June 20, 2021
We are in the middle of a sermon series on “The Call: Good Trouble.” Last week Pastor Ginger spoke on a passage earlier in the book of 1 Samuel, the identification of David as the one God has picked out to be the king. Picking the eighth and youngest son of a not particularly remarkable family is an unexpected choice. Yet God again and again throughout our scriptures empowers leaders who defy societal expectations for leadership.
The late Representative John Lewis used the phrase “good trouble” to refer to activities for positive social change that push against unjust social norms or laws. With pressure to follow the racist policies of the Jim Crow South, Rep. Lewis remembered his parents saying when he asked about “white only” signs, “That’s the way it is, don’t get in the way, don’t get in trouble.”[i] But inspired by leaders like Dr. King and Rosa Parks, Rep. Lewis says he did get in trouble, in “good trouble.”[ii] Today we continue the story of the young David, his community under threat and divine inspiration for David to get involved.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”[iii]
The audacity to imagine that you can go from tending sheep to besting the biggest, strongest warrior in the Philistine army. It’s improbable, it’s impossible. The young David beating the experienced and physically stronger Goliath? No way.
Yet there is a way. For David there is a way through a leader who finally accepts young David’s offer but then tries to push the leader’s own way for how to proceed, and a way through an opponent who seemingly has every advantage.
For you and for me, there is a way. Whatever the obstacles, there is a way “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” [iv] as we are called to in our baptismal vows. It may not be in our time, it may not be how we want it, it surely will not be easy. But through the power of the Holy Spirit there is always a way to turn those places where we are outraged over “that’s the way it is” into the next faithful step in being the body of Christ in the world.
In whatever situations where we are called to be about #GoodTrouble, God is with us drawing on our experiences and providing the tools and resources to face our obstacles. As we look at today’s text, you’re welcome to have out your Bible or Bible App to 1 Samuel 17. Let’s see what David encounters and what we might learn for our own journeys.
The stories of David in the books of 1 & 2 Samuel help the Israelites tell the story of their beginnings as a more cohesive entity from multiple tribes. Importantly these books of the Bible show later generations the role of God in the lives of their ancestors, and therefore give hope that God is with them as well. Like the passage last week of Samuel’s anointing of David, this story of David and Goliath shows that Yahweh -- “the Lord” as translated in the New Revised Standard Version -- Yahweh is with the unlikely protagonist David. David has been sent by his father with food for his brothers who are part of Saul’s army facing the Philistines, a main external opponent to the Israelites in the narrative of 1 & 2 Samuel. One of the Philistines, Goliath, has offered to fight a representative of the Israelites. 40 days – or a really long time – go by and no one from amongst the Israelites goes forward. Goliath is described as tall and decked out with heavy armor (he’s gotten called a giant, but the point is that he is a formidable, seasoned warrior).
As we pick up the story in verse 32, young David, fresh from tending the sheep flocks and serving as the food delivery service of the day, offers to be the one to go fight Goliath. The reply is hardly a surprise. The Israelite leader, Saul, dismissively says, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”[v] David is confronted with Saul’s lack of imagination for an outside the box solution even as apparently no one else is equipped to fight Goliath one-on-one.
How many times have we heard: you’re not the right age, you don’t have the right degree, you’re not the right fit.
David might have given in to the dismissal but instead he asserts his credentials and trust in God. In the course of his shepherding duties, he has saved lambs from bears and lions. Fuller examination of the word “saved” here is for another sermon or perhaps your own study this week, but I’ll note that it runs along the lines of delivered from or snatched away from. David is convicted that it is through the power of a saving God that he has been brought through his prior experiences with fearsome foes and likewise God will be with him this time as he faces Goliath.
“The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”[vi]
David assesses the situation and knows he can offer himself. God has equipped him for just such a moment. God empowers us to draw on our own particular strengths and abilities for the sake of Kindom-building. In return, we are called to trust that God will continue to carry us through.
With David’s clear articulation of readiness, Saul finally agrees that David can be the one to go out against Goliath. Saul says, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” However, even as he seems to understand Yahweh’s presence with David, Saul clings to what he knows and remains blind to the true gift of service that David is offering. As Walter Brueggeman says, “Saul does not understand anything. He has uttered Yahweh’s name. But he wants to outdo Goliath on Goaliath’s terms...”[vii]
Saul foolishly tries to make David into the type of warrior that he knows about - fits him up in armor and a helmet and a sword. However, for David, armor and a sword are not the tools he knows; they are not where God has given him strength. David tries to walk around, but unable to do so he casts aside the amor. In this, David reminds us that we need to resist bending to other people’s expectations and norms when they are not what will allow us to best use our God-given talents and passions and convictions. When facing the Goliath’s of our lives, we must remember with confidence that God has been nurturing and shaping us since the day we were born. Let God’s prevenient grace be what is molding you, not the dictates of other’s unholy expectations.
As we look at this passage, I must mention that there will likely be times when we are in Saul’s place. Let Saul’s failure in his hasty attempt to shape David into a warrior serve as a warning. We must avoid trying to mold others into “our image.” Teaching and mentorship are one thing. Demanding that there is only one way to live, insisting there is only one way to fight for justice will lead to failure every time. We need to honor how every human being is made in the image of God. We need to honor how we are called to bring our full beings and God-given gifts to the places where we find ourselves for the sake of the transformation of the world.
David resists Saul’s attempts to control things. David gathers 5 smooth stones and goes to face Goliath with tools that give him an advantage, his sling and his practiced arm. Goliath comes with trash talk, but David responds with the claim that Yahweh has equipped David to meet Goliath and indeed to gain victory. With the skills that he has honed as a shepherd, David does the unthinkable and overcomes Goliath’s greater physical strength.
And so ends 40 days of Goliath coming out every day to challenge the Israelites. A young shepherd comes along, assured that God will be with him just like God has been with him before. God has not only provided the young shepherd with tools and resources to help his community but the discernment to know when they can be put to good use.
This June as we mark Pride month we also celebrate the anniversaries of several landmark Supreme Court decisions impacting LGBTQ people. A year ago the Court held that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”[viii] One of the cases involved in that decision was that of Aimee Stephens, a trans woman who was fired after she told her employer that she would be transitioning from male to female. Aimee sought to live openly as who she was and continue in her profession, instead she lost her livelihood.
In a January 2020 interview with NBC, when asked about her feelings in advance of a decision, she said, “We’re going to keep fighting regardless of what the decision is.” Aimee was someone willing to get in #GoodTrouble. She was seeking to authentically live her life and ended up becoming an activist, apparently quite accidentally. Instead of taking an offered severance package she contacted the ACLU of Michigan. She knew there was a way to fight the bigotry she faced, but there were true costs as well. As she also noted in that NBC interview, “It is my life, but it’s also a lot of other people’s lives”[ix]
Aimee Stephens stepped up when an opportunity that none of us would ask for presented itself. She took the opportunity to fight the injustice of her firing and the effects will be felt in our country for years to come.
When you look around your community, your workplace, your family, the world, where is God calling you? Where is God calling you to get into some #GoodTrouble?
If you are not sure where God is calling you, I encourage you to set apart some time to be in prayer. Set apart some time to reflect on where you see brokenness and are nudged to think, “Hey, I’ve got this, with God I’ve got this!” There will be opportunities when you are paying attention to the world around you and all the ways that God has already provided you with tools and resources. People will try to get you off track, but I encourage you to remain confident in where God has already been with you and where you feel complete trust that God will be with you again. It may seem completely improbable, but you might be the one that brings just that slightly different perspective or experience that can get things moving.
“The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”[x]
The Gospels tell time and again of Jesus breaking the boundaries of “that’s the way it is” thinking. He eats with and talks to and heals people that others deem unclean. Jesus drives out the money changers from the Temple, interrupting a financial system taking advantage of worshippers coming in from out of town.
With all the brokenness and evil of this world, the good news is that we do not have to be stuck. We don’t have to be stuck in our personal lives. We don’t have to be stuck in our collective life. We are called to follow Jesus in bringing fullness of life to all the places that need it, from the front steps of our church, to kitchen tables, to corporate offices, to the Oval Office.
May God continue to shape you and shape me.
May God continue to surprise us with unexpected grace and opportunities.
May God continue to equip leaders with the right skills for the moment to step forward.
With God, there is a way!
Wherever, whenever you find yourself responding to God’s call to #GoodTrouble, as Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”[xi]
[i] Katie Mettler, “‘Good trouble’: How John Lewis fuses new and old tactics to teach about civil disobedience.” Washington Post, June 23, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/06/23/good-trouble-how-john-lewis-fuses-new-and-old-tactics-to-teach-about-civil-disobedience/
[iii] 1 Samuel 17:37 (NRSV used throughout)
[iv] The United Methodist Book of Worship (Nashville, Tenn: United Methodist Publishing House, 1992) 88.
[v] 1 Samuel 17:33
[vi] 1 Samuel 17:37
[vii] Walter Brueggemann, David’s Truth in Israel’s Imagination and Memory, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002) 25.
[viii] Bostock v. Clayton County, No. 17–1618 (S. Ct. 2020) https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf.
[ix] “Transgender Woman Takes Her Fight For Equal Rights To Supreme Court | TODAY,” NBC Today Show, Video of Interview, January 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okVmvhkKDYE.
[x] 1 Samuel 17:37
[xi] 1 Samuel 17:37