I stumbled upon the text of the first sermon I ever preached. It was at licensing school five years ago. You’ll figure out the text pretty quickly.
Join me now on a hillside in Judah. It is summer. The sun beats down through the humid air. We sweat and look in vain for a cooling cloud or even a gentle breeze. For forty days we have stood here on this hill. We wake up after a restless night on the hard ground. We eat a breakfast of dry bread and cheese. We take up our wooden shields and our spears, and slide helmets on our heads. And we stand in the sun staring across the valley at another army drawn up to oppose us.
We stand every day and listen to the Philistine giant rant and taunt us. Goliath is his name. He stands nine feet tall! His shield is so heavy, one of us could barely lift it. His spear is a bigger around than a normal person’s arm. He stands there in front of his army, in front of our army, and demands a champion come forward to fight him.
It is no wonder Saul hides in his tent all day. Not a man in his army is dumb enough to go forward and be slaughtered by this giant. And good thing, too. If Goliath kills our champion the Philistines will make us all slaves. Slaves! Our ancestors followed Moses out of Egypt as slaves. We do not intend to go back.
But there stands Goliath, taunting and raging.
There is no one, it seems, who can save us from this mess.
And then it goes from bad to worse.
Jesse’s runt son – the last of eight, the boy who spends his days chasing a handful of sheep over the dry, scrubby hillside – he shows up with supplies from home. He points at Goliath and asks, “Why are you letting that man defy our God this way?”
At first, we refuse to answer. Silly questions do not deserve answers. Is this shepherd looking at the same guy we are?
But the boy is relentless. He goes from man to man and at last walks into Saul’s tent itself. “Well, that will teach him,” we say to each other as we watch to see his body come flying out through tent flap. Sulking kings have little time for smart mouthed shepherd boys.
We watch. We wait. We exchange confused looks with the soldiers on either side of us as nothing happens. And then, we gasp in shock.
Out from the tent comes the boy clad in the king’s armor! There is the king’s own helmet. There is his breastplate. There is the king’s sturdy spear in the boy’s hand. But it is not a sight that gives hope. The boy nearly trips as he walks. His arms stick out to the sides like a toddler in a padded winter coat. If it were not our freedom and life on the line, this scene would be comical.
This, at least, the boy seems to know. He shakes his head. He tosses down the spear. He strips off the armor. Free from its weight, he smiles and swings his arms around. We can breathe a sigh of relief. The foolishness is over.
But then the boy bends down and picks up some stones. He puts them in his shepherd’s bag. He looks at the horrified king and springs over the crest of the hill and down to face the waiting Goliath.
You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to know what happens next. If you have ever watched Hollywood movies or watched sports, you know the story of David and Goliath. But, I’d like you to pause with me a moment here and think about what we know should happen next. Let’s put ourselves in the sandals of those men standing on that hillside. They did not know that they were watching THE David. They had not read the Bible. They did not know how the story would end.
In the real world, David would run down that hill and get slaughtered by the giant. He’s nine feet tall! He’s been trained as a warrior from his childhood days. He is going to spear David like a pig. The Israelites are going to be forced back into slavery. This is how it works in the real world, doesn’t it?
That is how it works in our world, isn’t it?
The way to get ahead and survive in our world is to have more power. You make yourself into a Goliath. Our nations know this. Our corporations know this. We know this. We get ahead by becoming stronger, smarter, and more skilled. This is what the TV shows tell us. This is what the books on our bookshelves tell us. This is what we tell our children.
This is why Saul offered David his armor. Saul knew that David did not have what it takes to beat Goliath. He needed something more. He needed to be better. He needed to be stronger. He needed to be faster.
But David knew something that Saul did not. David knew that we do not live in “the real world.” David knew he was living in God’s world.
In God’s world, David does not need Saul’s armor. In God’s world, it does not matter that David has spent his life tending sheep. In God’s world, it does not matter that the Vegas odds were running heavily in favor of the giant.
The good news for David was that God could use him just as he was to accomplish God’s purposes. With a sling, a few stones from the river bed, and the skills and cunning the young David had picked up as shepherd, God would use David to defeat the giant. You see, God was not trapped into thinking that the only way to defeat Goliath was by fighting on Goliath’s terms. God did not send David into that valley to fight a battle he could not win. God used what David could do to accomplish the things God needed done that day.
And the Good News for us is that God can use us the same way.
We get so easily caught up in thinking like Saul and the Israelites. We see the Goliaths of the world and start figuring out how we need to be different to take them on. We start writing down to-do lists. Let’s see, first I need more education. Then, I need more money. Then, oh, I really should get in better shape. Then I need to work through those lingering psychological hang ups. I need a richer prayer life. The list goes on and on and on. We believe and act as if all the troubles in the world and our lives can only be beaten when we are bigger, when we are stronger, when we are faster. They can only be beaten when we are perfect.
But that is not how God works. God takes us as we are and works with what we have.
Just a few months ago a group from this church went down to the Gulf region to rebuild houses. A few of them were skilled with tools. Many of them were not. They brought with them only a willingness to work and learn on the job. They were not perfect Christians. None of us are. But they went anyway. They saw the titanic need and they picked up their hammers. And God got a little bit more of the world in order through their labor.
A little more than 50 years ago, some of the members of this church looked at Bloomington and saw a growing east side. They decided that the people living all the way on the other side of the IndianaUniversity campus needed a spiritual home. So, a group of families left this church and started a new congregation. They were not spiritual superheroes. They simply saw a need in the city and tried the best they could to serve it. The church they founded – St. Mark’s UnitedMethodistChurch – still has close ties to this one. Like this church, it is not perfect. But like this one, it has helped many people in this community face the Goliaths of doubt or despair. Its members – like members here – have been the voice of God in the face of evils in our world.
You can think of stories like these. You may have lived stories like these. You have been instruments of God’s grace in the world.
And today God is calling us all to take up our slings and our stones again.
There are Goliaths all around.
In our personal lives, we are haunted by fears and pains that seem greater than we can ever face. In our world, there are evils that shake the ground with their massive tread. How can people so small deal with problems so large? Surely, we need to get bigger or stronger first.
God says no, we do not.
God can use us right now. We all have something that God can use. Some of us have special skills. Some of us have passions. Some of us have outrage at the evils we see. Some of us are willing to do hard work. And, yes, some of us have hurts and pains and wounds that God can use to help us reach out to others who are suffering right now. Whatever we have, God can use.
So, I invite you today to place yourselves not on that hillside with the terrified soldiers, but outside of Saul’s tent with the young shepherd, David.
What Goliaths do you hear raging in the valley?
Look down around your feet. What stones are there that you can use?
Take a deep breath and pause for just a moment. What work does God want to do with you today?
God can use us all, just as we are. My prayer today is that we will each of us listen for God’s call and join in that adventure with David, bounding down the hillside and into the world that God is creating even today.