Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 20, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49+Psalm 9:9-20+(2 Corinthians 6:1-13)+Mark 4:35-41

I once overheard Tim in conversation in a social setting – I don’t recall when or where or what the occasion was, but what he said took me aback. He said, “One thing you should know about my wife is that she will always be on the side of the underdog.” What surprised me by these words is not that they aren’t true – because they certainly are – but because it wasn’t anything I can ever recall articulating to him or to anyone else up to that point. And that this was what he chose to share about me in that moment, while unexpected, was actually quite endearing.

Because I am always on the side of the underdog, and that’s not necessarily always a good thing, but that’s a sermon for another day.

In our story from 1st Samuel this morning, young David is certainly the underdog, and no matter what dreadful things he may do later in his life, he is the underdog, so he’s my guy. David isn’t the only underdog in our story. You may recall a couple of weeks ago when the people of Israel begged Samuel for a king, one of the reasons they wanted a king was because all the foes that surrounded them were stronger, more advanced, more organized, and had better weapons, but the king Samuel anointed for them, Saul, was not the man for that job. So the people of Israel come up against the Philistines with their weapons of iron and their champion, the giant named Goliath, and they cower in fear.

It’s really an amusing story if you can get beyond the killing part. David isn’t even supposed to be on the battlefield. His father Jesse had sent him to check on his brothers who were in Saul’s army. Jesse was old and worried and asked David to bring word of how the brothers fared. David arrives after 40 days of Goliath taunting the Israelites, but no one will go out to meet him. David volunteers, an action which is scoffed at by Saul and by Goliath, but we know that David, with his trusty slingshot, dispatches Goliath, and the Philistines are routed. Whatever fear David felt was overcome with the knowledge that the power of God was with him.

Yesterday marked 156 years since the day General Order 3 was issued by General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, the last place that news of emancipation had yet to reach. The celebration of Juneteenth began a year later among the former enslaved people of Texas, but that observance soon spread through the South and points north.

It is important to remember that the Emancipation Proclamation, issued 2 ½ years before this General Order in Galveston, had no bearing on those held in bondage in the northern states. It freed the enslaved of the Confederacy. And while the majority of them may not have known that the U.S. government had declared them free, it did not take an announcement or a proclamation for them to know that.

The way we are taught history is that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. The Union Army freed the slaves. But thousands and thousands of enslaved people in the South not only knew they were free, they claimed their freedom. We hear about Harriet Tubman and William Still and the Underground Railroad, but an estimated 100,000 people made their way to freedom, claiming what was theirs by right, and thousands more fought for their freedom with the Union forces. If they were afraid of the Goliath of the plantation owners and overseers and Confederate army, they also knew that the power behind them was greater than what lay before them. The storm may have raged about them, but the power of God stilled that storm and brought them safely to shore.

As a nation, we have yet to fully live into the promises made at our founding, that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As Dr. King would say, “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check: a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”[1]

The more the tide turns, as evidenced by the many marches around this country yesterday for reparations, including in Newark, the more the resistance grows. The ugly Goliath of white supremacy grows. When people are threatened by the teaching of history that includes addressing our racist past so much that laws are being passed against it; when 48 states have introduced 389 bills restricting voting rights that will have a disparate impact on Black and minority communities; when Blacks are incarcerated at a rate six times that of Whites – well, you know that check is still bouncing.

On August 11, 2017, the Rev. Traci Blackmon of Ferguson, Missouri, preached at a Mass Prayer Gathering in my Charlottesville church on the night before the Unite the Right Rally. This was the night a parade of tiki-torch-bearing white supremacists marched down the Lawn at the University of Virginia, chanting Nazi slogans and attacking a group of students and others who had gathered around the statue of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the university. Pastor Blackmon preached on this David and Goliath text. She talked about the power of God being with the boy, David. She talked about how that godly authority emboldened him and gave him the ability to overpower the giant with a few stones. And while we didn’t read this bit today, she talked about how David ran to the fallen Goliath, took his sword, and cut off his head.

She went on to say that what we failed to do at the end of the Civil War was to cut off the head of racism and white supremacy. We allowed it to recover and to grow even stronger. We failed to pull it up from its roots, in a more pleasant analogy, and it flourished.

We are beyond time for a reckoning. The underdogs will triumph in the end. Like David going up against Goliath, we have to know who and whose we are. Our Goliath – the forces of hate and power and money and violence – may be arrayed against us, but the power of Almighty God is with us.    


[1] http://www.loyno.edu/jsri/dr-martin-luther-kings-enduring-challenge-fund-american-promises

ASEPSermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 20, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas