings, the weaknesses. We see those giants and say, “That David/Goliath deal makes a great VBS story but c’mon man, I’m no David.” Friends, remember, this is back-to-middle-school, David – whose primary battles were coping with acne, a cracking pubescent voice, and passing, “Check ‘yes’ or ‘no’” notes to the girl in Social Studies class. He was yet to be King or warrior or slayer of Giants. He was only a budding young man after God’s own heart. That is all he takes with him out onto that battlefield.
Look – this past week was reminder enough of the challenges we face. The personal battles we all face in life and the communal ones, like racism, are giants before us standing six cubits and a span. And it is daunting in so many ways. I’m not sure how we get through it all, how we conquer the evils or if we can even stay on our feet as we try to figure it out. But step back again with me into time and see what David sees. He’s stepped out onto the battle field… the dry dust filling the spaces between his toes. The voices of mocking laughter surround him, fear from some, outrage from others but he’s tuned it out. While no one else is close to him in this moment, you move up behind him. You’ve pulled out your cell phone and are live streaming this moment. This kid’s back is in the forefront of your screen and looming ahead is a giant… gnarly, condescending, insult-throwing bully. Can you see what David sees? But remember … David is far less concerned with what he sees than how he sees it. He sees with faith. When you examine a life of faith, it will look a lot like courage. Such courage will not remove doubts, but transcend them.
The verses I chose from this famous story this morning don’t include the resolve of this battle. I suppose I imagined you knew the outcome but I think, for the most part, that this story isn’t really about the outcome. Brian Andreas wrote, “Anyone can slay a dragon. Try waking up and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” The giants ahead of us are plenty. And like those kids who opened this message for me, love is going to be the means by which we slay those giants. What is it that David said to the King? “Let no one’s heart fail because of the giant…” That is what we have, my friends. Heart. Don’t lose heart. Don’t let your heart of love fail because of the daily giants that try to hold you back, that try to suppress the loving realm of God from flooding this earth. The first act of courage in the face of every giant is the act of remembering who God is. Yahweh. Deliverer. Love itself. The next is to ‘go’ as if it were so and true.
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opening video: www.umc.org/how-we-serve/advice-from-children-embrace-love
 Mark Feldmeir. “Stirred Not Shaken.” (Chalice Press 2005) The influence of Feldmier’s work with 1 Samuel 17 helped shape this message.