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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

2013-05-26 Who ARE You?

2013-05-26 Who Are You?

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Scripture                                   1 Samuel 17:1-11

17 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2 Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. 3 The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 4 And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six[a] cubits and a span. 5 He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7 The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. 8 He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel,

"Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." 10 And the Philistine said, "Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together." 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Scripture                                  1 Samuel 17:38-50

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 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. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd's bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field." 45 But David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into our hand."

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David's hand.

The word... OK. Wait.

Everybody knows the story. David slays Goliath. Who's the hero? [David!] Of course he is. David's the hero. Everybody knows his name.

Or do they?

If you go on just a little further, starting at 55 is the rarely read part of the story. David was a hero. But not everyone knew his name. Not even the king who sent him into battle.

55 After King Saul had watched David go out to fight Goliath, Saul turned to the commander of his army and said, "Abner, who is that young man?"

"Your Majesty," Abner answered, "I swear by your life that I don't know."

56 "Then find out!" Saul told him.

57 When David came back from fighting Goliath, he was still carrying Goliath's head. Abner took David to Saul, 58 and Saul asked,

"Who are you?"

"I am David the son of Jesse, a loyal Israelite from Bethlehem."

Now: The word of the Lord. [Thanks be to God.]


Think of a modern-day hero.

What just popped into your head?

Her name, or his name.

Everybody knows a hero's name.

I'll say a superhero and you tell me his real name.


Superman. [Clark Kent.]

Batman. [Bruce Wayne.]

007 [James Bond.]

Everybody knows a hero's name. Or do they? If you read past the battle scene in David vs. Goliath, you find out that the King sent David to off to war and he didn't even know his name.

It's Memorial Day weekend. It's a very good time to think of the heroes whose names we don't remember, the ones who didn't come home, the ones from whom we can still learn, even and especially if we don't know their names.

I want to tell you the story of another war hero, a man who not only saved an untold number of human lives, but who single-handedly stopped the United States military from doing something incredibly stupid, something that could have changed the flags now flying in capitals around the world had he not caught it. One man. No rock, no sling. Just a pencil and paper and the innocence to see what no one else could.

And I'll bet you've never even heard his name.

[See http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/ for the full story.]

The year is 1942. The United States has entered into the most complex war in human history. The sophistication of the Industrial Age created problems no human could solve with the old tools of maps and binoculars. There were rockets and radar stations and aircraft carriers. Computers, if you could call them that, were made of telephone switches and vacuum tubes. If you wanted solutions to the new problems of modern combat you needed powerful number crunchers, and in those days the world's most powerful number crunchers ran on toast and coffee and wore ties to breakfast.

In New York City, in an unmarked apartment a few streets away from the center of Harlem, the White House assembled a team of the world's greatest thinkers, some of whom would go on to win Nobel Prizes. They were called - wait for it - the Applied Mathematics Panel. And here's how they worked.

Somewhere inside the vast machinery of war a commander would stumble into a problem. That commander would then send a request to the head of the Panel. The scientists would think and then tell Washington how they might go about solving the problem. It was like the Apple Genius Bar, but with real geniuses.

One of these geniuses was Abraham Wald. Have you heard his name? Abraham Wald saved countless lives by preventing a group of military commanders from committing a common human error, a mistake that you probably make every single day.

Colleagues described Wald as gentle and kind. Not exactly a hero-type. He was born in Hungary in 1902, the son of a Jewish baker. He was homeschooled until college, because public schoolers had to go to school on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. In 1927, he entered graduate school at the University of Vienna, and earned with a Ph.D. in mathematics. He was the sort of student who offered suggestions on how to improve his textbooks, and then saw to it those suggestions were incorporated into later editions.

This caught the eye of mathematicians in the United States where he eventually fled in 1938, reluctantly, as the Nazi threat grew. His family, all but a single brother, would later die in the extermination camp known as Auschwitz.

Soon after Wald arrived in the United States he joined the Applied Mathematics Panel and went to work with the team at Columbia stuffed in the secret apartment overlooking Harlem. As the war progressed, their efforts became focused on the single most pressing problem of the war – keeping airplanes in the sky.

In early World War II, the chances of a bomber crew making it through a tour of duty was about the same as calling heads in a coin toss and winning. A bomber crew flew for hours above an entire nation that was hoping to murder you while suspended in the air, huge, easily visible from far away, and vulnerable from every direction above and below as bullets and flak streamed out to puncture you. "Ghosts already," was how airmen were described. They expected to die because it always felt like the chances of surviving the next bombing run were about the same as running shirtless across a football field swarming with angry hornets and making it unharmed to the other side. You might make it across once, but if you kept running back and forth, eventually your luck would run out. Any advantage the mathematicians could provide, even a very small one, would make a big difference day after day, mission after mission.

The top brass explained the problem to Wald and his group. How, the Army Air Force asked, could they improve the odds of a bomber making it home? They already knew the allied bombers needed more armor, but the ground crews couldn't just cover the planes like tanks, not if they wanted them to take off. The operational commanders asked for help figuring out the best places to add what little protection they could. It was here that Wald prevented the military from falling prey to an error in perception that could have turned the tide of the war if left unnoticed and uncorrected. See if you can spot it.

The military looked at the bombers that had returned from enemy territory. They recorded where those planes had taken the most damage. Over and over again, they saw the bullet holes tended to accumulate along the wings, around the tail gunner, and down the center of the body. Wings. Body. Tail gunner. Considering this information, where would you put the extra armor? Naturally, the commanders wanted to put the thicker protection where they could clearly see the most damage, where the holes clustered. But Wald said no, that would be precisely the wrong decision. Putting the armor there wouldn't improve their chances at all.

The mistake, which Wald saw instantly, was that the holes showed where the planes were strongest. Wald explained, the holes showed where a bomber could be shot and still survive the flight home. After all, here they were, holes and all. It was the planes that weren't there that needed extra protection, and they had needed it in places that these planes had not. The holes in the surviving planes actually revealed the locations that needed the least additional armor. Look at where the planes that didn't make it back were hit, and put the armor there.

Wald went ahead and worked out how much damage each individual part of an airplane could take before it was destroyed. His calculations are still in use today. He saved, and continues to save, untold lives. He's a hero. And we barely know his name.

The military had the best data available at the time, and the stakes could not have been higher, but the top commanders still failed to see the flaws in their logic. Those planes would have been armored in vain had it not been for the intervention of one gentle and kind man who looked not where the strength was, but where it wasn't.

It's called, survivorship bias. It's your tendency to focus on survivors instead of whatever you would call a non-survivor depending on the situation. Sometimes that means you tend to focus on the living instead of the dead, or on winners instead of losers, or on successes instead of failures. In Wald's problem, the military focused on the planes that made it home and almost made a terrible decision because they ignored the ones that got shot down.

King Saul and the army of Israel saw a nine foot-tall, one-man weapon of mass destruction named Goliath. They saw his invincible armor. It took a gentle and kind shepherd boy to see where the armor wasn't.

...and Saul asked, "Who ARE you?"


Everybody knows the names of the heroes who make it big. You can name them just like that. We read books about them. We go to hear them speak. We study them, imitate them, worship them.

But who sees the heroes who are absent? Who wants to study the failures? Who remembers the uncountable, invisible, kind and gentle and dutiful?

Who worships a savior who's crucified?

Who are YOU?

Are you someone who dresses herself in Saul's armor, imitating the singular superhero? Or are you cut from the cloth of kindness and gentleness, and hope, and trust? Are you weird enough see what ISN'T there? Are you willing to keep reading beyond what you already know?

Truth be told, there's only one King David. There's only one Abraham Wald. Who are you?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Who Are You?

2013-05-26 Who Are You?
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

1 Samuel 17:1-11, 38-50

Nine feet tall. Chest armor of 125 pounds. A bronze sword on his back. A spear 7 feet long, its blade alone weighing 15 pounds. His shield so large that another man had to walk in front of him carrying it.

Goliath is a killing machine. A one-man weapon of mass destruction.
He is giant. He is vain. He is mean.

David is a boy. The youngest and smallest of his brothers. He stays home and herds sheep while they go to war. He brings them lunch. He speaks, and his brothers mock him. He is bullied, teased, overlooked.

Fear paralyzes the king and his army. From across the valley, Goliath taunts them every day. King Saul promises a treasure to the man who will kill Goliath. He will give the man his daughter in marriage. He will give his family a permanent tax exemption.

But, no volunteers. The king and his army have meetings. They talk. They wring their hands. They do nothing. They’re afraid to fight. They’re afraid to die. They know Goliath will kill whoever steps forward. They’ve all but given up.

David, the boy, the shepherd, the musician, the poet, the servant; brings lunch to his brothers and asks, “Who does that filthy Philistine think he is? He’s making fun of the army of the living God!”[1]

David says to the great King Saul, “Your Majesty, this Philistine shouldn’t turn us into cowards. I’ll go out and fight him myself!”

He says, “Your Majesty, I take care of my father’s sheep. And when a lion or a bear drags one of them off, I go after it and beat the wild animal until it lets the sheep go. If the wild animal turns and attacks me, I grab it by the throat and kill it.

“Sir, I have killed lions and bears that way, and I can kill this dirty Philistine.”

“The Lord has rescued me from the claws of lions and bears, and he will keep me safe from the hands of this Philistine.

“All right,” Saul says. “Go ahead and fight him. And I hope the Lord will help you.”

Saul has his men dress David in his kingly suit of armor with a heavy bronze helmet.  David straps on a sword and tries to walk around.

“I can’t move with all this stuff on,” he says.

David takes off the armor and picks up his shepherd’s stick. He goes out to a stream and picks up five smooth rocks and puts them in his leather bag. Then with his sling in his hand, he walks straight toward Goliath.

Goliath goes out to meet him. When Goliath sees that David is just a farm boy, he makes fun of him.

“Do you think I’m a dog?” Goliath asks. “Is that why you’ve come after me with a stick?” He curses David in the name of the Philistine gods and shouts, “Come on! When I’m finished with you, I’ll feed you to the birds and wild animals!”

But David answers:

“You’ve come out to fight me with a sword and a spear and a dagger. But I’ve come out to fight you in the name of the Lord All-Powerful. He is the God of Israel’s army, and you have insulted him too!

“Today the Lord will help me defeat you. I’ll knock you down and cut off your head, and I’ll feed the bodies of the other Philistine soldiers to the birds and wild animals. Then the whole world will know that Israel has a real God. Everybody here will see that the Lord doesn’t need swords or spears to save his people. The Lord always wins his battles, and he will help us defeat you."

Goliath starts forward. David runs toward him. He puts a rock in his sling and swings it around by its straps. He lets go. The rock flies out and hits Goliath on the forehead. It cracks his skull, and he falls facedown on the ground. David kills the giant without even using a sword.

David runs over and pulls out Goliath’s huge sword. With Goliath’s own sword, he cuts off the giant’s head.

The soldiers of Israel and Judah let out a battle cry and chase the fleeing Philistines back to Goliath’s hometown. The road is scattered with Philistine bodies.

King Saul turns to the commander of his army and says, “Abner, who is that young man?”
“Your Majesty,” Abner answers, “I swear by your life that I don’t know.”
“Then find out!” Saul tells him.
David comes back, carrying Goliath’s head.
Abner takes David to Saul, and Saul asks, “Who ARE you?”


Who is your Goliath?
What is the giant who mocks you every day?
You know. Everybody knows the names of the mean ones.
The real question is, “Who are YOU?”
Are you who the giant says you are?

Abner takes David to Saul, and Saul asks, “Who ARE you?”
David says: “I am David the son of Jesse, a loyal Israelite from Bethlehem.”

Who are YOU? What’s your answer?

If the story of David and Goliath was only about military conquest, it would have been forgotten long ago. If David and Goliath were only about defeating mean people, even in God’s name, it would have faded into the background of every other heroic story. But David and Goliath stands out because it’s not about victory as much as it’s about identity. It’s not about right and wrong; it’s not about good vs. evil; it’s not about what side you’re on: It’s about knowing WHO you are and WHOSE you are.

If you’re like me, you probably spend a lot of time dressing yourself in someone else’s armor for battle with whatever perceived threat you’re ready to fight. You can do that.

Or, you can use what you’ve got, take your best shot, and let God guide the stone.

Because, that’s what God does. That’s who God is.

Who are YOU?

[1] Story adapted from CEV.