June 18, 2017 | 1 Samuel 1-49 | Rev. Nancy Talbot
Most, if not all of us are pretty familiar with the story of David and Goliath. At least we’re familiar with the part of the story where the little guy brings down the giant with nothing more than a slingshot and five smooth stones he’s taken from the river. This morning I wanted us to hear a fuller version of the story, particularly the part that speaks about David moving back and forth and back and forth from the action on the battlefield.
Usually our focus in this story is on the battle or the giant. That’s certainly what the Philistines and the Israelites are focused on. For 40 days and 40 nights they have been landlocked in the battle, stuck in the valley between two mountains, one army staring down the other, day after day after day.
In the meantime, David, the smallest and youngest of his siblings, is coming and going to the location of the stand off from the pasture where he is living out his calling as a shepherd. While his family members stand immobilized against the giant Goliath, paralyzed by their fear, David is quietly tending his family with food and drink, coming and going, coming and going.
It’s one of the many things that makes David different from everyone else in this story. He’s the only one whose pattern of living in those 40 days and 40 nights moves him away from the stalemate and into the green and growing place. Which might make us wonder if there’s something about getting off the battlefield from time to time that helps us remember our God given gifts, helps us get perspective on the battle and unlocks us from those places where we have become entrenched in our defensiveness and fear.
I’m not really in favour of using the language of war to talk about our day to day existence, but I’ve certainly had times in my life when I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle and times when I have been paralyzed in my fear with no clear path for escape.
Sometimes we use the language of war to talk about illnesses we are living with. We speak of battling depression or fighting cancer. We talk about wrestling with addictions, combatting aging and raging against our inner demons. For some of us just getting our children out the door to school in the morning can feel we are like staging a coup. Sometimes the battles we engage are personal.
We also wage war on a societal level. We fight against poverty, homelessness and cruelty to animals, we crusade on behalf of the rights of seniors and first nations and the destruction of our planet. We attack the government for its harmful policies and giant corporations for the damage they inflict on the last and the least.
Sometimes we are so engaged in our battles, that we, like the Israelites and Philistines in our story, get stuck on the battlefield. Sometimes we become so focused on our fears, our enemies and our demons or just the notion that life itself is battle to be fought and won, that in our mind’s eye or in our crowded hearts, the things that we are battling against become larger and more powerful than they really are.
When that happens we forget our God given gifts. We forget that the sword and the spear are not what save us.
And so every now and then, like David, we need to take a break. We need to get off the battlefield to take time to reflect, to get out to the pasture, to regain perspective and focus. Because when we’re hot in the battle, when we’re staring the enemy in the face day in and day out, the enemy soon becomes larger than life and we soon forget who we are and what we’ve been equipped with, our God-given resources, for fighting life’s battles or simply for living well despite the giants we encounter along the way.
That’s what seems to have happened to Saul and the Israelites in our story. They have forgotten their God given strength of the power. They have started to think that the only way to fight the giant is by using the same weapons the giant uses. They have become their own worst enemies.
Whenever I find myself acting more like a Philistine than a child of God, that’s when I know I need a break.
But did you notice what happened to David when he put on the armor of the Philistine, the enemy armor? When Saul clothed him with a bronze helmet and a coat of mail and when David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, David couldn’t walk. The armor Saul had chosen for him weighed him down and stopped him dead in his tracks.
David’s life and faith had given him different tools with which to defend himself, to fight for his very soul. When he turns to face the Giant, David remembers the way God has helped him in the past, the skills and the courage he has been given to ward off those who would steal the ones he had been entrusted to care for, his sheep. And so just before he is about to face Goliath, David makes his way to the wadi, the river, and from the river he picks out his weapons, 5 smooth stones.
If you’ve ever been in my office you know that I have an affinity for rocks and stones. During the renovation a couple summers ago we hauled hundreds of them out of my office and put them in the forest. I still have one bowl under my coffee table that is filled with rocks I have hand selected over the years. These are the stones I have picked up mostly from sea shores and riversides after times of quiet contemplation, times when I have taken myself away from the battlefield to consider my God-given gifts.
The water is often the place I go, especially in the summer, when I want to ruminate about what’s troubling me, or reflect on the blessings of the season just past, to ponder life’s lessons learned, to ask where I feel the spirit leading me, or to simply relax and remember that I too am part of God’s great and wondrous world. Often after I’ve had time to reflect by the side of a body of water I will pick up a rock and hold it in my hand and put it in my pocket, to remind me of the time, or to remind me of the place, or a particular experience I’ve had that year. They’re touchstones, reminders of God’s grace.
I wonder if when David went to the water’s edge and picked out those five smooth stones, if he took a moment to reflect on his God-given gifts, to remember the source and strength of his life, the times he had faced his fears and overcome them, the ways he had felt the Spirit moving in his life. I wonder if he reflected on what it was that he already knew of himself and of his God that would serve him well as he faced Goliath on the battlefield.
I wonder if you went to the river bed and picked out 5 touch stones for yourself, what those stones might have written on them to remind you of who you are and what you already have been given to face your challenges and fears?
Maybe they would have written on them words like courage, wisdom, faith and lived experience, grace, compassion, love, patience, hope and the companionship of those who love and care for you. Maybe one of those stones would have drawn on it the image of a cross.
What are the touchstones that help you remember who you are and what it is you have been equipped with to live your life with confidence and trust even in the face of great danger, threat and fear? We have all been given them, they are part of our birthright.
Where are the places you go to get off the battlefield, to gain perspective, to reconnect with your deepest calling and your greatest source of life?
In this day and age of instant news, we are often privy to people battling giants in real time around the world. Over the last several weeks we’ve witnessed a beleaguered Britain battle terrorist attacks and most recently a horrific fire. When the sirens are blaring and the flames still burning it’s easy to become transfixed by those frightening images. Glued to the screen we are momentarily stuck.
But what never fails to follow these larger than life atrocities, are the stories of every day heroes and heroines who in the face of great danger, sorrow and terror, find it in themselves to fight back with love and compassion.
And so for example, we hear of the family of Christine Archibald killed on the London bridge who instead of hurling words of hate and anger at her attackers, respond instead by honoring her memory by making the community better, volunteering or donating to our local homeless shelter. Tell them Chrissy sent you. And then, we hear of the hundreds of people across the country who have responded to that request.
In addition to watching people understandably respond to the fire in the Grenfell Apartment building with biting words and angry protest against those who ignored warnings about the dangerous condition of the building, we see thousands of people responding with shelter and food, clothing and many other practical forms of support.
Over and over again in the face of soul destroying challenge and danger, we witness those who refuse to let their souls be destroyed, those who in the face of their greatest adversaries, respond with grace, compassion and love.
We all have touchstones to carry in our pocket, to hold onto in the battles we are called to fight, to help us face our greatest fears and level our greatest adversaries. But if we never get off the battlefield, even if only for a few moments a day, we might not remember they are there.
I hope this summer we will all have some time to sit by the water or just to sit somewhere and ponder our touchstones, to remember the presence of God who accompanies us in all times and all places and especially when we are in our times of greatest need.