The Giant in our Way1 Sam 17:1-23,32-49
It has happened again. President Obama on Thursday said that this is the fourteenth time in his seven years in office that he has has to address the nation in the wake of a mass shooting: Birmingham, NY – 13 dead, 4 wounded; Ft. Hood, TX, 13 dead; Tucson, AZ, 6 dead; Aurora, CO – 12; Oak Creek, WI – 6; Newtown, CT – 27 most of them children; Washington, DC Naval Yard – 12 children of God slain; Ft. Hood, TX again – 3; Chapel Hill, NC – 3; and these are just some of the ones President Obama has lamented. The statistics are even more heart wrenching – our nation has averaged one mass shooting per month since 2009. And yet it continues.
It has happened again. This time in Charlotte, NC. (Ed. Correction, Charleston, SC) Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Clementa, Tywanza,Daniel, Sharonda, Myra – nine killed as they gathered for Bible Study, one left intentionally alive to tell the world the reason behind the shooting, “You have got to go,” he said, “I have to do it…you rape our women, and you’re taking over our country.” The terrorist who committed this act wasn’t speaking about personal issues with someone with these words. This coward was instead, worshiping at the feet of the giant who is still standing in the valley, taunting those of good will – he was worshiping at the giant of racism that looms large in this country. Despite appearances to the contrary – we do not live in a post-racial country. We live in a post Jim Crow country. A country where the giant of racism has been grafted into our national DNA. Whether we are aware of it or not. The Goliath is there in the valley demanding that we dare come and try to fight him.
The Giant stands there taunting the church. But what the giant doesn’t know is that the church, you and me, if we are brave enough can knock the giant down. God is on the side of justice and right. God doesn’t let us go into this fight empty handed. Our perspective has to be challenged and our demeanor changed, but when that happens. The Giant will fall.
Let us pray…
I find it powerful, as always, how the Holy Spirit works. I chose to preach this summer on the story of David weeks ago. The lectionary prescribes the texts and the order of the story, and it happens that today we hear the story of David and Goliath. The flannel graph favorite. How many of us can picture either sitting in Sunday School or teaching Sunday School and looking on with awe as the boy David in his blue and white shepherd’s robes approaches the armored giant Goliath. How many of us sat on the edges of our seats wondering if the small boy – the one that as children we could really identify with – how many of us sat there in anticipation as the sling spun in the air, and were delighted with the appropriate thunk as the rock sunk into the skull of the giant. The little guy triumphs over the giant. It is the quintessential underdog story.
The bible says the Israelites were terrified of this Philistine Giant. And rightfully so.
You see, they had been fighting their mortal enemies for days, and not the armies had each seized the the high points on the opposite sides of a great valley. It would be suicide for either side to try to go down in the valley to attack the opposing army. They would be sitting duck, totally exposed in the valley. So, as was custom, the Philistines sent a solider out in to the middle of the valley to engage in one on one combat with a soldier of the Israelite army. This was done to save lives on either side and to determine whose God was the most powerful.
They would fight to the death and the victor would lead his army to defeat and capture the opposing army.
Now the soldier the Philistines sent out was not a great general or sleek soldier. They went one step further and send out a giant. Goliath. A mountain standing 9 and a half feet tall. Wearing armor that weighed well over 100 pounds, carrying a spear that weighed 15 pounds.
It is understandable why the Israelite army fully believed the taunts coming from his mouth. For forty days, he stood in the valley, threatening and intimidating. He called them every name in the book, challenged their manhood, insulted their families. The Giant was winning with out even throwing a blow.
The eyes of the Israel army only saw a giant who would slaughter whomever dared to be foolish enough to step up and fight him. From their perspective this giant could never be defeated. He was too massive. They did not feel equipped to fight the enemy. They felt small and insignificant in light of the giant problem before them.
They see the giant of racism standing in front of them and wonder how on earth it can be defeated. They see the news day after day listing the casualties of war. They weep as nine people are slaughtered by the giant – even as they pray.
The sense of hopelessness is a cloud covering them. A cloud shaped by the giant. The light shinning behind him casting a pall of darkness and despair over the nation. Over the church.
These past few days we have come face to face with the giant, the largest unspoken of giant in our national dna. From the first footsteps on this land the giant came. The early settlers knowing that their bloodlines were pure and the savage first nations people already here had to be tamed. The ships of slaves crossing the ocean, forced labor building the economies of both the north and the south. The roots of revolution started when the homeland outlawed slavery. The constitution declaring people kissed by the African Sun to be only worth 3/5 of a full human. The giant walks in the land – taunting.
The giant continues his jeering as once freed slaves are held now in indentured servitude, forced to sharecrop on the land they were promised. And as they begin to to gain power, a giant named Jim Crow comes to town. Christ is crucified again and again as the cross becomes the lynching tree – strange fruit swinging in the soft southern breeze.
The giant taunts and ridicules those who try to fight. Gunning down leaders like Medgar and Martin. Creating a school to prison pipeline that punishes the darker hued more than the ones of Philistine descent. The giant laughs as nine are gunned down worshiping their God. The giant bellows as the newscasters minimized the terror saying the murderer is a lone wolf, is imbalanced. He bellows as he hears them try every which way that this was not a killing that was racially motivated, even though in the killer’s own words – “I wanted to start a race war.” The giant mocks as the issue of race becomes a battle line of left and right rather than a factor of humanization. The giant enjoys watching as excuses are made for not trying to fight him.
As he hears the cries of, “what can we do?” “That’s the way it has always been.” He chuckles as there are some who decide that there is no giant, because our Commander in Chief is a black man. The giant stands in the valley with his javelin in the air, sneering, ridiculing, causing his enemy to being to question each other. Causing them to turn on each other.
In the midst of the hazing from the Philistine giant, walks a shepherd boy bringing lunch to his brothers fighting for King Saul. Sent by his dad to bring food because they have been at this stalemate for forty days he enters the encampment to hear the guttural cries of the giant.
He sees the fear and uncertainty in the eyes of the kings army. He looks at them. He looks at the giant. Them. Giant. Them. Giant. Unsure of what their issue is, he steps up.
“I will go and fight this giant.”
As he says this uneasy laughs rise up from the encamped army. Even the king laughs, “You are just a boy. Beat it. You don’t know what you are talking about.”
But David has a different perspective of the situation. He doesn’t see a mountain, but rather sees a man slow and weak. He sees that the giant, while obscenely huge in reality is quite weak and vulnerable. He sees that the giant did not come into the valley on his own, but was helped by an assistant. Leading his way. David saw the systems in place to make the giant tower over the people. David did not see a great warrior, but saw a man weighed down by over a hundred pounds of armor. He sees a man who is not nimble enough to evade the weapon of a shepherd.
David has a perspective of the situation that sees the giant for what he is – a distraction. He sees the giant not as an impregnable fortress, but as a problem to be confronted and dealt with. He see the giant as nothing more than a weak man hiding behind his masquerade of power.
“Sir, I have fought and killed lions and bears. Let me go. I go not alone, but with the God of the fighting angels with me. This giant is something that can be dealt with, you just have to do it right.”
“Fine, boy. Put on this armor.”
“I don’t need your armor. I don’t need another workshop on how do fight a giant. It just gets in the way of the real work.”
And so, David goes down in to the valley. He gets as close as he needs to fight the giant. He picks up a stone. Whirls it in his sling. It leaves the sling traveling at a speed of over 60 meters a second. The stone, before the giant can react, nails him between the eyes and fells the beast.
The giant in our way is a huge and terrible problem. The giant of racism has been mocking people of good will since the ver beginnings of this country’s history, and to deny that fact is to allow the giant to win. It is to see things from the giant’s perspective. But when we stop and look a the giant from God’s perspective. When we look a the giant with analytical eyes, we see not a foe that we can let control us, but we see a problem that prevents people for living the way God wants them to live – as free people. As whole people. As people bound in community.
What the giant can’t see is that even as he seeks to divide us, God has already begun a time of renewal. The martyrs are laying int he battle field, Martin and Medgar, Michael and Tamir, Four little girls in Birmingham, Nine saints in Charlotte, and countless others having given their lives in the fight for freedom; having died at the hand of the giant these freedom fighters have taught us things. They have taught us that racism is a systemic evil, yes it resides in the hearts of humans, but it also has engrained itself into the very fabric of society. When the desk of a slain Black pastor is draped in funeral bunting in the stated capitol while above that desk of grief flies the Confederate flag – there are systems of evil beating in the soul of a state. The saints have taught us that the way to defeat the giant is to listen to their stories. To tell their stories. To meet our neighbors and learn their stories. And to enter the battle with humble hearts, and not the hubris of political allegiance.
When we look a the giant from God’s perspective we see an evil that can be over come. We look for ways to fight, and there on the valley’s edges we find the first stone – the families of those slain in Charlotte forgiving the killer of their kin. Radical grace; the gospel writ large. We look: an other stone, this congregation – look around as the faces in this place. Black and white; coming together to worship the God who created us all in God’s image. We have the perspective of deep and loving relationships that can be mutually educational. That can open our eyes even more to the persistence of evil. This stone can be the one to fell a giant if we face him together. Hand in hand, arm in arm.
Another stone: leaders in the community who are working to build relationships across racial lines. Their work rooted in the reality that it is only through relationships that the giant can be defeated. On August 1, I invite as many of you as can to an event of encounter. As stone that can sail between the eyes of giant.
Another stone: we have the witness of history. The giant rears his ugly head again and again. Not just here, but everywhere. In Europe, migrants are being returned to their homes – even though death awaits them. In Burma, ethnic cleansing has been going on for forty years. In the mid-east, Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other; Arabs and non-Arabs fight. The witness of history seems to favor the giant, but in the middle of all of these battles there are David’s rising up, speaking God’s love, God’s healing.
The final stone: we know what happens when David slings his stone. We know that David comes at the problem from God’s perspective and we see that David does not enter the fight alone. Those beaten down by the giant laugh at him. But that doesn’t matter. When we have the courage to call the giant what he is – Racism, many will call us race-baiters. They will call us antagonizers. They will call us alarmists. They will say that we are trying to start problems.
Let ’em. Say it all you want, but you know what? It don’t matter. You can call us names. We come into this fight armed with he truth of the living God. The God of all humanity. We come like the shepherd David. Ready to fight because this is not the way things are supposed to be.
The fight is long and hard. But when we go into it with the right perspective, it isn’t impossible and it isn’s daunting. It is about being the people of God in a place where the giants want to scare.
God Goes with us. We are not alone in this fight.
David said to the giant, “This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head…so that all the earth may know that there is a God….”
Ours is a righteous fight. It is the battle of good over evil. And when the church rises up and steps into the battle, the earth will know that there is a God
Thanks be to God.