Sermon 09-28-14: “Bible Heroes, Part 8: David”

October 12, 2014

superhero graphic

Whether we like to admit it or not, we disciples of Jesus Christ often doubt. Maybe we don’t doubt God’s existence the way some people do, but we doubt that God has the power to make a difference in the challenges we face in life. What can we learn from today’s Bible hero, David, about trusting in God and his power to bring change?

Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the spiritual head of the Church of England. I love Justin Welby! He’s a plainspoken man—humble, down to earth; doesn’t put on airs, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Most importantly, he is a person of great Christian faith, which is obvious to everyone who knows him or knows of him. But he made headlines last week for an interview he gave in which he was asked the following question: “Do you ever doubt?” And he answered,

Justin Welby meets Queen on his first day in office

Yes I do… There are moments, sure… The other day I was praying over something while I was running and I ended up saying to God, ‘This is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there,’ which is not probably what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

See, I even like him for praying while he runs, which I also do!

Anyway, the British press had a field day with what they regarded as some stunning admission of doubt. One headline read, “Head of the Church of England doubts the existence of God.”

To which I say, Oh, brother! Only someone who doesn’t practice the Christian faith could fail to appreciate what the archbishop meant. Everyone doubts from time to time.

A while back I had a parishioner who was in and out of the hospital with an ailment that doctors couldn’t figure out. They thought he was doing better and released him. Then he was back in the hospital a couple days later. This happened several times. Each time I went to visit, as is my custom, I gathered round and prayed with him and any friends and family who were there in the hospital room.

I don’t know about you, but I often have this internal dialogue going on with God in my head. And as I prepared to pray for this person the last couple of times I visited the hospital, I said, “God, am I wasting my time here? We’ve been praying for healing so many times, and you haven’t responded! Will you please do something this time! Do you know how bad this is making you look?” And then, because I’m vain and self-centered even in my prayer life, I even said, “Do you how bad this is making me look? If I were a lawyer with this kind of track record in court, the family would fire me!”

My point is, all believers have moments when we doubt. That’s O.K. Obviously, if these moments turn into weeks or months, then that’s a problem. But momentary doubt happens to all of us, if we’re honest.

But even if we never doubt God’s existence, my experience in that hospital room illustrates a more important, more widespread kind of doubt that we believers experience: even though we believe God is real. Even though we believe God is there for us. Even though we believe every word of the Apostles’ Creed… We just don’t think God’s going to make a difference in whatever difficult situation we’re facing. We don’t think God’s going to do anything about our problems. Maybe we doubt that God has the power to do anything, or, if he does, we imagine he doesn’t care enough to do anything.

This is the kind of doubt that King Saul and his soldiers must have had in today’s scripture.

You see, in the ancient world, most people people were polytheists. They believed that each nation had a god or gods who watched over them, protected them, led them in victory over their enemies. People believed that whether or not a nation succeeded militarily depended on how powerful that nation’s god was.

By the way, this is one reason why Goliath and his army of Philistines were so cocky. The Philistines believed that Israel’s God—the one true God, Yahweh—wasn’t the “God of wonders beyond our galaxy”; they didn’t believe he was the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” They believed instead that he was only the God of the mountains where most of Israel lived. But the Philistines’ god, Dagon, he was the god of the plains, where most of the Philistines lived. Notice where today’s battle is taking place: on the plains, in the Valley of Elah. If Goliath can lure Israel’s army down from  the mountain, then the Philistines will have the advantage—because Yahweh doesn’t stand a chance down there against the Philistines’ god.

That’s what they thought. Most ancient people, in other words, believed that gods were local gods.

We see this belief elsewhere in the Bible. Remember the story of the prophet Jonah? God called him to head east, to preach God’s judgment against Nineveh, Israel’s hated enemy. Jonah doesn’t want to do that. So what does he do instead? He heads west, in the opposite direction and boards a ship on the Mediterranean bound for Spain—which in the ancient world was as far away as you could get from Nineveh. God is angry that Jonah is defying his orders, and God sends a life-threatening storm his way. The people on board the ship are convinced they’re going to drown. And they’re convinced that somebody’ god is angry at them. Then finally Jonah fesses up: “God is doing this to punish me. I’m the guilty party responsible for this terrible storm.” And they’re like, “Where are you from?” And Jonah says, “I’m from Israel.” And they’re like, “Oh, well, your God can’t reach us out here. We’re safe.” But then Jonah says, “No, you see, my God is the one who made the land and the sea.”

And the ship’s crew is like, “Are you crazy? You tried to run away from your God… who is God of the sea… by boarding a boat… on the sea? Don’t you see, Jonah, how that doesn’t make any sense? Why on earth did you think that your God couldn’t find you here? Did you forget who your God is?”

And this is what David is saying to his people: “Did you forget who your God is? Did you forget how powerful God is? Did you forget that he’s the One who’s really in charge here? The Philistines’ god isn’t even real! Who does Goliath think he is? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God? At over nine feet tall, he may seem like an insurmountable enemy, but who is he compared with who God is! He’s nothing! What are all of y’all afraid of? We’ve got God on our side!”

David even calls God by an interesting name: Lord of Armies. English translations usually say, “Lord of Hosts,” but “hosts” means “armies.” David is implying that no earthly army, certainly not one large, fearsome-looking man, is any match for God’s army of angels. After all, David says, “The Lord owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us.”

I love that! The Lord owns this war. Until last week’s glorious come-from-behind victory over those Virginia Tech turkeys, it could be said that Virginia Tech owned Georgia Tech. Not anymore!

The point is, David is making a powerful statement about God’s sovereignty, which means that God is completely in control of the crisis that Israel faced in today’s scripture. And the truth is, he’s completely in control of whatever crisis we might face today! And God can defeat any enemy that fights against him.

And we have real enemies in this world.

A couple of weeks ago, Pope Francis was commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. In a sermon, he said something surprising: “Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third world war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.” Are we in a third world war now? When we consider the threat we face with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, reporters being beheaded, Christians being persecuted and killed—not to mention the constant threat of terrorism here at home, including even that cold-blooded killer in Oklahoma last week, it’s easy to feel as if the world is spinning out of control.

But we know better, right? Our God is the “God of Armies,” and if this is World War III, it’s safe to say that he owns the war, and he will win it. So we don’t have to be afraid.

I know a lot of Christians get squeamish when the Bible portrays God with this kind of militaristic imagery. They don’t like to think that God is a “God of Armies” who leads his people into battle against fearsome enemies. I remember when I was young, the last time the Methodists were revising their hymnal, they debated removing “Onward Christian Soldiers” because some Methodists thought it was too warlike, too violent, too militaristic.

To which I say, once again, “Oh, brother! Get your heads out of the sand!”

If you’re old enough to remember, think of how you felt on September 11, 2001, and in those days following that fateful day. Weren’t you angry—and righteously so? After all, most of us had never seen that kind of evil so close to home. Most of us had never before considered that we had an enemy somewhere out there—who wanted nothing more than to kill our sons and daughters, our parents and grandparents, our friends, our neighbors, and our coworkers. Be glad that the only means this enemy had at his disposal was to fly airplanes into buildings—because if he had even more deadly means he would have used them!

Brothers and sisters, we have an Enemy—Satan and his army of fallen angels—an Enemy that is far more powerful than a thousand Osama bin Ladens; an Enemy that wants nothing more than to kill each and every one of us—physically and spiritually; an Enemy that’s scheming right now to see that our loved ones—including our sons and daughters, our parents and our grandparents, our friends, our neighbors, and our coworkers—spend eternity separated from God in hell.

We underestimate that Enemy at our own peril.

Four out of five people in Hampton, Georgia, will not go to this or any other church today. And they won’t go next week, or next month, or next year. Are they lost? It stands to reason that many of them are. Do they need the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do they need to hear about how through Jesus Christ God has provided a way to save them, as Jesus says, from the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”?

Does our Enemy want us to bring our community this message of salvation and eternal life? No. And when we try to bring them this message, will our Enemy put up a fight? Of course he will!

I’ve mentioned this before; I can’t say it enough… Just last week we had 45 kids who came to our Sunday afternoon children’s program. Forty-five kids, the majority of whom are not involved in church and who wouldn’t otherwise hear the good news about Jesus. Many of them would never hear God’s Word apart from our efforts.

You know what we’re doing on Sunday afternoons here at HUMC? We are doing nothing less than taking the fight directly to our Enemy. We’re moving into his stronghold now! We’re going down to his valley, where he thinks he has all the power!

Don’t you know that Satan thought that these children and their families were safe from Christians like us—Methodists of all people!—doing this kind of kingdom work? Don’t you know that Satan, like the mighty Goliath in today’s scripture, thought he’d already won the battle for these children’s souls. And I’m glad to be able to disappoint him!

David told Goliath, before he defeated him, that all the earth would know that there’s a God in Israel. How about all of us joining together to defeat our Enemy right here in our hometown so that all the earth may know that there’s a God right here in Hampton, Georgia! And that our God is mightier than any Goliath that tries to defeat us! Amen!

So our Enemy sends “Goliaths” to fight against us as a church—when we work for God’s kingdom. And our enemy sends Goliaths to fight against us in our personal lives and in our families as well. And the Goliaths we face often brandish a weapon far more powerful than any sword, spear, or javelin. And that weapon is fear.

tim-tebow-urban-meyer_2013

Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer

ESPN had an interview last week with National Championship-winning coach Urban Meyer, who won two championships at Florida and is now at Ohio State. You may recall that, even though he was still young, Meyer retired from coaching for a couple of years—because he was having all these unexplained health problems, including being hospitalized for unexplained chest pains. As he revealed last week in the interview, his problems were brought on by profound stress.

Seriously. Meyer said after Florida won the national title after the 2008 season, he was completely unable to enjoy his 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS title game. Within minutes of that victory, he said, he was on the phone with potential recruits.

“I was in a panic situation,” Meyer said. “We just won [the championship]. [The only thought on my mind was] we’ve got to do it again. I closed [my office] door. And I started just recruiting. One of my friends came in and said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Enjoy this victory! What’s wrong with you, man? Enjoy this!’”

Meyer said he tried to enjoy it, but he just couldn’t.

That’s the very picture of a man on top of the world, the best of the best in his profession, more successful than anyone, yet he was too overcome with worry, with insecurity, with fear… to enjoy his success. What was he afraid of? That if he stopped working for even a moment, he’d fall behind… that someone else would catch up with him… that he’d fail?

Urban Meyer was facing a Goliath of fear and insecurity in his life. He needed to know that the “God of Armies” was on his side!

Who or what is the Goliath in your life right now? Is it unemployment, business problems, debt problems? You want some good news? Say this with me: The God of Armies is on my side! Are you having marriage problems? The God of Armies is on my side! Are you having a problem with your own health or the health of someone you love? The God of Armies is on my side! Are you having a problem with your children? The God of Armies is on my side! Are you having problems with your parents? The God of Armies is on my side! Are you having problems in a relationship? The God of Armies is on my side! Are you having a problem with alcoholism or drug addiction? The God of Armies is on my side! Are you having problems with loneliness, depression, or fear? The God of Armies is on my side!

But God is more than a God of Armies. The Bible uses an even more important and powerful image for God. It’s the way that Jesus himself teaches us to think about God in the very first words of the model prayer he gave us: God is “our Father.” Our Father.

I now have two teenagers in my house, and believe it or not, they often make fun of me. And my wife too! That’s no way to treat their pastor, after all! Can you believe it? But trust me: No one is laughing at me when there’s a big scary spider or some disgusting millipede crawling around the house! Or when one of those cockroaches the size of a hamster comes in from the garage! Then they’re all like, “Dad! We need you! Come kill this bug right now!” One of my proudest moments when I was on “Dad Duty” occurred many years ago when I captured a bat that had gotten into the house, in mid-air, with work gloves on, and threw it outside! Never mind that the first time I saw this bat I went running and screaming into another room and slammed the door behind me. The point is, I pulled myself together, found my courage, and took care of this scary bat. Because that’s what dads do!

They don’t let anything harm their kids! They keep them safe. They protect them… They even die for them, if necessary… without giving it a second thought. That’s what good dads do!

And we human dads—even the very best among us—are sinners! We are far from perfect.

But because our God is an infinitely better Father to his children than we are to ours, God came to us in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, and he gladly and willingly, with love for us that we cannot comprehend, laid down his life for us on the cross—for our sins—in order to save us. “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for a friend.” And “God proves his love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

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