A sermon offered by The Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick at The Advocate on June 21, 2015, Year B, Proper 7.
Depayne and Cynthia.
Susie and Ethel.
Clementa and Daniel and Myra.
Tywanza and Sharonda.
A week ago, these nine were unknown to most of us.
These retirees, this librarian; this track coach; these preachers; these dreamers.
These mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — our brothers and sisters. These students of Scripture.
Before Wednesday evening, they were unknown to most of us in this room and to most everyone in this country.
But the Goliath that killed them is sadly too well known to us.
He goes by many names; he wears many faces.
He is gun violence. He is hate. He is racism.
He has been fed on power and privilege and prejudice.
He is hulking, and he is afraid. But he masks his fear with rage and violence.
He stalks our streets, haunts our cities;
kills our children, our parents, our neighbors, our friends.
He is gruesome, fearsome, and well-armed.
His mere appearance can reduce a president to tears.
And he taunts us to fight back.
But how can we?
We have tried so many ways to defeat this Goliath.
We have wielded the swords of legislation and diversity trainings,
We have carried the spears of passion and even compassion out to meet him.
We have tried to reason with him, educate him, treat him, negotiate with him.
We have protested him, marched against him. We have lit our candles in his presence and in the wake of his devastations. We have held vigil. We have pleaded with heaven.
When all of that has seemed to affect no change,
We have even tried shielding ourselves from him with denial.
But still he comes. He still breaks through our defenses.
He taunts and teases and terrifies all at once.
And cuts down the innocent.
And, when this Goliath shows himself,
we tremble and grieve, fearful and uncertain what might come next.
Parker Palmer says that this is the point that people of conscience
find themselves tempted by two options:
First — we yield to a corrosive cynicism,
a kind of despair and despondency that says that Goliath will always win,
that there will always be another nine and another nine beyond that,
that our streets and sanctuaries will never know peace,
and that the casualties will only continue to mount.
That’s a corrosive cynicism that comes from the gradual wearing down of the soul,
the erosion that comes from the daily-ness of the headlines and the stories.
It’s an abandonment of our call to hope.
The other choice that Palmer identifies is
that we find ourselves becoming irrelevant idealists —
the kind of people who can only really spout platitudes in the face of suffering,
the kind of people that hold real hurt at bay just hoping that tomorrow will be a better day.
It is a kind of irrelevant idealism that is borne from the walling off of the soul.
It is born from building defenses to shield ourselves from other people’s pain —
It is an abandonment of our call to love our neighbor.
Because we cannot love our neighbor if we do not see and feel their pain.
And let’s be brutally honest for a moment:
For most of middle class white America, these are really only options
— both corrosive cynicism and irrelevant idealism — because we know
that Goliath hunts in other neighborhoods first.
Which is one reason why we need First Samuel chapter 17,
why we need the story of a shepherd boy who willingly goes out to take on the giant.
Because the shepherd shows us that there’s another way,
that we, who might have the luxury to grow caustically cynical or vapidly idealistic,
might find a way forward when Goliath comes, when another nine fall,
or even better yet, might take on the giant before another nine fall.
I had never noticed until this week, in the shadow of Charleston,
that, in the story of David and Goliath, King Saul tries everything
to shield David from the giant’s wrath.
Did you notice?
Saul tries to talk David out of going. “You are just a boy.”
And when David cannot be persuaded, Saul takes David and clothes him in his own armor — a helmet, a coat of mail, the royal sword.
But, and this is the critical part —
When David is wrapped in all of power’s protections, he is powerless to move.
When he is all defended, he cannot even walk, let alone win.
“I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.”
It is only when David sheds all that might shield him
that he is able to confront the evil before him.
So he goes without armor, without a helmet, without the royal sword.
He goes with faith and trust in God
and five stones he picked up from the ground
and walks out to meet the giant.
Now there is a certain sermon that says,
here are the five stones that we must wield to bring the giant down.
This is not that sermon.
Because the more powerful witness of the shepherd is that, when facing Goliath,
the only real weapons we can bear are our own vulnerability
and our confidence that God is still Emmanuel,
that God is with us, and that what God wants for the world
is not what Goliath wants for it.
And that God’s dream wins.
It is why Paul can later write to the Corinthians, “open wide your hearts,”
because God’s work in their vulnerability can be a witness against a whole empire of Goliaths.
In his eulogy for
Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Carol Denise
— the four young girls killed
in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham —
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that their deaths
“say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution.”
Yes, we must.
It is time to substitute courage for caution.
So let us shed all that might shield us.
Let us meet Goliath with the courage of vulnerability
and the confidence that — to quote King again —
God is still in the habit “of wringing good from evil.”