We all love stories of a victorious underdog. It is why when I meet people for the first time and I introduce myself as Susan Boyer they usually think of Susan Boyle. I’m guessing you know of whom I speak. Susan Boyle is the mousy woman with Asperger Syndrome who defied all odds to win a national talent show and was rewarded with a recording career. Her first album became the United Kingdom’s best-selling debut album of all time.
The first time I meet people they often say, “Did you say Susan Boyle?” This confusion with our names happens so often that this summer when I was cleaning up my office I came upon my stack of memorabilia in which people have written my name as Susan Boyle: on a wedding bulletin; in a newspaper article; on a citation I received. I used to keep them because it made me laugh. But I decided there was no reason to keep them. I will be able to amass another stack without trying. Why this confusion with Susan Boyle? Because everyone knows and celebrates the stories of the little guy or gal who wins.
It is the same with our movie viewing. We like movies like McFarland, USA about a disgraced football coach who creates a cross-country team of strong runners with little hope in their future…and then leads them to a state championship. Or what about Erin Brockovich, the story of an unemployed single mother, who goes on to take on a massive corporation that contaminated the groundwater of a whole community and wins a huge settlement for the victims? Or what about Hunger Games, the story of a teenage girl with no power, forced by the empire to kill other people with no power for the entertainment of the elite? She becomes the symbol of revolution and leads her people to victory. If you haven’t seen any of those three movies, think of just about any sports movie you have ever seen: Sandlot, A League of Their Own, Hoosiers, Karate Kid, Rocky. I could go on. We love our movies about successful underdogs. They make us feel good.
Why is that? I think it is because all of us see ourselves as the underdog. When we watch Erin Brockovich we don’t identify with the corporation. When we watch Hunger Games we don’t picture ourselves as the elite. It is why we love the story of David and Goliath. It is a fan favorite. We all know it. It is in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books. It is the story of Goliath, the big, beefy giant who, up to this point, wins at everything, and David, the youngest boy in a family of shepherds from the obscure town of Bethlehem. It has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.
When we see this story in our mind’s eye we identify with the little guy. We identify with David. I have never once imagined myself as Goliath. How about you?
That is fascinating if you think about it because while we resonate with David we spend much of our lives trying to become Goliath. “David took down Goliath with five smooth stones,” we say with admiration while we amass our weapons on the side. We are impressed that David refused Saul’s armor and the latest technology of weapons while we purchase the latest security gadgetry available to us for our cars and homes. Even David, the little shepherd boy who slew the giant, became Goliath in the end. As soon as he had a chance he became the big guy and he used his advantage to wield power against anyone in his way. But that is a story for another day. The point is that we admire the young shepherd boy David at the same time we strive to become Goliath.
As you heard from my children’s story today, I picked up these five smooth stones in Israel this summer. We went to the Elah Valley, a wide, open valley with hills on both sides. It isn’t a popular tourist spot, which surprised me. There wasn’t even a turn out available in which we could park our car. As we drove around the valley looking for a way to park and get out, I imagined the epic battle that took place there between Goliath and David.
Goliath was a Philistine. The Philistines were Israel’s most dangerous enemies. Among the Philistines Goliath was their fiercest warrior. He was huge and he was strong and he was experienced in hand-to-hand combat, as well as distance battles with spears. He wore armor to make sure that he was not injured by his opponent. He was the alpha-male.
David, on the other hand, was just an insignificant boy. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar. He had zero experience with war. He didn’t know how to use a spear. But he had bravado….not on his own behalf but on God’s behalf. It makes me think of when my son, Matt, was just a boy. We raised him in the church. In fact, with two parents being ministers he went to church almost daily. We told him the stories of the Bible and we told him about the power of God. One day he learned that there were children in the world who were dying for lack of food. He was incredulous. With God’s help Matt said he would take care of this problem. That was David. He believed in the power of God.
David was only in the Elah Valley on that fateful day because his three older brothers had gone off to fight with King Saul. His father, Jesse, asked David to leave the sheep and take food to his brothers and check on their welfare. When David arrived at Saul’s encampment he heard Goliath taunting Saul’s army “Are you mice or are you men? Send me your best warrior and fight me, you chickens!” Goliath is offering the ancient code of single combat, avoiding the slaughter of many. “Mano y mano,” he yells, which makes Saul’s men scurry for their tents.
Goliath has been uttering these same words for forty days now….twice a day. But on day forty-one David hears it for the first time and says, “How dare that uncircumcised Philistine mock the very armies of the living God.” King Saul heard of the young shepherd boy who had just showed up. He sent for David and David walked right up to Saul and said, “Don’t worry, King. I will go and fight Goliath for you.” I’m guessing this was quite a comic relief for these warriors who had been camped there for quite some time….tired of Goliath’s taunting but not eager to take him on and lose.
King Saul said to David, “Thank you but no thank you. You are a boy and Goliath is a warrior.” David was undaunted. “I have spent my life caring for sheep. When a lion or a bear grabbed one of the lambs I chased it down, killed it and took the lamb right out of its mouth. I have killed both lions and bears and this uncircumcised Philistine is just another lion to me. How dare he ridicule the armies of the Living God. God will not be mocked.”
“Go ahead, then” said Saul, “and may the Living God protect you.” Saul ordered his men to bring his very own armor and put it on David. David was touched by the gesture of wearing the king’s armor but he couldn’t even walk in it. David trusted God….but not that much. He knew that if we went to fight Goliath in that armor he was a sitting duck. So he took off all the protective gear. David believed that he already had everything he needed. He knew himself. He knew his strengths and his weaknesses. He calculated the strengths and weaknesses of Goliath. He knew he didn’t need to match Goliath’s weaponry to defeat the giant.
Instead David went down to the riverbed in the valley and chose five smooth stones. He put them in his little shepherd’s pouch and got out his sling. Then he approached Goliath. The giant was not amused. “Really? You sent a boy to fight me with sticks. This is no contest.” David didn’t engage in Goliath’s verbal battle. Instead, he ran straight at Goliath, took out a stone from his pouch while he was running, put it into his sling and let it fly. It struck Goliath on the forehead and Goliath fell face down to his death. David had only used one stone out of the five he had so carefully collected. David, the little guy, took out the giant with one smooth stone, knowledge of the gifts he brought to the battle, some bravado, some bravery and a trust in God.
This summer…when we couldn’t find a place to park in the Elah Valley, Bob Mullins simply pulled our vehicle to the side of the road, put on the hazard lights and the rest of us hopped out. We climbed over the guardrail and down to the dry riverbed. I got my five smooth stones in the same place that David, a teenage boy about to take on a giant, would have chosen his stones. As I walked back to the car I thought about what giants I needed to take down in my own life and about a young boy who was so sure of the power of the Living God that he did something that seemed absolutely foolish to everyone around him. I put these stones in my suitcase and I brought them back to the United States. They sit on the counter in my bathroom where I get ready every morning. They are a reminder…. not of my trip but of who I need to be in the world.
Every morning when I see those five smooth stones I remember to channel my inner Susan Boyle. She didn’t have the looks or the connections to bag a singing career. But she did have everything she needed. She had the gifts, the courage and the trust that God was present in her life.
The story of David and Goliath is a hard story for a pacifist to preach about but I believe there is a larger truth in this story than battle and weaponry. Always take time with Bible stories to go deeper than the surface. From this story we are reminded that we have been given the gifts and the tools we need. They aren’t the ones that the world values. They aren’t the ones we expect will be able to slay the giant….and yet they do.
I wonder what amazing things we could do in this world if we gave up our quest to become Goliath, knowing that Goliath’s power is just an illusion. What would happen if we accepted the invitation of the Living God to simply bring ourselves, our abilities, our courage and our faithfulness? Imagine what happen to the giants of the world if every day we brought what we have and used it for the good of others? Personally, I don’t think the Goliaths of this world would stand a chance against us. That is what I am reminded of every morning when I look at these five smooth stones. Amen.