Sermon Seeds: Authentic Leadership
Sunday, June 20, 2021
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4–11, 19–23) 32–49 and Psalm 9:9–20 or
1 Samuel 17:57–18:5, 18:10–16 and Psalm 133 or
Job 38:1–11 and Psalm 107:1–3, 23–32
2 Corinthians 6:1–13
1 Samuel 17:32-49
By Cheryl Lindsay
What do you draw from when you are called upon to lead?
There’s no shortage of books on leadership or models to explore. When I was in seminary, one of the required courses was on Leadership. Regretfully, it was not a good experience (the only one of my seminary career). For some reason, we never discussed biblical or even historical models of pastoral leadership. We didn’t even do a deep dive into Jesus as a leader. Oh, as we discussed the servant-leader model, we touched on Jesus, but only in a very superficial way. The profession primarily referenced models from a business perspective even though his background was theology, ethics, and academia. When giving broad feedback to the class on an assignment that we, as a group, clearly did not grasp, he lambasted us for an extended period of time. When we pushed back, individually and collectively, he came to us the next week claiming that his tirade had been an exercise in poor leadership.
Yes, it was.
It’s easy to identify poor leadership–the kind that makes you want to go in the opposite direction of the way charged with paving the way. We can also recognize strong, compelling leadership that invites trust, participation, and engagement. But how do we cultivate leadership? The challenge in my class was that leadership is hard to teach with broad and general terms. In many ways, leadership is response to a need. We can hone our skills and increase our sensitivity and awareness, but by its nature, leadership requires us to address the unexpected, unanticipated, and uncontrolled.
In a crisis situation, you don’t want to follow someone who pulls out a book. You get behind the person with a point of view, a perspective, and a path forward. Leadership comes from whom we are, our attitudes and behaviors shaped over our lives.
The story of David’s battle with the Philistine is not about David becoming the leader the Israelites wanted; it’s about David leading from his essential self and succeeding because of that truth. As Abraham Kuruvilla states:
First Samuel 17 is part of a larger portion of text, 1 Sam 16:14—2 Samuel 5, that depicts the rise of David—how and why he became the legitimate successor to Saul.2 By the end of 1 Samuel 15, we discover that Saul has been rejected by God from being king; immediately thereafter, in 1 Samuel 16, his successor, David, is anointed by the prophet Samuel, and the Spirit of Yahweh comes mightily upon this young man (16:13). But why was he chosen? God obviously saw something [human beings] did not; … looking at David’s heart, seems to have observed David’s qualifications (16:7). What were they? What was in David’s curriculum vitae that fitted him for the task of being the regent of a nation under God?
It’s interesting that Saul is still part of the story. David has been identified and anointed, but Saul’s presence continues to linger. He still wants to lead, and even when it is apparent and accepted that David will be the one to approach the Philistine, Saul attempts to interject himself by insisting that David wear his armor. It’s not David’s and will not be. It still belongs to Saul, and Saul wants to use it to clothe David in his legacy and own the outcome of this moment.
How often do we attempt to hold onto roles and responsibilities that no longer belong to us by controlling some aspect of those who follow in those roles rather than transition and affirm the new thing God is doing in a new way through a new person? Saul’s way has failed and his leadership has been rejected, but he can’t seem to help but center himself in the moment that calls for David to come forth as himself.
Traditional interpretations of this text lift up David as the underdog. It’s a tale of an overmatched and scrappy young man triumphing against all odds. A close reading of the text tells us that David never saw himself that way. David knew that he was prepared for this moment. His role as a shepherd readied him not only to fight this battle but to have confidence in his victory. David doesn’t come reluctantly; he comes forward because he knows that he can do this. None of the doubts or skepticism he faces, even from his opponent, will dissuade him. He knows who he is. The Philistine–and everyone else–will find out.
Of course, the Creator already knew who they had chosen, and David understood who had chosen him. “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts,” he proclaims. It’s not Saul’s weaponry that David needs, it’s the strong name of his God. Calling upon the name of the Holy One reflects more than God’s identity, it asserts a relationship of connection, intimacy, and covenant. Much of contemporary culture is casual with the use of names, but that is a recent phenomenon. Different cultures still approach the use of given and surnames in a variety of ways that reflect relational standing, respect, and even reverence. Hebrew scriptures treat the divine name of God with such honor that the vowels are omitted, and the custom was to replace that particular name with another (that still reflect the sovereignty of God but was considered more accessible) in public reading of the texts. The name of God was treated with care. To come in the name of God is to come with all that God is. That was the primary mark of David’s leadership, and over the course of his tenure, his only failures came when he deviated from that model.
Still, David was chosen to lead. He doesn’t wave a magic wand or simply utter a prayer calling on his God to act. Leadership in the kin-dom of God is a partnership that joins divine and human action for God’s purposes.
The Philistine comes in a different manner, with an imposing physical presence and insulting dismissal of his challenger. Mary Evans suggests, “The weight of his armor suggests he was meant to frighten rather than fight.” It’s conceivable that the Philistine recognizes David as a formidable adversary and employs a strategy of bravado to avoid the fight.
How many challenges do we lose because we give up before engaging the battle?
- Misty Copeland was told that she was too short, too old, and too curvy to reach the heights of a career as a ballerina, but she believed in her abilities and became the first African American women to be named principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater.
- In high school, Michael Jordan was placed on the junior varsity basketball team, but he used that to motivate himself to work harder and ultimately become one of the greatest players (of any sport) of all time.
- Before achieving the record for the most home runs in baseball, Babe Ruth held the record for the most strikeouts.
- Esther was chosen as queen because she had a pretty face and presumably would be more docile than her predecessor and yet she led her people to salvation and prosperity.
- Moses had a speech impediment but served as prophet and priest through the Exodus narrative.
- Elijah had a panic attack and mental health crisis yet recovered, continued to serve, and mentored his successor.
- Every story of leadership is defined by the nature of the situation, the leader, and the way that particular leader responded to the circumstances–internal and external–they confronted.
David’s story proves that the only mold that a leader needs to fit is their own. And, when he confronts the Philistine, the protective armor of God fits him well:
The incident with the armor, also easily envisaged, brings out Saul’s need to depend on something other than divine protection and David’s unwillingness to be something he was not. Given Saul’s exceptional height, that he thought his armor would help David perhaps further indicates his inability to plan coherently. However, wearing another person’s clothes is sometimes a sign of acting on that person’s behalf or with the person’s power (cf. Elisha taking up Elijah’s cloak, 1 Kgs. 19; 2 Kgs. 2). David’s refusal to wear Saul’s armor could then be a symbolic affirmation that he needed God’s power, not Saul’s. David enters the field not as a soldier but as a young shepherd. (Mary Evans)
David does not need to be anyone or anything other than who God created him to be. Of course, Saul’s armor does not fit him. It wasn’t meant for him. But being a shepherd fits David, and the tools that he used in that part of his life will transfer to this new one. In last week’s lectionary, we were reminded that God looks at the heart, and it’s David’s shepherd’s heart that God calls into this moment. He’ll fight for God, but David isn’t a fighter. He cares for God’s flock and will be used by God to protect them. He’d rather worship, but for David, his willingness to move on God’s behalf is an act of surrender rather than a positioning for personal gain.
The purpose of David’s victory is not simply to save Israel or to defeat the Philistines. The purpose is the glorification of Yahweh in the eyes of the world. The intent of the encounter is to make clear yet again that Yahweh “saves”, not with the conventions of human warfare but in Yahweh’s own inscrutable ways. (Walter Brueggemann)
David is not perfect. His story is messy and at times, deplorable. But God keeps calling, and David’s testimony is that when he answers, he responds as his authentic self–servant, shepherd, worshipper. Because that is who he is, that is also how he leads.
How do you show up when God calls you to lead?
For further reflection:
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” ― May Sarton
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” ― Brene Brown
“You’ll never know who you are unless you shed who you pretend to be.” ― Vironika Tugaleva
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation to consider the question, how do you show up when God calls you to lead, in small groups in-person or via video conference or in social media comments and chat boxes.
Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation: First and Second Samuel. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.
Evans, Mary J. 1 and Samuel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.
Kuruvilla, Abraham. “David V. Goliath (1 Samuel 17): What Is the Author Doing with What He Is Saying?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58, no. 3 (September 2015): 487–506.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4–11, 19–23) 32–49 and Psalm 9:9–20
1 Samuel 17:57–18:5, 18:10–16 and Psalm 133
Job 38:1–11 and Psalm 107:1–3, 23–32
2 Corinthians 6:1–13
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4–11, 19–23) 32–49
17 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle;
4 And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7 The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. 8 He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “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.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you!”
38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45 But David said to the Philistine, “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. 46 This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’s and he will give you into our hand.”
48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Be gracious to me, O LORD.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
14 so that I may recount all your praises,
and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
rejoice in your deliverance.
15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.
16 The LORD has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah
17 The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God.
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor perish forever.
19 Rise up, O LORD! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O LORD;
let the nations know that they are only human.
1 Samuel 17:57–18:5, 18:10–16
57 So when David came back from killing the Philistine, Abner sent for him and presented him to Saul. The Philistine’s head was still in David’s hand. 58 Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, my boy?”
“I’m the son of your servant Jesse from Bethlehem,” David answered.
18 As soon as David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan’s life became bound up with David’s life, and Jonathan loved David as much as himself. 2 From that point forward, Saul kept David in his service and wouldn’t allow him to return to his father’s household. 3 And Jonathan and David made a covenant together because Jonathan loved David as much as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his armor, as well as his sword, his bow, and his belt. 5 David went out and was successful in every mission Saul sent him to do. So Saul placed him in charge of the soldiers, and this pleased all the troops as well as Saul’s servants.
1 How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the LORD ordained his blessing,
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
Psalm 107:1–3, 23–32
1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the mighty waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
2 Corinthians 6:1–13
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”