Looking Back & Moving Forward

David looked back at how he had handled tough challenges before to gain courage for facing Goliath. What can we learn from looking back that helps us as we move forward?

Read 1 Samuel 17:32-49

This past week at our session meeting, we talked about an article by pastor and presbytery executive Jan Edmiston that began with this statement:

“The next 18 months of being The Church could be the most fun we have ever had in ministry. Or not.”[1]

In the article, Jan encourages us to do some evaluating, to look back at the past year and be honest with ourselves about what we’ve learned, and ask ourselves:

  • What has been fun?  And what has sucked the life out of us? 
  • What do we need to let go of? And also . . .
  • Where are we seeing people in the community that need us? 

She’s encouraging us to do some looking back as part of our moving forward.

One of my professors in seminary told us we should be continually doing this, especially after every event or program or season.  We evaluate so we can celebrate and continue the things that worked well, and change or get rid of the things that didn’t. 

That’s exactly what we see David doing in our scripture reading today from 1 Samuel 17.  When he explains to Saul why he thinks he can fight Goliath, he looks back at how he has handled tough challenges before.  God brought him through those times, and David trusts that God will help him with Goliath as well.

How did David, a young shepherd boy, come to be standing before Saul, the king of all Israel, and volunteering to fight Goliath, the giant killer warrior, champion of the Philistines?  We know from reading the books of Samuel and Kings and Chronicles that David himself became a great warrior and Israel’s greatest king, but at the time of our story, David was just the youngest son of Jesse.  But David had already learned to trust God.

The armies of Israel were fighting the Philistine army, and they had been at a stalemate for forty days. In an attempt to end the stalemate, Goliath called for Israel to send one man out to fight him one-on-one.  Whoever won that fight would win the battle.

Verse 4 says that Goliath was over nine feet tall.  King Saul and the Israelite army were understandably afraid to fight Goliath.  So King Saul issued a challenge that whoever could kill Goliath would be given one of Saul’s daughters to be his wife, and his whole family would be exempt from paying taxes.

Meanwhile, back at home, David’s father Jesse got someone else to watch David’s sheep, and sent David to the battle front to bring his brothers a basket of food and bring back a report on how they were doing.  While David was there, he heard about King Saul’s challenge.  David was intrigued and asked lots of questions, and King Saul got wind of that and called for David to come to him.

Which led to David offering to fight Goliath. Not surprisingly, Saul scoffed at the improbability of a young boy conquering a seasoned and oversized warrior.

But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, 35 I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. 36 I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! 37 The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

David looks back at how he was successful in his previous challenges, and this gives him the confidence to move forward in going before Goliath. David sees this challenge different than Saul because David is trusting God to help him.  The notes in the Life Application Bible sum up the difference in perspective beautifully: 

“When others looked at Goliath, they saw an opponent too powerful to defeat; when David looked at Goliath, he saw a target too big to miss.”[2]

So David gathers stones for his slingshot, takes aim, and lands the perfect shot, right in the middle of Goliath’s forehead, which fells the giant and ends the stalemate.

Q: Who is the greatest babysitter in the Bible?

A: David – he rocked Goliath to sleep.[3]

This idea of looking back in order to be ready for moving forward is captured in the image that our PCUSA moderators have chosen for their term of leadership.

It’s a Sankofa bird that is looking backwards and picking up an egg, a symbol of hope for the future.  The idea is that “we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.”[4]

Our moderators have added the water at the bottom to represent their Native American and African American cultures.  One of them is descended from people who were brought to America through water as slaves.  The other is from the Dakota tribe known for honoring and protecting water.

The symbolism of water connects with our baptism, an outward sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in us,  renewing us as we put our trust in Jesus Christ who delivers us from the bondage of sin and death.

Did you notice that there is water in the story of David and Goliath?  David gets the stones for his slingshot from a river.  Until this week, I never noticed that there was a river in the story.  David brings Israel deliverance from the giant by using a stone he got from the water, a sign that the Holy Spirit was there guiding and strengthening David.

Looking back at an old story we gain new insight.  We see how we got here and how we have grown.  We find things we have forgotten.  This new understanding helps us move forward better, without repeating the mistakes of the past, remembering that God brought us this far and will be with us as we move forward.

As Paul says in Philippians: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 NLT[5]

But it’s not just about us individually.  We do this work of moving forward together.

Juneteenth – This past week our nation got a new holiday, something that hasn’t happened since 1983 when Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday became a holiday.[6]  I first learned about Juneteenth when I moved to Galveston in 2013.  Galveston is where Juneteenth happened, so they’ve been celebrating it since 1866, and it’s been a state holiday in Texas since 1980.[7]

Juneteenth is the day when Union Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to announce that President Lincoln had signed the emancipation proclamation that declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”[8] He had signed it two and a half years before Texas got the news, so some Juneteenth celebrations include a two and a half mile walk in memory of that delay that kept people in bondage longer than those in the eastern part of the country.

In Galveston, on Juneteenth, there is always a reading of General Order No. 3, the statement that Major General Granger read on June 19, 1865.[9]

General Order No. 3 states: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.[10]

In Galveston, they dedicated this new mural yesterday. The artist, Reginald Adams, titled it “Absolute Equality” because those are the words General Granger used when he made his announcement.

Celebrating Juneteenth is an opportunity to look back and remember and learn so that we can keep moving forward. The slaves were freed and it was now illegal for one person to own another.   Freeing the slaves was a major step forward.

  • So was the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended Jim Crow segregation,
  • and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that put an end to discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin,”
  • and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.[11]

Looking back helps us see that we’ve made progress, and gives us courage to keep moving forward. Getting rid of systemic racism sometimes seems as improbable as a young boy winning a fight with a nine-foot-tall giant, but God has brought us this far, and has not left us here to do the work alone.

The challenge we’ve undertaken as a Matthew 25 church is to work to eradicate systems of racism and poverty.  It’s good for us to celebrate Juneteenth as part of that because slavery was the ultimate system of poverty.  In that system, the slave masters got rich off of the labor of the slaves.  We rejoice and give thanks to God that slavery is no longer legal.  But there are similar systems of poverty that still exist, that make it difficult for people to survive. So we not only want to be helping people with food and shelter and clothing, but also working to help change those systems.

That challenge looks kind of like fighting Goliath.  It’s a big challenge.

We started off our worship today with Psalm 9 verse 9:

The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed,  a refuge in times of trouble.

Oppression means that somebody is using their power unjustly or unfairly over another person.  We might not think of ourselves as oppressors, but whenever we are in a position to make decisions that affect the life of someone else, we can potentially cause oppression.  We probably identify with David in today’s scripture, but what if we are Goliath?

For example, when we are making decisions about whether to give someone money or food or a job, we are in a position of power, and the decisions we make can be oppressive, especially if we aren’t taking into account what the impact on the other person might be, or we’re exploiting their vulnerability, or being bullies.

The problem is not the power, but how we use it. Do we exploit vulnerability, or benefit ourselves at others’ expense? Or to advocate and encourage and to be allies? Teachers, pastors, property owners, bosses, parents, police, and government officials all have the power to oppress, or to advocate and encourage. To be allies.

David, the young man who killed Goliath, would grow up to be a king that sought to be obedient to God, but he also exploited his power and used it to have an affair with a beautiful woman named Bathsheba. Then he arranged for her husband to be killed to try to cover up the affair.  Despite this, David is considered Israel’s greatest king and a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14) because he didn’t just move on and forget, he looked back and remembered and asked God’s forgiveness.  David learned from his mistakes, and David celebrated God’s faithfulness and grace, and wrote beautiful psalms of repentance and praise.  Psalm 51 is a great example. David says to God:

Against you, and you only have I sinned.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Sometimes it takes challenging words from a prophet.  David saw his sin through the words of the prophet Nathan.  In Isaiah 58, God sends Isaiah to challenge Israel with these words:

Tell my people Israel of their sins!
    Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
    and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
    that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
    and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
    “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
    will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
    by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
    like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
    and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
    Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

Throughout the ages, God sent prophets to help us look back and move forward.  Here Isaiah helps people to see their oppressive and exploitative ways, but also to see that God has not abandoned them.

At another time, God sent Samuel with words of encouragement, “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. 1 Samuel 12:20

The Bible is the story of people continually falling into sin, and God continually rescuing and redeeming them.  God sent us Jesus Christ to be the final redemption, and the Holy Spirit to be at work in us, guiding us, and continually drawing us back to God.

I invite you to take today as an opportunity to look back and consider how your life has impacted other people – your family, your friends, your coworkers and neighbors, all those who are affected by the decisions we make. 

Consider:

  • What are all the things there we can celebrate?
  • Where do we need to ask God for forgiveness? 
  • What needs to change? 

What can we learn as we look back and move forward into the future?


[1] https://achurchforstarvingartists.blog/2021/06/17/the-next-18-months/

[2] Life Application Study Bible, NLT Large Print Edition, Tyndale, pg. 583.

[3] http://www.bible-study-online.juliantrubin.com/biblejokes/davidgoliathjokes.html

[4] https://www.uis.edu/africanamericanstudies/students/sankofa/

[5] https://bible.com/bible/116/php.1.6.NLT

[6] https://www.npr.org/2021/06/17/1007498876/how-juneteenth-became-national-holiday?utm_campaign=npr&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_term=nprnews&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR3zaxkiNGxz0N5nEhAtgPeWmtBb5EoBPuJCJQq3YuLgfhHqLh1TSYBff_I

[7] https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/juneteenth.html

[8] https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation

[9] https://www.click2houston.com/news/local/2020/06/19/3-historical-markers-detailing-juneteenth-in-galveston/

[10] https://www.archives.gov/news/articles/juneteenth-original-document

[11] https://www.livinglutheran.org/2021/06/juneteenth-day-150-years-later/?fbclid=IwAR31lcnrnyPz3fVbEXkS8UyvdVX-X7mnpU0Ezl2B4nH0d7ZHqYgAlbChb8Q

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