Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

Facing the Giants

Rev. Kathy Donley



Scripture Lesson:  I Samuel 17


This is a story from an ancient land and time, but in many ways, it could be an iconic American story, because we love to think that we’re the little guy.  We love to cheer for the underdog.  Speaking to a graduating class at Duke University, the Rev. Sam Wells talked about movies like the one where the small-town attorney prevailed against the sprawling multinational conglomerate that was poisoning local waters and the one where the small high school defeats the big state powerhouse in basketball.  Rev. Wells said “We want our movies to be about David, but we spend our lives trying desperately hard to be Goliath. We think it’s quaint and clever that David got by with five smooth stones and a sling, but we spend our own energies stockpiling swords and spears and javelins. We admire the fact that David forswore Saul’s armor and gadgetry, but just look at our car, just look at our house, just look at our country: we’ve beefed them up to look like Goliath, with so many safety and security features we can hardly move around in them.[1]


We love David in this story, but in real life, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we want to be Goliath.  The giants loom large for us.  Giants with names like Loneliness, Fear, Depression, Habitual Sin, Racism, Poverty, Homophobia, Addiction, War.   Giants that overwhelm us and terrorize us.  We are sure that we cannot take them down with a sling.  But if we could be giant-sized, like Goliath, maybe we could win.  We admire David in the Bible, but in these modern times, we want to be like Goliath.


Even in the church.  For decades the church in America held a position of power and prestige.  We were one of the cultural giants.  But, now not so much.  The mainline church has gone from being a power-broker to being on the side-lines.  David’s trajectory is in the other direction. Eventually, he becomes the power-broker in Israel.  But here, he is just the kid brother, the shepherd boy, the one who trusts God implicitly.  And so perhaps if we pay attention, we might learn something about how to live faithfully when instead of being the giant, we are the ones facing the giants.


David does two important things.  One of them is when he goes to the stream and selects 5 smooth stones.  The stones are, of course, necessary if his sling is going to work, but what interests me is the process.  As far as we know, no one goes with him.  He goes alone, probably to a place he has gone before.  It is a solitary journey.  It gives him time to think, to pray, to strengthen his faith and his resolve.  I suspect that as a shepherd, David, has spent a lot of time on his own.  Time with few distractions.  I understand that cell service was bad out in the meadows and wifi was non-existent. 


You and I are bombarded with insistent, relentless demands for our attention, all day long.   If we are going to face the giants effectively, I think we will have to re-learn the disciplines of silence and solitude and prayer.  These disciplines can help us develop a stronger faith, a better sense of God’s presence and a clearer understanding of God’s call in any particular moment. 


When David is with King Saul, Saul agrees to this crazy idea of sending a kid into battle against the giant. And Saul tries to do right by David.  He puts a helmet on him, and a coat of mail and hands him a sword.  All of which just weighs David down and he says “No, I cannot walk with these.”


Do you see what just happened?  The king tried to give David his tools and David refused.  Goliath had been terrorizing the Israelites for 40 days.  The seasoned warriors were no match for him.  If the best armor of the king was going to work, it would have worked for them.  The armor which is failing the adults, is put on David, the next generation and he is somehow expected to succeed with it. But to his credit, David refuses it.


There are all kinds of ways in which this continues to happen.  Well meaning members of an older generation burden a younger generation with armor that doesn’t fit,  expectations and practices that don’t work.  It happens in all kinds of places –family, economics, marriage, education, churches.   We who are members of the older generations need to keep this in mind.  Younger folks, those of you making your way through a world of giants, may need the wisdom to politely decline the advice you’re being given.  But no matter what our age, whether we are young, old, or somewhere in-between, some of our struggles may be because we are still trying to wear armor that was given to us a long time ago, armor that never fit.  By the grace of God, it is never too late to lay it down.


Here’s something I love in this story:  when David is talking with Saul, trying to persuade him to let him go out to face Goliath, he says that he used to be a shepherd and while taking care of the sheep, he fought lions and bears.  His argument is that he hasn’t been a warrior, but he has fought wild animals, so he should be allowed to fight Goliath.  But what I love is that he says “Your servant used to be a shepherd.”  He says this when he still is a shepherd!  He is a shepherd doing errands for his father when he gets himself into this thing with Goliath. His father would say he still is a shepherd.  His brothers, who are among Saul’s warriors, would say he still is a shepherd.  But David says  “being a shepherd was so two hours ago”  because he is already imagining the victory against the giant, already imagining himself moving up in the world. 


David has faith that God is calling him to face this giant.  God is calling David as he already is, with the skills of a boy who cares for the sheep.  This is good news.  It suggests to me that when God calls me, it is actually me that God wants.  When God calls you, it is actually you that God wants.  So take heart, if you are a young person with lots of energy and passion and not a lot of experience, God knows that. Take heart, if you are a cranky, cynical middle-aged person, God knows that too.  And if you are old enough to feel weary and past your prime giant-fighting days, God knows that too.


Anne Lamott says, “We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. . . . So the real issue is how do we gently stop being who we aren’t? How do we relieve ourselves of the false fronts of people-pleasing and affectation, the obsessive need for power and security, the backpack of old pain, and the psychic Spanx that keeps us smaller and contained?”  Then she says, “Every single day I try to figure out something I no longer agree to do.”[2]


Or she might have said, “Every day, I refuse to wear someone else’s armor.” 


The problem with wearing Saul’s armor is not just that it doesn’t fit.  The problem is that in wearing the armor, Saul and his army are responding to the giant on the giant’s own terms. David sees what Saul does not, “that to respond only in terms of the Philistine trust in force of arms leaves them in the clutches of fear and death.”[3]  David is the only one who seems to trust in God.  His way is not the way of non-violence, which is the way of Jesus. “But his way is subversive.  His trust is in the living God, the living God who is ultimately in opposition to arrogant and self-serving power and its violence.”[4] His trust in God nurtures hope that there is way into the future where there seems to be no way.    It is this trust that opens up powerful and unexpected resources for life.


Brothers and sisters, today we face giants.  Giants that overwhelm us.  Giants that threaten our personal well-being.    Some of these giants, like racism and war, separate us from each other.  Some of these giants, like poverty and loneliness, make it harder for people to believe in the existence of a loving God. 


Other people have faced giants before us.   And we would do well to imitate the folks who imitated David.  The folks who chose not to put their faith in Saul’s armor, not to respond on the giant’s terms.  I think of the civil rights movement in this country, whose only weapon was non-violent resistance and the mirror it held up to the use of bully clubs and dogs and fire hoses by the powerful.   I think of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, brought down by demonstrations with candles and prayer. Those giants were brought down because Christians and others refused to rely on the giant’s weapons, refused to use the tactics of fear and death. 


I think of Bree Newsome, taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina a few weeks ago.  Still on the flagpole that she had climbed, she responded politely to those who had come to arrest her.  She was very polite, but she said, “You come against me with hatred, oppression and violence.  I come against you in the name of God.”  She recited Psalm 27 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear” as she descended the pole.  Later she said, “I refuse to be ruled by fear.”  And when asked why she did this, she said, “We have to bury hate.  It’s been too long.  It’s killing us, literally.  We can’t do this.  We can’t be warring with each other all the time.  It’s not right.”[5]


Brothers and sister, we don’t need to become Goliath to face the giants. Becoming like Goliath just leaves us in the clutches of fear and death. What we need is the courage of a shepherd boy who trusted in the living God.  What we need is the faith of a young African-American woman who can no longer wait for someone else to act.  What we need is spiritual strength.  What we need is careful listening to what God is asking of you and you and me.


“May God raise up for us prophets

who have glimpsed the coming of the Lord. 

And if God will not raise up for us prophets,

then may God raise up in us a holy restlessness

to get God’s work done and

God’s people saved for Jesus’ sake. 


May it not be long.” [6]






Rev. Samuel Wells, Five Smooth Stones [1] https://www.faithandleadership.com/five-smooth-stones

[3] Bruce C. Birch, The New Interpreters Bible, Vol. II,  (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1998),  p. 1111. 

[4] Bruce Birch, p. 1114.

[5] http://www.democracynow.org/2015/7/3/this_flag_comes_down_today_bree

[6] From A Wee Worship Book (5th Incarnation), @2015 Wild Goose Resource Group, Iona Community, Glasgow, Scotland.