June 21, 2015 “Hooray for the Underdog”
1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
Underdogs are called “underdogs” for a reason. They are outnumbered, or they are small, weaker or lacking in tools or weapons. They should not prevail in the contest in which they are entered. Yet, often, they do. Why? How could a young shepherd boy prevail in a contest against an armed and dangerous giant? Some people interpret scripture to say that Goliath was 6’9″ and that the numbers of the description were reversed or inflated. In either case, Goliath was a lot bigger than David!
We tend to think of David and Goliath as a bedtime Bible story that we read to our children to instill confidence. Goliath was BIG, fully clad in armor with multiple weapons, ready to attack and kill. How would we face such an opponent–or any opponent, for that matter? As I was writing this message, a reverse 911 call came into the office. I did not know that such a thing existed, so we called the police department to be told that an armed and dangerous male had escaped from the jail across the street. Lock the doors and remain inside until we receive a call saying that it is safe to go out. Wow! Our own Goliath to deal with on a Friday afternoon. I pray for boredom and this was definitely not the answer I expected from God.
Life in any era presents challenges. When David went forward to meet Goliath, not usually an advance made by a sole warrior (and David’s presence certainly did not appear to be that of an enemy), Goliath sneered and taunted the youth armed only with a sling and five smooth stones. David still accepted the challenge to meet Goliath in combat and loaded a stone into his sling, and slung it right at the target–between Goliath’s eyes!
We tend to think of a slingshot as a child’s toy to practice aiming at a target and hitting it with a small projectile of some kind–for amusement, mostly. The sling David carried was a highly effective weapon. Armies used them in battle, and shepherds like David used them to protect their flocks from wild animals like lions and bears. Malcolm Gladwell describes the sling as “a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball..” It’s not a child’s toy. It is in fact, an incredibly devastating weapon. If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David’s sling, it is roughly equal to the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. When David lines up he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot..between his eyes. Everything else is covered with armor.
Although this may seem like a surprising victory, it makes perfect sense. Throughout history, Davids have found ways to conquer Goliaths. Today the fearsome Bradley Fighting Vehicle has fallen victim to Improvised Explosive Devices. In response, the army is developing an 84 ton Ground Combat Vehicle that will be massive enough to survive a roadside bomb. Dads may want one of these vehicles for Father’s Day, especially if a resident teen is looking to get a driver’s permit or new license. Sorry they will not be available until at least 2019. In the New Yorker magazine (May 11, 2009) Malcolm Gladwell explained the secret of being a successful underdog. He begins by talking about the game of basketball, in which towering Goliaths usually win by rising over their shorter opponents. Gladwell believes that David can win by using the full-court press. Full court press is when you prevent your opponent from advancing up the court to the basket. If you are a David, and you allow a Goliath to get to the basket, he will probably score but if you press him, and keep him at the other end of the court for a significant amount of time, you stand a chance of winning. Isn’t that just what David did when he faced Goliath? He did not give Goliath any ground, but ran quickly to the battle line. He used the full-court press.
Each of us has been given a unique talent by God for use in the challenges we face. The first disciples were fishermen, and Jesus used them to “fish for people.” Paul started out as a passionate persecutor of the church and God used his zeal to preach the gospel. Dorcas was “devoted to good works and acts of charity”, Lydia showed gracious hospitality to Paul, and Apollos used his eloquence to tell people about Jesus. Fishing, zeal, good works, hospitality, and eloquence. What a diverse group of talents found in people across the community. God has given each of us a unique gift, and victory is possible when we put it to use.
David refused to be intimidated and told Goliath, “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand” (v.46). David not only tried harder but he believed harder. He surpassed his fellow Israelites in showing confidence that God would exert effort on their behalf. David stood up to Goliath and put complete faith in God. All of us face challenges in our health, in our work, in our education and in our relationships. In each of these areas we can make the same kind of effort that David did, refusing to give up and run away. We can trust God to make an effort on our behalf, helping us to survive and thrive.
Sometimes we have to be insurgents by challenging authorities about how things are supposed to be done. This is hard because we have a negative view of people described as insurgents. All of the attacks in the Middle East and elsewhere made on innocent people make us cringe at the use of the word. An insurgent can be a villain or a hero. We are called to be insurgents for God. The sudden sprint toward Goliath by David must have frozen Goliath for just a short time, a moment for David to act as a point guard and flick the sling right at the target.
David shows us that we can be victorious when we choose an unconventional approach, when we try harder than anyone else and righteously challenge authority. We all have been given a unique set of talents by a God who can be trusted to work for good in our lives. So..pick up your five smooth stones and run quickly toward the battle line. God’s presence in our lives gives us the courage to face danger and to overcome our fears, for God listens and responds to all who call on the name of the Lord, as David did so long ago.