Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sermon: David and Goliath: Let No One Lose Courage!

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Sunday, June 28, 2015
I Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Listen to the Sermon Here!

David and Goliath: Let No One Lose Courage!

            Sisters and Brothers: I have a confession. I am not a particularly patriotic person.
            I do, however, strongly identify as a southerner, having been born in Tennessee and spent most of my adult life in Atlanta. When my Uncle Wayne, who lived his entire life in the small town of Burlison, TN, met Matt, to whom I had recently become engaged, he asked where he was from. When Matt responded that he was, actually, Canadian, my Uncle Wayne paused for a country minute. He was a man of very few words, and after a small eternity, he responded with, “Welp. At least you ain’t a Yankee.”
            This was as much of a welcoming embrace as Matt was going to get, and I took it as a victory. So, as we come to today and look to celebrate this nation’s independence from England, singing songs of patriotism and national pride, I do so with some trepidation. My identity as an American has never defined me. And yet, I feel particularly defined by my identity as a Southerner. Last week, as I sat in session during the North Georgia Annual Conference and listened to the devastating news of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, my heart broke as it tried to make sense of the tragedy. Racism is a woven into the fabric of the part of the country I identify as home, and stories like this are sadly unsurprising. I listened as South Carolina’s resident BishopJonathan Holston offered a statement saying that, “As a people of faith committed to social justice and opposed to gun violence and racism, we grieve the lives lost and destroyed by this horrendous act of violence. The reality is that no one is unaffected. We are all impacted by the horror that occurred in this place of worship.” And, what we saw was an unparalleled outpouring of grace and forgiveness from the people who loved and knew the victims of the shooting. Grace.
            God shed his grace on Thee.
            This is our prayer, is it not? God, shed your grace on us. And yet, it is so astonishing when we see it happen. When grace is stronger than hate or retribution. When people look into the eyes of someone so blinded by hate and respond with love and compassion. God, shed your grace on us.
            The conclusion of the North Georgia Annual Conference led us to voting on resolutions that broke my heart. I spent last Friday in prayer, as my sisters and brothers offered speeches on the floor of conference in support of the removal of the discriminatory language in our United Methodist Book of Discipline.  I listened, and hoped, and prayed. And then we voted. The resolutions failed, 60%-40%. The very next day, I sat in Redlands at the Cal-Pac Annual Conference with our delegates, and listened and prayed and hoped, as the resolutions passed with an overwhelming majority. In one week, I watched as my LGBTQ friends experienced a great sadness, as their push for equality in the church was defeated. Then, this Friday, I awoke to the news that the Supreme Court of the United States ofAmerica announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, holding that states must both allow same-sex couples to marry and recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
            One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
            And yet, as I celebrated and rejoiced and cried with my friends who were suddenly viewed as people, equal in the eyes of the law, I felt a sorrow in my heart because I still cannot, without consequence, officiate the wedding of a same-sex couple. It should be the hope that the church would lead the world in justice issues, but I cannot deny that the UMC is lagging far behind.
            I watched as Barack Obama offered theeulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and as I received the news of friends receiving marriage licenses, his words became the soundtrack to their joy: “The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith... They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. We are here today to remember a man of God, who lived by faith, who believed in things not seen, who believed that there were better days ahead, off in the distance.” These beautiful words were juxtaposed for me against the backdrop of my news and social media feeds. I thought about my friends Bill and Matthew, an interracial gay couple who will celebrate their 41st anniversary this fall. I thought about Don and Dave, who have been together almost as long as I’ve been alive. I thought about all of the people who persevered in their hope, who believed there would be better days ahead, off in the distance, when they could name – without fear – the person with whom their family was made. It was a day when the giant of hatred and discrimination felt as though it had been toppled by a stone thrown by a courageous and faithful opponent.
            Today, our text is one that is familiar to most of us. The story of David and Goliath is one of the first indications for us that the king that God has chosen from the branch of Jesse is a boy who is equipped with courage and faithfulness. The text is careful to spend adequate time detailing Goliath’s strength and might: he was a man, more than 9 feet tall, bearing armor that weighed 125 pounds. He carried a staff that was as long as the bar on a weaver’s loom, the head of which was 15 pounds. Goliath emerges from the ranks of the Philistines, a champion fighter, unabashedly confident. What is at stake for the Philistines is freedom, as Goliath makes the cavalier promise to become the slaves of the Israelites if any amongst them is able to fight and kill him.
            In the face of this mighty opponent, we find Saul and the Israelites, distressed and terrified. There is none among them who could single-handedly conquer this beast. It would take all of their ranks to begin to defeat him, and they were unprepared for the possibility that this battle wouldn’t be waged in formation. But, morning after morning, for 40 days, they took up their position against the Philistines, prepared and ready for battle. And, morning after morning, for 40 days, Goliath emerged from the Philistine ranks and shouted his speech at them: “Give me an opponent, and we’ll fight!”
            Now David, the youngest son of Jesse, was present on the 40th day. His father had sent him to bring provisions to his 3 eldest brothers who were fighting amongst the Israelites, and he hears the speech that Goliath has repeated each of the last 39 days. David asks his brother, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26) David is brought to Saul, the commander of the Israelite army, and he tells him, “No one should lose courage because of this Philistine!” as he volunteers to go and fight him. No one should lose courage, David declares, because of this Giant. This enemy. This force of evil in the midst of our company. This boy, a shepherd, not a soldier, tells the leader of the army, to have courage.
            As can be expected, Saul doubts David’s ability to stand up to Goliath. “He has been a warrior since he was a child, and you are just a boy!”  But, David reminds him that he a shepherd, the keeper of sheep. He may not have been trained in battle, but he has rescued his flock from the jaws of lions and bears. David is a boy, yes, but a boy of great courage and determination. “This Philistine will be just like the lions and bears, and the Lord who rescued me from their power will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”
            The source of our strength, sisters and brothers, is the same as David’s. We draw our courage and ability from the persistent and ever-present God who has been with us through the ages. I think back on this church’s history, and all that you have done for the community. You have provided shelter for the homeless, you have prepared thousands of meals for the hungry, you have worked to teach and support countless people in this community and in Tanzania. You have provided a safe and welcoming place for those who were dying of AIDS. You have said yes to families who were rejected by other churches. You have raised children, grieved one another’s losses, struggled through difficult times and never forgotten that you are a family – the beautiful, beloved Body of Christ, that is unified by one thing: love. God’s love. It is in this that you have always found your identity. It is in this that you have grounded your authentic welcome to all who would walk through these doors. You have never, ever forgotten that you were called to Love God and Love One Another, and it is in this that you draw your greatest strength!
            As we look ahead to the future of the church, I am filled with hope. This congregation is beautiful and ruddy! We are shepherds, not soldiers. We are not trained in the ways of battle, but in the ways of protection and compassion, willing to rescue our vulnerable ones from the mouths of wild animals. I believe this is why the tragedy at Mother Emanuel AME has provided the ability for us to address racism and gun violence as a country; because they were the courageous and faithful people who responded to their loss with forgiveness and grace. They are modeling for us how the church can be the locus of change, leading, rather than following.  
            Soon, we are going to be faced with a choice about our identity as Methodists, and you have already declared what you believe: that we are people with the power of the crucified and risen Lord on our side! You have never backed down from what was right, because of this. The battle ahead of us – the one we will be waging at General Conference – is bigger than we are. The battle to strike down the giant of racism, homophobia and discrimination looms over us.
            But, what that giant doesn’t know is that we have the power of God’s love and might on our side. In our bag, we hold one, smooth stone: the stone we received in our baptismal remembrance. David chose 5 small, smooth stones from the stream bed. But our stone is chosen from the font. This stone is just a small token of the promise made for us before we could ever understand it: that we are created, loved and cherished by God. This smooth stone is our weapon against fear and hatred. This smooth stone is what will protect us when we stand up for what is right, when we face the giant of injustice and when we demand that all people be treated with dignity.
            This smooth stone is our weapon, not because it is designed to do harm, but because it reminds us of our true identity: as people who are called, chosen and beloved by God. In the scripture Marilyn read for us, Paul writes to the Corinthians that they carried “the weapons of righteousness” as they persisted in their faith and ministry. “Look! Now, is the right time! Look! Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:1-13) In our right hand, we hold the weapon of righteousness, which will slay the giant of hate with the power of love.
             The difference today is that there is nothing at stake if Goliath loses. Goliath promised that the Philistines would become the servants of the Israelites if he was defeated. The Goliath of racism and homophobia is immense, and yet, if we are able to defeat it, there is nothing lost; no freedom is sacrificed. The only consequence is a more perfect union. A place in which all people may be truly free to pursue life, liberty and happiness, without fear!
            In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

1 Samuel 17, 1-49 - David and Goliath

Narrator 1: Catarina Paton                                     Goliath: Matt Flemming
Narrator 2: Lauren Smith                                       David: Owen Blum
Narrator 3: Jay Sowell                                            Saul: Jackson Flemming

NARRATOR 1: Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armored with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel:

GOLIATH: Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together!

NARRATOR 2: When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left someone in charge of the sheep, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. David said to Saul,

DAVID:  Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.

SAUL: [to David] You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.

DAVID: Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.

SAUL: [to David,] Go, and may the Lord be with you!

NARRATOR 3: Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them.

DAVID: [to Saul, struggling] I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them!

NARRATOR 3: So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David: 

GOLIATH: Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? 

NARRATOR 1: And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David:

GOLIATH: Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.

DAVID: [to Goliath] 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. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand!

NARRATOR 2: When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. David 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. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand.

NARRATOR 3: This is the word of God, for us, the people of God.
ALL: Thanks be to God.