May 26, 2019

Unheroic

Preacher:
Passage: 1 Samuel 17:1-52
Service Type:

Nearly every sermon on David and Goliath I’ve ever heard ultimately boils down to this: Tiny David could not defeat the giant Goliath on his own. But David had faith. If you have enough faith, you will defeat… the giant troubles in your own life. While I agree with the spirit of faith behind that message… those sermons have a glaring problem. They overshadow a key point in the David and Goliath Bible story. And this traditional understanding… has become such a cliché in pop culture that ESPN references it every March Madness. Lawsuits are described by it. Even the 80’s comedy Three Amigos does a David and Goliath sermon. Trying to rally the villagers of Santa Poco to stand up to the bandit El Guapo, the amigo named Lucky Day gives a speech that sums up almost every single David and Goliath sermon you'll ever hear: "In a way, all of us has an El Guapo to face some day. For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us. But as sure as my name is Lucky Day, the people of Santa Poco can conquer their own personal El Guapo, who also happens to be *the actual* El Guapo!"

Three Amigos, ESPN, and most David and Goliath sermons… all have the same problem. You are not David. I am not David. We aren’t the hero. The Bible is not about us being heroes. The Bible is about God rescuing people. God is the hero of the Bible’s whole story. We… are the fools who need saving. In David and Goliath, your troubles may be like the giant Goliath… able to crush anyone under his boot. But you are not David. Jesus is the hero. Jesus is David.

When we follow the mis-advice of those other sermons, when we set ourselves up as giant-slaying David, sometimes through the sheer grace of God we come out on top, we overcome the odds and the day gets saved. Other times… giants go: smoosh. Jobs can be lost. Schools don’t accept all students. Marriages can fall apart. Cancer doesn’t always go away. Our feeble imitation Davids… sometimes we slay giants. Sometimes the giants smoosh us. When those giants win… if we believe that we were supposed to be the invincible hero David… then our faith can get crushed with us. Because if the promise that we would heroically slay all the giants… is proven false in our failure… then we must wonder what else in our faith is false.

And even if we win… setting ourselves up as the hero, as the David of the story… literally gives us a messiah complex. The entire outcome of the battle here hinges on David’s actions… and David’s strength comes from faith in the Lord. The Lord wins the battle… but David needed courage and faith to do what God asked. So in order for you to set yourself up as the David in your giant-slaying troubles… everything has to hinge around you and your faith in God. Faith itself in that way risks becoming a burdensome work as you struggle to be pious enough to win the fight, push yourself to have yet more faith. Generals are responsible for all the troops under their command. If you set yourself up as the Davidic hero leading the battle against Goliath… you and your faith are now responsible 100% for every outcome… must work to control every variable… must carry the weight of all your problems. You’d have to kill your own giants.

Because the truth is… we are not David. In the story of David and Goliath… we are the Israelites… cowering behind David, the hero. On the one hand, the Israelites are God’s chosen people… the holy nation God vows to protect, redeem, save and bless. Israel, in all its ups and downs… belongs to the Lord. We believers today… belong to the Lord. God has promised us goodness in this life and the next. Yet on the other hand… the Israelites… are not David. Goliath issues his combat challenge… and our scripture reads: “Saul and the Israelites are dismayed and terrified… Whenever the Israelites saw the giant of a man… they all fled from him in fear.” The original Hebrew literally says the Israelites… were shattered and broken. When we face the Goliaths in our liveswe often give up hope or lose faith. Elsewhere when the Israelites are afraid… the original Hebrew language connotes the respect, honor and awe… normally given to God. Their fear of the giant Goliath borders on idolatry… that’s how overwhelmingly awesome they think their troubles are. Our own troubles, fears and failures… can become idols… false gods who demand our awe… who dictate that we order our lives, thoughts and existence… around the giant troubles we most fear.

But the gospel truth in our scripture this morning… is the freeing knowledge that we are not David. Your problems are giant Goliaths… but you are not David. Jesus Christ… is the David in your story. You see… Jesus is actually a descendant of David, the shepherd boy who won the battle today in our scripture. Every messiah in Israel’s history—all the false messiahs but also the one true messiah—pointed back to David as their messianic model. Jesus brings the ultimate fulfillment… of the Davidic kingdom our scriptural hero will go on to found. And more importantly, Jesus is actually the Messiah… actually the one who defeats all evil through his life, death, and resurrection. David points to the Lord for the victory. Jesus… is Lord. Can you stop death entirely? Could I? Could any of us overcome and undo all the evil in this world? The hunger? The pain? The loss? Jesus can. Jesus has. Before you or I were born… millennia ago while dying for us on a cross… Jesus declared, “It is finished.” In effect, all those years ago, Jesus declared Goliath… is dead already. While the Israelites were still without faith or courage… the Lord saved them through David. When they were lost and powerless… the Lord delivered them. When we face troubles in life today… Goliath is still dead. The rest of Goliath’s army… just hasn’t gotten the memo yet.

If our role in today’s scripture story is not David… but rather to be Israelites… then our calling is to follow after Jesus’ battle charge. After David kills the giant Goliath in single combat… the Israelites rush forward… they chase the remaining Philistines… and utterly rout their army. All the troubles in our lives… you or I cannot defeat them alone. We cannot slay Goliath. But Jesus already has. The battle is over… our job is to charge out after the hero and mop up the rest. Cancer may kill us. Friends disappoint us. Life crushes us with its burdens, obligations, needs and fears. Yes, things are not perfect on this side of eternity… but the reason Jesus wins the battle—where you or I would ultimately fail—is that Christ’s fight is not on this side of eternity alone. The giants of life strike fear in our hearts bordering on idolatry… but Jesus is no idol. Jesus is true God. And a living God beats a dead idol every day of the week.

And so in the midst of our struggles… whether we flee—or face—the giants in life… we have this already-but-not-yet promise of Jesus. Or as Paul writes in Romans 5: “at just the right time—when we were still powerless—Christ died for us, for the ungodly ones.” Christ has told us Goliath is dead: the giant’s army just doesn’t know it yet. When we trust that Jesus… has already won the battle… when we charge out behind our own victorious David… it may seem similar to that Three Amigos sermon, may seem like the whole world is still resting our own shoulders. But the crucial difference… the thing that lightens our load in these struggles… is that when we fight our giants by following behind the already-victorious Jesus… we can do so confident that we know how the story ends. If it were just up to you or me… a defeat here and now would be the end of the story. If the outcome of our struggles just rested on our shoulders… our feeble fake David selves would ultimately crumble. But our story does not end in defeat… because our story doesn’t depend on us, because we aren’t the heroes of our stories, because our stories don’t end here. With God as the hero… our life’s story doesn’t stop at the end of our life… it goes on and on into eternity with the one who gives us victory. When we are discouraged or depressed… Christ has already won our battle for us. When we are overwhelmed… Christ has already won our battle for us. When we are confused or lost… Christ has already won our battle for us.

We cling to God’s promise of hope beyond this life… in order to persevere and endure our struggles in the present. When you or I fear the outcome of our battles with life’s troubles… we look to the promise of ultimate triumph… to weather the storm in faith. Because Jesus has already won the battle. But are you ready to join the victory charge? We aren’t David… we aren’t ones who can bear the full weight of the world. A messiah complex would break any of us. But even so… we still have a role to play in the story. As David takes on Goliath… the Israelites stand ready, gearing up for what is to come… praising the Lord with a great shout for saving them… eager to spread the news of victory … ready to work in support of the victory God has already won.

So when you hear stories of David and Goliath… whether it be ESPN, the news or Three Amigos… remember this. Life’s troubles are indeed Goliath. But we are not David. We are the imperfect, anxious Israelites. Jesus Christ… is the David of our life stories… the hero who saves us. The day has been won, and Christ leads the charge against the forces of death and evil. Are you in Israel’s ranks? Will you seek refuge and healing in your life’s hero? Will you announce the Lord’s victory? Will you join the fray of working for God’s kingdom here and now, in word and deed? Because we are not David in our lives’ David and Goliath stories. Jesus Christ is our Davidic hero. But because of Jesus, Goliath is already dead, and we are now victorious through Christ, who leads our charge of faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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