BIG ONES LOOK OUT FOR THE LITTLE ONES
Presented on June 24, 2012 at Parkside Community Church, Sacramento, California. For anyone outside of Parkside Church, the people named are all members of the church. If this were to be adapted for your church, I am certain you could find your own “Big Ones.”
A few summers ago, my nephews, Chase and Devon, were at a campground lake. Although the road between the campground and the lake was very quiet, we warned them to be extra careful while crossing. Chase assured his three-year old cousin that they would be safe. “Stay close to me,” he told Devon. “I’m five.”
“Stay close to me,” he said. “I’m five.” Big ones look out for the little ones.
Our Old Testament reading today comes from 1 Samuel 17 in a story known by all. You can find it on page 254 in your pew Bibles. But my version of the text will be a lot more fun.
When we speak about attempting to overcome impossible odds, it is often known as “David versus Goliath.” Goliath, whose name has become synonymous with “giant,” was a Philistine and David was an Israelite – Jewish. When taking the measurements of the day and converting them to modern terms, Goliath is estimated to be over nine feet tall. Think of what the Sacramento Kings could have done with a guy like that!
Where the average coat of armor weighed 60 pounds, Goliath’s weighed over 200 pounds. The spear he carried – not the spearhead, but the spear itself, would be at least seven feet in length. At the end of that seven foot spear would be a spearhead that weighed over 18 pounds.
In 1 Samuel, Goliath stood before the Israelites and declared, “Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” This strikes me as a very fair deal – especially if you are the guy that is nine feet tall and eats cows for breakfast.
For forty days – which I believe is Bible code for “a long time” – Goliath made his offer and the Israelites didn’t respond. Meanwhile, enter David, son of Jesse – the youngest son of Jesse, in fact. Although David’s brothers were all at war, David job was to tend his father’s sheep in Bethlehem. Hmmm, Bethlehem – I wonder of that place pops up again later?
Jesse told his son, David, to take some food to his brothers, who were fighting with Saul against the Philistines. When David got to his brothers and began visiting with them, Goliath stepped out from the Philistine lines and shouted his usual defiance. He was a frightening figure and whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
David said to Saul who was the leader of the Israelites, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; I will go and fight him.” In other words, “I got this!”
Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
But David said to Saul, “I have been keeping my father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. I have killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
When Goliath saw David, Goliath said, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.” To quote the movie “True Grit,” that is “Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”
As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and Goliath fell, face down, on the ground.
So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down Goliath and killed him.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.
Small David against the giant, Goliath. With only a stone against a foe who clearly had the upper hand in armor, weapons, size and strength. David slayed Goliath. The big one – David – looked after the little ones – the might warriors of Israel.
That’s in the Bible. Closer to home, we have Elizabeth Simpson. I choose Elizabeth because she is the oldest active member of our church, at ninety-one years old. At that age, Elizabeth is old enough to be… my friend. Now, it is not likely you are going to see Elizabeth putting away tables after a meeting or doing a liturgical dance during worship. But do you know what she does? Elizabeth writes notes. And I don’t know, Elizabeth, if you realize how much that means, but that seemingly small gesture of support and love can inspire people, including people who are blessed with the privilege to stand before a congregation and preach. It is the inspiration of a small, loving note that gives people the strength to do big things. Big Ones like Elizabeth, looking out for the Little Ones.
In John 6, there is a story about how thousands of people gathered to hear Jesus speak and to be healed by him. But as the day wore on, the disciples were worried that it was getting late, these folks had not eaten and the nearest Taco Bell was miles away. Something had to be done. Fortunately, one of the disciples, Andrew, spoke up. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
The story of “loaves and fishes” is well known and this small boy’s gift fed these thousands, with twelve baskets of bread left over. Was it the miracle of Jesus who made the amount of bread multiply? Did the others have bread with them and were shamed into sharing it with those around them? Regardless, it was this big one – a child – who fed the thousands of little ones with his generous act. Big Ones look out for the Little Ones.
Speaking of feeding the hungry, McDonalds Corporation is worth about $427 billion. B-b-b-billions. With that kind of money, you could probably do most anything you wanted. Unless you wanted to put a drive-through restaurant in Oak Park. The good people of Oak Park are not known for their wealth or political acumen or prestigious jobs. You might think, in fighting City Hall, they are the Little Ones. And you would be wrong. These people knew they were fighting against 50 new jobs in a community that suffers from significant unemployment. They knew the cheap food from McDonalds would go far in a neighborhood that has twice as many people living below the poverty line than in the rest of Sacramento County. But these residents also knew that childhood obesity in their neighborhood was 40% higher than elsewhere in the city. They knew that a drive-through would spoil the nature of their neighborhood and they knew they weren’t willing to disregard these things in exchange for a Big Mac. These people – these “Little Ones,” have spirit, integrity and a sense of the greater good. What started with a few people – not Community Leaders or Council members or even Pastors – but just folks, was a campaign against this billion dollar corporation. Last Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council denied a permit for the multi-billion dollar McDonalds to build a restaurant in the Oak Park neighborhood. Big Ones were looking out for the Little Ones.
There was a time when a member of this church asked for prayers for his partner, who was undergoing a serious medical event, I immediately began thinking what I could do – donate blood, help arrange meals, provide transportation. While I was preparing all these big plans that never came to fruition, a member of our church – not a worship leader or someone from our Health Ministry – just a member of the church, turned around and gave him a hug. A hug is what was needed. And Patty was that Big One, looking out for the Little One.
Jesus tells us that “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” That means that if you helped someone, even someone whom others think doesn’t matter, Jesus knows that and Jesus loves you for that. A lot of folks might think, “I’m too little or I’m too old or I don’t know enough to help people or to make a difference.” Well, I don’t agree. You would be amazed at what you could do to help someone.
Y’all know Pastor Derrill. He’s a big man. He’s strong and he’s smart. And I would want him on my side any day. But if I was going camping, you know who I’d want? Evan Chalmers. Fourteen year old Evan. You know why? He knows stuff. He knows how to make a camp and how to cook over a fire and how to take care of business. If we went camping, Evan would be the Big One. And I hope he would look after me – the Little One.
As we’ve seen, being the “Big One” doesn’t mean being the largest one or the richest one or the smartest one. It means being able to do something the other person can’t do or maybe knowing something someone else doesn’t know. Can you drive someone who is housebound to the market? Can you read to those unable to see the words or teach the words to a new learner? Can you pack beans into a sack at the food closet? Even little babies – and we have such beautiful babies at this church – They are Big Ones. You know why? In Matthew 18, Jesus calls a little child to him and places the child amongst the adults. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We must follow the examples of the little ones – the Davons and Melias and all the little ones -whose unconditional faith and love should inspire all of us. Sometimes, the Big Ones don’t even know they are looking out for the Little Ones. But they give us a purpose. They give us hope. They give us innocence. And sometimes, when you are a Big One and you have the responsibilities and troubles and worries of a Big One – Purpose, Hope and Innocence are the best things to be given.
A pastor in 1950’s Georgia was asked to lead to a boycott of the local bus service. Other than an ability to preach in a manner that continues to inspire 60 years later, there was nothing seemingly extraordinary about the man, who stood 5 ½ feet tall. But the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King ended up to be a towering figure, as he was instrumental in leading a civil rights march that brought greater gain for Blacks in ten years than in the previous 100 years since slavery was abolished. He was a big man who looked out after all of us little ones – those of us whose little minds could not comprehend that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” It is Dr. King who taught us that “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” To paraphrase – if you have a servant’s heart, you can be a big one who looks out for the little ones. And the fight continues to this day for the disenfranchised – the non-white, the gays, the homeless. Who continues the fight for them? Are we big enough? Are YOU big enough? Am I?
Whatever it is you have, whatever it is you can give, when you give it in the name of and through the teachings of Jesus the Christ, you give it in love. And when you share Christ’s Love, no one can be bigger than that. We – each one of us – can be a Big One, in the name of Christ, looking out for the Little One.