Sermon: Slaying The Giants: Facing Our Giants
Scripture: 1 Samuel 17: 50-58
Date: February 17, 2019
Some have said that the story of David and Goliath is a Biblical based Fairy Tale. Akin to more secular fairy tales like Jack and the Bean Stalk, and Little Red Riding Hood. And it certainly has the elements of a fairy tale. Bigger than life characters. A larger than life villain. An unlikely underdog hero. Even some humorous elements particularly in the interaction between King Saul and David. And in the church we often tell it, if not as a fairy tale, at least as a children’s story. But most of the time we end the story with David killing Goliath with a sling and a stone. And we leave out how Samuel completes the story because Samuel’s ending turns a G rated (perhaps Chidren’s story into an R rated story when he concludes it this way:
Read 1 Samuel 17:50-58
Now here’s my question. Why did David cut off the head of Goliath? Oh I know that conquering armies often beheaded the general of the army that they defeated and took it back to their capital to present to the king as proof that the enemy had been slain. It was easier to transport the head and display it for all to see then it was the whole body. And Samuel does imply that that was David’s intent because after he cuts off Goliath’s head, Samuel says he took it to Jerusalem. . That was the way the Pagan’s did it. But why David? After all, he had no need to take the head to Jerusalem so that King Saul could see for himself. Saul had a box seat at the battle. He watched Goliath fall. Neither did the Philistine army need to be convinced that their champion had fallen. They also had witnessed if for themselves and fled in fear and panic and Samuel tells us that many of the Philistines were also killed in battle that day. So I’ve been wondering why David cut off the head of Goliath and took it to Jerusalem so that everyone could see. And this morning I want to suggest that David did so to not only show that God had triumphed over the giant Goliath but that God will triumph over all the giants that we face. We know that Goliath was not the only giant that the Israelites had encountered on their journey to the promised land. It really had begun when Moses went as their champion to stand up to the Pharaoh who was not only believed to be the most powerful man in the world, but also a god, a giant in the eyes of the people. And yet God had called Moses the one time prince of Egypt but now exiled shepherd and brought him back to Egypt in order to face the giant and lead His people out of Egypt and back to the land He had promised their ancestors. And time and again, when faced with the challenges of the desert wilderness, the giants in their path, some of the people had become convinced that the challenges were too big for them to face, doubt and fear threatened to defeat them, and yet God would lift up Moses in their eyes once more and their hearts would triumph over their heads and they would press on. Again when they finally reached the edge of the promised land, though their hearts rejoiced, the giants were just too much for them to deal with in their minds, and they were defeated and turned back.
You see, when we do battle against the giants, the battle is always in our minds not our hearts. Goliath never tried to win the people’s hearts, convert the Israelites to the Philistines side. His whole purpose was to convince them that they could not possibly defeat him, to turn them back and ultimately destroy them. He did so by controlling their minds with doubt and fear. He had convinced them that no matter how just their cause might be, they could never defeat him. Once we give into our fear we are defeated, often before the first weapon is raised. When we become convinced in our minds that the challenges and problems that we face are really giants that are too big for us to overcome, then we are all but defeated. Goliath had defeated the army of Israel in their heads. They were convinced that they could not possibly defeat him in battle. That the giant was just too big and too strong and they were too small and weak and pitiful. Even Saul the king was convinced that he could not win the battle against the giant. But not David. Because David knew that when going up against the giants, their strength is all in their heads. Or perhaps more specifically what they are able to put in our heads. When we become convinced that the giants we face, whatever they might be, are too big, too strong for us to overcome, then we have lost the battle before it has really begun. But David drew his strength not from his head, but from the heart. More specifically the heart of God. When I was wrestling with this giant of whether to retire or not, I consulted with several of my closest friends as well as Karen and my family. And I went back and forth a lot. One day I was going to do it and the next day I had decided not to. And in the course of that I was asked by someone, why it was so hard for me to make a decision. And what I said was because it is a battle between my head and my heart. You see my heart was telling me that it is time to retire, for my family’s sake, and my sake, and even for the sake of the church. But my head was telling me it’s too big of a giant to take on right now. That financially we can’t make it work. And what will you do if you retire. And on and on. The giant had gotten into my head. And I said, if I can just remove my head from the equation, then the decision literally becomes a no brainer. You see the key to defeating the giants that stand in our path, is separating the head from the heart. If the giant, whatever it is, can convince you that it’s just too big, too strong, too fearsome, that you have no chance of being victorious, then you are doomed to fail. Doubt and fear are the greatest weapons in the giant’s arsenal. But those cannot stand against the love and grace and assurance that we can find in the heart of God. I think that David cut off Goliath’s head and took it to Jerusalem to show the people that God had defeated the giants, had separated the head from the heart, and that if we will place ourselves in the heart of God, even those giants that still lay before us will be defeated, because the only power that the giants had over God’s people was all in their heads, the giants and their own. When facing our own giants, we must draw our strength from the heart of God.
And then I think the second reason that David cut off Goliath’s head, is because Goliath’s greatest weapons turned out to be that which came out of his mouth. The giants often win by presenting lies and false assertions and exaggerations and convincing us that they are truth and reality. Goliath became seemingly all powerful and invincible in the eyes of the Israelites, not because he had done anything to demonstrate that was true but because he told them day after day that he was all powerful and invincible, and he looked the part so it must be true. But as in the case of all giants whether living or circumstantial, words and looks are often deceiving. Giants become giants by convincing us that they are giants – too big for us to handle. The Israelites were nearly defeated by what turned out to be the false claims of Goliath. The greatest army that Goliath had was not the Philistine army which cowered behind him, expecting him to win the battle for them. No I am convinced that the greatest army that Goliath had were those in the ranks of the Israelites who believed his taunts and lies and false assertions about how strong and invincible he was, and then set about to convince the rest of the people. We began this consideration of the giants that lie ahead of us with the people of the Exodus coming to the edge of the promised land and upon hearing the report of the scouts that there were giant people already in the land, had spread the word throughout the whole community of people, that the land was filled with giants that they could not defeat and that if they tried to fight them, they would capture their women and children and carry them off, and would kill all the men and scatter their remains out for the animals to devour. And because the people believed these false assertions, the grumblers in their midst were finally able to convince all of them that they couldn’t possibly triumph and they needed to turn back. In the end, all of that generation of people perished in the wilderness because they gave in to the false assertions of the grumblers in their midst. The giants themselves never had to pick up a weapon of any kind to defeat this invading army. All they had to do was convince a few in the community of how strong and powerful they were. And so when David arrived with his brothers’ lunch, he found an army that was already defeated and on the verge of retreating, turning back, because some in their midst had believed Goliath when he taunted them and said he was just too big and strong for them to overcome. And they had convinced the others that Goliath’s words were true and they could not possibly win. And when David tries to speak an encouraging word, to offer truth instead of lies, they try to shut him up. To turn the people against him. His own brothers tried to silence him. And King Saul, when he discovers what David has been saying, calls him to come and says, “You’re just a boy. What do you know? Goliath has been a warrior all of his life. No one had ever won against him.” When going up against the giants of the world, defeat almost always comes from within. When we start believing the lies and false assertions and exaggerations that are made about ourselves, then the giants become huge and invincible and we become convinced of how small and weak we are. The greatest ally of Goliath were those within the ranks of the Israelites who believed Goliath’s taunts and spread fear and dissension among the people based on those false beliefs. And once again the grumblers are on the verge of succeeding in turning the people back rather than face Goliath. I’m going to say something now that will probably make some of you uncomfortable and angry, but I think in light of the giants that we face as a church, needs to be said. Because here’s the thing. There are always some in the church when we come up against big challenges who spread false narratives and exaggerations about the condition of the church, in an effort to get the church to change course or even turn back. And so, for instance, there are those who say that St. Luke is losing members, when according to the year end report that we complete for the Annual Conference just the opposite is true. With the exception perhaps of one or two years, St. Luke has grown in every year of it’s existence and in 2018 we were blessed to welcome 50 new persons into the St. Luke family. And some are saying that worship attendance is rapidly declining but the truth is that more people worshiped in and through all of St. Lukes worship services in 2018 then in the previous year. And some are saying that the church has lost it’s zeal for service, that there are far fewer people serving in the ministries of the church then before, but the truth is that there are more people serving and being served through the church than ever before. And then some are saying that the church is on the verge of financial collapse. But the truth is that more was given in our Tithes and offerings in 2018 then in any year in St. Luke’s history. The truth is that the giants we face our very real, but they will never defeat us unless we give in to the grumblers in our midst and become convinced that the giants are bigger than they are, and that we are smaller and weaker then we really are. As was true for the Israelites, the biggest giant that the church faces are those who would have us turn back, rather than continue to walk with God wherever He leads us. Because there is no retreat, there is no defeat, in God. Goliath was on the brink of victory because he had convinced the Israelites that they could not win, and then God called the giant slayer, David, to come into their midst to say “yes we can.” St. Luke has always been and is a great and strong church, always moving forward. I thank God that St. Luke has always been and continues to be a church full of David’s in the face of the Goliaths that have tried to block our way. Because St. Luke has always listened to the truth in God’s word, rather than the lies and exaggerations that come out of the mouths of giants. Of course there are giants ahead in this world that will try to convince us that we can’t go forward, that we can’t win, but as Disciples we we must not listen to their taunts and nor believe their appearance of invincibility. We must not let them be successful in separating our heads from the heart of God and instead pick up our stones empowered by God’s own heart and confront every giant and win the victory. I think that David cut off Goliath’s head and displayed it before all of the people as a testimony to that very fact. That the only way the giants can defeat God’s people, is by convincing us that they are just too big, too strong, for us to ever prevail against. By cutting off the giants head, David testified to the people that the lies and false assertions that come from the giants mouth can never prevail over the word that God speaks straight from His heart. That for those who walk with God, He will silence the giants forever. Because no matter how loud and angry and hate filled the giants up ahead are, they can never defeat those who find their strength in the truth of God’s word.
And then finally, I think that David cut off Goliath’s head to show the Israelites that on our own we can not triumph, but together with God there is nothing that can defeat us. Goliath’s strategy was not to take on the whole army of the Israelites, but instead challenge them to send out just one warrior to fight him. The giants in our lives always seek to divide us from one another. Isolate us. The story of David and Goliath tells us that when the giants are successful in isolating us from one another, convincing us that we alone must be the champion that stands up against any giants, then we will fail. “You alone can’t win against the giant,” Saul told David. And David replies that he has never been alone in the past when slaying giants. That God had always gone into battle with him. And He always will. And that individually God does not require of us the strength and power to slay the giants. Samuel tells us that David does not use his sword, or Saul’s sword, but rather, he draws out Goliaths own sword, and severs his head so that the whole world will know that it is not by our strength alone that we conquer the giants, but rather it is through God’s loving presence and the unity of his body, that he provides us with all that we need to be giant slayers. That’s what the choir sang about earlier. Slaying giants does not require brute, even superhuman strength. Which was what the Israelites felt they needed against Goliath. Nor does it require great wisdom. It does not require the newest weapons or the most impenetrable armor. It doesn’t even require great courage in battle. No to be giant slayers, all that is required is that we be faithful, that we follow God, be His disciples, and so place ourselves in the heart of God, so that in the words of the prophet Micah, no matter what giants may come our way, all that is required of us to slay them is that we act justly towards one another, and that we love one another, and walk humbly, hand in hand with our loving God. Because, when we are his disciples, giant slaying is not a fairy tale, it happens in the course of the everyday practice of our faith. When all of us walk hand in hand with God, into the earthly battles. Then Slaying the giants is not what we do as God’s people, but rather it becomes who we are.