Rooting for the Underdog
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, October 30, 2016
“Rooting for the Underdog?”
1 Samuel 8: 7-9
1 Samuel 10:1
1 Samuel 13:13
1 Samuel 15:11
1 Samuel 15:22-23
1 Samuel 16:7
1 Samuel 16:13
1 Samuel 17:48 - 50
1 John 2:27
I love underdog stories. I am pretty sure that, deep down, we all do. We like to know that something ordinary can become something glorious and that obstacles, seemingly insurmountable, can be conquered. We want to know, we want to believe, we want to have faith that on any given day average can beat the best. We want to root for the underdog.
The children have helped us to tell an underdog story that has been part of the Christian life since its beginning. In the story of David versus Goliath a shepherd boy volunteers to meet and to defeat the greatest Philistine warrior. We root for our hero David, but is that really rooting for the underdog?
<<Moment of Meditation>>
We know something from the Bible that not everyone knows as the story of David and Goliath ensues. This bit of knowledge is that David has been chosen to be the King of Israel by God to replace Saul. So, this shepherd boy is, in truth much much more. But, maybe I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back in the book of 1 Samuel to look at some important things.
The kingship of Israel is a new thing. Saul was chosen as the first king as the result of the pleading of the Israelites to have a king rule over them and to march into battle with them. God, heard the cries and the desires of the Israelites and gives them what they want, but He is not happy with the decision. Why? Because God is the one God of Israel. God is the King of Israel. No human is necessary to fill the role, because they already have the strongest and most powerful King that could ever be conceived. By requesting the need for a human ruler, the Israelites are rejecting the rule of God. God, however, does not reject them. God gives them their desired ruler with the expectation that the ruler will abide by God’s commands. Saul is chosen for the ruler because of the upstanding family he descends from and for his regal stature and good looks. He is anointed as King by Samuel.
But, Saul gets a little too big for his britches. He grows impatient with doing things God’s way and starts to deviate from God’s commands here and there. Samuel, the prophet, continues to warn Saul that his actions will bring unfavor from the Lord, but Saul continues to disobey the Lord’s instructions. Because of this God abandons the rule of Saul. Let’s pause here for a second. It is important to note that God does not abandon Saul or the Israelites; God abandons the kingship of Saul. Saul has proven he is not to be the leader of God’s people, so God chooses a more fitting leader.
This choice, this new King, is much different than Saul. He is still good-looking, but small, and the youngest of 8 sons. He is the family shepherd and not regal in his appearance. Yet, Samuel is told to anoint David as Israel’s King. We are told that God sees what is in the heart, not just what is visible to the eyes. David has a heart for God. As Samuel anoints David with oil from the Ram’s horn the scripture tells us that the Lord’s Spirit came over David from that point forward.
All of this happened before David met Goliath on the battlefield.
We know the story pretty well. Even someone who has never set foot in a church might be able to tell you the story of the battle between David and Goliath. The story has transcended the scripture into secular narrative by pitting would-be heroes against highly capable and extraordinary opponents. A giant warrior clothed in armor fighting a shepherd boy with a sling and ending in a very unexpected way probably deserves that meteoric climb in literary fame. We call these narrative Underdog stories.
Many, or most, underdog tales are told within the genre of sports. Quite often it is the small town team with smaller players and a coach with a checkered past that work together to overcome all of their shortcomings to become a team disciplined in the sport in which they are playing. Their discipline and their ability to rely on each other and their faith in the team propels them to a final moment of glory, when, quite often, they do the impossible.
Malcolm Gladwell, a well known author, who writes books about achieving success in the business world and the world in general gave a Ted Talk a few years ago concerning his book about David and Goliath. In this talk, and in his book, he builds the case that the classic underdog scenario I have described is not true. His observations allow him to discern that Goliath is not the champion we make him out to be and that David is actually better equipped and more likely to win the battle. I can describe some of this briefly. Gladwell’s analysis of the sling that David uses to strike down Goliath is that it is a military grade weapon of the highest level. He states that when done properly the sling can project a stone at 35 meters per hour, but that is not all. He describes the stones on the ground as being made of barium-sulphate, a material twice as dense as normal stones. In essence, he is saying that David is bringing a gun to Goliath’s knife fight. He also goes on to describe possible medical issues with Goliath that can be inferred from the passage in the battle. One of these is that Goliath is just big and scary looking, but is not really all that agile or mobile because of a genetic disease. So, given this information, who is the underdog? Does this change the meaning of the story? Do you agree with Gladwell’s interpretation? To be fair, this information is only from his Ted Talk and not from the complete picture of his book.
Would it surprise you if I said I think I agree with Gladwell’s assertion that David was not the underdog?
I do agree, but here are my reasons.
David is no Underdog!
Gladwell lays out many reasons why David was superior in his battle with Goliath and he relates each of his examples to scripture. He does the same when he shows the inadequacies of Goliath. But, there is something omitted from Gladwell’s argument. It is the anointing of David by God and David’s obedience to God. David shouts to Goliath, “The whole world will know there is a God on Israel’s side. And all those gathered here will know that the Lord doesn’t save by means of the sword and spear. The Lord owns this war and he will hand all of you over to us!” David is not the underdog because God is on his side and he knows it! He is not fighting for the glory of himself, or Saul, or the Israelites. He is fighting for the glory of God.
It has nothing to do with the medical conditions of Goliath or the possible high caliber ballistics of David’s sling. It is simply about the obedience and faith of one person in God that allows him to accomplish an amazing feat that brings Glory to the God he worships. He is anointed with the power of God and his heart is the heart of God. He cannot be considered an underdog if that is the case.
We are all anointed!
Maybe you are sitting out there and you have a giant in front of you. Don’t be scared we all have them standing in front of us. Think about that giant. Picture it. Maybe it is a disease that is wreaking havoc in you or a loved one. Maybe it is finances. Maybe it is a difficult situation at work. Maybe you are not getting along with your children or your parents. Maybe you have an addiction that has power over you. Stand tall and stand firm in front of your giant because you have the power to defeat it. Because, just like David, you have been anointed by God to be His King and Queens. You are the beloved of God, just like David was. We read the scripture from 1 John, you have been anointed by the blood of Jesus Christ. You have been given direct access to the personal relationship with God that gives you unimaginable power and strength to overcome any obstacle or any hurdle that prevents you from being the best you can be in Christ. When you set foot on the battlefield, you are not alone because God is with you.
Look to your left and to your right, this is your church. The church is anointed as the body of Christ and together we can work to achieve improbable victories. We can dig deep to help feed a community in a time of need, we can raise our voices to talk about our faith beyond these walls, we can pray with our families or our friends in public, and we can show what it is like to be an anointed child of God unafraid of whatever the world can throw at us, because God is on our side.