Sunday, June 20, 2021
1 Samuel 17:32-49
I was in Chicago the night the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 after a 108-year-old drought. We were watching game 7 on TV from our hotel near Wrigley Field. There was a rain delay, it went into the tenth inning, I know I fell asleep and woke up to the excitement after the winning moment in the early hours of the morning. I’m not a Cubs fan, but we lived in Chicago for four years, and I AM an underdog fan. I almost always root for the underdog. That night, I was happy to be in Chicago, celebrating the underdog – a surprising and LONG-awaited victory for the Cubs after so many years of disappointment and defeat.
This morning, we get to hear part of the classic underdog story of the Bible: David and Goliath. You can go home and read the whole chapter 17 of 1 Samuel to get the full story – it’s a great one! Even people who don’t know much about the Bible at all know this story of how a young boy defeats a giant with a slingshot. It’s a favorite of many of us who have our own personal stories of how God has made what seemed impossible possible, of how God has helped us when we felt like the underdog, or given us the victory in an unlikely situation.
However, combined with our gospel this morning where Jesus calms the storm, if we take a closer look at the story of David and Goliath, we see that this story is not just about the underdog winning, this story is about God helping us face our fears and getting us through truly fearful, anxious times in life. Goliath, if you recall, is nearly 10 feet tall, equipped with state-of-the-art armor and weapons. He is the quintessential Philistine enemy warrior, and everyone else, including King Saul, is afraid of him. They probably ought to be afraid: this is not an irrational or unfounded fear. He, and the Philistines, are truly terrifying. This story is at a bigger level than God helping your favorite team win a baseball game, although baseball victories are important for a lot of us. This story addresses matters of life and death, not just for David and Goliath, but for Israel against the Philistines – it’s a war story.
Just like when we heard about how David was first anointed king last week, we hear again that this unlikely young runt of a shepherd boy faces this giant “fear” courageously, because of his faith in God’s power. The secular retelling of David and Goliath leaves out this important part that the biblical original makes explicitly clear: it’s not David’s own cunning or skill at using a slingshot that defeats Goliath and the Philistines – it is David’s faith in God and God’s power working through David that allows the Israelites to triumph. David even talks about how God has helped him in the past: “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 the Philistine,” he says. God has helped David face his fears before, giving him the strength and the courage he needs for this important moment. David takes on Goliath in the first place not to show off his personal power and strength so that he can receive the attention of the hero. David defeats Goliath for Israel’s sake, so that the people might live in peace without fear of the Philistines, and so that “all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,” 1 Samuel says.
David has faith that God will continue to save, because God is God, and David is not. David recognizes it’s not up to David to save Israel – he gives it up to God. Our lives might be less anxious if we regularly reminded ourselves it’s not up to us, it’s up to God. It’s not up to us to be the perfect parent or grandparent. It’s not up to us to figure out the perfect solution to care for our aging parents or for our own care as we age. It’s not up to us to keep a perfectly maintained and clean house while also working full-time as an all-star employee and coaching our kid’s baseball team on nights and weekends. Whatever stresses or overwhelms us, we, like David, try to give it up first to God. We can try to do our best, but we recognize God can do much more through us when we let go and let God.
In our gospel for today, we have a similar theme of God helping us face our fears and getting us through anxious times. A windstorm arises quickly as the disciples are in a boat with Jesus and other boats are with them. The disciples are terrified, and they are amazed that Jesus is sleeping while this is happening! Remember, at least some of the disciples are also expert fishermen. They, like the Israelites, are legitimately afraid because they know what storms on the sea can do to people in boats, and they have done all they can do on their own. The only thing left to do is to wake Jesus up. Jesus calms their anxieties and fears with simple words, “Peace! Be still!” The disciples realize that the power of God is at work through this remarkable teacher they are following, so that even the wind and the sea obey him.
I wonder, like David, like the disciples, how has God gotten you through times where you have been afraid or overwhelmed by anxiety in the past? David uses his memory of God helping him through past experiences of defending his flock from wild animals to calm his nerves and place his trust in the Lord for protection and victory over Goliath. By the grace of God, we can look back on our personal history with God to recognize we would not be here today without God’s help. God has made a way for us, God has brought us here today this far by faith. I have had the privilege to sit and listen to many stories of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War in the congregations I have served and in my own family. As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in a foxhole.” In situations that any human being would legitimately be terrified to be in, God gave these veterans the peace and the strength they needed to face their fears, sometimes with truly miraculous stories of faith. Listening to stories of others and recalling our own stories of faith helps us trust in God when we are in situations where we recognize there is NO WAY we would be able to get through on our own strength and might.
David’s defeat of Goliath and thereby Israel’s conquering of the Philistines inspires hope in God for us still today. When evil has seemed to take over, and we wonder at times if God’s goodness truly will win the day, we can think back to D-Day at Normandy, or the fall of the Berlin wall, or the end of apartheid in South Africa, or even the historic rapid development of effective vaccines to end this pandemic and point people to GOD at work to defeat sin, death, and the devil – all the forces that seek to defy God. And in recalling these personal and historical stories of faith, we realize we have quite the underdog story to tell, bigger even than the Cubs winning the series after 108 years.
As the disciples get out of the boat with Jesus and continue to follow him, I bet they remember what happened to them in the storm on the water as they journey with him to the cross. As faithful Jewish Christians, perhaps they even recalled David defeating Goliath with a slingshot as Jesus was being crucified. On the cross, it looked like defeat for Jesus, of course. Some doubted. Many were afraid. Perhaps God was dead, some thought. But of course, Easter Sunday tells us that on that cross was God in Christ’s ultimate victory, so that we might know even NOW that no matter how great our fears and anxieties, when circumstances seem to overwhelm us, that God’s got us. Jesus is in the boat with us. In Jesus, we have ultimate victory. Amen.