1 Samuel 17:32-49
Preached FCCW June 21, 2015 (Father’s Day)
When I was in Junior High,
Johnny Cash recorded a song called,
“A Boy Named Sue.”
It was a ballad about a father who names his son Sue,
knowing that growing up with a girl’s
name would force his son to,
in the words of the song,
either, “get tough or die.”
At the end of the song, the boy – now grown to manhood –
angrily confronts his father for all the misery
he had to endure because of that name.
The father defends himself by reminding his son,
“It’s that name that made you strong.”
At the same time as “A Boy Named Sue” was popular,
I had a classmate whose father apparently employed
his own strategy for planting the seeds of masculinity in his son
by way of a name.
This classmate’s name was Dean Savage.
I don’t remember a lot of names from that long ago,
but I never forgot that one.
Let me tell you, when you are a boy on the threshold of adolescence
with all the pressures to prove your manhood
that come with that age,
you wished you had been given a name like Dean Savage,
because a name like that embodies everything
that you have been taught that manhood is all about.
The story of David and Goliath that I just read,
is one of those epic stories of the Bible
that many of us learned at an early age.
It’s a pretty straightforward lesson
about courage in the face of adversity.
But reading it again in the light of today being Father’s’ Day,
invites us all to hear this story anew.
To listen to it as a story of passage
from boyhood to manhood,
and of the possible roles a father plays in that journey.
Actually, the Bible has very little to say
about the relationship between David and his father, Jesse.
One of the rare glimpses we get into the relationship
between father and son
comes when God sends a prophet
by the name of Samuel
to the household of Jesse,
because God has told Samuel
that the next king of Israel will be one of Jesse’s sons.
Jesse introduces Samuel to his sons.
But Samuel gets no sign from God
that any of these men is the one God has chosen.
Samuel asks Jesse if these are all of his sons.
Jesse’s answer is that he has one more son
“the youngest one ”
who is out herding sheep.
That son is David.
David turns out to be the one chosen by God to be a King.
But in his own father’s eyes,
David was the least significant of his sons.
Before David would become King of Israel in his own right,
he first served in the court of King Saul.
The Bible has far more to say about David’s relationship to King Saul
than about his relationship to his own father.
In a sense, Saul becomes a surrogate father to David.
Saul seemed to be a good role model
for a young man to follow.
This is how the Bible describes him:
“There was not a man among the people of Israel
more handsome than he;
he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.”
But for as good as Saul appeared on the outside,
on the inside he was a train wreck waiting to happen.
He was prone to fits of melancholy, paranoia
and violent outbursts of rage.
Beneath all these cracks in Saul’s external armor,
and maybe at the root of them,
was a tenuous relationship with God.
David was a skilled musician,
and one of his most important
responsibilities in the King’s court
was to play music to soothe Saul
when he grew despondent or unsettled in his spirit.
Saul’s latest military campaign, against the Philistines,
was bogged down in a place called the valley of Elah.
Among the Philistines was a warrior named Goliath.
If Saul stood head and shoulders above any man in Israel,
Goliath stood head and shoulders over Saul.
And then some.
Goliath was six cubits and a span tall.
If you you do the math, that translates into
somewhere between 9 and 11 feet tall.
Goliath wielded a javelin that was too heavy
for most men to carry,
let alone throw.
When he was fully decked out in his armor he was all but invincible.
There was a custom sometimes used
on ancient Near Eastern battlefields,
where a champion from each army would fight to the death
to determine the victorious army.
Day after day, an armor plated Goliath issued a challenge
for anyone in the Israelite army to meet him
mano a mano in No-Man’s Land
to settle this war once and for all.
Not surprisingly, day after day,
nobody on the Israelite side stepped up.
Not even Saul.
David was not a soldier.
He was a shepherd.
But when he hears Goliath mocking Israel and Israel’s God,
he goes to Saul and volunteers to take on the giant
to defend their honor.
We know how the story goes.
David faces off against a locked and loaded Goliath
with nothing but a shepherds staff,
a sling and five smooth stones.
And David takes him down faster than you can say
“Ultimate Fighting Champion.”
David’s stunning victory over Goliath has stood
throughout the age as an inspiration for underdogs of all kinds
who face seemingly impossible odds in life.
But the key to David’s triumph lies in a choice made
before he ever set foot on the field of battle.
After David volunteers to fight Goliath,
Saul tries to better his chances of survival,
by giving him Saul’s personal armor to wear.
Keeping in mind, that Saul was a big man –
standing head and shoulders above every other man in Israel;
and, that David was just a young man,
not yet fully mature, it’s no wonder that
the armor that worked so well for Saul would never fit David.
David tries it on and clanks around in it,
with this big helmets swimming around on his head,
making him look like one of those bobble-head dolls
they give out at ball games,
and with the sword strapped to his side dragging along in the sand.
David figures out that he’s not Saul,
and wearing Saul’s armor is more likely
to get him killed than save him.
So, David takes off the armor,
picks up the staff, sling and stone
that he has used many times to defend his flock from wild animals,
and goes forth to win the day.
There are lessons that fathers pass on to sons about manhood,
that may have served them well,
but which are as bad a fit to their offspring
as Saul’s armor was for David.
There are sons, like that Boy Named Sue,
who, in the absence of a father to guide them,
have acquired layers of armor around them as protection
against the painful lessons life has taught them.
Armor that with time, does more to trap the pain within us,
than it does to deflect the pain around us.
David wore armor into his battle with Goliath.
But not any armor that you wear on the outside.
David’s armor was under the skin.
But it showed on the outside in the confidence with which
he faced the challenge Goliath presented.
David’s under-armor was a gift, not from Saul, or Jesse
or any earthly parent,
but from his Heavenly Father.
It was his trust in his relationship with God,
a trust forged through years of personal experience
in being able to trust God in the difficult situations he had encountered.
He told Saul, “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.”
Saul said, “go, and may the Lord be with you.”
And the Lord was with him.
David didn’t need to wear Saul’s armor,
because he knew that battles are not really won
with swords and spears.
They are won with the Lord at our side.
The armor that Jesus wore to face
the Goliaths of his day is the armor
that we need to be passing on to our children.
The under armor of assurance
that true manhood is found in truth, compassion, peace, justice,
and most of all in security found only in
our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
ILL-FITTING ARMOR anna murdock Lay Servant/Speaker Broad Street UMC / Statesville, NC
How often have I been handed
another person’s shield and sword
and armor and yes, callings
only to find that all were
too heavy and cumbersome
Brought to my knees by the
weight of it all,
I can only stand to face the Goliaths
when I hand back those things
that others ask me to wear
and reach out for the stones
that are God-made
to fit perfectly in my hand …
stones with my name on them,
stones made smooth
by the very waters of my baptism.
It is then and only then
when I can rise and stand
with courage and strength
that is my God’s to give,
and turn in the direction
of God’s choosing.
I don’t know whatever became of Dean Savage.
Whether that name served him well in life,
or whether it became an albatross
that he wore around his neck.
I don’t know who taught Dylann Roof
that manhood was delivered through the barrel of a gun,
or that killing innocent people praying in a church
was a justifiable action based on the color of their skin.
But, this I do know.
The Goliath we face today, is the Goliath
of death dealing racism and heartbreaking violence.
How much longer will we tell ourselves
that these tragedies are aberrations,
when anyone can see that they are a pattern.
This Goliath taunts us, and like Saul’ s soldiers,
well meaning people tell themselves that safety is found in
keeping a safe distance from Him.
But as we learned this week in Charleston,
this Goliath is no respecter of sanctuaries.
He comes for us where ever we may be.
It is time for us, to engage our Goliath, as David engaged his.
What we teach our children shapes them,
and therefore shapes the future of our world.
May we equip our children with the under armor of faith,
that they may answer Goliath as David did:
You come to me with sword and spear and javelin;
but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts,
whom you have defied,
so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,
and wherever truth prevails.
Let us Pray: Heavenly Father, in a world where the image of manhood is often saturated with power and domination, and tragically soaked in the innocent blood of others, we pray on this Father’s Day, and every day, to look to Jesus as our model for a manhood worth emulating. Amen.