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Sermon for June 3, 2007

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

Have you met Goliath? Goliath is that immense giant of an obstacle that seems unbeatable and impossible to defeat. Goliath is that one huge problem that just might be your undoing -- a difficulty so great that it has you entertaining the thought that you are close to giving up.

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 the giant. Maybe it is a giant sickness that threatens life, or a giant wound that festers in a broken heart. Maybe it’s a giant wedge in a relationship that keeps you trapped in lonely silence. Maybe it’s a giant amount of work that stands between you and your dreams, or a giant injustice you have to confront The question is: how do you respond? Are you going to give up the call to live as a person of faith and let Goliath win, or are you going to take a stand?

Have you met Goliath – the enemy who robs your life of hope and joy? 1 Samuel 17 contains some ideas we can use to confront and overcome giants. There can be power in this story if we can let it play out on the backdrop of our imagination. As you listen to the story, imagine Goliath as a symbol of the giants you face.

Setting the Scene
For most of his life, King Saul of Israel had been fighting for every inch of the Promised Land. Even though the land was “Promised,” it did not come easy. Most promised lands are that way - we have to work and struggle for them. Lately, the Philistines had been gaining the upper hand. King Saul grew old and weary and the battles with the Philistines had taken a turn for the worse. The Philistines unveiled their “secret weapon” - a nine foot nine inch giant named Goliath. Every day, this powerful, fearsome gargantuan taunted the Israelites, issuing a challenge that had King Saul’s army cringing behind their shields. There wasn’t a soldier in the camp who wanted to take on Goliath. Fear and despair took hold in the camp and ate away the courage of every soldier. Each day Goliath looked bigger and King Saul’s army felt smaller. On one particular day, Goliath began shouting insults to the soldiers of Israel and he challenged them to a fight. Let’s pick up the story in 1 Samuel 17:8-11.

Goliath stood and bellowed to the ranks of Israel, “Why bother using your whole army? Am I not Philistine enough for you? And you’re all committed to Saul, aren’t you? So pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!” When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine's challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.

After hearing these threats, an adolescent shepherd boy named David looked around and asked, “Who is this person who is insulting the armies of God?” You see, David wasn’t afraid of the Philistine giant.

King Saul sent for David and this is the conversation they had:
David said to Saul, “Don’t give up hope, King. I’m ready to go and fight this Philistine.” Saul replied, “You can't go and fight this Philistine. You're too young and inexperienced—and he's been at this fighting business since before you were born.” But David said to Saul, “I've been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I'd go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb. If it turned on me, I'd grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it. Lion or bear, it made no difference—I killed it. And I'll do the same to this Philistine who is taunting the troops of the Lord. GOD, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you” (1 Samuel 17:32-37).

Instead of putting on armor and a sword, David chose to dress casually, carrying only a sling in his hand, with five smooth stones that he collected from the stream. He was ready for war.

Listen to what David said when he confronted Goliath:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down. Today I will serve up the carcasses of the Philistine army to the crows and coyotes, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and God will give all of you into our hands” (vs. 45-47).

David took out a stone, and slung it and it struck Goliath on the forehead and killed him. The young, weak boy defeated his Goliath.

FIVE SMOOTH STONES
Goliath is going to stand before you in life. And not just once. When one conflict is over, another will come. Goliath will stand in your way and mock you. I need you to know something. When Goliath stands in your way, GOD will never leave you. When David fought Goliath, he didn’t put his trust in the standard resources of war. David believed that God would defeat Goliath. If David had bought into the standard thinking, he would have been killed.

When we come to those times of confrontation with Goliath, our first line of defense is our relationship with God. We must trust in God’s strength...no matter what others may consider the best way out of our difficulties. No matter what giants we may be facing, our problems can be solved by using the tools God has given us to defeat giants. God gives us five smooth stones.

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 assume that my resources will work for you. Yours may be different. Or, you might find that these work for you . . .
1. The stone of trust - trust not in my own power, not in the world’s weapons, but in God.
2. The stone of calling. When I get discouraged, I take time to reflect on my call to ministry. God chose me for a special purpose, in this special time and place. No one else gets to define that calling. It comes from God. I was given a distinctive Christian identity in the waters of baptism. God nurtures my identity at the Communion Table, and God continues to direct my steps.
3. The stone of outrageous hope - Emily Dickinson got it right when she wrote that hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.
4. The stone of courageous confrontation - understanding, studying analyzing discussing debating isn’t enough. There comes a time when courageous action is called for – a decisive moment when we take our stand.
5. The stone of contagious creativity. We are created to be co-creators with God. Being in touch with me creativity helps me come up with ways to face the giants

A PBS program on the Library of Congress some time ago revealed something very interesting about one of our former Presidents. 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. 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 Confederate $5 bill and some old and worn newspaper clippings

The clippings were concerned with the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. And one of them actually reports a speech by John Bright proclaiming Abraham Lincoln as “one of the greatest men of all times.” Today that’s a common assumption. 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 and ridicule. Lincoln carried around with him a few clippings from a few people who just happened to believe that he 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. What are your five smooth stones when you face the giants?

God does not leave us to face challenges alone without something to help us. That’s why The Apostle Paul can say what he did in our first scripture reading: We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best! We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life . . . We’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without God’s unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever (The Message).

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