Scripture:  1 Samuel 17:38-40, 48-49; Acts 9: 1-9

Some of you know that I recently got a new dog. His name is Archie, and is a beagle, with possibly a little bit of basset hound. 

We’re not sure because he’s a rescue, and in the 2 weeks we’ve had him, he’s captured our hearts. He’s five years old and just about the sweetest dog.  If you want to meet him, he’ll be with me on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in the office.

I grew up with dogs in the household, but I was never the primary caretaker for them.  Now that I am, it’s gotten me thinking a bit about our fine four-legged friends. And specifically, what makes humans different from animals.

This reminded me of a classroom conversation that I had in seminary: What is the most basic thing that humans do that animals do not do? Because throughout at least some of the animal kingdom, we share many traits and activities, humans and animals eat, drink, breathe, fight each other, solve problems, and form partnerships.

Pack animals strategize, and can learn complex behaviors. Herding dogs, for example will group together and herd cattle, sheep, and small children.

Right now, by the way, we’re still working on getting Archie to sit and to come over on command.  He’s good for sitting about 80% of the time.  Getting him to come to us is much harder.

So as we were talking about it, having a very intense conversation on some things- can dogs love? (the answer by the way, is for some definitions of love, yes, others no), the professor made a contribution which has stuck with me.

She said the most uniquely human basic function is the ability to pause, listen, and reflect.  To listen, pause, and reflect. It’s not in the listening by itself; our dogs can listen to us, and they can stay, if not pause.

 It’s the combination of the three, along with the possibility of change in behavior and change in the heart, that makes it human. That makes us human. And everyone can do this.

The ability to do so in response to a crisis, and know which voices to listen to, both inside yourself, and in your community, is one of the core aspects of leadership.

It is also what we see the two leaders in our bible reading in our doing: In our first reading, David listens to his own body and stays true to himself by realizing that he could not wear King Saul’s armor into battle with Goliath, and instead must rely on his own strengths to defeat Goliath.

In our second reading, Saul (who we know better as Paul, author of a good chunk of our New Testament), is commanded by God to pause- literally knocking him off of his donkey. God then commands Paul to listen to those in the community he had hurt, and begin his ministry on the basis of what they would tell him to do.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, and turn back to the example of David. David, let’s remember, is at this time a young man- probably somewhere between 15 and 20.  Most likely about 16-17 years old.

 Not a young child by any means, but also not quite old enough to fight in the army- you had to be 20 to fight in the army back in those days. He’s described as being of tall and slender build, unlike King Saul, who wears mighty armor into battle.

Now, David, despite his youth, is no shirking violet: after all, he has killed a wolf and a bear while guarding his sheep. Anyone who has been hunting, or heck, even seen a bear in a zoo (or in your backyard), knows that these are not small accomplishments.

However, even though may have been unexpected in some ways, it’s not as though he were untrained or utterly incompetent. He didn’t fit the conventional image of the hyper masculine might and muscled warrior who could squat 600 pounds and bench press 280 while wearing heavy armor.

But he did have that sling.

If you need a refresher on the power of a sling, a sling is not a slingshot- a sling was a potent weapon of war in use for thousands of years, up until the 1200s in Europe, and in the Americas until the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 1500s.

Armies had groups of them- a competent slinger could hurl a sizable stone almost 1500 feet, at a speed of about 100 miles per hour. And David seemed to be a competent warrior with one.

But when David volunteers to fight Goliath, and goes to talk to King Saul, Saul tries to dress David up in his armor. David, with his build, is incapable of even walking in it.

But David is not reckless.  David takes the opportunity to Pause, to Listen, and to Reflect. David does not charge into battle.  He stops, and listens to his body, to his own strengths and weaknesses. 

The other men in the army might be inspired to see another mighty warrior king wearing that impressive armor while he goes up against the giant Goliath.

But that’s not David.

David is not Goliath.  He is not going to out Goliath Goliath, nor is he going to out Saul King Saul. He thinks about how tiring it is to even walk with this armor on; will he be able to use his own gifts- his sling and staff? And he realizes that no, he will not.

David cannot be Saul, and David cannot be Goliath.  What God calls David to be is not Goliath, or Saul, but David. So it is David, tall and slender, a young man at the cusp of adulthood, who walks out into that valley to meet Goliath.

It is David who wears no armor but his trust in his God and his knowledge of his own skills and strengths. It is David who wields not the weapons of a brawny well trained soldier that he would not have the strength or skill to use, but instead  his own weapons, those of a shepherd- the staff and the sling. That is what would defeat Goliath: David being David.

In our second reading from the book of Acts, Saul seems to have almost the exact opposite problem. He’s so busy listening to himself and his own desires that it literally takes God knocking him off of his donkey to get the message that he needs to stop and reflect.

The Romans, who were the ultimate power in the region, delegated some authority to local religious structures in order to keep the peace.  Saul, at this time, worked for the Jewish religious leadership body, the Sanhedrin, as a sort of inquisitor figure, keeping the peace.

Remember last week when I said that in the Roman Empire, most religions were left alone as long as they were able to proclaim the emperor “Lord” and “Son of God.”

You might recognize those titles as ones that we try to reserve exclusively for Jesus. There’s a reason for this: to follow Jesus in the years immediately following his death and resurrection were a politically dangerous thing. For those early followers of Jesus said that only Jesus Christ was deserving of the titles Lord and Son of God, not the Roman Emperor.

So clamping down on this new group of heretics, often violently was the task given to the Sanhedrin- keep your house in order. Saul is but one cog in this wheel, even participating in the stoning of Stephen in Acts chapter 7 for example.

So it’s on the way to Damascus to carry out some sort of action against the nascent group of Jesus followers that he has this namesake Road to Damascus conversion.

What I love about this text is that if we read it carefully, Saul isn’t given any deliberate instructions about who he is to become, the wrongs that he has done, or how to make them right.

Instead, Saul is given the task of stopping the persecution- interrupting the violent behavior he was exhibiting; listening to those who he had persecuted- God tells him to go down to the city and be told what to do- presumably by the people there, and then reflecting- he spends time with that group of Jesus followers before he realizes his calling to go out and preach.

Stop, Listen, Reflect: this same pattern of behavior for these two as they encounter pivotal moments in their lives. The primary difference is that David must listen to himself and stay true to himself and remain authentically him in a time and place and context that want him to look and be like someone who he is not, and Saul must stop and listen to those around him to figure out how to stop causing harm and what the community really needs from him.

So this is the part where normally I talk about how being able to listen to yourselves and your community will be vitally important skills for this church as we move through this interim process. But enough about that already. You know about that. The church is going to be fine.

What about you?

Has there been a time when you should have listened to your heart and soul and body and God instead of caving to what others expect from you? Have you been David trying to wear King Saul’s armor? Is that happening to you right now? If so, be like David and cast it off. You do not need to wear it. God needs you to be the best you, you can be. 

God does not need 10,000 instagram and facebook perfect mothers and grandmothers and teenagers who always have the perfect vacations, get perfect grades and are never unhappy, who never struggle.

If he did, God would have made all of us the same. No, God needs you. God needs each and every one of us to be the best we can be.

God needs us to listen, without agenda or assumption, to those around us, our families and communities and figure out what they so we can match who we are in here with what the world needs out there.

If this seems daunting, its because it is.  But take heart: we are not alone.  We are never alone, for Christ Jesus is with us always.