I Samuel 17:4-11, 32-50; John 1:43-46
The Rev. Tom Herbek
September 23, 2017
We’re getting close to the time of the World Series. As a kid, I dreamed of playing major league baseball for a living. After all, I made it on the Little League All-Star team for the city of Norfolk. Alas, that was pretty much the end of my “professional” career in baseball. When we are young, we dream about being a world champion in lots of things. I feel privileged to be a part of this “World Champion” church family.
We follow someone who looked at the world differently. Jesus didn’t choose particularly talented or powerful people to follow him, to join his team. In fact, some of them, knowing that he grew up in a backwater little town of Nazareth, even asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The wonderful answer given was, “Come and see.”
The tasks we face as individuals, and as a church family, can sometimes seem overwhelming with so many people in need. Sometimes it feels like even our prayers don’t have much effect. I saw the following story on the web recently, which, of course, means it is true:
A female CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time.
So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.
“Pardon me, sir, I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. What’s your name?
“Morris Feinberg,” he replied.
“Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?”
“For about 60 years.”
“60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop.”
“I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults and to love their fellow man.
I pray that politicians tell us the truth and put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests.”
And finally, “I pray that everyone will be happy”.
“How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a wall”
Sometimes we may also feel like we are talking to a wall. But then someone comes along who sees things differently. At the height of the legislated racism called “Apartheid” in South Africa, one of my heroes from the time I was an adolescent went to South Africa, and said something I will never forget:
Some believe there is nothing one man or woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills. Yet many of the world’s great movements of thought and action have flowed from the work of a single person… It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert Kennedy had the courage to say this in South Africa. He saw things and thought through things differently.
Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers, as well as The Tipping Point and others, wrote a book entitled, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. In a world where the strong seem to get stronger and the weak seem to get weaker, it is vital that we understand the exceptions.
Gladwell examines what allows two people who have both been through overwhelming challenges to respond in such different ways. For instance, how can some of the Lost Boys of Sudan be devastated by the horror of their experiences, and others find ways- against all the odds- to build schools and dig wells?
Gladwell looks at this story of David and Goliath in a whole new way, with fresh eyes. He describes the Philistines as a seafaring nation from Crete that settled along the coast of Palestine, while the Israelites settled in the mountains and hill country. They met to do battle part way up, in an area of valleys and steep ravines with each army settled at the top of the two sides of a ravine. They had reached a stalemate; neither army wanted to make the suicidal decision to descend into the ravine where the other army could wipe them out. Finally having enough of this, the Philistines sent their most terrifying warrior out in the valley, and he challenged the Israelites to do the same. This was a common practice of the day, a concept called “single combat,” meant to avoid the heavy bloodshed of battle by having one warrior represent each side in a duel.
The Philistines sent their biggest, strongest warrior, expecting to do battle in hand to hand combat at close quarters between two heavily-armed soldiers. But no Israelite, after seeing the size of Goliath and the heavy armor he wore, was willing to face the sudden death that was the only conceivable outcome of hand to hand combat against this giant. A young shepherd boy, who had come to bring food to his older brothers who were soldiers on the line, foolishly volunteered to face the giant. And the rest is history.
David, the clear underdog, won the battle because he refused to do so in the conventional way. He used his speed and agility, and a weapon that could be used from far away to defeat a warrior who was unbeatable at close quarters.
In a world where the obstacles seem overwhelming and we feel we have little to offer in the battle to make this a better world, let us remember the lesson of David and Goliath. What may allow us to overcome what looks like overwhelming strength may be our willingness to look at challenges with new eyes, to do what is impossible because we are unwilling to believe that it is impossible.
David was a shepherd, which in the world of his day, was one of the lowliest jobs. Shepherds were far down the list of respectable jobs. Warriors would never have fought Goliath in the way that David did. David must have known that a duel like the one with Goliath was supposed to proceed formally. There were rules and egos to protect. But he was a shepherd, not a warrior. He had no ego or reputation to protect. In his society, a shepherd had little value, and he was considered a low-life, and so he had no stake in keeping the expected rituals of a warrior.
Because he had nothing to lose, he looked at the situation differently, evaluated the challenge with different eyes, and did not play by the rules. He was an underdog and a misfit, and that gave David the freedom to try things that no one else would even have thought of doing.
When Marcus Borg was here, he made a comment that I jotted down, something that really was thought-provoking for me. He said: “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought.” On a hillside in Palestine, a World Championship was won by a young boy who saw what everybody else saw, and thought what nobody had thought.
Many who have made a difference in our world received the call to begin when they felt weak and overwhelmed, and many “successful” people had to overcome failures that would have caused most people to give up.
Elvis Presley once got an F in music and was told to keep his day job driving trucks. Michael Jordan was cut from the high school basketball team. Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before it was published. J.K. Rowling lived on welfare before Harry Potter.
Beethoven’s music teacher said he was hopeless at composing. Winston Churchill flunked the Royal Military Academy entrance exam twice and finished last in his class. Lucille Ball got sent home from acting school for being too shy. Julia Roberts failed to get a part in the soap opera, “All My Children.”
Thomas Edison was fired twice for not being productive enough. Walt Disney lost his job at a newspaper after he was told he lacked imagination. Van Gogh sold just one painting in his whole life. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression, failed in two business ventures, and lost eight elections.
-Regina Brett, Be the Miracle
It is not always the strong, the people who have never failed, the powerful, or the wealthiest who make a difference. We are called to make a difference in our world, just as we are. We are called to tackle the “impossible.”
Eleven years ago, I witnessed my first ever citizenship ceremony, where Veronique, Amavi, and Albert, “our” family from Togo, became citizens of the U.S., and I had tears of joy in my eyes as I remembered all that they had overcome in order to become citizens.
Leaving their homeland in Togo, escaping by dugout canoe to neighboring Benin, just before the soldiers came to arrest them for practicing the “wrong” religion, they escaped to a refugee camp in Benin, and then had to flee the camp when the soldiers from Togo were given permission to come into the camp.
They arrived at the Rochester airport on a cold winter day, speaking no English, never having seen water freeze, much less snow or cold, never having driven a car, with nothing in their hands except a plastic bag of all their earthly possessions.
Watching their citizenship ceremony made me realize again what someone can do, against all odds, when they set their mind to it.
David beat Goliath. The world always puts its money on Goliath, but God has an ongoing program of calling forth “Davids.” The “Davids” are ordinary people who refuse to believe that there is nothing that can be done. The “Davids” are people who do it their way, not with someone else’s armor or tactics, but with their own creative methods for doing battle.
Of course, the “David” who does great things isn’t always a grownup. Nine-year-old Makenzie Snyder says she “felt really sad” when she heard that many foster kids use trash bags to move their belongings each time they’re placed at a new home. So she began collecting used suitcases and duffels. Out of her efforts came the Children-to-Children program, which has distributed more than 1,000 suitcases – with a note and stuffed animal inside – to foster children around Washington, D.C.
And sometimes, the “Davids” are retired. After he was president, Jimmy Carter was asked what he could possibly do with the rest of his life. Jimmy Carter replied: “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. Now, my faith goes beyond theology and religion and requires considerable work and effort. My faith demands – this is not optional – my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I can, whenever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”
Our faith calls us all, demands that all of us “Davids” do something. Let us do whatever we can, wherever we can, whenever we can, for as long as we can, with whatever we have to try to make a difference.
There are parts of who we are that we have seen as weaknesses, limitations, barriers to greater status, accidents of birth or negative consequences of experiences or choices we have made. And yet, when we take on the challenges of battling the Goliaths in our world, we may find that these are the very things that allow us to try unheard-of strategies, to see with new eyes, to not be concerned about what others think because we have nothing to lose.
So let us find ways to create ripples of life and love and hope in this community, and in our world. May this continue to be a World Championship church family, where we see what everyone else has seen, and think what no one else has thought.
And if anyone says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth, or Canandaigua, NY?”, let us also respond, “Come and see!”