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Sermon for June 18, 2006

How Far Will You Go?
2 Corinthians 4; 1 Samuel 17

When I think about our graduates, I think about the lessons they teach us about facing unknown challenges and moving on to the next stage of the journey. Aren’t we all journeying, discovering our potential, and learning how to face the monumental daily challenges of life? Aren’t we all still learning about God’s faithfulness to us in the midst of undefeatable circumstances? As we listen for the Word of God, let us pray.

Have you met Goliath? Goliath is that great big giant of an obstacle that seems unbeatable, and impossible to defeat. Goliath is that one huge problem that you think just might be your undoing -- a difficulty so great that it has you are close to running away.

Have you met Goliath? Perhaps you have met him in the past. Or maybe Goliath is troubling you even now. Sooner or later all of us have to face a giant. Maybe you are facing one today. Maybe it is a giant tumor in your body that threatens your life, or a giant wound that remains in a broken heart. Maybe it’s a giant amount of work that stands between you and your dreams, or a giant injustice you have to confront. We can’t live the life of God without facing evil giants in our society. Crime and violence are evil plagues on our society. So are religious legalism, racism, and materialism. The question is how do you respond? Are you going to give up on the call to live as a person of faith and let Goliath take over? Or can you take a stand? 1 Samuel 17 contains all the clues we need to confront and overcome Goliath. There is power in this Bible story when we listen to it play out on the backdrop of our imagination. Let’s set the scene.

Even though the land of Israel was “Promised,” it did not come easy. (Most promised lands are that way - we have to work and struggle for them.) Ever since the day Joshua took over the leadership of Israel from Moses, the people fought to occupy the land. In today’s reading, the Philistines are the enemies du joir. The Philistines are Israel’s coastal neighbors, and they have a secret weapon to finally defeat Israel -- a nine foot nine giant named Goliath. This fearsome creature taunts the Israelites daily. Israel’s armies twitch with fear. There isn’t a soldier in the camp who wants to take on Goliath. Fear eats away the courage of every last man. Each day Goliath looks bigger and the soldiers of Saul feel smaller.

On one particular day, Goliath shouts insults to the soldiers of Israel, challenging them to a fight. We pick up the story in 1 Samuel 17:8-11. Remember the wrestler Andre the Giant? When I imagine Goliath, that’s what he sounds like in my mind. Goliath says,

“Do you need a whole army to settle this? Choose someone to fight for you, and I will represent the Philistines. We will settle this dispute in single combat! If your man is able to kill me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel! Send me a man who will fight with me!”

When Saul the king of Israel hears this, he is terrified and deeply shaken. But, an adolescent shepherd boy named David asks “Who is this Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” King Saul sends for David. David tells Saul.

"Don't worry about a thing," "I'll go fight this Philistine!" "

Don't be ridiculous!" Saul replies. "There is no way you can go against this Philistine. You are only a boy, and he has been in the army since he was a boy!"

But David persists. "I have been taking care of my father's sheep. When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and take the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I'll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The LORD who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine!"

Saul finally consents. "All right, go ahead," he says. "And may the LORD be with you!"

Then Saul gives David his own royal armor--a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David tries it on, and takes a step or two to see what it feels like. He had never worn such things before. "I can't go in these," he protests. "I'm not used to them." So he takes off the amour. Dressed casually, David picks up five smooth stones from a stream and puts them in his shepherd's bag. Ready for war, David marches to the field of battle and faces Goliath. He shouts:

"You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD Almighty--the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the LORD will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head . . . and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone will know that the LORD does not need weapons to rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours. The LORD will give you to us!" David slings on of his five smooth stones, striking Goliath on the forehead and killing him.

Goliath is going to stand before you in life. And not just once. Just when you topple on giant, another will come to taunt you. When we come to those times of confrontation with Goliath, our first line of defense is to stop trusting in other people’s strategies for toppling giants. Like David, we look around us and identify five smooth stones to help us -- five small but powerful resources can make all the difference.

What are your five smooth stones? What resources has God given you to fight Goliaths? I’ll tell you mine with one reservation. I don’t want you to copy my resources. Yours may be different. I just want to give you an example of the tools God has given me to fight giants.

1. My family

2. My creativity

3. My call

4. My bedrock beliefs

5. My Faith

A PBS program on the Library of Congress some time ago revealed something very interesting about one of our former Presidents. In it, Dr. Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, brought out a little blue box from a small closet that once held the library's rarities. The label on the box read: CONTENTS OF THE PRESIDENT'S POCKETS ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 14, 1865. April 14, 1865, was the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. In the show, Boorstin removed the items in the small container and display them on camera. There were five things in the box: A handkerchief, embroidered "A. Lincoln," a country boy's pen knife, a spectacles case repaired with string, a purse containing a $5 bill in Confederate money(!), and some old and worn newspaper clippings "The clippings," said Boorstin, "were concerned with the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. And one of them actually reports a speech by John Bright which says that Abraham Lincoln is "one of the greatest men of all times." Today that's common knowledge, it wasn't common knowledge then. In fact, Lincoln had more than a few critics during that time. He received an overwhelming amount of discouragement. So this makes it all the more telling that he would carry around with him a few clippings of a few people who just happened to believe that Lincoln was not a failure. Here are Lincoln’s five smooth stones. A few clippings in his pocket to remind him of who he was and what he could do.

God does not leave us to face challenges without something to help us. That’s why the apostle Paul write in 2 Corinthians: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don't give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. . . That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a great glory that will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.”

Giants will always stand in the way of success and happiness. Thank God we don’t have to just stand there and cower in fear. Just look around you, and pick up those five smooth stones that will help you defeat Goliath.

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