Date: January 24, 2016
Title: “Heroes, Sidekicks and Onlookers”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: 1 Samuel 17 (selected verses)
David and Goliath is certainly an epic story. It has all the elements – including a hero (David), an unwitting sidekick (King Saul), and onlookers (there’s the whole army of Israel, for heaven’s sake!). It is an epic tale that has moved from the pages of Scripture right into the imagination of secular culture. Think about it for a moment. What do we call it when a small business takes on a corporate giant? We call it a “David and Goliath” story. What about when an unranked sports team enters into competition against the national champions? We say it is David taking on Goliath. Or when a handful of protestors bring down state-sanctioned segregation, we talk about that as a contest between David and Goliath!
It is an epic story, and there’s no wonder we love it. Goliath the Philistine is big, beefy, and belligerent. He stands six cubits and a span – somewhere around nine feet, nine inches tall. He is a giant of a man compared with his contemporaries. Goliath wears heavy armor, he carries a huge spear, he is armed to the teeth with weapons, battle experience, and over-the-top self confidence.
And standing up against him is David – a mere shepherd boy from Bethlehem – who waves aside the armor, and even the sword offered by Saul, in favor of five smooth stones and a slingshot. And he uses those wimpy little weapons to take down Goliath, and to leave him face down in the dust.
So I wonder this morning, as you hear this well known story again … how many of you find yourself identifying with Goliath? Go ahead – raise your hand if you feel like the giant. Not too many of you responded to that. So, what about David – how many of you identify with him? Raise your hand if you think you are more like the little guy.
I have to tell you, when I asked these questions this morning at the 8:30 service, I had one person tell me he didn’t relate to either David or Goliath, but rather felt like he might be a part of Israel’s army. He said he could relate to one of the soldiers in the back, furiously praying that somebody else was going to come forward to fight the giant and get him off the hook!
But isn’t it interesting, how so many of us feel connected somehow to David? We feel the pull of our own righteous cultural conviction, and that makes us want to cheer for the underdog. We love those movies where a small-town attorney takes on the multinational corporation that’s poisoning the water or abusing its workers. We thrill to see Seabiscuit – that undersized horse with the half blind jockey and the over-the-hill trainer flashing past the finish line ahead of all the favorites in the pack. We cheer when the outlandish last-ditch, nothing-left-to-lose battle plan miraculously works.
So we say we identify with David, yet I wonder how much of our lives we spend trying to become Goliath? Samuel Wells puts it this way:
We think it’s quaint and clever that David got by with five smooth stones and a sling, but we spend our own energies stockpiling swords and spears and javelins. We admire the fact that David forswore Saul’s armor and gadgetry, but just look at our cars, just look at our houses, just look at our country. We’ve beefed them up to look like Goliath, with so many safety and security features we can hardly move around in them!
As we hear the story again today, we need to be reminded that the very thing that made Goliath so intimidating, the very thing that made him so formidable – all that armor, all that weight, all those weapons – were also the source of his greatest weakness. You see, Goliath had put on so many layers of protection in an attempt to hide his vulnerability, he had convinced even himself that he could live – and fight – alone. And all he really had managed to do was box himself in, weigh himself down and make it impossible to move.
There is a lesson here for all of us who are engaged in our own epic stories. When we face the giants of our lives – when we are called upon to battle illness and loss, loneliness and confusion, economic insecurity and even our own mortality – it is tempting to try to cover up our insecurities, to deny our fears, and to ignore our doubts. It is tempting to imagine we can convince the world (and thereby convince ourselves) that we need no help, that we are strong in and of ourselves, all by ourselves. But the truth is, we know better.
We know better than that. And David knew better, too. David knew he couldn’t pretend to be Goliath, or even to be Saul. David knew what we all need to learn – that putting on someone else’s armor, pretending to be someone you are not – that is a strategy that never works. David’s genius is knowing his own weakness and his own strength. David’s genius is knowing what works for him and knowing who stands with him. It is knowing that he does not go out to fight the giant on his own, but that God goes with him. David does not go out to fight the giant all on his own. And neither do we.
Sometimes in our epic stories, we choose to hang out with the onlookers. Sometimes we manage the gumption to serve as a sidekick in the action. And sometimes, we find it in ourselves to play the part of the hero. Poet David Whyte reminds us:
It is always hard to believe that the courageous step is so close to us, that it is closer than we ever could imagine, that in fact, we already know what it is…and that the step is simpler, more radical than we had thought…
Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply, and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences…
Whether we stay or whether we go – to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.
Staying close to the way we are made – as beloved children of God – this is what courage is all about. It is about knowing who we are and remembering God who stands with us. This is what moves us from onlooker to sidekick, all the way to become the everyday heroes of our own epic stories.
In just a few months we will welcome the world of United Methodism right here to Portland, Oregon. When General Conference begins, we will have a chance to participate in the epic story of our church. And it may be tempting for us to put on layers of protection to hide our vulnerability when faced with those who do not see faith the way we see it. It may be tempting for us to pretend that we can be strong in and of ourselves, all by ourselves. But we know better than that.
We know better than that. So I pray we will remember who we are. And I pray we will remember God, who stands with us. And I pray we will move from onlooker to sidekick, all the way to everyday hero – right here, right where we are, staying close to the way we are made. With God’s grace, so be it. Amen