Sunday 23rd June 2024 ~ Rev Hugh Perry

It is very easy to accept the story in our first Samuel reading as a proof text that tells us that God will deliver faithful people from impossible or dangerous situations. 

The story of David and Goliath is not only a story from the Bible it is one of the classic stories of our culture.  It is a story that has encouraged insignificant individuals and marginalised communities to not only tackle but overcome a whole range of oppressive giants. 

Maurice Andrew quotes David Lange’s involvement in New Zealand’s confrontation with the United States over nuclear weapons.  We might also think about Gandhi’s confrontation with the British Empire over Indian independence.  The classic that I grew up with was the Kiwi beekeeper that climbed Mt Everest.  That inspired Tom Scott to make a film about the expedition.  Scott also relates in his autobiography, Drawn Out how failing ‘School Certificate English’ meant that he would not be able to write film scripts or newspaper columns.  Scott was a master of the verbal slingshot and when one newly elected prime minister noted he read his article in the Listener and added the barb that he didn’t know Scott could write.  Scott slung it back saying, ‘I didn’t know you could read.

As far as quick verbal slingshots go part of our folk law is David Lange’s quip in the Oxford Union Debate.’  ‘And I’m going to give it to you if you hold your breath just for a moment.  ‘I can smell the uranium on it as you lean towards me!’

Recently Willy Jackson paraphrased that famous line as he became the first M?ori to take part in that same debate.  Jackson negated the motion that the British Museum was not very British by maintaining that, because it was full of artifacts from around the world, it was extremely British because the British were renowned for arriving in other people’s land and claiming everything for themselves.   He then added. ‘I can smell the colonialism on your breath from here’.

Willy Jackson cunningly drew on Lange’s past ‘David and Goliath’ struggle, and brought the case for the return of M?ori artifacts to the very heart of British academia.

The David of our First Samuel reading likewise shifted the conflict from a situation in which he would be overwhelmed to one where he was in control.

David lived in a totally different world to us, but it had similarities.  In a previous episode we were informed he was the youngest in a large family.  So, like many younger members of the British Aristocracy, who were driven lack of inheritance to emigrate to colonial Aotearoa, he was unlikely to inherit any of the family’s assets. 

Yet his early life as a shepherd gave him the skills and the faith that equipped him for his confrontation with Goliath.  I remember from Bible in Schools the suggestion that he became skilful with the slingshot

Furthermore, as a reward for defeating Goliath David married into the royal family and began a distinguished militarily career.  That lead to him to becoming the most powerful leader in his world. 

Goliath was described as a giant and with his sword and armour he must have been a formidable opponent.  Much like a lion or wolf intent on dining on mutton Goliath would quickly dispatch the diminutive David in a face-to-face confrontation.

We can however assume that David have learned how to defend his sheep from large predators had no intention of fighting the giant on Goliath’s terms.  David never intended to get close enough to Goliath for the giant to use his superior size and strength.  David was a skilled practitioner in the use of an alternative technology and exploited a situation where Goliath’s size and bulky armour was the source of his greatest weakness.

We think of a slingshot as a toy that delinquent boys once used to break shop windows. Now of course they use other people’s cars.

However, some years ago I saw a documentary about an area in South America where the indigenous people used slings to hunt flamingos.  They rode at speed on horseback at the flocks of birds and were able to send stones at the feeding birds with incredible accuracy. 

Furthermore, in the ancient world the sling was also a respected and very dangerous weapon that was widely used in warfare.  It was used in Europe and the Near East from the Bronze Age until about the 17th century.   Apparently, the impact of a missile from a sling could have a similar affect to a small handgun. 

One historian noted that ‘Goliath had as much chance against David as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an opponent armed with an automatic pistol.[1]

But not only did David attack Goliath on his terms rather that the giant’s, David also had faith in his God and the rightness of his cause.   Lange, Gandhi, Scott and Jackson also had the skills of their profession but were likewise motivated by what they believed was the rightness of their mission.  

The righteousness of the cause is also a feature of the story of Jesus which was very much a David and Goliath mission.  The Gospels are an account of an unknown Jew, convinced of the rightness of his cause and an unfailing faith in his God.  A man who takes on both the ruling class of his own people and the might of the Roman Empire. 

As we cross from our reading in first Samuel to Mark’s Gospel it is also worth noting that today’s episode is one of Mark’s ‘crossing over’ episodes. 

It is a literary crossing from one subject to another, but it also reminds me of another crossing episodes.  In that story a young would-be chaplain is terrified by an Atlantic storm that breaks the ships mast.  As he trembles in fear his personal faith is challenged by the Moravian missionaries who stand in the storm by the broken mast and sing hymns. 

After the failure of his own ministry, he is recalled to England and on a whim goes to listen to a Moravian missionary at a meeting in Aldersgate Street.  There, his heart is famously strangely warmed.  John Wesley crosses over to begin preaching in the open to the dispossessed of the industrial revolution.  A mission of faith and social action with the enthusiasm expressed in his brother’s hymn.  ‘Forth in Your Name, O Lord, I go’.

Our Gospel cross over however is a literary construction that moves the reader from a selection of parables to a quite spectacular exorcism.  In so doing Mark uses the power of the narrative, and allusion to other scripture and folklore, to introduce the disciples’ question ‘who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (Mark 4:41) 

The answer to that question is unfortunately given by the Gerasene demonic in the next week’s exciting episode. 

So, spoiler alert.  The demon possessed man calls out ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’(Mark 5:7) 

In the meantime, we the reader, have not only been drawn to ask the same question but have been given several hints about Jesus.  Through allusion to previous scripture, we are informed of his link with the creator and the forming of a new people of God by control over the wind and the sea

When Moses led the slaves out of Egypt, he was the agent of God who opened the water in a new act of creation, so the people could begin their journey as the people of God. 

The question for us therefore is not ‘who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ But ‘who are this new people of God?’ 

The answer Mark is suggesting is that we are those people.  Mark, in his Gospel, is calling us to the David and Goliath struggle where the Christ in us confronts the massive giant of a disbelieving, violent and self-seeking world.  

As we live in such a world of noisy, hostile, wealth  grabbing giants we are challenged to live as if the kingdom of God is well and truly at hand. 

That belief, Mark is telling us, is the agility and superior weapon that will well and truly slay the giant demoniacs of our time and place.

So, trusting in God, grounded in the scripture and traditions of our faith, we are not only assured of the rightness of our cause…. 

We are convinced that we are indeed Christ’s new people of God.

We are the people who can transform our lives and so transform our world.