How Far Would You Go?

Pastor Matt Braddock

1 Samuel 17

I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about it. Really inspired. I was going to ask you to think about the Goliaths in your life – you know, the immense, giant obstacles that seem unbeatable and impossible to defeat — the huge problem that just might be your undoing. Sooner or later all of us must face the giant. Maybe it is a giant sickness that threatens life, or a giant wound that festers in a broken heart. Maybe it’s a giant wedge in a relationship that keeps you trapped in lonely silence. Maybe it’s a giant amount of work that stands between you and your dreams, or a giant injustice you have been avoiding. I was going to ask you: How do you respond? I wanted to ask whether you are planning on letting Goliath win, or are you going to take a stand? I was going to ask you how far you would go when called to take on a giant.

Goliath was the “secret weapon” of the Philistine army- a nine-foot nine inch, fearsome gargantuan who taunted the army of King Saul. There wasn’t a soldier in the camp who wanted to take on Goliath.

Goliath stood and bellowed to the ranks of Israel, “Why bother using your whole army? Am I not Philistine enough for you? And you’re all committed to Saul, aren’t you? So, pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!” When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.

After hearing these threats, an adolescent shepherd boy named David looked around and asked, “Who is this person who is insulting the armies of God?” David wasn’t afraid of the Philistine giant.

King Saul sent for David and this is the conversation they had:

David said to Saul, “Don’t give up hope, King. I’m ready to go and fight this Philistine.” Saul replied, “You can’t go and fight this Philistine. You’re too young and inexperienced—and he’s been at this fighting business since before you were born.” But David said to Saul, “I’ve been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I’d go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb. If it turned on me, I’d grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it. Lion or bear, it made no difference—I killed it. And I’ll do the same to this Philistine who is taunting the troops of the Lord, God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you” (1 Samuel 17:32-37).

Instead of putting on armor and a sword, David chose to dress casually, carrying only a sling in his hand, with five smooth stones that he collected from the stream. With no weapon and no armor, David was ready to win this battle for God.

Listen to what David said when he confronted Goliath:

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down. Today I will serve up the carcasses of the Philistine army to the crows and coyotes, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and God will give all of you into our hands” (vs. 45-47).

David took out a stone, and slung it and it struck Goliath on the forehead and killed him. The young, weak boy defeated his Goliath.

I was going to ask you to think about the five, smooth stones God has given you to face the giants. Because no matter what we may be facing, our problems can be solved by using the tools God gives is defeat giants I was going to ask you how far you would go when called to take on a giant. … until I read the last line of the passage I’m preaching today. Do you know how far David goes to defeat Goliath? The Bible says, “David triumphed over the Philistine with only a sling and a stone, for he had no sword. Then David ran over and pulled Goliath’s sword from its sheath. David used it to kill him and cut off his head.”

And now, I can’t preach that sermon I wanted to, because the story I learned as a kid … the one about the unlikely boy who topples giants, just turned ugly. Our scripture says, “David then displayed Goliath’s head in Jerusalem, brandished it before King Saul, and kept his sword in his tent as a souvenir.” Think of those ISIS videos of beheaded hostages. They use decapitation to traumatize and terrorize the enemy. And it works. It is meant to be a public spectacle for those who download replays of the horrifying act on the internet. Decapitation is also a sacrament of civil religion — a way of making violence holy. The beloved story of David and Goliath is actually a text of terror, and now I’m not sure how to hear God’s voice in this story.

This is not the only terrifying text in Scripture. Read the Bible closely and we read stories endorse using torture against captives (2 Samuel 12:26-31), legal rape of female prisoners of war (Numbers 31:1-18; Deuteronomy 21:11-14), slavery (Deuteronomy 23:15-16, Colossians 4:1), and transferring punishment of sin from the guilty to the innocent (Gen. 3:5-6, Genesis 6:5-13; Leviticus 16:8-34). Our Christian Scriptures are not exempt. In a world where there are those who read texts of terror and commit acts of terror in their name, we need to be explicit about how we handle these passages of Scripture.

You may think I’m being over sensitive here. Why not just take the story of David and Goliath and make it a spiritual story about overcoming the odds? Well, I think that’s a dangerous approach. When take stories about violent heroes and turn them into morality tales about fighting evil, we must be careful. I read a story about a dad watching his sons, ages 7 and 6, play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The dad introduced a new element into the game — dynamite. Dynamite is made just like the rock, only you lift your thumb to create the fuse. Dynamite utterly destroys rock, paper, and scissors. In response, the oldest boy came up with an ever more destructive weapon – God. After a few rounds of the game, he activated the omnipotent God weapon. “Rock, paper, scissors … GOD!” he yelled. Then he lifted both hands in the air and violently threw them down with the thunderous sound of hell-fire and brimstone on top of his younger brother.

God. The Destroyer.

I know it’s just a game, but I spend a lot of time trying to teach children that God isn’t like that. When we spiritualize violence, we sanction it. The stories we tell begin to justify our actions. We teach that it’s OK to obliterate our enemies with overwhelming, brutal force. For me, as we continue to face the fears of living in a nuclear era, the thought of bombing and being bombed is a horrifying and immature response. It’s up to us to find different stories, and metaphors to talk about conflict, other than battle, killing, and victory.

Is religion dangerous? Do we need to edit our Bibles and eliminate texts of terror? Let’s just get to the point. Religion is not bad. Religion is not evil. Religion is not dangerous. However, people can be bad, evil and dangerous. They can use religion to support what they want to do. Any Muslim who cites the Qur’an or Hadith to support their view that Islam should forcibly convert the world to Islam, stands in direct opposition to every scholarly tradition of Islam. The term jihad, which means “striving”, is primarily meant to mean the heart’s striving to obey God. Jihad as violent force is a secondary meaning. Most Muslim scholars say that violent jihad is confined to the defense of Islam against unjust attack.

Any Jewish leadeer who calls for the conquest of Palestine forgets that the command to take care of foreigners who live in the Holy Land far outweighs any texts conquest and security. I do not hear the voice of God when Jewish leaders quote scripture to justify Palestinian oppression.

I also refuse to listen for God’s voice from Christian leaders who uses Scripture to justify mistreatment of the LGBTQ community, or who uses the Bible to justify the subjugation of women. I refuse to listen for God’s voice when preachers use the Bible to baptize their bigotry. When I look at the human violence of the cross, I’m inspired to stand for freedom and to come alongside victims of oppression. But we remember times when the cross has been twisted into a swastika — a weapon. The icon of redemption can become an instrument of terror in the hands of bad theology. It’s why I don’t want us spiritualizing violence. Bad theology is not just dangerous. Bad theology can kill.

Of course, we have violent texts that are used by those who are filled with rage and hatred. By selectively choosing certain texts that support their aims, evil people choose hatred and intolerance over debate and dialogue. Religion does not cause intolerance. I think it’s quite the opposite. Intolerance uses religion to give alleged “moral support” to hatred.

We need to learn the warning signs that religion has become evil and evil has become religious. Here are some warning signs:

  • Fanatical claims of absolute truth. This includes: Blind obedience to totalitarian, charismatic, and authoritarian leaders or their views that undermines moral integrity, personal freedom, individual responsibility, and intellectual inquiry.
  • Identifying and rationalizing “end times” scenarios in the name of religion.
  • Any and all forms of dehumanization, including demonizing those who differ from you, construing your neighbor as an Other, and claiming that God is on your side alone.

Sacred terror is almost always complex and bound up with other causes. But at the end of the day, we must admit that there is far too much violence in the world that is justified with a specifically religious rationale. We should commit ourselves to do whatever we can to stop it.

From where I am looking today – religious-sanctioned violence is the giant we must defeat. Most people prefer a sword and spear and javelin to words. Today, we declare that we resist giants not with the sword, but with the five smooth stones:

non-violent resistance,

peaceable protest,

speaking truth to power,

diplomacy, and

restorative justice.

How far will you go? How far will you go to hold each other accountable? How far will you go when our own religions dehumanize and marginalize others? How far will you go, in the name of religion, certain groups are targeted for exclusion? How far will you go when the governments suppress religious activity through harassment or detention? How far will you to go dialogue and explore our differences, respectfully and courageously? How far will you go to pray — pray that we will be people of peace — pray and work for a loving, compassionate, just and generous world in which religion brings out the best of who we are, not the worst?

We come together at places like CCC to deepen our spiritual lives and to increase our understanding and our compassion. This work forms us. It helps us to be healthier and more whole people. And it equips and inspires us to do the daily work of building a better world.


Twisting the cross: The deadly theology of white supremacy

Is Religion Dangerous by Keith Ward

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