World's Greatest Children's Story for Adults
a sermon based on
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
by Rev. Thomas Hall
Ive hobnobbed with three VIPs from Swarthmore College
this summer. Im not one to name-drop, but the VIPs are Rashanna, Laniece, and
Michael. These distinguished 9 year olds from Chester were in the reading program that
this congregation sponsors. So weve read a lot of stories together. Sometimes
Rashanna would interrupt Michaels reading to giggle and snicker at the funny
pictures; Laniece would just roll her eyes at the outlandish things these story characters
did or said. A few times there was only silence as the three passed secret glances between
them-a shared knowing that what they were reading was their own story.
We had favorite stories. One was Martha Blah, Blah.  Im not sure if
this is based on a true story or not, but the main character is Martha, a dog, who loved
alphabet soup. But everytime Martha would slurp up the soup, the letters of the alphabet
made a detour; instead of sliding down to the stomach, these letters would migrate up to
Marthas brain, turning her into a talking and well-read dog. A dog of letters,
Another wacky story that some of you might identify with is, Fox on the Job. 
The opening eight words foreshadow the entire story: "Fox liked to show off for the
girls." Can you imagine the awkward situations that showing off for the girls can get
a red fox into?
How about this one? The Cafeteria Lady from the Black Lagoon. Its a story
about the new school cook, of whom it was rumored served up such exotic dishes as
"Road Kill Ravioli," "Spaghetti with Bowling Balls," "Soufflé of
Science Experiments," and my favorite, "Toxic Waste Tacos." 
But heres the real discovery my VIPs and I made. We discovered that beyond
showing off for the girls and talking dogs and strange cafeteria dishes, are real stories
that shape our lives. The story, "I Cant" Said the Ant, is really a
story about shedding our negative attitudes, believing that with faith-and some teamwork
and a lot of imagination-nothing is impossible. 
Remember the cafeteria lady story? Turns out, the story is really about our
neighborhood, congregation, and families; its about how rumors can spread like
malignancy and eat away at the fabric of our relationships. And Martha Blah Blah
tells us about the power of language; when kids from the hood get a passion for
words and learning, when my Rashanna and Laniece and Michael read deeply and tell out
boldly the truth, their worlds and ours can begin to change.
Problem is, some here think theyre too old, too adult for childrens
stories. In one study, at age five a group of children measured 90% in "high
imagination," but by the time they had become young adults, their high imagination
had dropped from 90% to 2%.  The study suggests that as we get older, we leave much of
our imagination behind along with the childrens stories.
So you may think that this mornings story-David and Goliath-is just kids
stuff. But my counsel to you is this: dont make the mistake of leaving this powerful
story in the nursery. This very story can nourish this congregation at such a time as
this. Let the faith of a young kid and a giant tease you, confront you, and fan your faith
and imagination into flame once more.
The Philistines are at it again. Conducting military exercises near Israels
border. Trying to bully and intimidate. And to accomplish their scare-Israel-policy,
theyve flaunted their weapon of mass destruction-Goliath of Gath. Just for accuracy,
even by NBA standards, the guy was huge, probably a little over seven feet tall. His
musculature must have been massive, because the armor he wore weighed in at 175 pounds,
complete with a helmet, greaves covering his legs and a coat of mail made from bronze
ringlets that went from shoulder to calf. And hes twirling his twenty-five pound
spear with the ease of a cheerleader twirling her baton. And to further protect their
warrior-hero, the Philistines have forced a soldier to hoist a human-sized shield in front
of Goliath to deflect arrows. This Goliath was a walking exterminator!
King Saul, Davids three brothers, and the rest of the army were so busy
Goliath-watching through their binoculars, they were incapable of seeing anything else. So
when David comes one day to bring his brothers some bread and cheese and news from home,
his brothers brush him aside with withering scorn. His brothers were so enamored with the
size and armor and cruel words of Goliath that they barely noticed Davids simple act
of friendship. Sad isnt it, to let Goliath walk in and dictate the way we think, and
to blind us to new possibilities, new hope, and vision.
David stands as such a contrast to the Goliath-watchers. Hes been out on the back
forty with the sheep. But there, he has been immersed in the closeness and greatness of
God. Out there with the sheep he has discovered that the Lord is my shepherd, God is my
shield and my salvation. Not only that, but he practices his religion on Monday-even to
the point of requiring Gods help to retrieve lambs and to club vicious animals away.
He has practiced the presence of God so thoroughly that Gods Word-which he
couldnt literally hear-was more real than the lions roar. He worshiped
Gods majesty so much that Gods love-which he couldnt see-was far more
real to him the any bears rage, which he could see.
So David immediately volunteers to fight Goliath. Why not? Well, Goliath takes that as
an insult. "Am I a dog that you send me this little stick-kid?" he belches. Then
the giant hurls foul curses across the valley. They hit the Israelite ears like mortar.
Even King Saul is worried over this kid. "Well, if youre going to fight
Goliath, please wear my personal armor." What an honor. What a good idea. What a good
luck charm-to wear the kings personal armor. But when the armor-bearers are done
dressing David, he looks like a buffoon! Saul is a very tall man, David is a kid, so when
he tries to walk, he falls spread-eagle on the floor.
Now Saul is a good guy here. He just wants to help David out in the only way he knows
how: pile on more armor, protect yourself, get yourself a powerful weapon and increase the
odds that youll survive past the first round. Besides, maybe itll inspire the
kid (though one wonders why Saul hasnt put it on his royal body-if its so
great-and gone to fight Goliath).
It wasnt an easy thing to do. But David declines the offer. He walks away from
Sauls expertise. To meet Goliath wearing Sauls armor would have been a
disaster. Borrowed armor always is. David chooses to be authentic, rather than to borrow
someone elses greatness.
We now reach the critical moment. Seems impossible no matter which direction you go: to
the east, the arrogant Philistine soldiers; to the west, the demoralized Israelites. To
the north, one big, but not emotionally intelligent giant; to the south, an anointed, but
deeply flawed King Saul.
But for the kid, there was one more direction and that was up. Suddenly David is
no longer kneeling but running, but not away from Goliath, mind you, but toward him! I
would love to have seen the look on his brothers faces! This kid-brother is such a
nuisance! Running down the ravine toward Goliath. Little kid trying to act like a big
soldier. Its like a kid running on to the ball field in the middle of the fifth
inning. How embarrassing David must have been for his brothers! And what do you think the
army thinks about this scrawny unarmored kid? I think theyre humiliated. The
Philistines are going to think that this is the best of the best that Israel can produce?
Why, theyre about to be the laughingstock of the whole Sinai Peninsula. King Saul
just knows hes watching this kid commit suicide, but comforted by the thought that
he has at least offered the kid his armor. And can you see the Philistines? Theyre
not even standing anymore-theyre rolling on the ground, howling and belly laughing.
Even big Goliath of Gath is in shock. But theres a job to do, a head to roll, so the
well-armored Goliath slowly lumbers forward like an army tank, in clumsy steps. Then he
stops in surprise. For a few seconds, what happens is unclear. Everything happens so fast.
Two, maybe three looping swings and swoosh-one of the five smooth stones flies from
Davids sling sinks into Goliaths forehead. Stunned, this Gothic warrior shakes
the ground like a sack of rocks.
Let me conclude with a final look at David and Goliath. Both reflect an fundamental way
of viewing life. Take Goliath, for instance. Hes big, ugly, and mean. But more than
that, Goliath is a paradigm that has kept more churches from flourishing than any other
evil to hit the church. Goliath is a predisposition that says "no" and then
hunts reasons why. Ive discovered its much easier to say no than yes. Yes
means Ive got to research, explore, pray, risk, and form teams. A no shuts down all
discussion, keeps things the way theyve been. No requires no effort, no risk, no
further energy. But no too often keeps us from accomplishing anything of vision. Goliath
makes sure that no rules the day.
Now look at David. David is a metaphor for those who are spirit-healthy. While everyone
else is sitting around empathizing with the ant who said "I Cant," David
has immersed himself in a holy imagination in which God looms large and wonderful. When a
church or person is full of God, they tend to be full of vision.
This morning at 7:30 am I met David. He goes by the name of Skender Elbasani, but I
detected a David behind the name. Skender, our custodian, is from Albania and holds a
Ph.D. in engineering. Spent seven years as a political prisoner in a dank prison because
he owned property. When fighting broke out in Albania, Skender had no choice but to flee
for his life. While here, this man has worked three jobs a week in order to scrape enough
money together to bring his family here from Albania. There were times when he felt like
giving up, the Albanian government would refuse to grant his wife and two children visas
out of the country. Disappointments mounted. Complications between two governments could
have dashed any sliver of hope left.
But Skender just refused to glorify "I cant" said the ant. Instead he
has worked and nourished hope against all odds that he would be reunited with his family.
So when he rushed into my office this morning, I knew what had happened. In his best
Albanian-American, Skender told me that Albania has granted his family visas-theyre
coming home! Two children and a spouse that hes not seen in four years. He just
never gave up. Others would only have seen Goliath, but this David saw Gods help.
A number of years ago, we hired a childrens pastor in my former church. It was a
risk because we didnt have but a couple of children at the time. But soon the risk
paid off and children gathered at church each Sunday. A number of months later, I heard
this in a meeting: "Did you know that weve got a problem with mice?" That
shocked the socks off us. But she had the proof! Little black specks confirmed the
problem. "Do know what brought those mice into the church?" my friend demanded.
Snacks, cracker crumbs on the carpet in the Refreshment Room, where the little kids
eat." Suddenly, I realized that I was facing Goliath right out of the story, not the
person, but the attitude. The attitude said that we shouldnt take a risk, we
shouldnt have a childrens pastor, we shouldnt open our doors to kids,
because they create messes. They bring mice with them. Goliath sternly warned us that
its better to have a tidy, but empty church than a full church because of the
problems that growth brings. That Goliath had stood in the way of growth for years,
cowering people into thinking that the building was more important than people. We decided
that it was time to kill that attitude and to open the doors of that church for ministry
to all of the Rashannas and Lanieces and Michaels.
So this morning, the story asks, who are we going to be filled with? Are we going to be
shaped by our fears of Goliath-the future, change, how little money we have, how many
empty chairs we have? Or are we going to live in the vision of God?
Go ahead! Nourish your soul on childrens stories. And in the power of the Spirit,
live your God-created, Spirit-anointed, Jesus-saved life filled with the immense
imagination that God provides. Amen.
 Susan Meddaugh, Martha Blah Blah (NY: Scholastic, Inc. 1996).
 James Marshall, Fox on the Job (NY: Scholastic, Inc. 1988).
 Mike Thaler, The Cafeteria Lady from the Black Lagoon (Scholastic, Inc. 1998).
 Polly Cameron, I Cant Said the Ant (Scholastic, Inc. 1961).
 Madeleine LEngle, Walking on Water (Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw
Publishers, 1980), p. 72.