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Sermon: Why Bother?

June 19, 2009

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-49

Life is too big.  Just when you think you’re on top of the world, life has a way of knocking you so far down you don’t think you could ever get back up.

John was a vice president at a financial services company—and this was long before the current economic meltdown, when we all thought our prosperity was secure and would last forever.  John was not far from retirement.  He and Meg were anticipating every detail of their well-deserved rest after a long life raising children and working.  They would enjoy traveling and their grandchildren, just as they had always planned.

One day, John was at the office just getting ready to go to lunch, when a phone call came in.  It was his doctor.  The test results had come in, and John’s heart was in bad shape.  He asked John to check himself in to the hospital immediately.  Surgery and a major change in lifestyle were imminent.

John agreed and called home to tell Meg what was happening.  He thought his words through carefully.  He didn’t want to scare her.  He dialed slowly.

Meg picked up the phone, and immediately John detected the tremor in her voice.

“Oh John, I’m so glad it’s you.  I was about to call you.”

“What’s the matter, honey?”  As soon as the question came out of his mouth, he remembered Meg had a mammogram in the morning.  His stomach dropped.

“Cancer…they found a lot…they want to operate as soon as…”  Meg began to sob.

“Honey, it’s going to be all right.  We’ll get through this.”  How could he begin to tell her about his own problems?

John spent the next few days in a fog.  There were so many things that pushed him down like a giant weight: lost income and thousands in extra medical bills; the surgeries themselves held no guarantees; even if they were successful, the shadows of heart disease and cancer would always hang over their heads.  The beautiful future that had seemed so close was now uncertain and scary.

John felt such a rush of depression that he wondered more than a few times if it was even worth it to continue.  If the future was so dim, what was the point of continuing?  Why try?  Why bother?

*   *   *   *   *

King Saul and the people of Israel would have understood John’s feelings of hopelessness.  Their ancient rivals, their worst enemies, the Philistines, were about to win a decisive battle that could crush the hopes of this nascent kingdom forever.  The Philistine armies had invaded and were arrayed on a mountain in front of Saul and his troops.  A valley separated the two armies.

But then the Philistines brought out their secret weapon.  A giant of a man strode forward wearing a giant helmet and shield, and carrying an enormous spear.  The ground may have trembled when Goliath came out, but the Israelites—including King Saul—surely shivered in their boots.

The giant called out across the valley, “I am a champion of the Philistines, and you are servants of Saul.  Choose one from among your ranks to come out and do battle with me, if you dare.

“If your man can kill me, then we will all be your servants.  But if I kill your man, then you will serve us.”

King Saul and all his soldiers heard this, and they were dismayed, because…well…which of them could last for two minutes with that giant.  The battle seemed lost before it had even begun.  What was the point of facing such a fearsome opponent?  Why not simply surrender right now and save a lot of pain and suffering for everyone?

For a long while, no one did anything, except in the morning, Goliath would come out and issue his challenge, and in the evening he would come back out and say the same things: send out one soldier and let us settle this thing, giant to man.

Again, almost as an afterthought, there was little David.  He traveled back and forth between his father Jesse and the three oldest brothers who were fighting alongside King Saul.  David had an opportunity to hear Goliath’s boastful words, and he watched in shock as Saul and his warriors shied away from the challenge.  To David, the solution was obvious: that was just some Philistine thug out there, while we are soldiers of Israel.  Just send someone out there to whip that oversized windbag, and let’s all go home.

Somebody heard David talking like that and passed the news on to Saul.  The king asked to see David.  “Son, why are you talking like that?  You’re just a boy.  Goliath has been a warrior for a long time.  He’ll crush you.”

David said, “No, no, I’m not afraid.  Whenever a bear or a lion came to attack my father’s flocks, I would grab that animal by the jaw and strike it down.  This giant has defied God’s own army, and so the Lord will protect me, just as God saved me from the paw of the bear and the lion.”

And then, Saul did the most foolish and irresponsible thing any king or president or other leader has ever done.  It was a sign of Saul’s fear and desperation, and a clue that he was no longer able to lead the people of Israel that he said, “Okay.  Okay, young man.  Go out there to face that giant, and the Lord be with you.”  Clearly, Saul was thinking to himself, “Why bother?  We’re as good as dead either way.  I might as well send this kid.”

So Saul put the entire future of the people of Israel into that youngster’s hands.  David was too small to wear Saul’s armor or carry his sword.  “I can’t walk in this,” he said.  So instead, David went to the dry creek bed and picked up five smooth stones.  And he picked up his sling, and he went out to face Goliath.

David and the Philistine came closer, and the giant thought it was a big joke.  “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?  Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.”

But with equal bravado, David said, “The Lord will deliver you into my hand.  I will strike you down, and everyone here will know that there is a God in Israel, and the Lord does not save by sword and spear.  This battle belongs to the Lord.”

And you know how the story ends.  David flung just one of those smooth stones across the field toward Goliath, and it hit him squarely in the forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.  David and the armies of Saul were completely victorious that day.

Why bother?  John and Meg faced serious health problems, and their lives would be altered forever.  Saul and his people faced certain annihilation at the hands of Goliath and the Philistines.  Foreclosure.  Bankruptcy.  A dead end job.  Divorce.  Death.  Why bother?  Sometimes life is just too big.

Is that what we believe, that some situations in life are too hopeless, that we can never recover?

No.  We do not believe that.  We do believe that our own resources are not enough.  We do believe that life is bigger and badder than any single one of us.  But we have resources beyond ourselves.  We do believe in a God who does not save by sword or shield, but by the hand of a young shepherd boy, a God whose answer to death is an empty tomb.

Imagine losing everything you own in a fire, escaping only with your life.  That is a pretty desperate situation, isn’t it?  And you know we have a woman in our congregation who has lost everything.  How do you even begin to rebuild your life?

Well, Donna turned to us, to people who believe in a God who does not save by sword and shield.  My office is filling up with pots and pans, blankets, small appliances, chairs, clothes—everything a person needs to begin again.  When she is ready to move into her new apartment, she will have something because you believe in that God.

So what happens if you are in that desperate situation?  Some day you may be tempted to say “why bother?” and to give up, pack it all in.  The lesson of young David may be “show up anyway.”  Come prepared to do what you can do.  David couldn’t wear Saul’s armor.  He couldn’t carry the king’s sword.  But he did what he could do.  David picked up five smooth stones and his sling, and stepped out onto the field.  He trusted God to do the rest.

Saul and the other warriors were scared.  For 40 days they did nothing but engage in a standoff with the enemy.  They just waited for the bitter end.  But not David.  He figured that doing something was better than doing nothing.  He figured that trust in God was better than fear of a man, even a giant of a man.

There are always resources beyond what we can bring to bear on our own.  There is always strength to come from an unexpected source.  Look for it.  Reach for it.  Ask for it.

Let us pray…

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