12 June 2006

blink

1 Samuel 17:32-49: “And Saul said, ‘. . . for you are just a boy . . .

This has to be one of my favorite stories from the Bible, David and Goliath. It’s got drama. This story has an underdog that we are all pulling for. And this story has the villain, Goliath, this big intimidating guy. Some Bibles still read that he was six cubits and a span tall. That doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. What does mean something to me is that if you convert the measurements, this guy stood over nine feet tall. Goliath was wearing a two-hundred-pound coat of mail, a bronze helmet and leggings. He carried a bronze javelin that had a twenty-five pound iron spearhead on it. This guy, this Goliath, is toting some heavy-duty paraphernalia here. Not only is his size intimidating, but he’s got some powerful weapons too! So we’ve got Goliath, the villain, one of the Philistines, a tribe that has been harassing the people of Israel for quite a long time.

And then we’ve got David. He’s the youngest in his family. He is described as ruddy in complexion and comely, a young and handsome guy who’s experience up until now has been fighting animals, not Philistines. There is also the earlier part of this story where the prophet Samuel has been out looking for a king to replace the current king, Saul. He looked over all of Jesse’s sons, sons that seemed brave and strong. But Samuel looked over them all and finally asked Jesse if he had any other children. Jesse called for David, the shepherd, the youngest to come to meet Samuel. Samuel anointed David with oil, a sign of David’s promise, a sign that there were good things to come from this one, a surprise in that once again this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God has once again chosen someone that we may not have, someone unlikely. God is doing something that is different from what the world may do. God’s putting money on the long shot, so to speak.

So the scene is set. Goliath is challenging anyone in Israel, “Put me up against your best man!” he shouts! “We’ll fight. And it is ‘winner-take-all’”. If Goliath wins, the people are enslaved. If David wins, the people are free of the Philistines . . .

It is a dramatic story. I have read it over and over and thought about it in different ways. But here’s the thing about stories from the Bible. Try this sometime: read a story from the Bible, the same story, every day for a week. Really let that story get to be a part of you for that week. Think about everything that happens to you, everything you hear, everything you see, in light of that story.

Several years ago I also remember reading this story; and I was driving one morning listening to the radio. A woman was talking about her son who is in a coma. She says that they call it a coma, although he still seems to be able to blink his eyes occasionally. Her son is unable to make any other movements. He has been this way since a car wreck that happened when he was 16 years old. She comments that for some reason she thought that if you did everything right, everything would work out for you. She says that despite the fact that they had the proper insurance, her son was not drinking, he was headed straight to school from home, he was wearing his seat belt, he was only one mile from home and even then . . . doing everything right . . . he was hit by another car. His brain was injured in the accident. And this accident left him in this present state.

This mother says that his friends do better with it than any of the adults do. His best friend comes over everyday and tells her son what happened at school that day, what happened in class, what happened outside of class, how the sports teams are looking, who is dating who now . . . His sister sits in the room with her brother and does her homework, reading her history notes to him as he lies in bed. This mother talks about how the rehabilitation folks don’t see any more hope for him. But she says that she continues to pick up his legs and massage his muscles, giving him movements that he is unable to do on his own. And she says that she talks to him. She says that she tells him that she doesn’t care what the doctor’s say. She asked him to blink if he understands that . . . He did nothing but lay there. Then she says to him, “Well, I don’t care. I’m going to keep loving you no matter what and keep hoping no matter what.” And at that, he blinked . . . twice.

Along with the story of David and Goliath, this story from the radio also stuck in my head. I just couldn’t release it. And I also kept reading this story about David and Goliath. That story too is a story about an impossible situation . . . a situation that looked to everyone else as if it was impossible. Scholars believe that this account of David’s victory over Goliath was written during David’s reign as king. No one was jotting down notes while it happened, that day that David faced Goliath. There was not an Macon Telegraph to report the score when the competition was over. This account was written when someone was looking back.

Maybe they were in a situation during David’s reign when things looked bleak; there were certainly those times. Maybe they were remembering this story of David and Goliath in a time in their own life when there was that big, mean, intimidating, seemingly insurmountable Goliath standing in front of them . . . with all the armor and weapons of the world. And that is the time that they wrote down this story. That was the time in the life of the People of Israel that they may have needed to be reminded of the story, when things seemed hopeless, when the odds were stacked against them.

And in a real way, that’s what David does too. David remembers those times when he killed the bear and wrestled the lion. Saul tries to give him all of his armor, all of the ways in which the world says it can protect you. The ways in which seatbelts, insurance, and going straight to school from home was supposed to protect that sixteen-year-old boy.

But in the end we are vulnerable. In truth, we need God.

David says, “I used to keep sheep. And when I was a shepherd, a lion or a bear would come to take a lamb from the flock. Well, when that happened, I just went after it . . . and I killed the bear and the lion; I got back the lamb. And just as God saved me from those dangerous animals, God will save me from this Goliath.”

David looks back. The one who wrote this story down looked back at this unlikely triumph when trouble seemed to be winning again. We look back and remember that God has helped us before, sometimes when it seemed like everything was over . . . there in the middle of all of that vulnerability, that awareness of our own humanity, just how fragile everything is . . . there is hope.

So sometimes I ponder the story of David and Goliath.

And I remember what it felt like to hold my tiny son when he was just born. He was so tiny and fragile . . . so beautiful, and we were so full of hope. He made little baby noises and just laid right there on my chest while I tried to make sure that he was secure and safe as I held him. He was fragile in the way that we all are. It’s just so obvious with a little baby though. I read the story of David and Goliath and I thought of my son, tiny and fragile.

And I think too about a funeral in Effingham County several years back when I was pastor there. The funeral was at the church that my wife served. Her name is Crystal. She was just 19 years old when she died of cancer. Cancer can certainly be a Goliath too sometimes. But over and over people kept talking about how much love she had . . . for everyone. Hearing what everyone said about her made me think that maybe she had won after all. Maybe she had beaten Goliath . . . but in a different way than we expected. It is just like that blink at the end of the story that I heard on the radio. It is the way that that blink from the mother’s son is not something to be pitied, but is such a moment of hope . . . and even joy.

In the story of David and Goliath, Saul tries to protect David with the armor. David puts it on but then quickly realizes that it is just too heavy for him. He cannot wear it. So David goes up to the brook and picks five smooth stones. He puts them in his shepherd’s pouch and carries a slingshot with him to a battle with a seemingly insurmountable enemy.

Thanks be to God for the hope that we have when we are faced with our own Goliaths!
Thanks be to God for our Savior Jesus Christ who shows us that winning the world takes love, not power!

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