Looking for Stones

“Looking for Stones”

1 Samuel 17, selections

4And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armoured with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. [Scripture goes to great lengths to tell us how much it weighed, how protected he was!] 8Goliath 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. 9If 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.’ 10And the Philistine said, ‘Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.’ 11When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. [as in terrified… as in standing with their mouths open and legs crossed…]

(Scripture goes on to remind us that back in Bethlehem Jesse had a son named David who is bringing provisions to his brothers who are fighting… He arrives just in time for the battle, and David says to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him. [won’t even do the giant the honor of speaking his name] Your servant (meaning I, myself) will go and fight with this Philistine.”

33Saul 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 tells Saul about how he has killed lions and bears – a little graphically – and he claims he will do the same thing to Goliath.] 37David 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!’

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David 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. 40Then 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.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David …. 44 …‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.’

45But 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. 46This 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, 47and 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.’

48 When the Philistine drew nearer …, David ran quickly towards the battle …. 49 … 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.

The Word of God for the People of God… Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: God of all people, sometimes it seems like the giants of our world are winning. Sometimes it seems like the storms are capsizing far too many boats. With the young woman outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, we ask “Why, God?”

We hold the news of giants and storms next to the news of scripture, stories meant to bring courage, hope, and trust to a world paralyzed by fear. We trust that you still move, God; move off the page and into our hearts. May we find ourselves on your boat. May we discover a smooth stone for ourselves: whatever we need to move in your direction of love. All in Christ’s name, Amen.

As I said earlier, this sermon is different from the one I imagined. I cannot tell this story in good conscience, in a week when nine African American people were murdered in their historic church – while having bible study! – without underlining that I do not believe it advocates – not to mention celebrates – violence. It’s not just because I want to be called a Christian and this happened in a Christian church, not just because I’m a native white southerner raised to be acutely aware of racism in my culture and history, but because I want to be a human being. Anyone who takes this story, of a boy triumphing over a giant, and uses it to say that God wants anything close to what happened on Wednesday night to happen to anyone is wrong, sinfully and dangerously wrong.

In a world where bible stories are increasingly unknown, people still know David and Goliath. Sports competitions, business rivalries, political stand-offs – and in some ways thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughtful book, people who overcome dyslexia, lose a parent at an early age, or experience a near miss with death, not afraid of being afraid, any situation where the underdog overcomes the giant – become “David and Goliath stories.” (Until this week, we would have thought of Stephen Curry facing LeBron James as David and Goliath.) We still tell children about David and Goliath, as a way of encouraging them to take on their fears, even when they are small – letting them know that God is with them, even when they face the big, scary giants of people in their own lives.

As with many stories that we think are just for children, those of us who at least try to be adults most of the time forget there’s something for us, too. We need to consider when we may be like the people of Israel, paralyzed in fear by the giant problems of our own times – or the disciples on Jesus’s boat, crying out for help in the wind and the waves that toss our world.

Preaching mentor and model of being a straight ally, Jacqui Lewis, pastors Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village in New York City. I think she talked about evidence of giants, wreckage of storms, when asked to comment about how people of faith should respond this week. Jacqui Lewis said this: “While the list of dead bodies — black and brown female, male, trans and gay bodies [she included all of those] — lie dead in our streets; while Baltimore burns in the fires where racism, desperation and violence converge; while we wonder if SCOTUS will scuttle gay marriage, the burning question for me is “What are people of faith going to do about it?” Are we to be paralyzed by these things? Or are we, as my Bible says, “able to do far more than we can ask or imagine through the power at work within us” and create the world we want?

Here’s something I’ve wondered, but have no way of ever truly knowing. I’ve wondered if everyone on the other boats at sea that night long ago felt the wind and the waves stop. I mean, did the storm really subside? Did the wind and the waves really stop, or did those on Jesus’s boat just feel like they did? Did those on Jesus’s boat just realize that they did not have to be afraid? That what terrified everyone else was not something to fear after all? That they could find peace in the midst of the storm; in fact, that may be the place to begin looking. I’ve wondered if through Jesus they were able to connect with that power at work in them – and through them, and all around them.

I’ve also wondered about David, David who can come across as a man for the people or self-centered tyrant, David who had to try on the armor and the helmet and the sword before he realized he couldn’t even walk. I’ve wondered if David had that same kind of moment, realizing a power at work in himself, when he reached down to pick up the stones in the river. Somewhere in there he remembers what he’s good at, the ways God has been with him in previous threats, and he does what he has always done: look for stones for his sling. Five smooth stones, the story tells us, fresh and smooth from the river. And facing all of the boasting and brawn and bronze of Goliath, confident that God does not use swords and spears, he only needs one. One small stone.

Friends, when you’re on Jesus’s boat [not when Jesus is on your boat, but when you are trying to stay afloat, listening for Jesus’s kind of peace], Jesus already wants you to know that you do not have to be afraid. Whether or not you feel it, a power far greater than you can ask or imagine is at work. The challenge is to pay attention.

We have a stone. Sometimes we try on other armor, but it doesn’t work. Sometimes we underestimate our stone, because it doesn’t look like much to giants. They just don’t have the eyes to see it. Love is our stone, the power by which we can do far more than we can even imagine. Love is our stone; we who try to follow Jesus are called to practice throwing love. Love is our stone, and we have to know how to aim so the giants get it in the face. Throw a love stone, just one. Do something, do one thing this week, to right a wrong, to communicate a kindness, to create the world you know God wants. A just world. A world in which Black Lives Matter. A world in which gay love is sacred. A world in which all people and all creation are precious. May you sail unafraid, may you stand firm before your giant, and may our world know that power far greater than we can ask or imagine, all in Jesus’s name.