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The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker

The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker is pastor/head of staff of United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

United Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL


Dying In Someone Else's Armor

August 06, 2014

A few weeks ago, the leadership of the church I serve met for a visioning retreat. Small groups selected the Bible story they believed best represented where our church was at right now. One group selected the story of David and Goliath. Do you remember the story?

Goliath was a giant professional soldier. Think Shaquille O'Neal in a world where most people were less than five feet tall. He challenged Israel to produce a champion to face him, with the fates of both nations determined by the outcome. No one wanted to stand up to Goliath. No one thought he had the strength to defeat the giant. No one stepped up.

Finally, David said he would face the giant. It reminds me of the Council at Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring. No one volunteers to go into Mordor. Finally, the voice of the smallest one there, Frodo Baggins, breaks the silence. He stands up and says, "I'll do it. I'll go to Mordor."

David was a friend of the King's son, Jonathan. He was a shepherd. He was invited into King Saul's court to play soothing music, not be a warrior.

David? Really? David? He plays a lyre; he doesn't swing a sword. He protects sheep, not our nation! Even Saul was disbelieving, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth" (1 Samuel 17:33).

Listen to what David says. "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God."  David said, "The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

David steps up to face the challenge of Goliath. He doesn't focus on the tale of the tape or the size of the task ahead of him. He doesn't listen to the doubts of those around him. He remembers past victories. He remembers how the Lord saved him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear. If God was with him against those Goliaths, than why not this one?

Sometimes the Church believes that the challenges that face us today are greater than any other time in the history of the church. We hear statistics about church decline and waning influence. We hear about how more and more people check "none" for religious preference. Don't focus on the tale of the tape and the statistics. We only need to remember that God has delivered the church through the Dark Ages, through the Enlightenment, through Modernism and the Industrial Revolution. We can face the current challenge.

But what's most important is not the threat to the church's survival. We have other Goliaths to face than diminishing numbers in our pews. There are giants out there that threaten God's people, and against them we seem like mere tiny Davids.

There are terrorists who steal girls from their schools. We are a David against that Goliath. Peoria, Illinois where I live and serve, is one of the most segregated cities in the country. We are a David against that Goliath. There are children who go hungry every weekend because the only good food they receive is at school. We are a David against that Goliath. There are millions of girls sex-trafficked through in the United States every year, and so many more across the world. We are a David against that Goliath. But that doesn't mean we don't stand against it.

How did David defeat Goliath? The easy and obvious answer is "through God." Yes, that is true. We are powerless and helpless without God, but more than conquerors through the power of Christ and Christ's resurrection. But we need to look more closely at the story.

Saul tried to put his own armor on David... the shepherd... who never had worn armor in his life, who never had swung a sword, and who had never been trained in hand-to-hand combat. David can't beat Goliath that way. That's Goliath's game. David didn't want to die in someone else's armor. David relied on his assets: what he had, what he knew, and what he was good at. He took off Saul's armor and he picked up his sling. He defeated his Goliath.

The Church too often tries to fight battles in someone else's armor. I see it all the time. We try to think what millenials want and then cater to that even if that's not who we are. We try to create an atmosphere that is not authentic to our gifts and skills. We try to change policies through politics, but that's not our way. Every church is different. We have to discover what our assets and talents are. We have to face our goliaths with what we have, what we know, and what we are good at.

We start there. We start with our sling. We start with the ways God has been with us and blessed us in the past, and we build upon those. We don't put on someone else's armor, someone else's worship, or someone else's popular program.

God has equipped us and given us everything we need to take on the Goliaths. So why are we dying in someone else's armor? Take it off and go back to the fields you have shepherded. Go back and remember and celebrate the past victories. There you will find the hope and the strength to face the Goliath of tomorrow.

That doesn't mean to try and relive the past; it means drawing strength from it. David wasn't fighting a lion or a bear that day. He had a new task. But he used what he had, what he knew, and what he was good at for the present task in front of him, and adapted to it. God delivered David. God has already delivered us.

Dying in someone else's armor is not the church's call. Our call is to face the giants. Our call is to defeat them with the help of God. What's your sling, and what's your giant? It's time to step up.

 


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