From Elah to Charleston.

A sermon for Proper 7

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 411, 19-23), 32-49, Psalm 9:9-20, or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16, Psalm 133, Job 38:1-11, Psalm 107:13, 23-32, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:3541

With all the technology, I have at my disposal I could not figure out how to share Leonard’s Cohen’s Halleluiah with you this morning, so we’ll have to settle for a lyrical poetry.

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne,
and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well, really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah,   (LEONARD COHEN LYRICS – Hallelujah)

And yes, you heard a reference to David’s musical prowess, but that’s in the preceding story. This morning the army of Israel, led by Saul, is in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. The Philistine have a champion, and whether Goliath is 9 foot 6 or 6 foot 6, he is a striking powerful figure. Even more awesome, is his bronze armor, and the iron weapons. He presents a figure of shock and awe. And he knows how to use it.

As was the custom of the day, Goliath calls for Israel to send over their champion for a one on one contest, to the death, that will decide the matter. But it’s no mere calling out. Oh no, Goliath is a master of the taunt.

Why have you come out to draw up for battle?
Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul?
Today I defy the ranks of Israel!
Give me a man that we may fight together…

Saul and the whole army of Israel are in dismay … they are terrified! This goes on for forty days.

One day, Jesse sends David, with supplies for his three oldest sons, who are with the army of Israel, and instructions to find out what’s going on. David hears about Goliath, and says:

Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.

In reply to Saul’s observation that David is just a boy, he explains his shepherding experience with lions and bears. (It’s so hard not to include tigers – oh my.) He concludes:

… this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them since he has defied the armies of the living God. … The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.

After demurring from wearing Saul’s way oversized armor, David heads off to meet Goliath in single combat.

Goliath greets David with even greater taunts than his usual daily offerings; cursing David by his gods, and threatening to feed him to the birds and wild animals. David retorts:

You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand … so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel …

And we know the rest of the story.

A couple of notes: Goliath taunts the servants of Saul, and the ranks of Israel. David reframes the battlefield: it’s now Goliath against the army of the living God; he faces David who comes forth in the name of the LORD of hosts. It’s no longer Israel against the Philistines or David against Goliath; it’s Goliath and the Philistines versus Israel’s living God. And David is confident because of his experience as a shepherd (Nam). He knows he should have died by the paws of lions and bears. He knows God protected him then, and will stand with him now.  (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner)

This morning we heard how the line between good and evil ran through the valley of Elah. At day’s end, Halleluiah fills the air as Israel routes the Philistines.

Wednesday the battle line between good and evil ran through Charleston SC and Emanuel AME Church. Wednesday Goliath was a hate spouting, white supremacist wearing emblems of previous apartheid regimes. He shot and killed nine people, he’d just spent an hour with, in bible study. Our hearts break, for the families of: Depayne Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, The Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, (EROMOSELE) and Dylann Roof.  And yes for Dylann himself; we will never change the world by out hating the haters.

Friday I read accounts of forgiveness of some victims’ families to Dylann (Stewart and Pena). And we should listen and learn from them. We should not follow those who would use this tragedy to promote more guns or to promote gun control; both sides are starting at the wrong place. Both sides have made the same mistake Saul and Israel’s army did, by failing to start with all our trust in Lord even as we stand face to face with our Goliath.

I know my own pain, my own fear, my own frustration. I’ve read the expressions of pain, fear, and frustrations of many. And that’s why I want to go back to Cohen’s Hallelujah. The last half of the third verse reads:

There’s a blaze of light in every word
it doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah.

And the last half of the fourth verse reads:

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

There is no question Wednesday night we heard the broken the Halleluiah; Wednesday night it all went wrong…. Among my myriad thoughts are those from chapter 9 of John’s Gospel, where Jesus says:

No one sinned. This man was born blind. Life happens. Let the glory, the presence of God be made known.

It is my prayer for all of us that we follow the faithful voices of families who as they share their grief express their forgiveness (Stewart and Pena). It is my prayer that with them we stand before our Lord in Song with nothing on our tongues but Halleluiah. For it is in God’s presence and by God’s hand that we are delivered from taunting tyrants from Elah, to Charleston.


Epperly, ‘Bruce. The. 21 6 2015. <;.

EROMOSELE, DIANA OZEMEBHOYA. The Victims of the Charleston SC Church Massacre. 18 6 2015.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary 1 Samuel 17.” 21 6 2015. Working Preacher.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 6 2015.

LEONARD COHEN LYRICS – Hallelujah. n.d. <;.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher; The Other Side. 21 6 2015. <>.

Nam, Roger. Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:(1a, 411, 19-23), 32-49, 21 6 2015.

Stewart, Nikita and Richard Perez Pena. “In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting.” New York Times 19 6 2015. Web.

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