David and Goliath
Everybody knows the story of David and Goliath, more or less. . .
Jesse’s youngest boy, David, had been strangely anointed in his childhood by the prophet Samuel to be the king of Israel after Saul – a fact the family very wisely kept to itself, since Saul undoubtedly had plans for his own children. Some time after Samuel’s visit, the Philistines – a group of Canaanites who appear from time to time in Israel – are on the attack. For 40 days an enormous man, a giant, Goliath, taunts the Israelites, calling them into a winner-take-all battle of champions.
Jesse, back in Bethlehem, becomes concerned about all his older boys, serving with the king, and he sends young David out with sandwiches for his brothers and for news from the front. David is still the errand-boy, in his family’s estimation. David arrives and is flabbergasted that the king and his mighty army have been sitting there for more than a month, listening to the bully, paralyzed by fear. I’ll do it, he says: I’ll fight the Philistine. And you know what happens – after some preliminary trash-talking between the two of them, David rushes Goliath, and with only his shepherd’s slingshot and a few river rocks, he takes out the giant champion and claims victory in the name of the God of Israel.
Usually, the moral of the story is something like this: God loves underdogs. If God is on your side, you cannot lose. Smart is better than strong. Bad guys eventually get what they deserve. But there’s a lot more in this story. (I think we generally overlook the deeper stories in the saga of King David, who is an incredible lesson in leadership, faithfulness and failure, courage and repentance, and the zigzags of life.)
I think the key to this story is in the conversation between David and Saul.
David shows up with his picnic basket and letters from Dad, sees the inaction of the high and mighty, and says: I don’t know what’s wrong with you people. Let me at this guy.
What happens next is a lesson in courage, leadership, faith, and as far as I’m concerned, the Christian Church in the 21st century.
King Saul says to young David: Are you kidding? Of course you are – you’re a kid. I can’t let you do that.
David looks at mighty King Saul, who’s been sitting around on his excuses for weeks, and says: Look. I watch the sheep out in the country. I deal with bears and lions all the time. Sometimes one grabs a lamb, and I pry it right of their jaws. If I can do that, I can do this. I’ve developed skills in the job I have, o king my king. My life has prepared me for this moment.
King Saul says to the boy: Well, at least take my fine bronze armor, forged to protect a king. That may keep you from harm in this fool’s errand.
And David puts the armor on, tries to walk, and says, politely: Uh, sire, I can’t walk in this.
Freeze frame. There it is.
You can see the thought bubble over David’s head: NO WONDER you don’t want to go out there! NOBODY could walk in this armor. It’s stiff and bulky and it weights a ton. How anybody do ANYTHING armored up like this? I don’t want or need this armor. It’s paralyzing. I just have the skills, some pretty flexible tools – a slingshot and just the right stones – that I’ve practiced with for years. (What do you think I do all day when there ISN’T a lion or bear around?) I trust my skills, my gifts, my tools, my strategies, and by the way, GOD. And off he goes.
Did you see what happened there?
Brené Brown is a researcher and author who has researched leadership, courage, resilience, and related subjects for decades. She also happens to be an Episcopalian. One of her recent ventures, born of her book Dare to Lead, is a podcast called – Dare to Lead. And Brené says there that all of her research has led her to this conclusion:
The opposite of courage is not fear, which was her working hypothesis for her daring leadership research. After studying 30,000 people around the globe, she concluded this instead:
The opposite of courage is armor.
In her lexicon, “armor” includes:
· creating a culture of fitting in,
· seeking power over instead of power with and power to,
· hustling for your worth,
· weaponizing fear.
We think all that stuff protects us. It can be gilded and embroidered and king-sized, which only makes it heavier, stiffer, and more paralyzing. Sound like King Saul and his court? Well, if you don’t know, read the Book of Samuel. Trust me, it does.
I wonder if that armor sounds like anybody else you know – political leaders? Celebrities? Our own households? Beloved, it can sure sound like me sometimes. I wonder if you see that instinct for armor in yourself. Or in the Church. Maybe, in this post-Covid season, especially in the Church.
Armor looks safe. It looks logical. It looks sensible and reasonable. And it is heavy, confining, and ultimately deadly. The whole nation of Israel was trapped and rendered powerless by Saul’s armor – psychologically, spiritually, and literally.
David refused the armor. David chose courage. Brené describes courage not as the absence of fear, but rather as the combination of being afraid and brave at the same time. Good leaders are afraid all the time, but they are also brave. And they have skills and equipment that they practice with all the time – even when there isn’t a bear or a lion or some other crisis attacking.
She names the skills of courage as
1. Rumbling with vulnerability, which means naming hard things, telling the truth, and staying in tough conversations.
2. Living into our values.
3. Braving trust.
4. Learning to rise.
In our world, in Christian lingo, this might be
1. Telling the truth in love. Building one another up. Showing up with our whole selves. Sticking with our accountability group.
2. Living into our values. The Great Commandment and Great Commission. The beatitudes. The baptismal promises.
3. Keeping the faith, in God and in the beloved community, even when we’ve been hurt.
4. Repenting of mistakes and failures, returning to Christ and to our vows. Not IF we fall into sin, but WHENEVER we fall into sin.
David couldn’t defeat Goliath until he
1. Was willing to be vulnerable, without armor, and to name that the emperor’s clothes were actually the problem.
2. Put his values ahead of everything else.
3. Trusted in the preparation God had given him.
4. Persevered, respectfully, even when people insulted his size and abilities.
This is powerful, powerful stuff. What does it mean for the Church coming out of COVID and into a deeply fractured 21st century that cannot see what the Church has to offer? How are we going to face the growling giant? Well…
I wonder how much armor we are lugging around, how much that is grand and impressive and big and heavy, that keeps us out of the game?
I wonder what it is that we think we have to have to keep us safe, but which actually paralyzes us?
I wonder what offbeat gifts and skills we have developed that are exactly the things we need to slay the giants we face, if only we trust in them?
I wonder if we are willing to lay down the armor, pick up the slingshots and river rocks, and RUN into the scary new world, trusting in God?
We are moving into new ways of gathering, new ways of forging community, new ways of sustaining relationships and deepening faith. We may find our way by asking these questions:
That routine that we miss, that process that we struggle to reinstate – is it a slingshot that clears the way for the future, or armor that holds us down?
And those new skills we have honed among the bears and lions – how can they help us overcome the giant challenges ahead?
Armor, or courage. One represents a failure of nerve and a fall into idolatry; the other represents faith and trust and hope. One leads to defeat and death; the other leads to the victory of life.
Day by day, bear by bear, lion by lion, giant by giant – which will you choose?