Every botched call to worship is an opportunity to blog: that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Case in point: at the start of our service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church this week, I wanted to say something really profound about the story of David and Goliath (our Old Testament reading for the day), and how it ties in with Be Not Afraid (the song I’d chosen to start the worship set with). And I did just that – if you replace the word ‘profound’ with ‘so babblingly incoherent it was borderline non-sequitur’.
But there’s a reason I’m in print, not broadcasting – I write much gooder than I talk. (Shoulda written it down, I guess.)
So here’s my chance to write it right and right that wrong:
In my old church, our priest once said that during the kids’ talk, anytime he asked a question, if someone answered ‘Jesus,’ they got the answer right. There was no question in that church’s Sunday School realm to which Jesus was the wrong answer.
Teacher: What did Noah build?
Teacher: Very good!
Similarly, fellow worship music team leaders, anytime you’re looking for a song that ties in with the day’s scripture readings, you can’t go wrong with Be Not Afraid.
Is there a more prevalent theme in the Bible than fear? And in how many passages in the Good Book does God urge one or more of His people, in so many words or their synonyms, not to be afraid? Dozens. And in how many Bible verses is the challenge/command implied?
Maybe all of them.
That’s why Be Not Afraid is a great song for any Sunday.
Penned by Jesuit Priest Bob Dufford and sung by many, including Roman Catholic friar John Michael Talbot, Be Not Afraid’s verses tie in overtly with the Exodus (You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst), Abraham (you shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way), Pentecost (you shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand) and Isaiah (you shall see the face of God and live), just for starters, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized that this song is also very much about David and Goliath.
It occurred to me that my favorite line in the entire anthem, ‘If wicked men insult and hate you, all because of me, blessed, blessed are you,’ could have been written specifically about the wicked man known as Goliath of Gath.
How wicked was he?
From a 21stCentury mindset, Goliath may not have been that bad a guy. After all, he was a soldier fighting for his country. Whether Philistine or Jew had more right to Palestine (from an earthly perspective) was pretty debatable, so you can’t really fault his actions, can you?
Well, as our church’s guest preacher, Dave Matthews (not the rock star), pointed out in his truly excellent sermon, from a Jewish understanding of the story, Goliath represents evil incarnate – making this battle a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death on the cross. (If you’re curious about how Dave comes to that conclusion, I urge you to listen to his sermon. You won’t regret it!)
So yeah, Goliath was pretty wicked. He was also a big bully. To wit…
Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” – 1 Samuel 17:41-44 (TNIV)
All of Israel was afraid of Goilath, and with good reason. He was 9’6” tall (a full two feet taller than Andre the Giant of WWF fame), but in my mind’s eye his body looked more like Conan the Barbarian’s than that of Fezzik from The Princess Bride.
Compare that with David – who at this point in his life, I always picture as the ancient Near East’s version of Dick Grayson (aka Robin, of Batman and Robin fame. There’s no word in the Bible about David having his own batman, though – at least not at this stage of the story). Robin is remarkably tough as teenagers go, but hardly a match for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Andre the Giant’s freakishly huge lovechild.
But David, little more than a boy and armed only with staff and sling, not only doesn’t run and hide from Goliath’s taunts, he gives as good as he gets: “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 deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, 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 he will give all of you into our hands.” – 1 Samuel 17:45-47 (TNIV)
But David doesn’t boast of his own prowess as a warrior, he brags about what his God will do. And with God on his side, he’s as good as his word.
“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.” – 1 Samuel 17:48-49
David’s willingness to trust God despite overwhelming circumstances reminds me of the chorus of the song: Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me – and I will give you rest.
Speaking of rest, David has much to say on that subject in the months and years that follow Goliath’s death. King Saul eventually turns on David and there are some very uncertain times in our hero’s young adulthood. Often, the future shining king finds himself a fugitive, hiding and caves and in the forest. He has his dark moments to be sure, but does fear ever consume him? Not when he remembers whose he is.
“But, Lord, you are my shield, my wonderful God who gives me courage.
I will pray to the Lord, and he will answer me from his holy mountain.
I can lie down and go to sleep, and I will wake up again, because the Lord gives me strength.
Thousands of troops may surround me, but I am not afraid.” – Psalm 3:2-6 (NCV)
Now that’s faith.
Somebody really smart (maybe Max Lucado?) once said that courage isn’t the antidote for fear.
Hmm, in hindsight, that would’ve been a bit long for a call to worship. Perhaps it’s a good thing I botched it.
Peace be with you.