In the Face of Fear,​ We Persist

This sermon was prepped for Wesley United Church, Montreal’s Sunday morning service on June 24th, (Pentecost 5), based on 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49.

David and Goliath, what a fantastic story! An ancient Hebrew legend, that reminds me of the stories my parents used to read to me before bed.

It has everything that makes for a great bedtime story! A young peasant boy whose destiny is greater than his father’s sheep pastures… A horrible monster not even the strongest man in the army can defeat… Jealous brothers… A king to impress who will shower our young hero with unimaginable gifts….

It is also a dramatic introduction to the man, who would be king, as David is anointed secretly just verses before the story we read today.

Human beings love legends and myths because they touch on our greatest hopes—to be chosen, to be brave, to do good and great things.

Is it any wonder that this story, beloved by folks of all ages, was preserved in the collection of ancient texts we call The Bible?

Yet, in our daily lives, there is little epic adventure like we read here… We don’t live in the world of legends and fairytales. Stories like this, that once may have captured our imaginations, become difficult to put our hope into….

Because, the Goliaths we come across in our lives can’t be defeated with a small rock.

Every day proverbial monsters come out on the battlefield and heckle us—they remind us of our failures, of the situations we can’t control, the regrets we carry with us, and the burdens that wear us down.

As we get older, we laugh at stories like this one.  Believing them would make us naïve. We smile and shake our heads because we know better.

… We know better? Or is it that we know our own fear all too well?

***

God doesn’t ask David to go and do the impossible out of nowhere.

David tells Saul how he has been protecting his father’s sheep against wild animals. And, though this challenger appears more intimidating—with taunts and bravado—David can recognize Goliath for what he truly is: a bully. And, David has faced bullies before.

1 Samuel tells us that David grew up as an insignificant nobody in a large family; when Samuel went to visit them and asked to meet all of Jessie’s sons they didn’t even remember the runt out in the pasture with the sheep. David has been fighting wild animals, and cruelty from his loved ones, his whole life—out with the sheep and God to keep him company, he has been building resilience.

Bravery is a tricky thing; a muscle we have to train. It is a reality of the human condition that this growth is a result of pain and suffering. We fall down and learn that despite how much it might hurt, it doesn’t break us. And, so we get up and begin again.

We start with small acts, small risks, and we start to learn our limits and our strengths. We don’t go after Goliath all at once, and certainly not without backup.

***

A friend recently commented that he was surprised by how much I travel because I get really anxious when I travel. It’s stressful, and it can be challenging for me enjoy myself in the moment—but I still do it. Because anxiety doesn’t get to bully me into living a half-life.

We all have bullies in our lives, proverbial or real, and stories like these tell us that this challenge has been a part of the human experience for millennia. It is an exaggerated story to point us to a very real truth: human resilience and courage are integral to our story, and to God’s.

Madeline L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, once said that:

“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.”

Isn’t that the driving plot of the Bible? Unqualified but courageous people called to do so much more than their families, communities, and countries thought they could?

***

Last time I was with you, I used a quote from the movie Evan Almighty, where God says to another character:

“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?”

The Older Testament stories for the lectionary this summer speak of just that—young people called by God to do amazing but hard things. Our Bible stories tell us of men and women who take risks in their stories…

In the face of fear, David persisted against Goliath.

In the face of rejection, Samuel persisted in delivering the message God gave him.

In the face of poverty, Ruth persisted to care for her mother-in-law.

In the face of death, Esther persisted to save her people from genocide.

In the face of an enemy army, Deborah persisted in leading the Israelites to victory.

Though we might not be called to lead an army into battle, the Spirit invites us, too, to courageous acts both big and small. Our daily lives are filled with opportunities to step up, despite that knot in our stomach…

Have you ever stopped to help someone in need, who was being hassled by someone else?

Spoken up when a comment was going to be let go, even though it was hurtful and wrong?

Taken a stance for equality, even if it meant being the unpopular person in the room?

These are our moments, where we’re called to be brave, to do good and great things!

And, like David, we don’t do this alone. For some, it’s the overconfident certainty of youth that helps them march out onto the battlefield. For others, it’s being part of a community who’s committed to their work. For some of us, it’s a nagging belief that there is something good and true out there beyond us, that desires a world filled with justice.

***

The stories we read together in this place, these ancient stories, inspire us and point us towards hope… Hope is the thing that makes the risk worthwhile. It is a belief that the seemingly impossible task can be accomplished.

But, we don’t get there all at once—trust, just like bravery, is a muscle we learn to flex and strengthen. So we gather in this place and share stories, old and new, about goodness, about failures and triumphs; strengthening one another for the challenges ahead.

We add our own stories to this faithful collection.

So, may the Spirit grow within you this week… a courageous heart ready to persist in the face of fear, and return you to us next week with plenty of stories to share. Amen.

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