brown bear with blue eyes

Pentecost 4 Sermon

Sermon text: 1 Samuel 17: 32-49

Back in May the website YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, did a poll of Americans, asking which wild beasts they thought they could defeat in an unarmed fight to the death.  The results showed that we are not confident in our abilities, although men were perhaps a little too confident compared to women.  For instance, 72% of people said that they could take on a rat in a fight. 72%.  That’s it.  Thank about that for a second.  That means that 28% of people who responded to this poll thought that a single rat, just one, would win in a fight to the death.  That’s crazy.

Meanwhile 69% of people thought they could beat a housecat, 61% a goose, and 49% of respondents thought they could defeat a medium sized dog in unarmed combat.

On the other end of the spectrum, the almost certain to lose this fight end, 12% said they could kill a wolf with their bare hands.  9% a crocodile, 8% a gorilla, elephant, or lion, and a whole 6% of people said they could kill a grizzly bear.  Really? Who are these confused and misguided souls who are so confident in themselves?  Have you seen the Revenant?  Have you watch When Animals Attack?  What makes 15% of people say, oh yeah, a King Cobra, I can kill that?

3000 years ago, 0% of the respondents said that they could kill Goliath, champion of the Philistines. Goliath, depending on your ancient sources, is either 9’9’’ tall, or, more realistically, 6’9” tall.  He is the Philistine’s best warrior, and the whole of the Philistines are renown for being very good fighters.  That’s their culture.  He’s kitted out with the best weapons of the era, he’s experienced, and he’s covered head to toe in the best armor money can buy—armor that would weigh 125 pounds.  He would be an imposing figure to talk to, let alone fight.

For 40 days Goliath taunted and insulted the Israelite army and their God.  For 40 days no man answered his challenge.  For 40 days no one thought they could win in a fight, even though the reward for taking up the challenge would have been life-altering wealth and position. 14% of people today think they could kill a kangaroo with their bare hands, but I’m willing to think that our response would be the same as the Israelites.

Of course, that percentage changes the day David brings food to his brothers as they are encamped with the Israelite army.  David hears Goliath’s insults and he says, “Someone needs to teach that man some manners.”  So the boy tells King Saul that he will fight the giant warrior.  He will be Israel’s champion.

You have to admire David’s confidence in this situation.  The boy hurls insults back at the Philistine, he doesn’t stand down when he is staring death in the face.  He is confident because he knows the abilities that God has given to him, he knows that the God of Israel is on his side.

If you didn’t know the end of this story you might think that David is a little bit crazy, that he has a death wish.  Sure, he’s defended his sheep against lions and bears, but this is one of the world’s best warriors standing across the pitch.  What gives him the gall to say, “Let no one’s heart fail because of Goliath; your servant will go and fight this Philistine.”?  David is confident because he knows he walks into battle armed not just with a sling, staff, and five smooth stones…he enters into battle with the God of Israel, and God laughs at those who put their trust in weapons.  If David is a bit crazy, then I don’t want to be sane.

With one stone slung the day is done, the fight is won, and David primes the pump once more for his eventual kingship.  In this particular story he becomes a model for us, not just to seize opportunities that appear in front of us, but to trust fervently in God and in the abilities God has gifted us with.

As a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America you must fill out a long document of biographical information any time you are seeking a new call in the church.  It’s called a Rostered Minister Profile.  On one page you are asked to list five Areas of Expertise in ministry and five areas of strength—these are skills and proficiencies that drive your ministry and make you an effective pastor.  The master list has 34 possibilities to choose from and you must narrow it down to two lists of five.  Then you have to explain why those 10 different skills make you you.  Essentially, you are explaining how God has equipped you for ministry in the church.

Imagine David’s list as he tells King Saul he’ll fight Goliath:

  1. Accurate with a sling
  2. Effective with a staff
  3. Quick and nimble on my feet
  4. Competent at conflict management
  5. Palpable trust that God is always by my side

Those are David’s gifts, the skills he has honed on his own while shepherding sheep, and he is confident that he can solve the 6’9” problem that stands before him using those skills.

I love the moment in this story when Saul tries to outfit David with his own armor and weapons, and David looks like Randy from The Christmas Story who can’t walk or move or put his arms down after his mom bundled him up with winter clothes.  Saul tries to make David something he’s not with a coat of mail and a helmet and a sword.  But that’s not how David has been gifted and it would have gotten him killed if he tried to be something he was not. David has the wisdom to trust in the gifts and that God has given him.

To become a pastor I had to list my spiritual gifts.  To fight Goliath David had to announce his.  I wonder, what are yours?  What abilities, qualities, and talents has God given to you?  What makes you unique?  How are you gifted to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Church and ministry are participatory sports…what position do you play?

We might not have a Philistine champion to take on, but we do have a lot of problems to overcome in this world…challenges like isolation, shame, health woes, mental illness, addiction, hunger, homelessness, despair, self-doubt, and every negative “ism” that robs God’s children of their inherent respect and dignity.  Goliaths are everywhere, insulting our God, reminding us that we are part of a cruel, unjust, and wicked world.  What do you bring to the table to take them on?  What five smooth stones do you hold in your bag?

The challenges we face are numerous and great, but God’s grace and greater still.  Together, armed with the gifts of God, we can solve any problem and complete any ministry that we set our minds to.  Our modern Goliaths haven’t a chance.  They are marked men—all of them.  For you are equipped for action.  God is by your side.  And while I wouldn’t want to fight a grizzly bear unarmed, I am not part of that overconfident 6%, I am confident that, with your help, with our combined gifts, we could baptize a bear, confirm it, and never see it again. AMEN

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