Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister



Claiming the Prize

Sunday, August 30, 2009



I Samuel 17: 50-58



Rev. Dean Snyder

I’m curious, how many of us have favorite movies that we have watched more than once? How many of us have a favorite movie we have watched more times than we can remember?


The movie I have watched the most – too many time to count – is Tom Hank’s That Thing You Do. Anybody else ever see that movie? It is about a rock and roll band from Erie, Pennsylvania, who almost accidently record a hit record. Maybe it feeds some forgotten adolescent fantasy in me, but watching it always makes me feel better. I never get tired of it. I don’t know why. A psychologist might be able to understand something about me if they knew how often I’ve watched That Thing You Do.


This is the way it was for the people of Israel and the story of David and Goliath. They loved the story. They told it again and again.


It is a story about situations in life when we are confronted by a challenge and the challenge is so large we know we cannot defeat it. The message of the story is that David’s confidence in God and in himself allowed him to remain innocent, curious and in touch with his own soul in the face of an impossible challenge. Saul became cynical, dull and disconnected. But David stayed open, curious, and connected and because of this he was able to meet the challenge and win.


There is a Saul and a David within each of us. There is a Saul and a David within our communities, our marriages and partnerships, and workplaces and congregations, and even our nations.


After 9-11 there was a split within us as a nation and a people. 9-11 took away our sense of safety. After 9-11 we saw in our nation two conflicting responses. First, we saw the emergence of a cynical philosophy of life that said war is inevitable, it is the nature of humanity that we will always be at war so we need to do it first and definitively – shock and awe. I understand those feelings. It was the Saul response within us.


But there was also the emergence of a new curiosity about Islam and a desire for conversation and dialogue with people that we had mostly stayed disconnected from…a belief that a new kind of global community was possible. One of the interesting issues in the last election was whether we should be talking to our enemies.


Whenever a crisis comes into our lives…health issues or work issues or relationship issues or family issues or money issues or addictions get out of control…we will experience within ourselves both a Saul response and a David response. Either we will want to shut down or engage, or some combination of the two.


The question this morning is why engage? Why not shut down? What Saul and his army did sort of makes sense. If you can’t win, don’t engage. We teach this in our pre-Cana. Avoidance of conflict sometimes makes sense; it makes sense when you can’t win.


What David did was sort of dangerous. Why not just go back to our sheep and let whatever is going to happen happen?


Why endure the chemotherapy, and the hard work it takes to keep going after cancer? Why take a risk of looking for a new job or even a new vocation? Bob Benn begins his new work this week after five years of running our office and he is very much in my prayers because it is a very exciting thing he is doing. There is all this beauty and creativity and art within Bob that he has been making second place in his life and now he is moving his love of the arts to first place and we are excited for him. Why take the risk of doing something you love instead of doing something that is secure?


Why take the risk of trying again on a relationship that seems to have turned negative? Why take the risk of a new relationship when another one has ended?


In the face of Goliath, why choose to stay innocence, curiosity and connectedness?


According to the story of David and Goliath, there were two things that motivated David, and that motivates the David inside of you and me.


One was that David’s beliefs. Beliefs matter. David believed that trying to avoid Goliath, as Saul and his armies were doing, letting themselves be intimidated, was neither healthy nor was it faithful to the God of history.  David believed that in order to be healthy, whole and on the right side of history, he had to do battle with his Goliath rather than to hide or run away.


We have to do what we believe is right and healthy and good, we have to give ourselves to health and wholeness and right or we turn cynical, dull and disconnected.


When I talked about this last Sunday, someone said that I have to be careful when I say things like this because there are others who may have very different commitments and values who believe they are on the right side of health, wholeness and history.


Sure. None of us should suppose that we have the absolute corner on truth and right. It is always possible that history will prove our deepest commitments wrong. I am not suggesting that we should be closed minded…the very opposite. I am suggesting we should always remain curious.


Yet we also need to discover our deep commitments, believe in them and act on them. Dr. King talked about “the paralysis of analysis.”


In my walks around the city, I have been walking lately by the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve been spending some of my walking/thinking time thinking about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln as a president and leader. What an unlikely choice for president he was. He is the kind of president we elect only when we know we are really in big trouble.


The Lincoln Memorial includes the texts of two of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. One is what? The Gettysburg Address. Anybody know what the second one is? Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.


It is an amazing speech. Only 700 words…two double-spaced pages. Lincoln talks about people on both sides of the Civil War, and he says this:  “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes [God’s] aid against the other.”


He says: “The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” God has God’s own purposes. God is not just our way of getting what we want.


He says in the speech that both North and South are complicit in the existence of the sin of slavery. The North can not feel superior to the South. The war should be an occasion for both sides to repent.


Then he ends the speech: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”


Both sides pray to the same God for opposite things, neither can fully claim God, we need to be humble and remain open, but still “God gives us to see the right,” Lincoln says.


Even though we can not be arrogant – we cannot suppose that we are totally pure and that others are corrupt, we have to realize that others who disagree with us pray to the same God, read the same Bible – still we need to give ourselves to the right as we discern it.


David had to confront Israel’s Goliath, because he believed that this was the path to health and wholeness in his personal life and in the life of the nation and that this put him on the right side of history as he understood it.


Discerning our deepest commitments and then basing on our lives on them is essential to health and whole in our lives. You know what I ask myself these days? Will my grandson will be proud someday that his grandfather stood for what he stood for? Will my grandnephews be glad that I am part of their heritage? Am I on the right side of history?



But two things motivated David. He was motivated by what he believed was right, but if you read the story you will see that he was also motivated by something else. The other thing that motivated David was his own ambition.


This is an interesting part of the story and I am sure it was added to the story because it reflects an essential truth about David.


David was ambitious. He had an insatiable hunger for life, a lust for life. It is part of what made him great and also the root of his greatest flaws.


In the story David is sent by his father to the battlefield to take food to his older brothers who are in Saul’s army.


David is hears someone say that Saul has offered a reward to anyone who would defeat Goliath. The reward was the hand of his daughter in marriage and a waiver on all taxes for him and his family for the rest of their lives. (I Sam. 17: 25)


Whoever married Saul’s daughter would possibly be in line for succession as king of Israel when Saul died, so that was a big deal. And a promise of not ever having to pay taxes again for David and his entire family was a pretty enticing as well.


When David hears somebody say this, he immediately checks it out with other soldiers. (I Sam. 17: 31-2) He clearly wants to make sure he has it right before he battles Goliath.


Part of what motivates David is the prize. He believes that battling Goliath is the right and healthy and whole thing to do but he is also interested in the reward.


At the end of the story, David takes Goliath’s head and carries it to Saul and shows it to Saul. It is his way of saying to Saul, I have done what you asked someone to do and now I claim my reward.  


David wants to do good, but he also wants to do well.


This is a scary part of the story, because ambition can be dangerous. Raw ambition can kill us. Who doesn’t know somebody who has been so driven by a desire for power or wealth that it has distorted their being, turned them into something unpleasant, less than a whole person. After all, this is Washington, DC. If you want to see ambition diminish people just keep your eyes open here in Washington, DC, or perhaps Manhattan.


Ambition can destroy us.


But part of the message of the story of David and Goliath is that a lack of ambition can also damage us. Not to know what we want out of life can also distort our being and rob us of what Jesus called life and life more abundant. (John 10:10).


A lack of ambition can also kill.


I love spending time around babies and toddlers and young children, because the life in them that has not been thwarted or curbed or limited. They know what they want out of life. They don’t know yet that what isn’t possible. We teach them that sooner or later, but they don’t come into the world knowing that.


They want to eat; they want to be loved; they want to explore; they want to put things in their mouths; they want to impact the world around them.


I love spending time around infants and toddlers and young children because I wish I had back that ability to live life that fully, to claim life that abundantly.


Raw ambition can distort our lives but so can a lack of ambition. It is a good thing to know what we want out of life. The only problem with knowing what we want out of life is if our ambitions are petty or not healthy or not on the right side of history.


One of our preachers this summer was pretty critical of the book The Secret. Any of you know the book? I take her point.


But I want to say something positive about The Secret. What The Secret helps people do is to get back in touch with what they really want out of life. And it is true that if we know what we want out of life, we are more likely to realize it.


It is not a bad thing to be honest with ourselves about our ambitions. In fact, it is the only way our ambitions can mature, and become less petty and more selfless and worthy if we stay in touch with them.


Part of what keeps us innocent, curious and connected is knowing our own ambitions and longings and deepest desires.


What life tends to do to us between childhood and adulthood is to tell us we shouldn’t want, or we feel disappointed so often that we stop feeling our own desires and longings, or sometimes somebody tells us we are not worthy of our ambitions – we are not worthy of happiness or fulfillment or completion. So we stop even feeling our ambitions and hopes and desires.


Part of the reason we do the hard things in life, part of the reason we persevere, is because we want the prize. The story of David and Goliath says this is okay. It is okay to want and desire and long for and hope. When we turn these things off within ourselves we turn off our energy and passion.


I’d like us to end this sermon this morning with bowed heads, closed eyes, so that we might look inside ourselves.


For many of us there is lots of pain in there. Lots of discouragement and cynicism. Lots of disappointments and calluses where we have become numb. Lots of messages from adults who told us not to want, not to long, not to aspire. So we have shut down parts of ourselves…perhaps our creativity, perhaps our longing for intimacy and love, perhaps our passion for justice. I want to say this morning that it is good to want; it is good to desire; it is good to have longings. Find the place within yourself beneath a callous, beneath a disappointment, beneath a defeat, beneath the voices of a parent of teacher telling you can’t or shouldn’t, and let an ambition be reborn in your spirit. Let it emerge this week. Think about it before you go to sleep and for a few minutes when you wake up this week. Just feel it again and let it feed your spirit.


O God, our creator, help us to trust you with our ambitions, and longings and desire. Help us to trust you enough to feel them. Help us to trust you to shape them and mature them. Help us to become like children…to long for life and love again. Amen.