On Being Yourself
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1 Samuel 17:38-49
Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them.
40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. 41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
“On Being Yourself”
Old Cambridge Baptist Church
June 24, 2012
It was a climate of fear. Fear floated in the air, people breathed it in and exhaled the fumes of toxic fear. No one was exempt, everyone was afraid, from the scullery maid and foot soldiers right up through the King. The whole nation of Israel was under siege, and they thought the enemy was Goliath. They did not know that the real enemy was fear.
Goliath certainly seemed worthy of their fear. He was the biggest, badest giant they had ever laid eyes on. “He’s seven feet tall,” they cried. “Are you crazy? He’s ten feet, I’ve seen him with my own eyes.” All that height combined with a nasty temperament helped Goliath live up to the meaning of his name: “the destroyer.” Goliath just had to roar and the troops of Israel would turn tail and run.
Goliath may have been big, but he was not dumb. “Let’s cut through all this war stuff, “ he said. “I’ve got a great idea: just choose one of your men to fight me, and winner takes all. Think of all the lives that will be saved if two men, rather than two armies, go to battle.” And all eyes turned to look expectantly at King Saul, who sat moving paper clips around his desk while he gazed out the window, appearing to look concerned while he avoided eye contact with all those expectations. King Saul is just plain scared. If he can’t fight Goliath, who can? King Saul’s fear is contagious.
Along comes David, a young shepherd boy, whose only job is to bring some snacks to his brothers on the battlefield. David has been out of the loop, and he seems to have been inoculated against the fear epidemic that has everyone else tied in knots. David sizes things up and offers: “I’ll fight Goliath. I have transferable experience; I have fought wild animals. Piece of cake.”
As expected, Goliath thinks this is hysterically funny. He predicts that he will make bird food out of David and then the whole nation of Israel. King Saul is so thankful to be relieved of battle duty that he can’t think straight. As if to save face for not fighting Goliath himself, King Saul offers David his armor. Perhaps from a distance it will look like King Saul is fighting Goliath.
David, so used to the sun on his face and the wind at his back, is suddenly engulfed in layer upon layer of stiff, clanging metal. He tries to move his arm but the weight of that entire armor won’t let him move. He tries to turn his head, but the facemask clangs shut with a bang. He tries to take a stiff-legged step and the whole contraption seizes up and David keels over backwards. Boom. We hear a faint voice, echoing like a drum: “Uh, thank you for the offer, sir, but I think I’ll pass on the armor.”
Once disentangled from the weight of all King Saul’s fear, David stands as himself before the task at hand. He walks to the edge of the nearby brook, and reaches into the cold water and fishes out five smooth stones to place in his bag. In the end he will only need one, but he is prepared.
Look upon this image of David, facing the giant Goliath as himself, not as a King Saul stand-in, for this is the metaphor for the Christian life that I wish to hold up for us today. David’s greatest strength is that he refuses to pretend to be someone else. He does not hide behind King Saul’s armor, but he chooses to be himself.
One of the greatest temptations in this life is to try to become who you think you should be, rather than to be who you are. Our efforts to weave the complicated persona behind which we hide can leave us exhausted, or worse, angry and resentful. Anne Lamott says: “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” David was able to rise to the occasion, to meet the threat, because he didn’t try to be King Saul, to live up to those expectations, but rather he was himself. This image, this call to be our best and truest self, is both an individual and a collective call. As OCBC sorts through the questions of identity and mission, you will be faced with the temptation to become something other than you are as a church in order to survive the Goliath sized threats that face Protestant Christianity today. Being your authentic church-self as a congregation will get you a lot further than trying to be something you are not. And this call to be an authentic Self also applies to each of us personally. And in particular, I offer this image of David facing Goliath purely as himself as a parting blessing to our friend Ben, who leaves this congregation to go out into the great beyond as an emissary of the truth of God’s unconditional love. Our story, David’s story, and Ben’s journey are all tied together in this blessing we offer Ben.
Ben, like David, you have five smooth stones in your bag of resources. You have the stone of your life experience and all that it has taught you. You have the stone of your training, where you learned the skills and developed competencies. You have the stone of your ancestors, the people of your own flesh and bone clan who came before you, and who taught you the ways of faith. You have the stone of family and friends who love you, especially this OCBC community, a cloud of witnesses who will stand with you in all things. And perhaps most importantly, you carry the stone of who you are, with all of your gifts of warmth, caring, intelligence, compassion, humor, passion, and faith. This is the most important gift that you bring to the world, the gift of being your true self: God’s beloved child. So may you go forth in this wide world being the blessing of who you are: yourself. May the peace of Christ be with you. AMEN