A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, June 21, 2015, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures: 1 Samuel 17:1-50
Copyright © 2015 by Jeffrey S. Spencer
Typically in June, we pick a Sunday to celebrate (and goodheartedly roast) our high school graduates. On these Sundays, the sermon is kept very short. Today was such a Sunday. This sermon was deeply influenced by the TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell on David and Goliath available here.
One of the strange things about Michelangelo’s sculpture of David to me is how big it is. One of the things the storyteller does is set up contrasts. Goliath is a mighty Philistine warrior, whereas David is a shepherd. Goliath is a mature adult, whereas David is an adolescent. Goliath comes to the battle in full armor with sword and pike, whereas David comes dressed as a shepherd, sling in hand. And Goliath is a giant, whereas David is just a little kid. Our mind’s eye is supposed to see the contrasts. And I just had trouble seeing them in the presence of this magnificent, but really big, statue.
One of the reasons for the contrasts is that they cast our hero as the underdog. And it’s almost comical at times. Maybe not this comical, but comical. When David volunteers to battle Goliath, King Saul insists that he put on armor. But the armor is too heavy for David. He can’t move in it. It’s not him. He’s a shepherd, not a warrior.
So David goes to battle with the dress and weapons of a shepherd: the shepherd’s staff and sling and stones. There’s some good advice in this aspect of the story. If David had gone into battle dressed like a soldier, like an infantryman, he would have been pummeled. In hand-to-hand combat against the giant, he didn’t stand a chance. By being able to engage Goliath at a distance, David had an advantage. In bringing a sling to the battle, David essentially brought a gun to a knife-fight.
If he had stepped into this first adult responsibility trying to be someone he wasn’t, he would have lost; he would have died. But by being himself and bringing his gifts, his abilities, the skills he had (rather than those others thought he needed), he prevailed.
Another interesting aspect of this story is Goliath’s condition. The propaganda machine said he was the biggest and the best. No one could defeat him. But notice: He was led into the battlefield by an attendant. And when David descends into the battlefield, Goliath is surprised and insulted that David has a shepherd’s staff. Only Goliath doesn’t see a shepherd’s staff. He sees more than one. “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” There’s a darn good chance that Goliath had a vision problem.
And here’s another reminder for us. The giants in our lives often have some kind of myopia or tunnel vision. They don’t always see reality as it is, and this is particularly true of the principalities and powers. What’s a kayak against an oil drilling platform? Well, when kayakers see beyond the profit margin of a big corporation, they are enough to mess up some plans. The giants often aren’t as powerful as they are purported to be.