The Pastor’s Pen – June 24, 2018

jake-anderson-1030-unsplash…the Goliaths among us, and the david within…

June 24, 2018

Scripture: 1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

 

Today’s scripture passage from 1 Samuel is one of the all-time best known and well-loved bible stories.  It has been depicted in paintings that most likely adorn the wall somewhere in every Sunday School and even served as the backdrop to a children’s morality TV show that used to air on Sunday mornings.  And I suppose it is so popular because it is seen as both an affirmation of the goodness and strength of our God against all that is evil, as well as a bow to ‘underdogs’ everywhere.  It is a story that has been referenced so many times it has become common idiomatic parlance for any conflict that pits a much stronger foe against a seemingly weaker one.  We admire the courage and bravery of the young shepherd boy and marvel that he was able to vanquish the much stronger Goliath with such seeming good luck…and of course a good dose of heavenly blessing!

And yet, things always and everywhere come down to perceptions…the way we see things and what we think we are seeing.  Things are just not always as they seem, sometimes they are worse than we imagine and sometimes they are not as bad as we may have feared.  And, at the risk of disappointing many indeed it seems that this little story tucked away in the early part of the bible and early on in the history of the Israelites may also be suffering greatly due to some fairly significant misperceptions.  Not that what the young David did wasn’t amazing and historically significant for the Israelites, but rather in the fact that quite possibly Goliath never had a chance against him.  Not because Goliath was ostensibly fighting against God…but for very different reasons altogether.

The author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book in 2013 titled, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  And in this book Gladwell offers a fascinating study regarding the characters in our particular story.  Evidently there were three classes of military forces in those times, all of which had different abilities and all of which were strong and seemingly invincible as well as potentially quite vulnerable.  There were those like Goliath who were heavily armored and did battle hand to hand in close quarters with sword, spear, and shield.  Goliath was a giant among these armor-clad men and as an incredibly strong man he was greatly feared by any who had to take him on one on one.

A second type of military warrior depended on bows and arrows.  These were able to inflict great harm on others from great distances, showering their foes with virtual torrents of razor sharp projectiles from a distance far enough away from those such as Goliath, even though their arrows were not as effective against any body part that was covered over with armor.

And the third class of military warrior included the ‘slingers’…those who had perfected the art of hurling small stones great distances and with incredible accuracy with the use of a long string which had a small leather pouch in the middle of it.  Winding the stone laden pouch around and around with increasing speed, an accomplished ‘slinger’ could send the projectile at lightning velocity with such accuracy that some were even able to hit birds in the air and strike mortal blows from a distance as great as two hundred yards.  These too were able to fight from a safe distance away from the armored warriors, however they were vulnerable to those who could shower them with arrows as well.

And as we heard in our story, our shepherd boy David had long been a protector of his father’s sheep, fending off lions and bears successfully up in the hills around Judea.  As an accomplished slinger he was unafraid to go up against one such as Goliath even though his foe was heavily armored and of massive size and strength.  And that was because David never intended to go one on one and hand to hand against Goliath for that would have been suicidal.  In fact, King Saul’s handlers tried to get David to wear Saul’s armor but the young lad, strong as he was could not even move within the heavy metal suit.

And so David selected several small stones and along with his trusted sling set out to defend his God and his people against the boastful and arrogant giant in the valley.  And as they say, the rest…is history.  David loaded his sling and twirling it high over his head waited until just the right moment before releasing it and striking the surprised Goliath square in the forehead…one of the few places unprotected by his suit of heavy protective armor.

But that is not all as Gladwell points out, for not only was David refusing to fight on the terms Goliath and his supporters expected but there may have been another reason entirely unrelated to warfare or holiness which made this particular giant sure to be defeated.  You may recall that David approached the opposite side of the battlefield with his sling and his shepherd’s staff.  And Goliath upon seeing the smallish boy standing before him contemptuously berated him and the Israelites asking why they would send out a boy against him with only ‘sticks’.  ‘Sticks’ he referenced, not the single staff David was actually carrying.  And there are those who have surmised that in fact Goliath’s huge stature was possibly due in part at least to a serious medical condition known as acromegaly which is a benign tumor of the pituitary gland causing both giant-ism and double vision!  Goliath may not have even known he was up against a slinger until it was too late.

So what seemed like an impossible task at first was perhaps rigged against Goliath from the very start. This is not to take away from the courage and heart of the young David or to diminish in any way his devotion for and love of God, but rather to say that the strong and powerful are not always what they seem. And to assert as well that the seemingly weaker among us may still have a chance if we are asked to wage battle against a foe who we feel sure will vanquish us…if we are standing in the power of and grace of our Lord…and…if the stones we sling are truth and justice clad over with faith and love.

And I share this background to our scripture passage today because I feel that each of us in fact has been called to go up against a seemingly unbeatable foe…each of us is being asked to stand in David’s sandals and to fearlessly go up against the ‘giant’ that is currently ravaging our nation, our faith, and our brothers and sisters everywhere.  To be sure, this is a call I have shared before…a call to be unafraid and willing to seek first the righteousness and justice of our God in all we say and in all we do.  Above all else we are called to focus on bringing about the justice of God through the living of a life of love in devout and unwavering service to the Holy Spirit.  It is a call that bears the responsibility to stand up for justice and to advocate for any and all who suffer abuse or oppression.  In fact, anything we see or hear of that works counter to Jesus’ call for us to ‘love one another’ must be actively resisted and worked against by those who profess to follow him.

And I bring this notion of call up once again because I recently reached what was for me a ‘tipping point’ in terms of being able to stay silent regarding the state of our culture and society given the direction we seem to be heading in as a nation under the leadership of the current political administration across all three branches of government. And perhaps more importantly I also realized that I cannot expect you to stand for the truth if I am afraid or unwilling to myself.

When I first read today’s passage I was intrigued by how it might play into my thinking, having previously become aware of Gladwell’s arguments.  And the confluence of the passage, the book, and the current state of affairs in our nation and in particular the immigrant crisis made me realize I could no longer stay a safe distance away from the issues that are literally tearing apart the fabric of our nation’s purpose and morality as well as ripping apart the lives of innocent men, women, and children.

This crisis and the response of our government in first creating it and then refusing to take ownership of it before finally capitulating to the overwhelming and universal negative outcry by simply releasing the pressure temporarily with no plan in place to undo the deep harm already caused is just the latest in a long line of scandalous policies, words, and behaviors that have convinced me that we are in deeply dire straits and in need of a new and powerful word of deliverance from our God.

Which is not to say by any means that previous administrations did not have scandals of their own as many are quick to point out, for surely they did and surely there are still consequences redounding to those actions…however never before in our lifetime has there been such a concerted effort both to hijack the faith and, simultaneously to practice and justify the worst impulses humanity is capable of.  Horrific impulses we have seen before, many of which we have been seeking to be healed of and delivered from since the middle of the last century or even in some cases much earlier than that.

Indeed power does corrupt and absolute power does tend to do worse…however absent the guardrails which the current administration has been so assiduously taking down or ignoring altogether there seems to be a real possibility that the current degradation of our society may be in some sense irreversible…and this deep illness and seeming lack of any compassion from the top down seems to be spreading all across our nation as well as to other countries around the globe…countries who may not have the innate ability to weather such a storm as well as we have.

But perhaps I am most disturbed by what seems to me to be the wholesale surrender of and total captivity of our faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the State.  It appears that it has been a willing capitulation which at least in my opinion, has rendered it truly an abomination in the eyes of our Lord.  And not unlike the calls in the book of Revelation not to conform to the cult of empire and to resist being seduced by power and authority, we too, who still believe the gospel must be newly and truthfully interpreted are being called in earnest by the Spirit of our God to stand against the prevailing powers and principalities represented by both the conservative evangelical Christian base and our government and in particular by current practices of the Executive branch that can only be described as demonic.

And if I believed that apocalyptic literature was a ‘future-ing tool’ given to us in order to actually predict the future of the faith, which I do not, then I would be sure that we are in the ‘end times’ that are so often regaled in popular literature and modern versions of apocalyptic theology.  And not because we seem to be suffering under the influence of some extra-human demonic power, but rather as did the writers of Daniel and Revelations I would proclaim that the current evil being done is simply revealing humanity at its worst and that it is most clearly symbolized by the current occupant of the Oval Office.  In short, current policies simply could not be further from the gospel call of our Lord to love and care for one another.  ‘When did we see you a stranger Lord and welcome you?’ And the Lord will answer, ‘Whenever you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you did so to me.’

In fact, if I thought there were such a thing as a one-time antichrist I would say we may be seeing him.  Unfortunately however the President is only the latest in a long line of those who have decided to reject the gospel in favor of and in devotion to greed and prejudice.

And those who say we should respect the office are correct in their assertion…unless the occupant of that office is evil in intent and is taking every measure possible to diminish the actual gospel call of our Lord.  We are not called to offer allegiance to anyone other than Christ.  And to the extent that a particular leader is in fact Christ-like, then as followers of the persecuted stranger and alien who was named Jesus we should support them as well.  However the opposite is also very true…to the extent that a current leader in a position of power is doing harm to our brothers and our sisters, to the extent that our leader is ripping families apart with in some cases a real chance of preventing them from ever being reunited…to the extent that bigotry and white supremacist language and catch-phrases have become the common language of our country’s leader, then that leader must be called out, rejected, and actively fought against in whatever ways are available to us both as Christians and as law-abiding members of our society.  When the ones in power are committing such faithfully criminal acts our memory must be long, and our insistence that they be finally brought to justice and forced to atone for their crimes must never be silenced.

Last week I preached on the notion that there is still good in the hearts of many of our neighbors and friends…and that the Spirit of God is still actively seeking to reassure us that God’s will cannot be thwarted.  However…we each have a part to play in the coming to be of that day of peace, justice, and equality of opportunity…through insistence that the call of the gospel is upheld, through participation in equal redistribution of wealth across all of society, through repentance for grievous sins both past and present, and through the willingness to sacrifice our all, even our freedom in this quest to lift up the love of our God as we seek justice for all oppressed.

As followers of our Lord we simply must find a way to be incensed whenever and wherever we see, hear of, or find injustice committed against a brother or a sister.  We no longer are permitted to stand idly by and to ignore the plight of those being hurt, displaced, or destroyed by the policies of the current administration, policies echoed loudly from a base of supporters still able to convince themselves that eventually it will calm down, that eventually those things that have been said or done which would have totally destroyed any previous occupant of the Oval Office will give way to sunshine and a certain calm. We must take a stand, for these immoral and hurtful unjust actions currently show no sign of diminishing…in fact the only thing that seems to be diminishing is hope and justice for so many who are so unfortunate as to be caught within its web of confusion and pain…along with of course, our moral fabric as a nation.

They are dark days indeed when the highest law enforcement individual in the land uses the bible to justify the evil he is advocating through policies of harm and exclusion…the same scriptures mind you that were used heavily by those who sought to justify slavery prior to the Civil War in our nation.  This wanton abuse and misinterpretation of the revelation of our God is sin of the highest order…nothing could be further from the truth and intent the gospel message…and nothing could be closer to the rationale that was used to justify putting our Lord up on that cross.

Early martyrs were sent as entertainment fodder for the blood-thirsty Roman citizenry to the Coliseum in Rome, where they were cut to pieces by much stronger soldiers with far superior weapons, or, sent in to be torn to pieces by lions and ravenous bears…all the while continuing to lift up the name of our God, refusing to bow down to the power of the State that insisted that they renounce their faith in order to be spared…

And so…I guess the real question must be…if we are silent in the face of the horrific injustice currently being meted out by those in power, then are we not already renouncing our own faith?  Or are we willing to use our own slings of faithful intent and goodness, our own voices filled with resolve and compassion? For our foe may seem unbeatable, mighty in size and strength…but by grace the word of our Lord is greater still…and by grace we will be shown the point of vulnerability in that armor as well.

Yes you can do something about it…and yes it will cost you something…perhaps even relationships with some who you now consider to be close friends…and yes it may cause you to come under scrutiny as one who is not currently in support of our government even though the work and policies of that administration are in truth unsupportable on its face.  Indeed, as followers of our Lord of love, as those who believe in and lift up the gospel call to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to welcome the stranger we can no longer sit by hoping others will do the hard work of resisting the evil amongst us, the hard work of standing in the valley before the arrogant giant with nothing but the sling of the Spirit and the staff of love.  We must speak up and speak out every time the Spirit moves within us to call out injustice, to stand with the oppressed, and to lay down our life in service of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The time is now, the Goliath standing before us must be vanquished, for the final victory is assured.  For those who oppose our Lord in these ways truly do not know who it is in whom we have believed, they do not know the power of our Lord of love.

Like the fight there that day in the Valley of Elah, this too is not a fair fight and the final outcome will prove that the way of love not hate, of inclusion not division, of bridges not walls, of peace not war, of laughter not bitterness, of mutual cooperation not unilateral evil, of blessed community and not tribal loyalty unto the death shall prevail as the Day of our Lord is finally ushered in on the backs of our work in the service of love.

We may not all see the goodness the Lord is calling for on this side of death…but see it we shall.  In the meantime, if you have a heart for our Lord at all, if you have a heart for your brother or sister in need whatsoever…then speak up, write your government representative and let your voice and your vote express how your unwavering faith in the Prince of Peace is leading you to renounce evil and those who would stand in as the false prophets they are wherever you find or hear them.

For the few who seek the Lord in all truth and humility will find the Lord…and it is they who will be asked to lead the rest back into the fold of our Lord.  Are you willing to be among their number?

Goliath never saw it coming…neither will those who continue to stand opposed to our Lord of love…

…amen

Photo by Jake Anderson on Unsplash

 

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