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Monday, May 28, 2018

Proper 7B/Ordinary 12B/Pentecost 5 June 24, 2018

William Turner, The Storm
The artist once lashed himself to a mast in order to see for himself the storm at sea.

Make firm, Lord God, the faith of your Christian people, that success may not fill us with worldly pride nor the storms of life lay us low.  Rather, whatever may befall, teach us to recognize your quiet but calming presence and to count on you as the unseen companion who faithfully accompanies us throughout life's journey.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 4:35-41

"What are you afraid of? I ask that because I have a hunch that we're rarely aware of just how significant a role fear plays in many of our decisions, actions, and conversations."

"Faith and Fear," David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

"Crossing to the other side with Jesus may be a risky, unpredictable proposition, and in this passage, the wind and the sea create a visual manifestation of the dangers of being in the boat with him."

Commentary, Mark 4:35-41, Meda Stamper, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"Even when the seas threaten to engulf us and human imperial posturing threatens our home and the heart of our identity, the Risen One is always in the boat with us. Christ's words, 'Peace! Be still!' still promise to carry us safely through the night."

Commentary, Mark 4:35-41, Sharon H. Ringe, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

"People know what it is like to be buffeted. People know what it is like to have no control. People know situations where only the divine can intervene."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 4. William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

In this passage from Mark we have the stilling of the storm.  Jesus has been teaching and teaching in parables.  The theme has clearly been the power of God and the coming reign of God. He then sets out with his followers in a boat.

In this passage we see the stories of God's power located in the person of Jesus. What seems important in the themes that have come before this event is the nature of God's power "hidden under an appearance of weakness." (Joel Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 335)  It is in Jesus that the power of God has entered the world and through him that the reign of God is taking shape.  His power, though in the weak shell of a man, is evident in his teaching, in his healing work, and in the miraculous work that bubbles up around him. 

Key to this understanding is the fact that Jesus not only stills the storm, but that he does so by commanding it.  In this story we see the image of God in Christ Jesus through whom all things were made. On behalf of his friends he commands and frees them from certain death at the hands of winds and a sea that is rising up against them.

The story is in some very real way an offering of revelation that God's mission is at work in the world.  God's power is at work in the world.  God's grace and mercy and strength are in the midst of the world around us.  Even though we see chaos God is present.

In the midst of our own lives we may even echo the words of the disciples: "don't you care that we are about to die!"  

We wonder about the meaning of our lives, and the day in and day out nature of life which is seemingly so meaningless.  We wonder about lives that are thrown back and forth in the midst of raging seas of politics, economy, and society.  Is fate and chance at work in this world?  Why do we even do this.  In a world driven by ego and my misplaced longing and love which is always perversed into some kind of consumation I find my life is in fact out of order. And, like so many of you and so many of my friends, I say in the dark hours when I lie awake and live with my fears and anxieties: don't you even care that I am dying?

That is the world. It was the world for the first followers of Jesus and it has been and continues to be the world today.  But Jesus says and questions us back: why are you so cowardly? why are you so fearful? Where is your faith?  I imagine he said even more:  have you not been listening? Do you think this is all about you? Do you think God is not at work?

We might remember God's words to Job from chapter 38ff:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

8 ‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?

12 ‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
15 Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

16 ‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

And, I must answer: "uhhhhh, nope."  You and I claim a faith, an ancestral faith, that proclaims that God is at work in the world.  We claim that from the age of Abram when he set out from the land of the Chaldeans (Gen 12) that God has been at work and that as Paul tells us all creation is groaning towards its completion (Rom 8).

It is only when our human soul becomes miopic and focused upon our own ego needs that we close off the vision of the world of God's power and reign.  Jesus in this passage raises our eyes heavenward.  And, like the disciples we answer: who is this?

Jesus is our salvation, he is our grace, he is the one from whom all things were made but he is also the one in whom all things are being remade. 

What a different world  of possibility seems to be about me when my eyes are cleared from the storm of self-preservation and I can see the opportunities to participate in God's kingdom. 

It is our journey, our pilgrimage, that is frought with restless seas.  Mark's gospel is always pointing to the cross.  The demons on land and the demons in the sea are always defeated by Jesus, but the point of the narrative always raises our eyes to the defeat of these powers at the foot of the cross.  (Marcus, 340)  As Christians we proclaim the world renewed in the wake of the final Easter defeat. 

Yet, in the midst of life and restless travels we have difficulty in reminding ourselves of God's kingdom in our midst, of God's power at work in the world about us.  So as we come to this passage let us claim our place on the journey. Let us be honest about our faithlessness.  Let us groan and bewail our situations.  Let us wonder where God's power is.  And let us remember that it is in the weak, in our own weakness, that we discover God's power working in us.  Then let us also see that what is old is being made new, and what as died is being raised up.

This passage is an opportunity in the midst of a world in chaos to point out that God is at work. And, it is an opportunity to preach grace and mercy. And, it is a moment when the church might look outside itself into the world and see and name places where God is at work in stilling the storm.  Now is not the time for a cowardly church but a proclaiming missionary church which is at work offering a vision of a kingdom that is being built and a reign of God underway. Now is the time for bravery and commissioned missionary work where our hands join the hands of God to still the storm of the world and to heal the sick, help the blind to see, and the poor to have good things.  Now is the time for our voices to join the voice of God and still the storm around us.  It is our opportunity as missionaries to name God in the world putting down the forces which seek to destroy God's creation and the creatures of God. 

What would the world be like if our churches, upside down ships that they are, were to sail out and offer a quiet powerful voice to the fearful and hopeless people of God.  How better to be reminded as disciples of God's reign and power than out of our weakness to be his voice and hands in the world?

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

"For Paul, failing to love one another is a sign of accepting the grace of God 'in vain.'"

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Carla Works, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"In the ancient world, responsibility for initiating the mending of a ruptured relationship was understood to rest with the injuring party. In political contexts, this work was normally entrusted to an ambassador. Paul sees that in Christ, God completely overturns conventional expectations."

Commentary, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

We come back to Corinthians this week. Paul and others are eager for their friends to receive the grace of God and to do so for the sake of the work that is before them. This work is the sharing of God's love and the Good News of Salvation. No matter what comes: 
"through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true..."

Of course this letter is about the battle between false teachers and Paul. The letter is about supporting the Corinthians in their work to endure the bombardment of powerful preaching coming from the others. He urges unity. He calls for them to stay together. And, he invites all of us to be mindful that our dependence is not upon the best, brightest, or seemingly powerful. Instead we are always and everywhere to rely on Christ.

William Loader writes, "Much passes for religion. Much passes for Christianity. Much passes for spiritual success. Paul inspires us to keep returning to the way of compassion and vulnerability: Christ's - and also his own. The rest is idolatry."

1 Samuel 17:1-49

"The stone from David's slingshot caught him between the eyes, and when he hit the dirt, windows rattled in their frames as far away as Ashkelon."

"David and Goliath," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"And then when we face that enormous giant, whether sickness, family breakups, financial disaster, addictions, shame, the same God who protected and provided will do the same thing for you again."

Commentary, 1 Samuel 17:[1a, 4-11, 19-23] 32-49, Roger Nam, Preaching This Week,, 2015.

"When it comes to our faith, I think we like David have the choice of whether we will live in fear or in trust. That applies to all aspect of our lives, but especially to what we do at Church. Seeking new vitality requires new directions; that's just as true for church as it is for life in general. And stepping out in new directions takes courage and faith."

"In the Name of the Lord," Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2009.

"Sometimes the connection between religion and violence is tenuous, sometimes it is explicit. Sacred terror is almost always complex and bound up with other causes (social, historical, economic, cultural, political, etc). But at the end of the day we must admit that there is far too much violence in the world that is fomented with a specifically religious rationale, motivation, or justification. Christians should commit ourselves to do whatever we can to stop it."

"'After He Killed Him, He Cut Off His Head': David, Goliath, and Sacred Violence,"The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation, 2009.

"...we should not remain silent when we see attempts to legitimize sacred violence, but instead name it for what it is. We should learn the warning signs that religion has become evil and evil has become religious..."

"Texts of Terror and the Enemies of God: What Should We Do When Religion Becomes Evil?" The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation.

When I grew up there was a bible story Sunday morning TV show called Davey and Goliath. I loved the show. It shared bible stories, there was lots of learning, and Davey and his dog Goliath belonged to a happy family. As I think about the naming of the dog and the actual story it is very odd. That is for another day.

The enemies of Israel are eager to split the kingdom of Israel in two. The want to come up through the valley of Elam, the Shephela, through which armies have always fought and conquered Israel. Saul comes to meet them. The armies are on either side of the valley upon the ridges. Each army has calvary, heavy infantry, and artillery.

They were in a deadlock and in order to break the deadlock David and Goliath are sent down to fight. This is single combat. Big giant Goliath comes down and challenges them. Goliath is described this way:
And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 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. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 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.
Nobody wants to fight him. But David comes forward to Saul and volunteers. He is met there by David.

David wins. We know the story. This is a great story of the underdog!

I love the retelling of the story by Malcolm Gladwell in his very popular TED talk. In it Gladwell tells us that everything that he knew about the story was wrong. David is supposed to be the underdog. David and Goliath is part of our cultural language as a story about an underdog.

David is the underdog. He is little compared to Goliath, has no army, and only has the sling. What David has is not a toy. It is a very deadly weapon. The army has artillery which is either bow and arrow and/or slingers. The rocks in the valley are super strong. They are barium sulphate, they are twice the density. The stopping power of the sling is similar to a 45 caliber weapon. The velocity of the sling the rock are paramount. We know that slingers were able to hit birds in flight, and 200 yards away. When David lets the rock go, he expects to hit his enemy. Slingers were the decisive weapon against heavy infantry. Goliath's expectation is that he will fight to as infantry do. Goliath expects hand to hand combat. David isn't going to fight this way...even though Saul and Goliath expect him to do so. David is not an underdog, the outcome is not unlikely.

Gladwell in an interview says:
David had superior technology. I mean, once he decided to break the rules, he's the guy in charge. And then there's Goliath. There's all of these hints in the biblical story in Samuel that Goliath is not what he appears to be.
We don't only misunderstand David and his sling. We miss who Goliath is too. Gladwell in the same interview says:
In fact, this is where the rabbis come in – the rabbis have been pointing this out for years. He didn't sound like a big terrifying warrior. He is led down onto the valley floor by an attendant. He moves really slowly. It takes him forever to figure out that David is not intending to fight him in a sword fight. And he says these strange things, as if he's not perceiving the situation properly.
Goliath is led onto the floor by an attendant. Why is he being led by the hand? The bible tells us that he moves slowly.  Goliath is oblivious to what is going on. Goliath says you come to me with sticks? But David only has one stick. The medical community has tried to come to terms about this...Gladwell says that Goliath has a disease - acromegaly. It has side affects like poor vision because of compression of vision with double vision and farsightedness. He can't make his way on his own. He can't see David. He sees incorrectly. He needs him to come close to find. He sees double vision of two sticks. The Israelites thought he was a foe, what they saw as strength was actually his weakness.

Gladwell ends by saying: Giants are not always as strong as they seem and sometimes shepherds' boys have a sling in their pockets.

Sermons Preached On These Texts
Riders on the Storm, Jun 25, 2018, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7b, St. Luke's, Lindale 
Stilling the Storm: A Father's Day Sermon, Jun 23, 2009, Sermon preached on Mark's Gospel 35.34-41, Good Shepherd, Tomball, 2009 Father's Day. 
 Come With Me To The Other Side Jun 21, 2015, This is a sermon preached at Good Shepherd, Kingwood, Tx, following the Mother Emmanuel AME church shootings by Dylan Roof ( It is based upon Mark 4 beginning at the 35 verse. And, in some way tries to make sense about why we have a difficult time seeing this as an act of racism (despite Dylan's own clarity that it was an attempt to begin a "race war"). Why we want to make this about Christians. And, what we Christians might be able to do to open our eyes to the work that is before us.

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