Based on 1Samuel 17:32-49, 2Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41
One of the first stories that all of us learned in children’s Sunday school is the story of David and Goliath. Everybody loves an “underdog” story (which in fact are most of the stories in the Bible) and roots for the longshot. It is difficult for us to believe that young, underpowered David can best Goliath – but David had a power that Goliath didn’t. David knew that he was the chosen of God as were the rest of the Israelites. David didn’t try to beat Goliath with his physical strength – David made use of his spiritual strength and wisdom and thus overcame his foe. Whenever I face a new conundrum, it often looks bigger and more daunting than it really is. Challenging situations in our lives (e.g., COVID-19, the coming schism in The UMC) can quickly go from normal human size to Goliath – can’t they?! When viewed in real time, some issues seem so large, formidable and fierce that no human power could ever tackle and overcome them. Those insoluble Goliaths taunt and rule over us until we discover how to use our gifts and relationships to our advantage.
Goliath of the Bible (who we hear about once again today) is not to be understood as a person as much as a metaphor. The idea of a Goliath has certainly captured the human imagination, however. To show you the influence that biblical stories have had on life, consider all the enormous specimens of animal which carry the name Goliath. There is the Goliath bullfrog, the Goliath grouper (a large ocean fish), the Goliath Bird-eater (a huge tarantula spider), the Goliath beetle and the Goliath Stick insect to name just a few. In the Bible, Goliath of Gath was said to be somewhere between 6 and 8 feet tall. He was obviously quite broad and powerful as well – likely weighing in at more than 300 pounds (before he put on all his armor and gathered his sword and spear). One translation of the biblical Hebrew calls Goliath a “space eater” instead of “Champion”. Certainly, if Goliath of the Philistines ever existed, he was a guy with whom to be reckoned and one who would be impossible to ignore or combat.
All of us have encountered “Goliaths” at one time or another in our lives. The question before us is whether we believe we must beat our Goliaths alone, or truly believe in our status as beloved children of God (like young David did) when we confront these overpowering and fearsome life challenges. Our scriptures reinforce this idea of God-given strength, not only in 1Samuel but when Jesus stills a huge storm that is about to swamp the boat in which he is sleeping. Paul writes another letter to the believers in Corinth letting them know of the Goliath-sized issues he has faced down all through the almighty power of God. Before we go any farther, let us go to God in thanksgiving that we can call on God when we face problems larger and stronger than we are…
Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth about living fully into the relationship of God through God’s grace. Paul notes that as a servant of God he has had to endure more than his fair share of “calamities”. He has overcome these Goliath-sized issues through, “…purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness in spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God…”. He notes that the world sees him (and all who follow Jesus the Christ) as imposters, unknown, those who are dying, those who are punished, sorrowful and impoverished – but the reality is anything but these negative and marginalizing views. After all, the grace of God has defeated these worldly obstacles and put all believers on the path to salvation.
Jesus had been teaching the crowds with parables all day while sitting in a boat. When evening came, he asked to be taken to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was exhausted and went to the back of the boat to rest. A huge storm blew up and the wind was causing the waves to swamp the boat. Though many in the boat were seasoned fishermen, they began to fear for their lives. This storm was too powerful for all of them to conquer using their strength and experience, so they turned to Jesus in last resort. They woke him and asked if he knew they were all about to die? Jesus calmly “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” Once the Goliath-sized problem was solved, Jesus turns to the Disciples and asks why they were afraid and an even more telling question, “Why is it you still have no faith?”
At the end of last week’s reading from 1Samuel we hear that upon the anointing of David by Samuel that, “…the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward….” It is good to remember this as we see David confront Goliath of Gath in today’s reading. David did not go into battle against the huge and taunting giant alone, notice in verse 37, David says, “…The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine….” Saul, trying to protect David, put his armor on the boy. David couldn’t move – and knew he didn’t need that armor anyway. He picked up five smooth rocks and went out to meet Goliath. The gigantic Philistine warrior taunted David, who threw the insults right back. David was certain that God would help him defeat his enemy…and that is just what happened.
The Philistine and Israelite armies gathered across from each other on hillsides with a valley in between. Each morning, Goliath would march out into the valley and taunt the Israelites – daring someone to come down to fight him. If the Israelite won, the Philistines would be in their service, if Goliath won, the opposite would be true. No Israelite warrior dared to go against Goliath – he appeared to be too mighty for any one human. So, they endured 40 straight days of taunting, each day wearing on their resolve and their sense of self-worth. All of them, including their King, forgetting that they were the chosen people of God. Saul (the King) knew that the spirit of the LORD had departed from him, and he knew it was folly to go against the Philistines without the LORD’s presence.
Into this impasse the question of Jesus rings out, “Why is it you still have no faith?” Why is it that the soldiers in the Israelite army didn’t remember all the great works that God had done for them? Stories that populated their faith about Noah, Father Abraham, about the saving of Isaac, the miracle of Joseph, Moses, Joshua – who led the people to conquer the Promised Land against “giants”? The people had no faith, their King had no faith…only a young, shepherd boy had faith enough to trust in the covenant promises of God. This belief, this faith was what ultimately allowed David to triumph over his Goliath.
All of us have faced a seemingly insurmountable foe over the last 15 months. COVID-19 turned out to be a Goliath-sized infectious agent, even though it is so small that it is invisible to the human eye. Killing millions of people worldwide, and more than 600,000 persons here in the U.S., it is the deadliest infectious outbreak in 100 years. While we in the U.S. have been able to live with it through vaccinations and good public health measures, it is still ravaging much of the world – and it will be with us for the foreseeable future through mutations – and will continue to kill the unvaccinated.
There were some religious people, and some religious leaders who had the mistaken impression that God would save them from this infection, and they needed to take no precautions, they just needed to believe. COVID-19 killed many of these people, because like Goliath of Gath, it is more powerful than human immune systems and it takes advantage of our weaknesses like diabetes, obesity, asthma and COPD, and heart disease. These well-meaning religious folks forgot the teaching of Jesus, who when tempted by Satan said that you should not put the Lord your God to the test!
Confronting Goliath-sized problems in our lives takes courage, commitment and an understanding that we do not enter the contest alone. God is always with us. However, we must tend to the relationship with God by praying, listening, worshipping, reading and learning God’s word, and spending time working with God on the broken relationships between God, ourselves and our world. In this way, the spirit of God will be strong with us, and we will know, like David, that with God all things are possible. God’s presence will keep us from being foolish; it will keep us from rushing headlong into a space where we will get hurt – because we are testing rather than trusting God’s power. God will counsel us on the best way to handle our Goliaths and with God’s help we will overcome. Victory will come in God’s time and in God’s way, but it will happen. The Almighty love of God will always be victorious – even over our Goliaths. Amen and amen!