Freedom and Democracy
(Sermon delivered July 4, 2011 at the United Church of Christ in Houston, Texas, USA)
Ben S. Malayang III
TEXT: I Samuel 17: 32-37
It is a pleasure to be here. On behalf of Silliman University and our Board of Trustees, I thank you for this opportunity to be with you and with our many alumni here in Texas. I am doubly thankful that we’re here today to gather in worship and prayer, much as we usually and often do in our campus beside the sea in Negros Island in the Philippines. I thank Pastor David Pantermuehl and Mr. Jubert Buquing, your Council President, for this time in your pulpit. I greet you all, particularly Bishop Patrocinio Apura and his wife, my former teacher, Ma’am Lina Apura, our alumni from different parts of Texas, and the officers of our SUGAR Chapter led by its President, Ms. Niesan Emarra, for arranging our Silliman gathering here today on the eve of your nation’s birth, the 4th of July, which is also celebrated in the Philippines as Philippine-American Friendship Day.
May I please invite you to prayer?
Thank you Lord for this time of worship. Thank you for the privilege and the freedom to worship you in truth and in any manner and time we desire. Thank you that you’re only a prayer away and that always you are with us. Open our mind and our hearts at this time to your Word, and we pray that it comes to us as you intend it to. For we pray in Christ’s Name, Amen.
Our text this morning recalls for us the time when Israel as a nation was being confronted with a threat to its freedom. It still is today, just as are many countries elsewhere including the Philippines and the United States.
The threats to freedom do not seem to end. It can be blatant and clear-cut as when our borders are being threatened by invaders, or the threat can be creeping and insidious as when corruption and intolerance weaken our national fabric.
In the case of Israel at this time in our scripture, the threat was no small one. It was a terrible threat. An army was actually at Israel’s borders and it had a giant that sowed much fear to the army of King Saul.
In fact, it was not only the army that was gripped in fear. The whole nation of Israel was cowering in dread and terror in the shadows of an invading enemy and of the giant, Goliath. They froze in fear when faced with an enemy, and gripped by terror in the face of a giant. Except one: the small boy, David. David was no soldier but he saw Goliath as a threat to his nation’s freedom. And he was not intimidated by his size. David was small but unlike the many who were much bigger than him, he did not fear the giant.
It is interesting to contrast David and Goliath. David was tiny and Goliath was big, but this is in physical terms. In spiritual terms, it was the other way around. David towered over Goliath in how David saw his power being firmly anchored upon a living God who was the Creator of heaven and earth, and who was with him. Goliath was puny and a dwarf in that he saw no power beyond what he can do. Goliath saw himself bigger than all men. But the much smaller David saw his God bigger than Goliath.
We all know how this story turned out. David defeated Goliath and Israel was freed of the terror in its border. Israel regained and kept its freedom, all because of one boy who kept his faith and saw beyond the shadows of terror the towering presence of his one great and living God.
Many years ago, I listened to a sermon by one of our many notable Sillimanian, Dr. Jose Jacinto. He preached on how a king asked for advice from 400 of his advisers if he were to go to war or not. All 400 said he should, and that if he will, he’ll prevail. The king was bothered by this easy and apparently ingratiating unanimity and asked if there be any other sage who can give him another opinion. He was told there was, a person of God, who the king then promptly summoned to ask for what he thinks he the king should do. The person of God told him that if he’ll go to war he would die. Mulling over the advice given him – from 400 urging him to “go” and only one saying “no” – he decided to go to war. And, of course, he died. This, according to Dr. Jacinto, proved one point, that truth is not democratic.
I see a similar lesson in our text this morning. All may wish freedom, all may desire to be free, the many among us may relish being free, but at the end, and too often, freedom is won by only a few. The longing for freedom can be democratic, but mustering the courage to fight for freedom can be a lonely crusade. Experiencing the exhilarating air of freedom is easily enjoyed by most, but exercising physical, spiritual and moral courage to fight for freedom and to face giants that threaten freedom, this, alas, is too often done by only a few. Doing what is right and pursuing the right, fighting the battles that set people free and confronting a threat to freedom however much larger than themselves, are often done by only some. In this way, the fight to be free and freedom itself are too often not an exercise of democracy. Deciding to be free might be easily democratic, and freedom decidedly allows for democracy to prosper, but laboring and dying for freedom is a lonely personal choice. It is not democratic.
The people savoring in freedom are countless, but only a few win it. And as threats to freedom in much of the world continue today – terrorism from those with little imagination to know how to better fight their battles, and terrorism from incompetence and failing integrity – it will only be a few who will eventually rise to the challenge to keep our freedom and to retake our freedom.
For institutions like Silliman University, its freedom to pursue its vision of being a great institution of learning and of faith is desired by many. But it is the individual faculty, staff, student, other workers in the university, and its alumni, working, striving and one by one choosing to do their personal best for Silliman, that will build up its edifice of academic and spiritual fulfillment. And this can’t be forced by convenient consensus. The commitment is personal.
Indeed, freedom is democratic when savored. But freedom is not democratic when fought for. The yearning for freedom can be by many, but fighting for it is often only by a few. Asking for freedom, demanding for freedom, talking about freedom, and loudly discussing & championing freedom can be reserved by most, but staking out one’s self for freedom and facing the Goliaths of our fears, is, like David, often a lonesome and lonely exercise. The decision to sacrifice and to die for one’s country, the decision to lay down one’s life and to let go of one’s personal comforts to keep a country and a people free, are for each person to make. They cannot be forced by a vote. So too are the decisions to keep institutions like Silliman free to fulfill its dreams and its ministry – these, too, are personal. They cannot be forced by the raising of hands.
One small boy won Israel’s freedom that day in our scripture. One small boy with a big faith won the day for a nation when he chose to go forward ahead of a trembling people to singularly fight a giant.
One small boy won the freedom of many. And so is freedom from the wages of sin. It was won for all of us by a solitary figure hanging on a cross.
Think about it: how do you choose to work and win our freedom today?
And however you choose, be grateful, be very grateful, to those who chose to step forward ahead of everyone else, who chose to give it all for freedom, even if the many would rather stand aside.
In the name of the Christ, our Lord; Amen.