Fourth Sunday After Pentecost 2015

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Year B RCL
June 21, 2015

All Saints’, Bentonville

Hebrew Scripture:

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

[Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 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 armed 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, “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.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 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 the sheep with a keeper, 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.]

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said 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.” But David said to Saul, “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.” David said, “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.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you!” 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. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” 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, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “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.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward 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.

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In the story of David and Goliah we just heard read from the Book of Samuel,

David was elected to engage in the practice of “single combat”, a kind of duel between champions common in the ancient world, this time played out in the Valley of Elah.

We tend to think of the story of the confrontation between David and Goliath as a great mismatch – a classic story of the underdog.  We have David, youngest son of Samuel, armed with just a sling and five smooth stones, doing battle with a vastly superior opponent and ultimately emerging victorious. But is it really the case that David was the underdog?

Consider David and his skills. I grew up thinking of the weapon wielded by David as the kind of child’s toy I sometimes fabricated out of super-strength rubber bands and a Y-shaped tree branch.  In fact, David’s sling was a sophisticated weapon in an ancient army’s arsenal. There were three types of warriors in these early armies: Cavalry – fighters riding on horseback or in chariots.  Infantry – heavily armored men on foot carrying weapons and shields.  And artillery – the archers, and most lethal of all, the slingers.  The slinger placed a stone inside a leather pouch with a rope attached to each side. The slinger would then swing the rope round and round and round, in faster and faster circles and then, at just the right moment release one end of the rope and the stone would fly though the air with a momentum approaching the velocity of a speeding bullet.  A skilled slinger, like David, who first honed his skills in battle against the beasts that threatened the lambs of his father’s flock, was capable of wielding his weapon with deadly accuracy.

And consider the opponent facing David. Goliath was a lumbering giant weighted down with a hundred pounds of heavy armor  – encumbered by the bronze helmet and the coat of mail with which nimble David refused to be burdened.

Preachers and teachers have often attributed the victory of David in the valley of Elah, to the intervention of God on his side, claiming that it would have taken a miracle for a small stone slung by a shepherd boy to find its mark on the forehead of the Philistine. But countless generations of warring nations have laid claim to the miraculous intervention of God on their side.

The battle between David and Goliath was not as unevenly matched as we might imagine. David had unconsciously been preparing for the day when he would face Goliath by guarding and protecting his family’s sheep from marauding bears and lions. The simple shepherd boy had honed his skills, marshaled his God-given resources, and prepared for the day in which every talent he possessed, every skill that he had practiced, could be brought to bear against his foe.

Surely we all desire to have God on our side.  But it’s not enough to simply claim to have an alliance with God. Sending David onto the battlefield to face Goliath, Saul said, “Go, and may the Lord be with you.”  It’s the same prayer we offer one another in the passing of the peace on Sunday morning.  And indeed we most heartily desire that the Lord be with each and everyone of us.  But what do we do, with our actions, to ensure that we are on God’s side.

We can strive to be on the side of God, by playing our role in God’s project on earth.  Each of you has within you the God-given resources powerful enough for you to slay giants

This past week, a young white supremacist, sat for an hour in a pew within the historic walls of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, then drew his gun, opened fire and killed nine parishioners and their pastor.  Our nation mourns.

On the hearts and minds of many of us this past week was the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?”  A better question, I suggest, is, “Why did we allow this to happen?”  Racism is an ugly and formidable giant of an enemy.  It’s image looms large and casts a dark shadow over our country.  The armor of racism is thick and heavy.  Racism’s stance is entrenched in our society.  And the racist is well practiced in wielding the dangerous weapons of hate and violence.

Yet we are no more defenseless in the battle against racism than David was as he faced Goliath. Like David, we have stones in our sling, we just fail to use them.  How many times have you heard a racist joke or a racial slur and failed to inform the would-be jokester that his brand of humor isn’t appreciated.  I know that as a priest whose stance against racism, xenophobia, and homophobia is well know locally, I am usually spared the racist remarks that many of you frequently face.

But shortly after coming to Bentonville, I attended a clergy lunch, where a local pastor, much to my surprise, told a racist joke. Possibly because I was new in town and didn’t want to immediately alienate a colleague, or maybe because I just lacked sufficient courage, I’m ashamed to admit that I said nothing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if many of you have done the same.  Yet when we tolerate racism of any kind, we help create a climate where the extreme kinds of racist violence we saw this past week in Charleston, can allow the racist to imagine that his horrific actions might be well received.

And as a country we continue to tolerate laws that unfairly discriminate against the poor and people of color – unevenly enforced drug laws, police practices, probation and bail bond policies that result in one in four black men landing in prison.

We continue to tolerate an economic system that allows children to be raised in poverty by parents with no hope of obtaining a job that would ever pay them a living wage. And our culture of guns makes it far too easy for anger to turn into deadly violence.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  We can continue to elect officials who allow the lumbering giants of racism and inequality to stalk our land, or we can choose champions like David who can use the ideals of love, truth, knowledge and peace as weapons that can be brought to bear against the forces of hate, lies, ignorance and violence.

David’s sling was a formidable weapon, not simply because he claimed that God was on his side, but because he was well equipped and willing to use his chosen weapon to fight for what was just and good.

With faith you can move mountains.  Faith in God, but also faith in the resources you have at your disposal. Show the courage of David. Align yourself with the forces of good.

In God’s second appearance to Solomon, found in II Chronicles, God said, “if my people who are called by by name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

We can bring the towering foe of racism crashing to the earth with the force of Goliath as he landed face down in the dirt of the Valley of Elah.

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