>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, June 21, 2009. The text for this week’s passage is 1 Samuel 17:32-40, 48-50.

Last week we looked at the story of the anointing of David. What I hope you walked out of here with last week is knowing that what society thinks about bigger being better doesn’t apply to what God is doing in our community and all around the world. We don’t have to be a huge church to obey the will of God and make a huge difference in our community. We need to be exactly who we are, and we need to make the decision that the message with which we have been entrusted is important enough to share with those around us. Ultimately, that is a decision that each one of us has to make in our own hearts, and it’s a decision that will affect our future as a congregation. And that brings us to today’s passage.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but familiar passages can present a problem for us. To be fair, it’s not the passages themselves, but what happens when we come across them. We have a tendency to put our brains on autopilot when it comes to a passage that we’ve heard time and time again. We’ve heard them so often that we think we’ve heard everything there is about them. The problem with familiarity is that it breeds apathy. I don’t think it’s intentional, but we tend to just shut off when it comes to something that we’ve heard time and time again. All that to say that the story of David and Goliath is one of the more familiar passages in all of Scripture. Even those who don’t profess to be Christians and have never stepped foot in a church have heard something being called a “David and Goliath story” and they have a vague idea of what that means.
We come to the story right in the middle of the action. The Israelite army is on the western end of their territory in the hill country. The Vally of Elah, as this place was called, was an important point of entry into Judah. Whoever controlled this valley controlled the hill country. The Philistine army was camped on one side of the valley, while the Israelites were camped on the other. Every day a Philistine warrior by the name of Goliath would come out and taunt the Israelite army. It wasn’t uncommon for some battles in this time to be settled between one person from each side. The problem is that all of the Israelites were afraid.
We are told that Goliath’s height was “six cubits and a span,” which is roughly 9 feet, 9 inches. Do you remember when Moses originally sent the spies to the Promised Land and they came back petrified because the people that were already there were huge? Joshua and Caleb were the only two that said they could take the land, and the rest were all so scared that they disobeyed God and ended up wandering in the desert for another 40 years. The Israelite army apparently forgot that story, because they were scared by the size of Goliath. The point in that story is that the people needed to trust in God to lead them, and they didn’t. Yet, here we are again, a few centuries later, facing similar circumstances. Now, it was actually Saul’s responsibility, as king of Israel, to answer the challenge of Goliath, but he was also very scared. So, everyday, Goliath would come down from the Philistine lines and taunt the Israelites, but they were all too scared to do anything about it. But then comes David.
David actually wasn’t a part of the army. David is on the scene because he is delivering food to his brothers, and he is supposed to bring back some indication that his brothers are still doing well. While he’s there, Goliath comes down for his daily taunt. David can’t believe what he is hearing when Goliath taunts the Israelite army. For David, Goliath isn’t just taunting the Israelites, but God as well. David can’t believe that nobody has done anything about it. And he steps up and says, “I’ll take care of him.” And the first reaction that he gets is, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Word gets back to Saul, and Saul asks that David come before him. And David stands his ground. He tells Saul that he’ll take care of Goliath.
And what is the first thing that Saul says? “You are not able to go against this Philistine because you are too young.” Isn’t that always the first comment made by the critics? “You can’t do that because” fill in the blank. There will always be critics, people who look for all the reasons why we can’t do something. The world doesn’t need more critics, it needs more people that will look for solutions to the problems, and not reasons why the problem can’t be solved. Once we get a feel for what God is wanting to do in our midst, we should be looking for ways to accomplish our task, not excuses as to why it should be somebody else’s problem.
Think about this for a minute – is your first reaction to a problem looking for reasons why somebody else should take care of it, or is it to look for solutions? When somebody comes up with an idea for ministry in the community around us, are you more likely to join in and look for ways to make it happen, or are you more likely to sit on the sidelines and talk about why we can’t do it? That’s an important decision that has to be made. Are you going to be an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to ministry opportunities? And don’t tell me that you’re a realist, because, realistically, that means you’re a pessimist in denial. Now, does this mean that we should do every single thing that comes up? No. It doesn’t. We have to be discerning about what we do. Some things may ultimately get turned down, but not until there has been a good deal of prayer and discussion on where it fits with who we are as a congregation.
David was not dissuaded by the reasons Saul gave him. He had his eyes fixed squarely on what was important. And what was important was the fact that God would be the one who did the fighting. God had been preparing him for this moment. He wasn’t scared of Goliath because he spent his youth fighting and killing lions and bears. Yeah, Goliath was an awfully big obstacle, but he wasn’t worse than anything that David had seen before. And David was still there, which tells me that he had a pretty good track record in those other battles.
God prepares those He sends. God has been preparing you for something. And because God is the one that has been doing the work in you, I’d say that you are in pretty good shape. It is important for us to keep our eyes fixed on what is truly important, and to rely on the preparation that God has put us through. Most importantly, we have to remember that God is working through us. We can accomplish any task that God has set before us because He is the one who has prepared us and is working through us. David wasn’t prepared to fight Goliath because he thought he could beat the giant. He was prepared to fight Goliath because he knew that God would do the fighting through him.
When Saul finally gives in and lets David fight Goliath, he does something that many of us often do. He tried to make David fight Goliath in the way that he is familiar with fighting. Saul puts his armor on David, and gives David his sword. Now, remember last week when I mentioned that Saul was a head taller than all of the rest of the Israelites? Something tells me that Saul didn’t get any shorter. Can you imagine David wearing Saul’s armor, when Saul was so much taller than David in the first place? David was used to fighting in whatever he was wearing, not in a heavy suit of armor. David was also used to fighting with his sling and bare hands, not with a sword. He told Saul that he couldn’t go into battle with this equipment because he had never used it before. Given time and training, David would eventually fight with a sword and armor, but in this moment, he couldn’t. He had to fight in a way with which he was familiar. He had to be true to who he was.
You can probably see where I’m going with this one. When it comes to doing ministry in our context, we have to be true to who we are. We can’t make ourselves be something that we are not. We have to approach ministry using the gifts and graces that God has given us. We can’t put on the armor and carry the sword that other churches are using because we aren’t familiar with them. What works in one context may not work in another. Once we start trying to be somebody else, we will find ourselves with a severe identity crisis on our hands, or, worse yet, we will fall flat on our faces. And nothing can lead to inactivity faster than failure.
Now, the flip side to all of this is that we can, and must, learn new and adapt our current ministry approaches. I had the honor of being a teaching assistant for a United Methodist polity class while I was in seminary that was co-taught by the seminary president and the president of the United Methodist Judicial Council. One of the things that President Greenway said in that class that really stuck with me is, “The church that got us to where we are is not the church that will take us where we need to go.” He was talking about the United Methodist Church as a denomination, but I think it is very true for all churches.
The things that we did fifteen years ago will not help us reach out to our community today. The world is changing. We have to be able to adapt in order to minister to a changing world. I say this full well knowing that some people see “change” as a curse word. I’m not saying that we change things for the sake of making a change, but we do it to reach out to a broken world and bring glory to God. I want to ease your heart palpatations right now by saying that this is not an indication that we are suddenly going to switch our style of worship. I’m young, not stupid. Having said that, though, we may do some different things during worship from time to time. David didn’t always go into battle with a sling and some stones. He learned, he adapted and he was victorious as long as he listened to God.
We all know the rest of the story. David confronts Goliath, and kills him. The Philistines scatter and David’s fame spreads all over the land. David’s story is written. It is well-known. Our story, not so much. We have before us a blank sheet of paper. We are a modern-day David, sitting at an important crossroad. The question is – will we continue to move forward, towards what God has set before us, or will we sit back and let life happen? I have to tell you, I’m not willing to just sit back. I like to sit back and relax on my own time, but when it comes to what God is doing, I’m not willing to miss out.
I came across a quote this week that I want to leave you with. “When your memories exceed your dreams, the end is near.” What are your dreams? Where has God been speaking to your heart? What is it that God has been preparing you for? Where has God been leading you? Do the dreams that you have for this congregation exceed your memories?