Of Giants and Men

PENTECOST 4B – 21st June, 2015

+ In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our lectionary this Sunday presents us with two stories beloved of Sunday School children of my – possibly your – era. The killing of the giant Goliath by little David and the calming of a wild storm on the Sea of Galilee were staple diet in the mind of this eight-year-old.

We boys particularly loved the story of David. Blood-thirsty young lads could delight in a story in which it was not only not wrong to kill, but positively heroic. Goliath was, after all, the enemy of the people of Israel, God’s own people; so his killing was, as the American forces have coined the phrase, a “righteous kill”. Somehow, despite the message of the Fifth Commandment – “Thou shalt not kill”, this killing was OK. That the story goes on to tell us that David hacked off Goliath’s head with his own sword was just icing on the cake.

However, it seems to me somewhat uncomfortable to be reading in church about this heroic killing and the massacre of many of Goliath’s compatriots, when we have heard a couple of days ago of the killing of nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The American killings are abominable to us, of course. But how much have we gloried in our stories of God-given victory of the enemies of his people throughout our Old Testament stories. And how much have we claimed that God gave us victory in our World Wars by the killing of many millions of our “enemies”. Of course, both side usually see their actions as “righteously” doing God’s will.

The rationalisation of the killing of human beings in so-called “righteous” wars, may be the slippery slope which can lead the Anders Breiviks, the Martin Bryants and the Dylann Roofs of our world to “justify” the killing of innocent people in an imagined “righteous” cause.

I remember my youngest brother – at the time about five years old – interrupting a sermon of my Dad’s about David and Goliath by calling out, “It’s naughty to kill people”. It was difficult for Dad to recover from that, trying to explain in child-comprehensible terms the difference between murder and killing the enemies of God!

As our Study Group worked through the Book of Judges a few months ago, we were too often confronted by people like Gideon, Samson and Jael “taking out” the enemies of God’s people. I am honestly uncomfortable, and even embarrassed, by these stories in our tradition.

When I turned eighteen and was eligible for the conscription ballot towards the end of the Vietnam War, I registered as a conscientious objector. I must admit that I was intensely relieved that my birth-date was not amongst those drawn in the ballot, and that I didn’t have to argue my pacifist cause. Today, even with a perhaps more mature understanding of world politics, I still abhor war in all its forms. I wish with all my heart that we could find solutions without constant killing and destruction.

More and more of us are convinced of the evil of the death penalty; and the judicial murder of Chan and Sukumaran and their fellows in Indonesia brought home again the abhorrence of death penalties.

So what are we to think of the killing of Israel’s enemy, Goliath, by young David, of whose anointing as King to replace Saul we read last Sunday? We must take the story at face value as God’s solution to the oppression of Israel by the Philistines, and work out our own response to the power and oppression of evil in light of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the Gospels. There is a definite case to be made for the “turning of the other cheek” and “loving one’s enemies” in the new dispensation. And Christians should be at the forefront of such action.
However, in context it is clear that David’s victory is directly attributable to the use of God-given skills and courage. It is probably fair to understand – as was taught us in Sunday School – that God is with us in our adversities and will help us to overcome. The same basic message seems to have been taught about the Galilee storm. I well remember, “With Jesus in your boat, you can overcome the storms of life.” Trite, perhaps, but basically true.

As Christians and human beings tainted by sin and evil, though, we cannot claim that our motives are always pure in our seeking to serve God. It is interesting to note that in the parts of the David and Goliath story to which were not treated this morning, we are told that David heard from some of the Israelite soldiers, “The king will give great wealth to the man who kills [Goliath]. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” Now that’s an incentive which just might outrank any scruples to the contrary!

Whenever the USA and its allies – with Australia sadly more often than not amongst them – go to war, there are companies and wealthy individuals who have much to gain from such aggression – munitions and supply companies have big financial benefits to gain, and governments seem to benefit from lowered unemployment figures. It is never just about “good moral values” and “just causes”.

In press reports about the Charleston killings, there has been a marked contrast in response from the authorities and the families of the victims. The Governor of South Carolina is quoted as saying that the State will “definitely” seek the death penalty. Meanwhile the families of the victims confronted Dylann Roof with forgiveness. I suppose we are all caught between these two extremes; but I’m sure I know where Jesus would stand. “Father, forgive them” was his cry from the cross. Whether I could forgive in such a way were KT amongst the victims, I don’t know. But I hope I could.

We all fall short of the deep love and grace and forgiveness which is the mark of God in Christ; and I pray that we will be enabled to journey more in that direction.

In the terrible events which befall us and our world, it is not unusual for us to want to cry out with the disciples, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” But the one who “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” is still with us and still calls us to be peacemakers and healers and reconcilers and forgivers.

The Lord be with you!