n the name of God who creates life,
In the name of the Savior who loves life,
In the name of the Spirit who is the fire of life.
As some of you know Kate and I have two dogs. There’s Carter, a coon hound mix. He’s lanky and tall, kind of like a beagle on stilts but built like a greyhound. The other is Tater. He’s a Feist, a type of terrier. He’s short, in fact about half of Carter’s height, and rather scrappy. The two of them get along like brothers and enjoy wrestling. It’s easy for Carter, being the tallest, to get the better of Tater when they wrestle. Tater, has though, developed a strategy to deal with Carter. They face off, teeth bared, but still playful, the bell rings and away they go. Tater runs underneath Carter from front to back…before Carter realizes what has happened Tater has turned around and bites on Carter’s leg.
You laugh…but that goes to show…we all love a good underdog story.
In today’s reading from Samuel we hear the ultimate underdog story, David defeating Goliath, with only his sling and five smooth stones for ammunition.
It’s worth going back to the scene of this epic battle. The Israelites and the Philistines had been facing off over this valley for quite some time. There were likely some skirmishes, but the writer of text points out the most unusual occurrence in this battle, twice a day the Philistine army has Goliath come out and taunt Saul and his army; Goliath, this massive warrior, standing somewhere between seven and ten feet tall. His armor and weaponry so heavy he needs an assistant to help carry it.
Can you imagine someone matching this description standing just outside the church daring us to come out and face them? We’d all be frozen in our tracks.
And then if the story doesn’t get odd enough, in comes David. He had a job to do, and it wasn’t to go out and fight Goliath…yet. He was still a shepherd and was moonlighting as armor bearer for Saul. He had a flock to tend to, and then would run supplies to the troops. We do know at this point though that David has stood out, as we read last Sunday of his anointing by Samuel to be the future king. But in this moment, in this battle, David is the shepherd boy that is far from being a soldier of the line, let alone king.
As they are frozen there, facing this giant’s taunts and threats, David comes forward makes the bold claim “I can do it” “I can rid you of this meddlesome Philistine”.
The only thing that rang out louder than the taunts of Goliath in the valley that day was the laughter as David stumbled about in the armor, helmet and sword. But to do battle with the giant, David could not be untrue to whom he was or how he was called by God. He shed the armor and helmet, dropped the sword and marched off with a sling and five smooth stones.
He squares off against Goliath and Goliath launches into the challenges, taunts and a fair bit of ridicule directed to the diminutive Israelite, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” He views David as unworthy to approach for battle “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.”
And David retorts with what can only be called an epic level of trash talk to the giant! It might be seen as ego so big for such a small package, but when we take a closer look at David we see why he had such confidence to confront the warrior, and it wasn’t because he was anointed last week and was already making royal plans. If David only brought one stone to the fight that might be a little cocky, but in his satchel were five smooth stones.
Five smooth stones…
The vicar of St. Martin in the Fields in London, the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, observed recently that we may better understand David if we look at those five stones metaphorically.
 “Proper 7, Year B,” accessed June 22, 2018, http://lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp7_RCL.html.
The first stone – David knew how and who to serve. He was a shepherd who cared deeply and passionately for the flock he was given responsibility for by his father. If a sheep was taken by a lion or bear he would track it down and rescue it, killing the predator if he had to, so the lost sheep could be returned. David saw the holy calling of service.
The second stone – The strength of God found in God’s creation. As a shepherd David knew the land, the streams, the forests; to use a bit of a cliché, he was at one with nature…he was aware of God in creation. This wisdom was tested when he took on the predators that threatened the flock, and again when the giant threatened the Israelites.
The third stone – David knew himself. He was aware of who he was, created in the image of God, and blessed with gifts and strengths that are uniquely his. His awareness was such that he refused to put on the armor of someone else and go only with the armor God had given him.
The fourth stone – David knew God was on the Israelites side. David approached the giant and made the bold statement “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.” David claimed the covenant, the promise of God to Israel. He did not make personal claims, or boast of the army, or even his own strength. He held up the promise of God and knew in his heart that the promise would hold.
The fifth stone – David knows how God works. He walked with God every day, he knew God; there wasn’t just promise there, there was a relationship. David could be bold and go in with his own armor, as ridiculous as it may have appeared on the field of battle, because he knew the power, strength and might of the Lord of hosts.
We love a good underdog story. We admire the underdog, we root for them, we see in them examples of how we want to be. In David we see… the servant, one who is close to God, has an almost intimate knowledge of the ways of God, and the courage to face danger with only what God has given him.
But here’s the irony…David became Goliath.
David eventually rises to take his place as king; a kingship that has the markings of a soap opera – a quest for power, pride, disobedience to God, treachery, adultery and murder. Mixed in with a fair amount of contrition and instruction to Solomon on his
death bed to “keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes”, oh and don’t forget to take revenge on Joab for me.
It can be argued that David became Goliath, and it would be easy to look into how he moved away from the five metaphorical stones. But, as much as we admire David…the shepherd…we too can find ourselves rooting for the underdog, but becoming Goliath.
What does our version of Goliath look like? Surely we don’t aspire to become king, fall in love with the neighbor’s wife, send him off to battle to die so we can marry her, and spend a good portion of life repenting. I think history had enough with just one David, but our Goliath-self is just as real as what David became.
It begins when we lose sight of serving others. We turn inward and become blind to the needs of our sisters and brothers. We become oblivious to the hurt in our community and the world. We put ourselves first. Sure, we may claim to love our neighbor, but our words, our thoughts, our actions say just the opposite. At this point we’re rooting for David and mimicking Goliath.
Once blindness and indifference to others sets in we no longer can see God in our world. The forest, the river, the sea, the sky become images to satisfy us and no longer the life giving testimony of the living God.
 “Oremus Bible Browser : 1 Kings 2:2-4,” accessed June 23, 2018, http://bible.oremus.org/.
It then becomes so easy to fall for the trap of putting on the armor of others to the point we no longer know of the armor God has given us. We live, we work for stuff, for status, for goods. We take on personality traits we despise when we see them in others. We lose awareness of the beautiful, strong, blessed gifts that God has given to us. Or worse yet, we use them to hurt and wound.
When we are blind to others and to God, and we no longer know the gifts and strengths God has given to us, we forget the covenant. Our relationship with God is built on covenant, the covenant found in Baptism. As we take on more of the traits of Goliath it gets harder to remember the unique place we have in the heart of God.
And then finally, we find ourselves out of relationship with God. God is still there, lovingly and patiently waiting on our return, but our transformation to Goliath goes complete when we no longer know God.
Each of us at some point or other wondered down this path to Goliath. We know the turmoil that it brings to our soul. We understand the gut wrenching, heartfelt contrition that David knew in his life. He felt the call to be the young shepherd again. And we are called back to our Good Shepherd. Thomas Merton offers us a poignant reminder: “The measure of our identity…is the amount of our love for God. The more we love earthly things, reputation, importance, ease, success and pleasures for ourselves, the less we love God. Our identity gets dissipated among a lot of things that do not have the value we imagine…and we are lost in them. And everything God gave us we have reduced to nothing”
In the Gospel reading from Mark today we see an image that captures this turmoil and loss in our soul. The disciples were with Jesus in the boat “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped…they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
When we find our souls in the storm it is time to take stock, are we moving away from the shepherd David and to Goliath? It is the time we ask “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And our teacher, the Good Shepherd, says to us “Peace, be still!”
Stop and look for those in need, they are indeed there.
“Peace, be still!”
Look at the wonders God has made – the earth, the sea, the sky, the heavens – and God was not finished until he created you too.
“Peace, be still!”
God has blessed you with armor! You have strength in the gifts that are uniquely yours.
“Peace, be still!”
God has made a promise to you, you are loved and cherished, and God will not abandon you ever.
“Peace, be still!”
God will walk with you and face every Goliath along the way, just as he did for David.
“Peace, be still!”
The world has enough Goliaths…”Peace, be still!” and hear the call in your heart of the Good Shepherd.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Thomas Merton Contemplative Critic, 1981.
 “Proper 7, Year B.”