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Worship and Sermons
June 24, 2018

“Where Courage Comes From” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, June 24, 2018 [Pentecost 5 B] –  1 Samuel 17:1 – 11, 32-49 (assorted) and Psalm 46  •  2 Corinthians 6:1-13  •  Mark 4:35-41


FOCUS:  Trust in God to give us the courage to face life’s giants.


I have been learning some truly surprising things this week about the actor Gary Burghoff.  You’ll remember him as Radar O’Reilly on the hit TV series MASH.  By the way, if you get WGN the MASH reruns are on all the time. 


I had no idea how versatile and talented Gary Burghoff is.  First of all, he was a drummer.  In 1968, he played in a band called the Relatives.  For three months they played in a Las Vegas Casino.  Their lead singer was none other than Lynda Carter - Wonder Woman.  Who knew?

But acting was always Gary’s real passion.  His big break came when he was cast as Charlie Brown in the original Off-Broadway production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Then, in 1970, he was cast in the movie MASH.  It was the role that made him famous:  Radar O’Reilly.  It began on the big screen and it continued the folloing year on the little screen.  Gary was the only actor in the original movie cast in the TV series.  Seven Emmy nominations later, he finally won.  It was then that he became a Christian.

But he paid a big price for his success. 

As his career took off, his marriage took a nosedive.  His wife left.  He found himself the single father of a young daughter who needed him.  So, he limited his acting gigs to spend more time at home.  “You either want to be rich and famous,” he said, “or you want to be a daddy. You can’t do both.”  

But his family focus came at a financial cost.  By 1991, Gary Burghoff was on the brink of bankruptcy. “I was down to my last $500,” he later said.  He may have been a Hollywood star, but here he was facing a gigantic challenge. 

Not so very different from the giant who challenged David in our scripture passage.

David has been anointed by Samuel as King Saul’s eventual successor, but, for the time being, he remains a shepherd boy.   And, as he enters this story, David is really nothing more than an errand boy.

His father has sent him to bring food to his older brothers.  They’re fighting under Saul’s leadership against the Philistines.  

The Philistines lived down along the sea coast.  Their western border was the Mediterranean Sea.  Their Eastern border, however, was never quite clear.  Border disputes with Israel were common.  Often, they were settled in battle.

David arrives on the battle field just in time to witness the blasphemous boasting of the Philistine giant, Goliath.  10’ tall and armed to the teeth, Goliath is intimidating – and he knows it.  Neither Saul nor any of his men are willing to take up Goliath’s challenge to fight one-on-one, winner take all.

While Saul and his men cower in fear, David is outraged by Goliath’s defiance of the one true, living God - Yahweh.  So, David convinces Saul to let him fight against the giant and, with a single stone, David does what no armor or weaponry could ever achieve.

The contrast between David and Saul could hardly be greater.  There’s the physical difference, to start with.  Saul is a tall man, and David is just a boy.  Saul’s armor won’t even fit him.  David tries it on, but he must have looked as foolish as he felt, because he couldn’t even walk in it. 

But David had no need of armor.  He has something much more powerful and much more important.  He has God’s Spirit. 

God has withdrawn his Spirit from Saul and increased his Spirit in David.  What Saul lacks, leaves him in fear.  He no longer trusts God.  In fact, that was what caused him to lose the Kingship.  He trusted in himself instead of obeying God.

Because God saw in David’s heart the willingness to follow him, he’s given David an extra-large dose of his Spirit.  David’s trust is not in brute strength, heavy armor or sharp weapons – he trusts in God.  As a result, he has no fear. 

“You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh, the Lord of hosts,” he tells Goliath. “All this assembly will know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear:  for the battle is the Lord’s.”

This Philistine giant could be 20 feet tall, and it wouldn’t matter to David.  The battle belongs to God; and God’s the one David trusts.  In David’s mind, the outcome is already determined.  

And one slingshot throw later, it’s determined in fact.

Most of us, when we read this story, focus on David’s bravery.  We marvel at his courage in facing down such a formidable foe with nothing but a sling shot.  

But the real focus of the story is not David.  It’s God.  David’s courage is not his own.  God is the source of his courage.  And that’s good news for you and me.

Because all of us face giants.  They come in different disguises.  First, there are the everyday giants:  money trouble, job trouble, conflict in our marriage or our family.

We all face these giants at some point in our lives, and it would be a mistake to minimize them.  They sure do look big when we’re staring up at them. 

Then, there are even bigger giants:  the diagnosis that leaves us in shock; the test results that are the very opposite of what we hoped and prayed for.  The sudden death of a loved one that leaves us in the pit of despair.

These are the sudden giants.   They come out of the blue, confronting us unexpectedly.  They seem so big we can’t see our way past them.

Then, as we age, we all face yet another kind of giant:  our own mortality.  Slowly but surely, our bodies and our minds decline with the passage of time.  Like the slow, steady drip of water that gradually erodes a boulder, aging is universal, inevitable and irreversible. 

This may be the biggest giant of them all.  As the great Hollywood pin-up girl and movie star, Bette Davis, so famously said in her later years, getting old is not for sissies.

It takes courage to face all of these giants.  And not everyone can stand up to them.

One of the great privileges and responsibilities of being a pastor is the access we have to people’s lives in the midst of the most personal and trying circumstances.  It’s an honor for us to walk with people through these crises.  

What is striking to me is the way some folks are able to handle whatever life throws at them, even when they’re face to face with the biggest giants.   

They have a certain sense of calm, a quiet courage.  It’s palpable – you can feel it.  What’s become crystal clear to me is the source of that courage.  It’s nothing more or less than their trust in God.

They don’t throw up their hands and say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do.  It’s all up to God.”  On the other hand, they don’t assume it’s all up to them, either.  As a result, they don’t blame God for their troubles, nor do they blame themselves for not doing more to make things better. 

They do what they can, and they realize they’re not the ones in control.  They pray, trusting God’s at work– somehow, some way – even if they can’t see it.  Sure, they experience fear, but they don’t give in to it.  They trust their faith, not their feelings.

That doesn’t necessarily mean everything turns out the way they hope and pray.  But through it all, they know God’s with them.  They trust him to make something good happen, even when everything seems to be going wrong.

That trust is the difference between lasting courage that allows us to face our giants like David, and the fear that paralyzes us, like Saul.

The more I read about Gary Burghoff, the more I realized that’s exactly the kind of trust he had.  As successful as MASH was, by 1990, all his earnings were gone.  He looked at his dwindling back account and knew that he was facing the giant of fiscal failure. 

Gary was afraid, but he trusted his faith.  He trusted God could make something good happen out of what seemed like a hopeless situation. He prayed to God for help.  And God responded.

As Gary describes it, “A little voice said, ‘Paint.’”  

He had been painting casually since High School, but this was different.  God was guiding him to paint for a living.  So, he picked up a paintbrush, and, before long, he was making a living as an artist.  He’s been doing it ever since.  He’s become a well-known wildlife painter whose works sell for thousands of dollars each.

What giants are you facing today? Do they make you feel afraid? 

My family and I are facing giants, too – probably some of the same ones you and your family are facing. 

Let’s take a lesson from David, and remind ourselves we’re not alone – God’s with us. 

Let’s trust him.  Because the battle is his, and that’s all we need to know to face our giants with courage.    May it be so. 


Last Published: June 28, 2018 3:15 PM
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