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Sunday, June 24, 2018
Scripture: Mark 4:35-41 & 1 Samuel 17:1-11; 38-49
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

As fascism was on the rise throughout Europe, André Trocmé became the pastor of the Reformed Church in the small, mountainous French village called Le Chambon. In this idyllic town, Trocmé quietly went about his calling to found a college preparatory school. In a typical year, the school had an enrollment of around 18 students. He very easily could have lived his days out in this town quiet peaceably and with few interruptions from the rising tide of hatred spreading around Europe. But Trocmé was made of different stuff.

“Loving, forgiving, and doing good to our adversaries is our duty,” preached André Trocmé. “Yet we must do this without giving up, and without being cowardly. We shall resist whenever our adversaries demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel. We shall do so without fear, but also without pride and without hate.”

As the Vichy regime gained power in France, they began demanding signs of loyalty to the state. The regime required a straight-armed fascist salute. The residents of Le Chambon did not do so. They required French teachers to sign loyalty oaths. They didn’t. On the one-year anniversary of the the Vichy regime, they required the church bells to be rung at 1:00. They didn’t ring them.

In 1940, the first Jewish refugee showed up. They took her in. Working with the Quakers as conditions for Jews worsened, the trickle of refugees became a flood. They took them in. They hid the Jews in their homes, on their farms, and anywhere they had room. The school’s enrollment had gone from 18 students to around 300, so surely the authorities noticed. When the Nazis patrolled the town, they hid the Jews in the mountains. Everyone knew there were Jews in the town, but their open defiance of the authorities constantly undermined the authorities. As Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.”[1]

By 1942, the Vichy government descended upon Le Chambon as a show of force. The children of the town presented the government minister with this letter:

Mr. Minister: We have learned of the frightening scenes which took place three weeks ago in Paris, where the French police, on orders of the occupying power, arrested in their homes all the Jewish families in Paris to hold them. The fathers were torn from their families and sent to Germany. The children torn from their mothers, who underwent the same fate as their husbands…. We are afraid that the measures of deportation of the Jews will soon be applied in the southern zone.

We feel obliged to tell you that there are among us a certain number of Jews. But, we make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the Gospel teaching.

If our comrades, whose only fault is to be born in another religion, received the order to let themselves be deported, or even examined, they would disobey the order received, and we would try to hide them as best we could.

We have Jews. You’re not getting them.[2]

By the end of the war, the residents of Le Chambon had saved around 1000 Jews from concentration camps.

Through years of being a minority people group in France and through the faithful leadership of Trocmé, these townsfolk were made of different mettle. When the first refugee showed up in the village, Trocmé’s wife, Magda, related that it never occurred to her to say no. “I did not know that it would be dangerous. Nobody thought of that.”[3]

How did this small town of French Huguenots defy powerful forces and ultimately the Third Reich? From where did their strength come? To borrow words from the Book of Esther, perhaps God put them in this position for such a time as this. They fought this battle with weaponry that was unfamiliar to the despots, who used uniforms, tanks, and death camps to accomplish their inhumane vision. The villagers used faith, compassion, and conviction to save these thousand souls from the yawning mouth of terror.

The story of Le Chambon is a David and Goliath story. The story of how a lightly armed shepherd boy defeated the gigantic Philistine champion is familiar to us all, whether we study the Bible much or not. I want to dig into the details of this text a bit today because I think in those details we’ll find some tools to equip ourselves when we face giants in our own lives. So, let’s go through this story one more time. Imagine this with me.

In the rocky terrain thirty miles west of Jerusalem, the strong armies of the Philistines are camped on the southern ridge overlooking the Valley of Elah. The upstart Israelites, led by their first king, Saul, are lined up on the northern ridge. The valley would be a death trap for a battle. Heading down in the valley and climbing the steep ridge to attack was a suicide mission, so the sides are waiting each other out. Eventually, the Philistines send their champion, Goliath, into the valley, challenging the greatest warrior of the Israelites to a battle known as “single combat,” which was a common practice in those days. Winner takes all. Goliath is huge and heavily armored, standing around seven feet tall and wearing over a 100 pounds of armor. He had a javelin, a spear, and a sword with them, as well as another soldier charged with holding a massive shield to protect him. For forty days Goliath taunted and challenged them, and no one was willing to fight him.

Finally, young David comes to the Israelites’ camp to provide food for his brothers. He sees Goliath, hears his challenge, sizes him up, and volunteers to face him. Goliath has been awaiting another warrior, but out walks David wearing no armor and bearing only his staff, his sling, and five smooth stones. Goliath is surprised because he is expecting to fight might with might. He is dressed for such a battle with a tunic made up of overlapping bronze scales, covering his body, legs, and arms and weighing over a hundred pounds. His shins are covered with bronze guards, as are his feet. His head is protected by a substantial helmet. He has three weapons for close combat – a thrusting javelin that could pierce a shield, a sword on his hip, and a spear attached to a cord that was weighted to allow for maximum force and accuracy.

David has rejected Saul’s armor. It’s too much for him and won’t allow him to fight the way he wants to fight. As David approaches, Goliath calls him closer. Why? Because Goliath is set to fight at close range, and David is too far away. What is more, there is speculation that Goliath’s vision was poor. David went out with his shepherd’s staff in hand, and yet Goliath taunts him, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” David only has one staff, but Goliath thinks he sees more than one. Goliath can’t fight what he can’t see clearly. Ancient armies had three main types of soldiers. They had cavalry – men on horseback or chariots. They had infantry – foot soldiers carrying swords and shields. And they had projectile warriors, what we would call artillery today – archers and slingers. Slingers could hurl stones incredible distances and with deadly accuracy. The best of slingers were accurate to around 200 yards. Goliath was a champion infantryman. David was a slinger.

And so, in the name of the living God, David hurls his stone far from the sight of Goliath. It likely took less than a second to leave David’s sling before it nailed Goliath right between the eyes. He was out cold before he hit the ground, so David ran up to him, took Goliath’s sword, and cut off his head.

Perhaps David and Goliath isn’t so much a story about the underdog as it is about how the giants in our lives are not what they seem and about how different strategies might lead us to overcoming these giants, just as the humble villagers of Le Chambon overcame to the evils of fascism in their day.

Who are your giants? What stands in the way of God’s will for your life, a will that is fulfilled in bringing the kingdom to bear in whatever you are doing? We all have personal giants. Maybe you struggle with addiction. Maybe you have a family relationship that just has always been a problem, and you’ve thought about just giving up. Maybe your dreams for your life did not pan out. Perhaps there is another way to face your giant that plays to your strengths but that comes from an unexpected place. We also have local giants. Our community is staring at the giant of affordable housing right now. We deal with the questions that remain following suicide, which is all too common and which has deeply impacted this area. We also have national and international giants – continued struggles with poverty, health care, immigration, terrorism, and so much more. Reading David and Goliath once again makes me wonder what our new ways of facing these giants are. The old ways certainly aren’t working. The story of Le Chambon stirs my imagination. Maybe God has already given us the gifts we need to be undaunted and brave for such a time as this.

Mark tells us the story of Jesus calming the storm. One fascinating aspect of this story is this: Many of the disciples were fishermen, so surely they had encountered a storm such as this before, but this one made them afraid. So they turn to the landlubber carpenter for some help, and he calls out to the winds and the waves, which respond to his voice. It was then that Mark finally writes, “And they were filled with great awe,” which is a jump in translation work in my mind. The Greek here literally reads, “And they feared a great fear.” The disciples’ fear is manifest in encountering the power of God that lives in Jesus, even more so than the massive storm they just survived.

There is power in Jesus. There is power in walking with Jesus. I think we sometimes overlook how awesome Jesus is, how God crammed all that glory into flesh and walked among us, full of grace and truth. That Jesus walks with us today should fill us with similar awe, or perhaps should make us reverence every step we take, for the One who calms the wind and the waves is also the One who is with us when we face all the giants of this life.

So, church. Be brave. Be undaunted. The Lord is with us. The giants may not be so big after all.

[1] Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath, 273.

[2] ibid., 266-267.

[3] ibid., 270.