The Long Shot

Preached FCCW June 17, 2018

1 Samuel 17: 32-47

 

At the 1913 Kentucky Derby, the smart money rested on one of three horses. Their names were Yankee Notions, Ten Point, and Foundation.  True to the odds-makers predictions, those three swapped the lead back and forth between them as they rounded the track at Churchill Downs.  As the horses churned into the stretch, Ten Point was leading. Then something happened that almost nobody saw coming: a 91-1 long shot named Donerail drove from the rear of the field and captured the lead. When he crossed the finish line, he was half a body length ahead of Ten Point. To this day, Donerail’s incredible upset stands as the highest paying, long shot victory in Kentucky Derby history.

If God was a betting man, I believe He would have been all in on Donerail. Time and again, God has shown a willingness to risk everything on some pretty notorious long shots. And never has there been a bigger long shot; never more of an overmatched underdog than David in his infamous bout with Goliath. So much so that the very names David and Goliath have become synonymous with lopsided conflicts between the weak and the mighty.

Day after day, as the armies of the Israelites and the Philistines faced off against each other in the valley of Elah, Goliath would stand in no-man’s-land and taunt the Israelites, challenging them to pick a champion to fight him. But none of King Saul’s troops volunteered. No wonder. After all, it was a veritable suicide mission. Goliath was a walking, trash talking human tank with a spear like a howitzer.

It’s hard to believe that such a creature could really exist other than in myths and fairy tales. Until we stop and acknowledge the Goliaths that prowl our own lives.

In his book Cast of Characters Max Lucado writes, “Your Goliath doesn’t carry sword or shield; he brandishes blades of unemployment, abandonment, abuse, or depression. He brings bills you can’t pay, grades you can’t make, people you can’t please, whiskey you can’t resist, a past you can’t shake, and a future you can’t face.”

Maybe you recognize a few of these giants from your own experience. Maybe you are on a first name basis with one or two of them. We can add in other giants, like racism, poverty, injustice, nationalism and intolerance. Any one of these can stand in the way of a better life, or a better world.

The Philistine Goliath kept the Israelites hostage to their own fears so that they could neither advance nor retreat. Whatever your Goliath may be, it too, probably keeps you hemmed in on all sides with seemingly no way out. If it feels like the odds are stacked against you, remember a longshot named David. David was not even a soldier. He was a shepherd. The only reason he was there on the battlefield that day was that he was delivering a CARE package from home to his brothers on the front lines. The thing about David was that, though his physical size was small, his vision was wide. David saw a bigger power at work in his life: a power that dwarfed even a monster like Goliath.

Sometimes we settle for situations that are standing in the way of the life God is calling us to live, the way Goliath stood in the way of the Israelite army. David didn’t let Goliath’s size intimidate him into being anything other than who and what God wanted him to be. As people of faith and communities of faith, our goal should be a clear vision of God’s purpose for us and conforming ourselves to that vision.

Knowing and doing God’s will requires something greater than our own strength. The reason that David could face Goliath with a staff and a slingshot rather than a sword and a spear was that he drew courage and inspiration from his relationship with God and his memory of God’s care for him in the past. He remembered how he had fended off dangerous predators to protect the sheep he guarded. As he prepared to face off against the behemoth before him, David took a deep breath and whispered to himself, “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.”

When you are confronted with your Goliaths, do you possess a battle-proven faith in God’s presence that you can draw upon? Do you have a person or a community of faith you can turn to be bolstered by the faith and hope of others?

David had the confidence of knowing that victory did not depend on his own size, strength or agility. It depended on the rightness of his cause and the faithfulness of God. David teaches us to measure the size of our giants against the size of our God, instead of judging the prospects of victory or defeat solely on our own strengths and resources.

Something else David knew was that beating Goliath would result in more than a personal victory for himself. It would also demonstrate to enemies and allies alike that God does not place His chips on the biggest and baddest, but on the righteous and faithful. He said, “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and all this assembly know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

In similar fashion, our God given victories over Goliaths, large or small, can inspire others to believe that God still rescues the needy, and defends the powerless when they are in the valley facing their giants.

Years ago, comedian and actor Tim Allen was being interviewed. After talking about Allen’s career, his ups and downs, his struggles with addiction, the interviewer asked Tim Allen what he thought God would say to him when he got to heaven. Allen thought for a moment, and then responded, “I told you there was nothing to be afraid of.”

It’s not necessarily that our fears are figments of our imagination, but that even the big, genuine fears we have are not so big that God can’t enable and empower us to handle them.

Father’s Day is a good time to remember that we can find in the Bible an alternative model of healthy masculinity that differs from the blustering alpha-male, Goliath images of manhood we’ve grown accustomed to. One that is shaped by faithfulness and commitment to the right causes, even when the odds are stacked against you.

Because, like Donerail, and David, and a descendant of David named Jesus, the longest of longshots are the ones that pay off big in the long run.

 

Copyright 2018   Raymond Medeiros