Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 06/24/2018

Today we get to the part of the David story that everyone knows, David vs. Goliath, the story of an unlikely underdog taking on a giant and defeating him. Regardless of how well anyone knows or doesn’t know the Bible story, if you talk about a David vs. Goliath matchup everyone knows what you mean and probably everyone would be quick to come with an example. For me, the example I’ll hold on to forever is the first of Ishpeming’s recent football championships when those who thought they knew said the Hematites would get crushed by a Detroit Loyola team that had crushed every opponent it had faced up until that point. The TV announcers thought it was a game that would come to a merciful end with a running clock but of course that’s not how it played out. Against all odds, David defeated Goliath.

That’s the kind of thing that first comes to mind when we think about David and Goliath. Strangely enough though, that’s not the real truth of the story. It’s part of it and the story certainly can be understood as one intended to provide encouragement when the odds seem to be against you. But you also have to remember that David doesn’t always win. One of the reasons the NCAA basketball tournament is so popular is because you do get those David and Goliath moments when a lower seed knocks off a highly ranked team, but by the end of it, you usually wind up with Goliath against Goliath; David’s run comes to an end. There’s nothing wrong with using the story to provide encouragement against the odds, but the real truth of it lies elsewhere.

A closer look at the text shows David and Goliath to be a story of fear vs. faith. The verses that were read today start with a description of what the people of Israel were up against: we find out how big Goliath is, we get a description of his armor and how much it weighs along with details about the weapons at his disposal with that all followed by his challenge: “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” Then, a key verse: “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” Dismayed and greatly afraid; but who could blame them?

That sets the stage for David. Remember that he was anointed as the next king of Israel, the heir apparent of Saul, but we’re the only ones who know that. For the other characters in the story, Saul and David’s father Jesse, and David’s brothers, they either didn’t know or they’ve quickly forgotten. For them, David is still a shepherd boy who doesn’t belong on the field of battle. When David shows up though, he hears the words of Goliath, the challenge of Goliath and then has two conversations that get at the real truth of the story.

The first conversation is with Saul. Despite everyone else’s fear, David volunteers for action, but Saul assures him that he’s being silly; the odds against him are too great. David however, tells Saul that while protecting his flock he has prevailed against lions and bears so he’s not afraid of this Philistine and then…he gets to why he’s not afraid: “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” The Lord, who saved me, will save me again is what he was saying; David wasn’t afraid, but his faith was not in his own abilities, his faith was in the Lord. The dismay and fear of Saul and all Israel is contrasted with David’s faith in the Lord; fear vs. faith.

With the semi-continuous Old Testament readings we’re using this summer there is no intentional connection with the gospel reading like there is with the complementary series. This week though, there is a connection. The gospel is Mark’s version of Jesus calming a storm on the sea, a story like the story of David and Goliath that is part of pretty much every Sunday School curriculum so it’s familiar to most people.

Jesus and his disciples were making an evening crossing on the Sea of Galilee when a great windstorm arose. The boat was being swamped by the waves so the disciples were understandably afraid but meanwhile, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples woke Jesus up and with the words, “Peace! Be Still!” the wind stopped and the lake was calm. Then the verse that connects the two stories: Jesus says to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Fear vs. faith.

Our tendency is to see doubt as the enemy, doubt as the opposite of faith. In the Bible though, it is usually fear that is cast as the opposite of faith. You think about how many times characters in the Bible are told by the voice of Lord or by an angel, “Fear not,” or “Do not be afraid.”

What both of these stories do is to a offer a vision in which the presence of God and the presence of faith in God, transforms fear. I want to be careful to say that I don’t think the truth of the story is that we should never be afraid, that we should just always have faith no matter what. We should always have faith, but that doesn’t mean that fear isn’t sometimes legitimate. One can understand the fear of the army of Israel up against Goliath and the Philistine army. One can understand the fear of the disciples in a small boat being battered by wind and waves. One can understand the people in the Copper Country being afraid as eight inches of rain poured down, their homes were flooded and they watched roads disappear. There are threats that are real and worthy of fear; one can’t help but experience a degree of fear when facing the unknown, whatever the circumstances might be.

What both of these stories do is to offer a response to fear. They show the power of words, the power of voices and images and stories to determine the world you choose to live in and you do have a choice. There are plenty of voices out there, powerful voices in powerful positions, Goliath like voices that want to create fear and make fear and suspicion and paranoia your dominant reality, especially fear and suspicion and paranoia of the other. Such fear leads to a world where nothing changes and Goliath always wins and that’s what those voices want.

Those who told and wrote the stories of ancient Israel and its God, the Lord, imagined a different world. Those who told and wrote the stories about Jesus imagined a different world. It’s not a world without fear, but it’s one that refuses to accept that fear is all there is. It’s a world that in faith takes us beyond fear and into the presence of God. Faith offers a future.

Faith tells us that God isn’t just revealed in the goodness and beauty of the world but that God’s future is being worked out even in the midst of fear and evil, that in the midst of fear and evil God is still present. Luther talks about what he calls the hiddenness of God especially as it relates to the cross of Christ. If I understand him correctly, what he means by that is that while God appeared to be absent as Jesus was crucified, (even Jesus said, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,”) while God appeared to be absent that wasn’t the case, but rather God was hidden but still working through this brokenness to bring about new life.

Faith tells us that this is also the case for us at those times when we are afraid, those times when God seems absent to us and we do have those times. I’m always bothered by Christian theology that seems to say, “Just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior and life will be all seashells and balloons after that.” Luther’s theology is more honest than that. He acknowledges life’s fear and brokenness but contrary to what reason might suggest, he finds God present in the midst of it. It’s not naïve optimism; it’s not saying we should praise God even as life presents fears and challenges but it does add hope to the mix. It says that faith begins to bring us through; faith tells us that the winds and waves will again become calm; faith tells us that Goliath doesn’t always win. Faith doesn’t eliminate fear, but it does transform it, it does bring hope to it.

So we have these stories, David and Goliath, Jesus calming the storm and many others, stories that give us a choice. We can choose to live in a world dominated by fear, many do just that. Or, we can choose the world the Bible describes, a world of faith, a world offered by a God who brings hope to fear and transforms it.

The question of Jesus then lingers: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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