Not an Underdog

Preacher: Jessie Houff

Scripture: 1 Samuel 17: 1-54

The story of David and Goliath. Very dramatic story. I hope that all of you were able to listen to this story with fresh ears, unencumbered by past interpretations of the story. For centuries this story has been used as an “underdog” story. Children are told the story to encourage them to be brave and prove that you can be young and not a “warrior” and still win “wars”. David was this young boy, not a warrior, and yet he defeated a GIANT – a strong, super tall dude dripping in armor and weaponry that looked like he could absolutely mangle King Kong or Godzilla. In our minds we see this young, frail, short, gangly teenage boy with a children’s slingshot and a tiny pebble chewing on bubblegum and skipping down to Goliath. We are told this story in this way so that we can understand you don’t have to be big and strong in order to “win” something. You can be small, young, and inexperienced to achieve greatness. A lovely point, but that’s not the way I’ll be interpreting this story today.

In reading this story from start to finish, I found it to be different from the way I’ve been hearing it. As I researched more, turns out I’m not the only one to see this story in a new light. I found a Ted Talk about it, led by Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell’s take on David and Goliath. In his Ted talk from 2013, he explained that this story has been told incorrectly. Historical facts need to be included. The Giant Goliath, he explains, could have had a conditional called acromegaly. Google defines it as: a hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood. When you have too much growth hormone, your bones increase in size. In childhood, this leads to increased height and is called gigantism.”

Malcolm Gladwell goes on to say that this condition negatively affects the sight of a person with acromegaly as well as mobility. So actually, while Goliath appeared to be this strong warrior, he may have only LOOKED strong. Goliath, if he indeed did have acromegaly, had poor sight and moved very slowly. Two traits that do not necessarily win a combat fight. Malcolm also lets his audience know that the sling David has is NOT a child’s slingshot we have in our mind of a handheld piece with a rubber band strapped to it. The sling David had was a weapon wherein you place a rock in a pouch, whirl around to gain incredible momentum, and launch the rock at a speed so fast it is comparable to a bullet just leaving a handgun. THAT’S what David had. He basically had a handgun. So while Goliath LOOKED scary and strong (and may have been strong) and would have won in hand to hand combat, David used a more powerful weapon from farther away. He basically brought a gun to a knife fight. 

He knew he couldn’t win a fight that Goliath’s army wanted to see, so he used his knowledge of how he protected his flock from animal predators. He used this tool, this weapon, to shoot lions and bears. And if he missed, he jumped on their backs and wrung their necks until they were dead. I don’t know about y’all, but this David does not seem like a frail, inexperienced, young boy. Sounds extremely brave to me. How many people do you know who would jump on a lion to stop it from killing one of your pets? I know that sheep were not pets, they were livelihood, but for the sake of my argument, you probably wouldn’t instinctually jump on a lion’s back and wring its neck.

Malcolm concludes his Ted talk by saying, “Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem, and sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.”

Yeah. Sometimes the ordinary worker is the smartest one in the whole armies. He thought smarter, not harder. Where everyone else saw strength and weapons, David just saw another lion or bear and the Israeli army his flock. Shoot Goliath with a sling. Why didn’t anyone else think of that? David wasn’t an underdog. David just wasn’t in the military. 

So hearing this story coming from a STRONG David, a wise David instead of a young inexperienced “underdog”, this metaphor has been switched. We can use this new metaphor for many examples in our world. Right now, the fight I’m fighting is for inclusivity of young people and LGBTQ+ persons in the Church of the Brethren. Some may view young adults as young, inexperienced, and underdogs of the church. This is a grave mistake. Young adults are not underdogs. We are not these frail, immature children with no experience. Our “sling” is organizing and working together and having passion for inclusivity at God’s Table. So many folks say that we are the future of the church and we want to start seeing that change of leadership. I don’t see myself as an “underdog” just because I’m 29 and not as seasoned as many leaders in the church. That does not mean I am not a worthy part of the church. I am a part of the church. We are a huge part of the church. When people say, “Where are the young people?” My response is, “We ARE here. We may be few and far between, but we are here.” Perhaps we just aren’t being a focus of the church. We are the future of the church, yet we aren’t taken very seriously. It’s almost as if we are wanted in the pews, just not in leadership. 

Full disclosure, when I say “The Church” I’m talking about the Church of the Brethren as a denomination, NOT Washington City – Washington City’s leadership team AND Ad Council are comprised of MULTIPLE young adults, not just one or two token young adults. We are heavily included and, here I don’t feel like a young adult in the church; I feel like a true member of this congregation. I feel very seen and heard here, so I want to thank you all, seriously, for inviting me to be a bigger part of this congregation. It means the world to me.

Speaking of warm fuzzies, it’s Father’s Day! Some may see Father’s Day as a lovely day, a day to celebrate our dads and appreciate the love and care they provided for us as we grew up. For others, this is not a good day. It’s a terrible day. Perhaps it’s a day where folks are reminded that they did not have a strong father figure in their life. Maybe they never knew their father or their father was abusive. As for me, father’s day was a day to be celebrated but my dad was never a fan of it. He always questioned why we needed one day a year to appreciate our fathers when we should appreciate them every day. It’s just an excuse to participate in consumerism and buy him something that he didn’t want or need. Waste of money. Although, I’m sure he never complains every June when he gets a couple phone calls from his daughters. The relationship I have with my dad is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s nothing new or extravagant compared to others’ relationships with their dads. But I do know that my dad loves me more than life itself. When I read the scripture for today, I paid particular attention to the relationship between David and his father, Jesse, and the relationship between David and Saul. Saul was hesitant to let him go to Goliath. David had to really convince him that he indeed was able to defeat Goliath. I like to imagine that Jesse and Saul were proud of David…especially after he defeated Goliath, but before as well. Now, I’m not a parent or a dad, but if I had a kid that came to me super confident and determined to defeat some big thing, I’d be proud as heck. Scared, yes, but proud that my child was brave and passionate enough to overcome a major obstacle. 

We face obstacles every day. Some days the obstacles are large and overpowering and Goliath-like, and some days they’re small. Sometimes obstacles in our lives last for months, even years. It’s in these times where we can turn to the parental figure we all have in common: God.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, I sometimes forget to reach out to God. I forget that I have the incredible power of prayer! We can reach God at any time. God’s always there ready to listen and guide us. We have and we will continue to face Goliaths in our lives. After the service today I’d love to hear about obstacles you have overcome in your life. When were you wrongly viewed as an underdog and how did you overcome?

I pray we can continue to think of ourselves not as the weak underdog, but instead as powerful, smart, capable, innovative, passionate, creative people ready to take on this crazy world that God gave us. Let it be so. Amen.

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