In the Storm but Not Alone
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; June 24, 2018
5th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 17:32-49; Mark 4:35-41
Today we hear the retelling of one of the most beloved stories of the Old Testament—David and Goliath. Last Sunday we heard about Samuel anointing David to be the king of Israel. However, in practice, David is not yet acting as king; Saul is. Nevertheless, their paths have already crossed. It seems that the spirit of the Lord has departed from Saul, only to be replaced with an evil spirit that is tormenting him. Saul’s servants locate someone skillful in playing the lyre so that when the evil spirit comes upon him, music can be played to comfort him. In God’s providence (wouldn’t you know it) the person tapped to lullaby Saul is none other than David.
After a time, the Philistines gather to do battle with Israel and they bring their finest champion, Goliath—a monster of a man, who strikes fear in all those gathered there. All, that is, except for young David. When everyone else runs for the hills, it’s the boy, David, who volunteers to go fight Goliath. He’s eager, in fact. I picture him jumping up and down, crying, “Pick me! Pick me! I’ll do it!” Saul states the obvious—you are just a boy and you can’t possibly do the impossible. David responds with tales of previous adventures—battles with lions and bears. This is no different, for, David says, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” Young though he may be, David recognizes from whence his power comes. Already he’s experienced the hand of God protecting, providing, calming life’s storms, in extraordinary ways. Already, David trusts that with the power of God working in his life, he can do anything. So, in an extraordinary scene, armed with a sling, a stone, and the spirit of God, David drops the monster of a man in one fell swoop.
In our reading from the Gospel of Mark, we happen upon another extraordinary scene, which happens at the end of a long, exhausting day of ministry for Jesus and his disciples. Leaving the crowds behind they get into a boat with the goal of crossing to the other side. But along the way a storm rises, and the waves beat fiercely against the boat. It must have been a monster of a storm to frighten the disciples so, especially since some of them are seasoned fishermen, skilled in the art of navigating dangerous waters. Red alert! Red alert! They are going to perish—and the one person filled mightily with the spirit of God; the one person who might turn the situation around is sleeping peacefully in the boat’s place of honor, the stern. Terrified, the disciples wake Jesus up with a sharp “Don’t you care, Teacher, that we are about to die?” Instead of responding to the disciples, Jesus rebukes the wind and tells the sea to simmer down; the first word (“Peace!” in the NRSV) is a verb meaning be silent; the second (“Be still!”) means literally be muzzled. “Peace! Be still!” The disciples are amazed. “Who is this? Even the winds and waves obey him.”[i]
We live in a time when there is an endless supply of things to be afraid of. If we aren’t careful, we’ll join the masses to live a life filled with worry and fear. Stress management experts say that only 2% of our “worrying time” is spent on things that might actually be helped by worrying.
And here is how the other 98 % of this time is spent: 40% on things that never happen; 35% on things that can’t be changed; 15% on things that turn out better than expected; 8% on useless, petty things.
On this topic, one of my favorite and often repeated stories is provided by Barbara Brown Taylor in an article she wrote about her choice to not watch television. She does listen to NPR, but even then, she limits her listening of the news once a day. She wrote:
When a young girl was kidnapped from her bedroom in the Midwest, the details of her abduction flooded the news for days. Descriptions of suspects alternated with speculation about whether she was still alive. Her family’s despair was unimaginable. In the midst of all this, I was speaking with someone who watches a great deal of television news. “We live in a country where children are not safe in their own beds,” this person said with monumental despair. While I knew I was meant to agree, I did the math and realized I could not. Although the media’s round-the-clock repetition of the story made it seem as if a thousand girls had been abducted instead of one, the truth was that the girl we were all worried about remained one girl. While the police searched for her, the vast majority of children were safe in their own beds, which seemed vital to remember in the face of so much fear.
There is always tragedy somewhere, as the news reminds us so well. But there is not always tragedy everywhere, which the news does not make quite so clear. The good news, also known as the gospel, is that where ferries are going down, brave people are diving into water to lift thrashing children to safety. Where crops are failing, generous people are providing relief for farmers and migrant workers, and where a young girl is kidnapped from her bed, an entire community is turning out to hunt [for] clues, post flyers, cook food and keep watch with the family.
Meanwhile, there are entire towns where nothing terrible is happening for an hour or two, where parents are caring for children with remarkable tenderness, where nurses are tending patients…and at least one man who owns a small business is taking off work early to coach a girls’ soccer team.[ii]
To this, I would add that there are people of all ages who are not making the news by being evil and destructive. Instead, they are visiting and praying for and caring for friends and family and neighbors. Instead, they are packing and delivering meals for the needy in Valdosta. Instead, they are doing things like participating in a “Rise Against Hunger” event, packaging foods that will go to children and adults across the globe to people they will never see.
As baptized believers, this we know: Following the way of Jesus does not guarantee a storm-free life. Sometimes, truth be told, we find ourselves crying out to the Lord, “Wake up! Do you not care?” But even in the midst of our cries, if we stay close, if we pay attention, we just might hear that comforting voice from out of the whirlwind saying, “Peace! Be still!” Come what may, Jesus is with us, always eager to remind us that God is in the business of calming storms, making the impossible possible, and bringing down giants in one fell swoop.
Recently released statistics by the PCUSA Office of General Assembly show a 5% loss of membership for the Presbyterian Church in 2017—a loss we can hardly afford. In response, Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson released a statement saying that he believes the PCUSA is “reforming” rather than dying but, still, there’s no doubt Presbyterians are doing poorly at evangelism. Our new reformation, Nelson continued, “must be built on a vision of God’s Kingdom that is compelling people who find us lacking. We have that vision—it is part and parcel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We simply must find new ways to proclaim it and, more importantly, live it out in our congregations.”[iii]
Churches from our tradition and other traditions find themselves in the heat of a storm, a monster of a storm, and we wonder what can save our churches, our denominations? We look at the circling clouds; we listen to the howling winds and we cry, “Lord, don’t you care? Don’t you care that we are dying?” But folks, we are guilty of focusing on the storm instead of Jesus who is standing in our midst. Our job as Christians is not to “save” our churches or our denominations, for that matter. Jesus, the Risen Savior is in control of all of that. I am not alone when I say that I believe that it’s time to change the conversation. Instead of “What’s wrong?” we need to ask, “What next? To what new work is the Spirit leading us?”
Dear church, we may be in a storm set loose by our life and times, but God is working mightily in our midst. God is in the business of calming storms, making the impossible possible, and bringing down giants in one fell swoop. As baptized believers, it behooves us to turn our eyes toward Jesus, who is in the boat with us and hold fast to his powerful words, “Peace! Be still!”
[i] Bill O’Brien, “The Christian Century”, http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2712
[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Christian Century,” May 30, 2006.
*Cover Art: “Jesus Calms a Storm,” by Waldemar Flaig; via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain