The Metropolitan Congregation

- serving and celebrating the LGBT communities of Manchester and the North West

Sermon - 24th June 2018

Taking on Goliath

Scripture - 1 Samuel 17:4-5, 10-11, 32, 41-43, 48-50

Walt Johnson

[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]

Today marks the end of the 20th National Refugee Week. The United Nations’ Refugee Agency – UNHCR – estimates that there 68.5 million refugees worldwide, more than the population of the UK. 57% (39 million) of these come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Of the total, there are 3.1 million people seeking asylum in various countries; in the UK, around 120,000 with 50,000 asylum claims in the system. [Source: UNHCR]

Throughout all of human history, people have been displaced: conflict, war, exile, famine, drought, natural disaster, persecution. The whole of the Bible is filled with accounts of refugees, beginning with Adam and Eve forced to leave the Garden of Eden; Jacob and his sons driven by famine to Egypt; Israel leaving slavery in Egypt by God’s own hand; the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the loss into history of 10 of Israel’s 12 tribes; the Southern Kingdom of Judah’s exile in Babylon. Jesus Himself and His family were seekers of asylum, too. At Christmas, we read of the Holy Family escaping to Egypt away from Herod’s threats.

Taking the natural disasters out of the equation, we can summarise the reason for millions of refugees today and throughout history: one group of humans abusing their strength and power over another group of humans.

As children and even as adults, we may have met the bully, someone who abuses their strength, size or position for their own ends; and very often, the bully’s target is those who are different, perceived as weaker, something which we as LGBT people are only too painfully aware.

There is a story in the Old Testament Book of 1 Samuel which is known the world over. Almost everyone knows the names David and Goliath. You may have even see the recent Lucozade advert on TV…

Let us now look more carefully at the story in Scripture…

<1st Reading: 1 Samuel 17:4-5, 10-11, 32>

The Biblical picture of Goliath is the archetypal bully: big, stupid and crude. We heard read to us that the Philistines’ display of strength left the Israelites ‘dismayed and greatly afraid’. Whoever we are, there are times when we feel like this, too.

I deliberately chose a Bible translation with the old Biblical measurements… a cubit is the length from the middle finger to the elbow, approximately 18 inches or 50cm. A span is hand-span, 6 inches or 15cm. If we do the sum, that comes to around 3.2m. Sometimes, it is hard to imagine size, so let’s build our own Goliath…

Who or what in our lives is Goliath? Who or what are the bullies in our lives?

Standing here in front of this ‘Goliath’ we have made, we are all small. In face of the ‘Goliaths’ in our lives, we may feel dismayed and afraid.
If you know the wider story in the book of 1 Samuel, God has already forsaken Saul as king; and in secret, the prophet Samuel has already anointed Jesse’s youngest son, David, as the next king over Israel.

Before we move on to the battle, let us consider David’s words to King Saul. David was just a boy, probably in his early teens. Goliath was demanding a man to fight him, not a boy; yet, it is the boy David in his bravery who chooses to stand in harm’s way for the sake of his future people, Israel.

We all know what happens in the story: let us remind us ourselves of the Biblical text.

<2nd Reading: 1 Samuel 17:41-43, 48-50>

There is a rather comical bit of the story where Saul tries to dress David in a man’s armour, but it is ill-fitting, David takes it off and faces Goliath as he is, armed only with his shepherd’s sling.

The story of David and Goliath has three surprises: firstly, the man demanded by Goliath is David, the boy; secondly, the boy does not even have a sword, for which Goliath mocks him. The third surprise is Goliath’s undoing and his downfall: armed with just a stone and a sling, as the shepherd David will have done countless times before to protect the sheep, a well-aimed stone stops the bully in his tracks.

Many of us know what it feels like to face overwhelming odds and almost certain defeat. The David and Goliath story is uplifting and empowering because David is so brave and resourceful: he acts on behalf of God and his people. He does not let others' expectations of him get in the way of his success.

In the face of the ‘Goliaths’ we have named today, who are our ‘Davids’? God will call people to be ‘Davids’. Like David kept himself light by not putting on the traditional armour, we also need to keep ourselves light, not allowing ourselves to be constrained by convention, but open to the new and unconventional ways in which God will call us and use us.

In John’s Gospel (8:36), we read Jesus’ words: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

We will finish our reflection at the end of National Refugee Week with a Litany of Thanksgiving, as we say “thank you” to God for sending the many ‘Davids’ to us, through whom so much support and blessing comes.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God says these words to us: “Do what is just and right.” (Isaiah 56:1) Our response in this Litany is: "Thank you for doing what is just and right."

Thank you to Paul Martin and all the staff and trustees at the LGBT Foundation for giving First Wednesday and many other groups to which we belong a place to meet.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to the many who support those seeking asylum with kind words of welcome, writing letters of support and attending court.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to many who either donate groceries or money to support the food bank. Thank you to Margaret and Maggie and their initiative to join Fair Share; for Zenlita, Cat and Kevin who share in bringing the food each week.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to the morning congregation of our church who support this congregation with their unconditional love and acceptance.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to ASHA – Asylum Support Housing Advice – to Asli, Maria, Gloria, Mohammed and Tony, for all the help, support and advice you have given to provide housing to so many.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to the many other organisations which support many of you as you progress throught the asylum process.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to John Nicholson, barrister from Kenworthy’s Chambers, who has represented in court many we know.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to Denise McDowell, Director of the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), to their caseworkers and solicitors – Shakhura, Isobel, David, Nadia, Natalia, Ryan, Sukhdeep – and their other staff for their knowledge, insight and experience.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to Pam, Gareth and Sam who assist Philip at First Wednesday.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.

Thank you to Philip, for his tireless work and generous heart running First Wednesday. For the hours, days and weeks he spends alongside so many at all steps of their asylum claim.
Thank you for doing what is just and right.


(Walt Johnson)

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