Defeating Enemies – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

1 Samuel 17:31-50

In the story of David versus the Philistine giant, Goliath, we’re made sure to understand that David did not defeat his enemy with the normal implements of war. We’re told, for example, that David tried on Saul’s armor and sword, but it just wasn’t working for him. As Goliath approaches, David announces that the Lord does not save by sword and spear, and at the end of the battle we’re reminded again that there was no sword in David’s hand. No, unlike Goliath, armed to the teeth with sword, spear, and javelin, David had picked up five stones from a nearby stream to use with his humble sling.

Besides David’s notable lack of appropriate weaponry, what also caught my attention was the number of stones. It seems oddly specific to say David chose five stones. With a little research I found, as you could imagine, all sorts of theories on what the five stones represent. One of my favorites is that the number five symbolizes the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and in a more general sense the entire set of teachings and law considered the foundation of Jewish identity and culture.

This led me to consider the foundation Jesus gave us, his summation of Jewish law: love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself. And, in light of today’s story about David and Goliath, we’ll add: love your enemy.

For Jesus, defeating your enemy had nothing to do with swords or armor. No, the only true way to defeat an enemy, even if the enemy is just an idea or way of thinking, is to accept the enemy, in love and compassion, until we stop seeing an enemy at all.

So, back to those five stones David used to defeat Goliath. Another promising theory is that the number five refers to five personal attributes or gifts of the spirit. After some prayer and consideration, and in keeping with Jesus’ core teachings, I came up with five gifts of the spirit which would prove helpful on the spiritual battleground: love, compassion, wisdom, courage, and grace.

First of all, we have love, and by love, I mean God’s Love with a capital “L,” not just the pleasant emotion. God’s Love means accepting something, just as it is, with our whole heart. This happens on a level below our run-of-the-mill desires and fears, so, for example,  we can capital “L” Love something while not condoning it or while feeling called to act in opposition to it. God’s Love simply means we start from a place where our hearts accept that things are the way they are, and recognize the inherent goodness in this.

Second, we have compassion which means to suffer with. Assuming we’re gazing upon something, say an enemy, in Love, then compassion easily follows. In accepting someone fully as they are we not only see the story we create about their role in our pain and suffering, but we see their pain and suffering as well. This kind of Love is really a kind of participation, and so we suffer with them, often being motivated to act on the suffering we see.

Third, there’s wisdom. We often think of wisdom as particularly sound advice or a very helpful insight. But, wisdom if often more about a kind of perception, seeing God’s truth in the world whatever the source. With wisdom we see that we could be doing a lot better practicing the Love and compassion of Jesus. With wisdom we see clearly and humbly our need to fully accept ourselves, Love ourselves, and have compassion for ourselves. That would be a good place to start, as we move towards seeing our neighbors and enemies with wisdom.

Fourth, we have courage. It takes courage to follow wisdom wherever it leads, because wisdom will bring to light unpleasant or painful shadows, within ourselves and others. It takes courage to Love our enemies when hate can be deceptively attractive. It takes courage to feel compassion for our neighbors, leaving our hearts open to their pain.

And the last of the five stones is grace. This one is cheating a little, really, since God’s grace isn’t a personal attribute. Still, it might be the most important stone, because it’s only by God’s grace that we can hope to see the fruit of those other four. All we can do is admit our reliance on grace, and thus let ourselves be open to God’s gift.

So in a world which can seem filled with various sorts of enemies, we should pray not for implements of war or towering strength. Instead, following the way of Jesus, we pray for Love, compassion, wisdom, courage, and grace, eventually defeating those enemies by not seeing them as enemies. This is the only true path to peace, and to real transformation for ourselves and the world.

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  1. Jaan Sass on March 17, 2022 at 22:11

    This a tough one but the only to true peace

  2. Ruth E. Claussen on March 17, 2022 at 22:02

    Just today, I heard a track from an album that seemed to fit this topic so well. The album is Peace in our Time, and it commemorates the 400th anniversary of the devastating Thirty Years War. All the music on it was composed in the aftermath. Three pieces were by JSB’s older cousin, Johann Christoph Bach, including the last track. The title is “Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben,” and it laments the trauma of the post-war world which can only be redeemed by Jesus.

  3. Sue on March 17, 2022 at 17:34

    Thank you for the contemplation on the 5 (Love, Compassion, Wisdom, Courage, Grace) Stones. It’s also good to think of the 5 Stones that must be removed from the bag. Fear, Anger, Pride, Deceit, Shame. It’s important to look at what’s not necessary to take in full power what is necessary.

  4. Susan J Zimmerman on March 17, 2022 at 11:43

    Ezra the only person in scripture who was a man of wisdom and understanding told the Samaritans that they “…would not be needed to help the Jews rebuild the Temple (a place of sanctity)…” The Samaritans were worshipping other gods, hence ‘their offer’ to help with the rebuild was denied…read chapters 3 & 4.

    …Also Cor 6:14 is clear that Christians were not to be yoked to unbelievers!

  5. James Doran on March 17, 2022 at 09:53

    “It takes courage to follow wisdom.”

  6. Kathy Gray on March 17, 2022 at 08:05

    How timely, with the war in Ukraine, and President Zelensky’s plea for more weapons. I will “pray the five pebbles.” May we all find the true path to Peace, and a real transformation of our broken, divided world. Thank you, Br. Bartoli and SSJE, for reshaping this insightful sermon at this time.

  7. Carol Carlson on July 13, 2021 at 13:54

    I suggested to my Lutheran study-buddy the thought for our sermons last week (on David dancing before the ark and Salome’s dance before Herod) that we should consider our Sunday worship experience as our weekly dancing-lesson. He countered with the suggestion that sermons should be evaluated by how much they keep us dancing throughout the week. This sermon was definitely a lesson in how to dance, and one that will keep me dancing this week and beyond. Having had to preach (very unusually for me) in the midst of spiritual ‘enemies’ on that day, I can even more appreciate the wisdom in these thoughts. Thanks, Br. Nicholas.

  8. Elizabeth Hardy on July 13, 2021 at 12:08

    For all the money and time I have spent on taking post-grad courses on mediation and conflict resolution – as helpful as they have been in my career – this five-point plan is probably simpler and more effective. It give us the important step of self-examination before looking for ways to achieve what we think is the right solution. Thank you Br. Nicholas. Elizabeth Hardy+

  9. nancy shouse on July 13, 2021 at 10:35

    Br. Nicholas Bartoli’s sermons always inspire me and his remain with me as i continue to ponder them. This one is beautifully written and definitely Jesus’ pathway of love.

  10. Anne Kennedy on July 13, 2021 at 09:01

    These excellent thoughts remind me of the words of an EASTER HYMN
    “If I forget the Savior’s praise the STONES themselves would sing.”

  11. Cynthia Nott on July 13, 2021 at 07:44

    Thank you for helping me grow.

  12. Anmarie Trejo on June 14, 2021 at 14:20

    Wonderful Brother Nicholas. In times today when their is so much anger and fear we need to reach out to others with love and compassion. I believe we all know right from wrong and it takes courage to stand up for our beliefs. We are one family in this world and we need to care for each other.

  13. Jason Hays on August 13, 2020 at 18:07

    You are such a wise preacher, Br. Nicholas. Thank you for this sermon!!

  14. Bill Burke on July 25, 2020 at 02:45

    This is a profoundly beautiful reading and analysis. Thank you for helping me see the story of David in this way!

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