Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sermon for 4 Pentecost

Proper 7B June 24 2012
The Rev. Kate Ekrem

This week my parents bought our 12 year old a Nerf gun. Thus nearly 13 years of forbidding gun toys in my house goes sliding down the toilet in a fit of grandparental indulgence. They also bought Fruity Pebbles, but I won’t go into that My son is over the moon about his new toy, and the reasons he likes it and I don’t like it, seemed to me to resonate with the story of David and Goliath we have today.

It’s just the sort of story a 12-year-old boy would love. Here is David, a young boy, not old enough to join
 the army yet, brining some food and supplies from home to his older brothers who are at the front lines. And the army is in a bit of a turmoil because they are outnumbered, undersupplied, and basically losing to the Philistines. Goliath, one of the champions of the Philistines, is making fun of them, saying he can beat them all by himself. Just send out one person who is brave enough to stand up to me, he taunts them. Goliath, by the way is apparently 9 ½ feet tall, that’s what six cubits and a span translates into. But nobody in King Saul’s army is brave enough to face him. So David says, I’ll do it, send me! I’m not scared. There’s a great scene where David tries on Saul’s armor, but just clumps around in it, like a child wearing their dad’s shoes. It’s too big and heavy for him, so he takes it off. And he beats Goliath with just his boy’s toy of a weapon, a simple slingshot. Enough to make boys everywhere cheer and their mothers bite their fingernails with worry.

And not just with worry about our children’s safety, but worry about what this story seems to be saying about violence as the answer, as the solution to life’s problems. If a mom wrote this story, David and Goliath would talk and find out that they have so much in common, and become friends and go volunteer at the food pantry together, right?  This year in EfM we studied the Hebrew Scripture, and with this story and so many other stories of fighting in the Old Testament, we were often troubled by God seeming to be on one side, condoning the slaying of enemies. Is this what Jesus would do? Didn’t Jesus say love your enemies, don’t fight them? But what can our children and David the shepherd who became a warrior tell us about how to deal with conflict?

First, let me get one sort of misconception about this story out of the way. David and Goliath, what does that mean to us, it’s about the little guy beating the big guy, the underdog winning, right? From the Bad News Bears to Erin Brockovitch, it’s the plot of almost every movie you’ve seen. But it’s not the plot of this story. David’s not really an underdog. He’s about to become King, he’s about to become a Goliath, who goes on to abuse his own power in the whole Bathsheba episode. (We’re actually going to get the whole story of David this summer in the new RCL continuous track, I think Bathsheba comes up in August, so stay tuned.)

If anything this is a coming-of-age story. This is not really a story about weak David overcoming strong Goliath, because David’s not weak. He tells Sault that he’s killed bears and lions that have attacked his flock. With his bare hands! He’s not exactly weakling. He knows his strengths, and he plays to them. He doesn’t mess with the armor he’s not experienced with, but goes with the thing he knows, his slingshot. He knows himself, and he’s willing to be himself, not pretend to be anyone else. And lastly, most important, the theme of this whole story, the whole point that the ancient writer of 1 Samuel is trying to impress upon us, is that David trusted in God. David says to Goliath, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord." So, in a way, this is not really David versus Goliath, it's Goliath versus God, and guess who's the underdog in that scenario?

As we studied these texts in EfM, we talked a lot about what the point was that the writer was trying to get across, that court scribe in the year 800 BCE or so who was putting all this on paper. The theme that comes up over and over again is that God supports those who trust God completely.We often thought, Why does the writer think that jerk is a good guy? How could God support that chump? The scribes of ancient Israel tried to impress on their readers over and over, that it's all about being true to God, totally focused on God. Even a jerk - and David often was, as we'll read this summer -- who continues to keep God as the center of his life, continues to turn back to God again and again, will be able to overcome whatever threatens him. 

So this isn’t so much a story about weak David’s victory over strong Goliath against all odds. It’s a statement about the power of God over everything that seeks to bring us down. Goliath represents all the destructive practices, abuses, and injustices we fight against in our lives. But the good news is that we aren’t alone: God is fighting in us and with us. (credit: William J. Carl III)  Goliath is all the things we are scared of, anxious about. The things we are afraid to face, just as Saul was afraid to face Goliath. They are underdogs compared to God. We have God’s power to overcome them, when like David we can look our fears in the face, know that God has given us the skills and gifts to handle them, and are willing to be ourselves.

And while fighting is not the answer, children know there are bad things in the world, giants that are scary. They battle them every day in the form of bullying, unfair teachers, a feeling that life can be overwhelming (credit: Awaken). Sometimes we can make friends with them. But in our desire to be nice to everyone, we can’t capitulate to bullies or compromise on our values. We have to be able to say, that behavior is not OK, not allowed to do that here. I don’t agree with you, not going to join you in doing that.  Conflict is not always to be avoided.  We have to stand against what we know is wrong. Not necessarily with fighting, but with bravery and determination that David showed.  I hope my children have that, too. Even if not with Nerf guns. 

There is one battle scene in scripture that I really like. It’s in the NT, in the Revelation to John. The forces of good and evil are lined up on the battlefield, the army of white-robed martyrs facing the army of the beast. The army of the lamb marches to battle, but wearing no armor and carrying no weapons. They just sing. And they win. The bad guys just fall down. They are conquered by God, not by any human force. But the army of the lamb is those willing to go into danger, willing to stand up to giants of every kind, without armor, with no other weapons than their hope and their wit, because they aren’t afraid and they trust in God.

As David, the shepherd who became a warrior and a king said, 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 or spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

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