‘Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 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.’
I have images in my mind of a young, wiry-framed boy named David loaded down with armor meant for a much older, stronger and more muscle bound soldier. Of course, I do not know for sure that David was as slight as my mind portrays him. But I do know that Saul called him a boy and when Goliath looked at him “he disdained him because he was only a youth.
More importantly, the contrast between David and Goliath is glaringly apparent. Goliath is described as being either “four cubits and a span” or “six cubits and a span” depending on the translation one uses. Either way we have a man whose stature is somewhere between an average-sized NBA center and the larger than life sculpture of a Greek god. In other words, he’s a real life giant!
What really struck me, however, was not the difference between Goliath and David so much as the brave moment of vulnerability when David shed the armor that had been provided him. With only minor paraphrasing we have this shepherd boy exclaiming out loud, “Help! I can’t move! How can I face this giant if I can’t move. Get this stuff off of me!”
I think I heard it put most succinctly when our stated clerk, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, spoke to the Way Forward Committee. In a moment of exceptional clarity he said that what the PCUSA must do is shift “from an institutional bureaucracy to a movement culture.” A movement culture! Isn’t that beautiful? Thinking of the church not as an ecclesiastical institution, but as a movement. That I can live into. That I can preach. That I can fall in love with again.
And isn’t that what the shepherd boy, David, was saying, “If I am going to slay the giants of this world I have to be able to move! I can’t be burdened with too much stuff. I need to feel free and liberated to deal with the issues in front of me!”
Speaking of feeling liberated I heard a great story this week. I was speaking with my counterpart in Sacramento Presbytery about this General Assembly meeting and the language around shedding much of the structure in order to focus again on ministry. My friend shared with me the story of one of the congregations in his presbytery that took the big leap to shed the excess armor and structure of their church building. This church was built for 600 members, but this past year it had withered down to a mere 35 members.
It was finally decided that they would ask the presbytery to allow them to sell their building and work with the Presbyterian Foundation to set up an endowment for further ministry. My friend had expected a presbytery meeting filled with grief. What he experienced, however, was a group of people who felt liberated and spoke of renewed hope. After decades of wrestling with building repairs and maintenance they spoke of how this decision enabled them to once again dream, focus again on mission, and renew their hope for the future.
What they were doing was mirroring David’s comments to Saul, “I can’t walk. I can’t move. I can’t do ministry with all this armor. This structure is killing me.”
Structure is not a bad thing. But structure should always support mission and ministry, not weigh it down.
Just ask David.
Just look at the dead Goliath.