1 Sam17:1a,4-11,19-23,32-49; Ps9:9-20; 2 Cor6:1-13; Mk4:35-41
This has been an amazing week for me. In the midst of the huge and awful and unnecessary controversy of the federal government separating immigrant children from their parents I had the sublime luxury--and I mean that--of relaxing because I had read carefully the story of David and Goliath. Not to jump too far ahead, but I felt as David felt. I felt like I could say to the people prying crying children out of their parents' arms, "This is God's battle--you cannot win."
On Monday the readings were downloaded and decisions were made concerning the length of the Hebrew Bible reading. The alternative to the very long first reading you heard this morning was one about a third as long--the last third of the reading we did hear. But as I read the longer version Monday it occurred to me that we don't always get the full story about David and Goliath. How innocent and sincere David was. How awful Goliath was.
The details are also really interesting. Yes, we've heard it before, but not every time the reading comes around. Every three years we get these readings and, to be frank, the Gospel lesson of Jesus in the boat often draws more of our attention.
To emphasize Goliath's size and strength his weapons are described:
"(His) height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron."
Six hundred shekels of iron is fifteen pounds. How would you like to try to throw a spear with a 15 pound head on it? His coat weighed 5000 shekels of bronze. That's 125 pounds. These are impossible weights for ordinary people to consider. Goliath is clearly a deadly adversary.
He is also very ugly in his taunting of the Israelites and David. David, on the other hand, is forthright and humble. He has killed bear and lion while tending sheep. He is not afraid. And he believes Goliath has offended God and David intends to take him down.
David evidences a total lack of concern about the imbalance of warrior skills between him and Goliath. When he finds Saul's armor uncomfortable and awkward he discards it, believing God will protect him.
David meets Goliath's arrogance with confidence, Goliath's strength with his very own skill with a sling. He dispatches Goliath at once.
But this is not just the victory of the humble and forthright David over the boastful and dreaded Goliath. It is that; just not only that. More importantly, this is the victory of God, the God in which David believes and which David seeks to vindicate.
It helps, of course, that no one is interested in Goliath winning. Everybody's rooting for David. David's righteousness, humility, sincerity and skill win the day. All is right in the world.
How much of the credit do we give David's faith? His clear vision of the situation, of it being not his fight but God's, conveys a powerful belief in the God of Israel. It is a faith sufficient to meet any challenge.
Most of us do not pretend to have David's skill or experience or youth or perhaps even humility. But we have our faith. You have yours and I have mine and we carry it with us all the time and we attend to it probably in very different ways. But our faith is with us and it gains in strength when we exercise it, when we use it, when we call upon it to get us through things, and when we acknowledge that faith is what guided us in times of trouble.
So I have no problem saying to you that my faith, brought to mind by this reading, got me through a week that could have been excruciating. There were moments, to be sure, when reports of the federal government's atrocities along the border moved me mightily, moved me to tears and gasps of horror. But unlike many of the missteps of this administration in its short life, this one I knew was a denial of American values and that next to no one would sit still for it. Sure enough, by the time that governors were pulling back National Guard troops and all five of the living First Ladies of the nation were decrying the separation of immigrant children from their parents, a reversal was announced. The nearly universal condemnation of the policy indicated to me that, "This is God's battle; you cannot win."
As with so many of our readings, this story, one of the most famous in the Bible, causes us to look anew at faith. Specifically, at our own faith. We are blessed in how the Bible brings us stories of faith that resonate with us. Today's Hebrew Bible tale probably doesn't remind you of some giant you did battle with. But it could remind you of some awful situation you were in which you survived and for which you give credit to your faith.
Our Gospel lesson is a pointed look at faltering faith. In the newsletter I asked if readers had been in a boat on stormy waters. I certainly have. And to tell you the truth my fear was stronger on the Hudson than it was in the Gulf of Alaska. Of course my sailboat is quite a bit smaller than the ocean tugs of yore. And the tug did have a seasoned crew.
But the boat Jesus was in supposedly was near swamping and the passengers were quite unnerved. Not Jesus. He was snoozing. When they demanded he do something he stilled the waters, then chided them for their lack of faith.
"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" Jesus asked. The Gospel relates, "And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
This is how the disciples developed a stronger faith: watching Jesus tame the wild waters, heal people, turn water into wine, produce bread and fish for thousands. We have the benefit of their experience as well as our own sense that Jesus accompanies us all the time. And when we are conscious of it, Jesus comforts and emboldens us and guides us as any friend would who was going through some part of our lives with us.
This week I was ready to join the marches and the protests about immigrant children being taken from their parents. I may still. But my impression is that the world has recognized the evil in that undertaking, condemned it, and the policy has been stopped by its author.
Gospel faith is what we delight in, the good news that God is with us, helping clarify our consciences, define our engagements, pick our battles, protect and accompany us through thick and thin.