In the Storm but Not Alone

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”,

[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Christian Century,” May 30, 2006.


*Cover Art: “Jesus Calms a Storm,” by Waldemar Flaig; via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain


In the House

In the House

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; June 10, 2018

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20; Mark 3:20-35


Being a part of a family is not easy. From the beginning of Scripture in Genesis, our story begins, not with nations and tribes, but families. And from the beginning, dysfunction is palpable. As one preacher notes, “It gives one pause at the phrase ‘biblical family values.’”[i]  Of course, later, other metaphors are used to describe the relationship between God and God’s people—king and subjects comes to mind. But the people do not always want God as their king. Then, as now, people tend to want their own way rather than the way of God.


We get a glimpse of such behavior in our reading from the book of 1st Samuel. Israel is yearning for something they do not have—an earthly king. But, as the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for—you just might get it.” Israel has been handpicked by God to be God’s chosen people—yet they decide that instead of being led by Yahweh, they prefer an earthly king like the other nations.


Samuel is upset by the people’s request, but God points out that it is God being rejected, not Samuel. Essentially, God says, “They’re acting like they’ve been acting from the beginning—forsaking me, serving other gods. Now, I’m going to give them what they ask for, but before I do, go and tell them what earthly kings are good for!” And Samuel does! Samuel tells them that an earthly king will make servants of their sons and daughters; some will even be made slaves. The king will take the best of the fields and orchards himself and a tenth of whatever harvest is produced—that’s what an earthly king is good for! And when all this happens, don’t even bother crying out to God.” The people ignore Samuel’s warning, crying, “No! We want to be like the other nations. We want a king.” And, so it was.


Being God’s people and understanding what that means, well, it’s complicated, isn’t it? But Jesus steps in to simplify things—put things in order—if you will. Jesus comes to redefine what it means to be God’s people, but it will not be without great cost!


In recent months, following the church calendar, we have traveled through Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. We are now are in the Season of Pentecost—what has been traditionally known as “Ordinary Time.” In the weeks and months ahead, we will focus on the extraordinary acts of Jesus in the day in and day out of his life in ministry and we will reflect on our own lives as his faithful disciples.


Again, the lectionary places us in the Gospel of Mark. As you likely remember, Mark, wastes no time in getting to the point. He doesn’t bother with birth narratives and such. Instead with a single-sentence introduction, he gets right to it, announcing the coming of John the Baptist and the One greater than he, who is to follow. By the time we get to chapter 3, Jesus has been baptized and tempted and his ministry is in full swing. He has called his disciples, healed one person after another (of whatever has kept them from leading full, whole lives), and he has passionately preached the good news of God’s love and power breaking into the world. By now, there are people everywhere—so much so—he and his disciples can barely get a bite to eat.


Jesus has drawn a crowd, and in the crowd, there are friends, family, and foes. In today’s reading, Jesus is wrongly accused by not only his foes (we would expect that) but also his family. His family has heard rumors about Jesus. They think he’s gone out of his mind—the translation is more literally, “to stand outside of,” as in “to be outside oneself.” Jesus’ family may hope to control him. Perhaps, they are genuinely concerned for his mental health. At the very least, they would prefer he not embarrass the family name.


Then there are the scribes (foes of Jesus) who have come a long way from Jerusalem to examine this young upstart. They come. They see the authentic results of Jesus’ ministry and conclude that Jesus has Beelzebul! There’s no other explanation. He’s possessed with a spirit of a demon. He’s kin to Satan. That’s how he is able to cast out demons.


Always ready and able to trip up the religious authorities, Jesus responds with something like, “Pray tell, how can Satan cast out Satan?” In a flash, Jesus makes the point that since his exorcisms are defeats for Satan, they can hardly be performed through Satan. And any entity—be it kingdom, house, or Satan—divided against itself cannot stand! By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus binds Satan (the strong man) and Jesus sweeps in and plunders his house. No, Jesus is not kin to Satan. Jesus is his sworn enemy! [ii]


Overall, Jesus’ engagement with the Scribes disproves charges made against him both here, during his ministry, and even after his death. Jesus is not out of his mind. Jesus is not possessed by a demon. Jesus is not an agent of Satan. Quite the opposite! Jesus, the Stronger Man, has come to bind Satan and sin and free God’s people.[iii] Jesus has come to demonstrate his power over the house of Satan.


The image of Jesus’ “house” serves as a symbol for the church. With that in mind, who is inside the house? Who is outside?  Those who are criticizing him—the scribes and his family stand outside.[iv] They are the very ones who should know better—yet there they are—outside, creating quite a ruckus.


Why is it that wherever Jesus goes, storms are a-brewing? Why does his ministry of preaching and teaching and healing create such controversy? Could it be that Jesus is so far out of the reach of the religious ruler’s imagination, they simply can’t accept him? He doesn’t fit their categories, so he must be abnormal or possessed. As scholar, David Lose, comments, “We assume that what we know, have experienced, and hold to be true is normal, natural, and God-ordained, and that becomes the standard by which we measure—and judge—the thoughts and actions of others.” [v]

Jesus has come into the world to bring a new vision of God’s family tree. The old definition with genealogies tracing back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—no longer applies. It’s a new day! And at the heart of the Jesus’ vision is nothing less than God’s love because God desires nothing less than shalom—peace, wholeness, health—for all God’s creation. God is with us! God is for us! All of us!  Lose continues, “This is why Jesus sets himself against all the powers that would rob humanity and creation of the abundant life God intends—whether those powers be unclean spirits; disease that ravages the mind, body or spirit; illness that isolates and separates those who suffer from community; or whatever. Jesus introduces a new vision of God and a new way to relate to God…and it’s not what any of those, make that any of us, religious folk expect.”[vi]

There’s an old saying that blood is thicker than water. Jesus breaks through this way of thinking. Jesus, the Stronger Man, through his life, death, and resurrection, flings open the doors and windows so that we all can come in. Now, everyone who does the will of his Abba Father receives an invitation. Imagine! When we do the will of God we get the chance to be the brother, the sister, even the mother of Jesus!


Oh, things aren’t perfect inside the house—on this side of eternity, we all bear the marks of our brokenness. Truth be told, at times we may look more like a bunch of misfits than anything else. Yet, the house of Jesus is our home and here, day-by-day, we are growing more into the likeness of Jesus, our holy kin. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are becoming a holy family.


On our best days, we yearn to do the will of our Abba Father and we gratefully recognize the faith and baptismal waters that unite us. On our best days, some fruit of the Spirit is evident in the way we live—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. On our best days, we bring honor to God, who is with us; God, who is for us; God, who through his Son, opens the doors of the family home and says, “Come on in!”


[ii]Interpretation: Mark, Lamar Williamson, Jr

[iii] The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 604-605

[iv] Feasting on the Word, 116-121

[v] David Lose @

[vi] Ibid.

*Cover Art “House Dreaming” by Jan Richardson Images; Subscription.


Making a Way

Making a Way

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; June 3, 2018

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 3:1-10; Mark 2:23-3:6


The Book of Samuel opens with Hannah praying with all her heart and soul for a son. Eli, the priest, believes her to be intoxicated. But after she explains that she has been pouring out her heart and soul before the Lord, Eli instructs her to go in peace. Then, he pronounces a blessing. In due time, Hannah delivers a son, Samuel, whom she gives into the service of the Lord, just as she had promised. Hannah leaves her little boy in the care of Eli, the priest, and day by day, the little boy learns to minister unto the Lord.


It just so happens that Eli has sons of his own, but Scripture tells us that they are scoundrels. They have no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priesthood. In fact, when people come to offer their sacrifices, Eli’s sons take meat from the pot for themselves—whatever their evil heart’s desire. Eli, who is very old, hears about all that his sons are doing—how they treat the offerings of the Lord with contempt—how they lay with the women who serve at the entrance of the meeting house. What does Eli do? He scolds his sons, but he does nothing more to reign in their behavior. Yahweh responds quite differently, though. Yahweh sends a messenger to Eli to prophecy the outcome of Eli honoring himself and his sons more than he honors the Lord. All the members of Eli’s household will die by the sword.


While Eli and his household move further away from the will of the Lord, Samuel grows in stature and favor until one night, God comes calling. Samuel thinks it’s just Eli wanting him to perform some temple duty. “Samuel, Samuel,” God calls. Samuel runs to Eli, “Here I am, for you called me.” After this occurs three times, Eli, realizes it is God who is calling the boy, so he tells Samuel to go and lie down and if he hears the voice again to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”


How ironic! For the mission at hand, God does not call upon an adult candidate—not Eli—nor his sons. No. God has more faith in a child than he does in them. It seems that God is not looking for experience or privilege. God is looking for an open heart—a vessel through which the word of God may be delivered. God will make a way where there seems to be no way. Such is the way of God.


Fast forward through time. God sends priests and prophets and kings to turn God’s chosen people back to the way of God—the way of steadfast love—the way of being a blessed people who will bless the nations. That does not happen. Instead, the people continue to make their own path. They choose other gods. They mistreat one another and fail to follow God’s laws of love. Until, once again, the word of the Lord is rare, and visions are not widespread.


But then, one night, the cry of a newborn baby is heard, and angels sing, and shepherds leave their flock to see for themselves—how God is, once again, making a way. Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, enters human history to right the wrongs than have been done, to give hope to the hopeless, to heal the sick, and to set the captives free. Sadly, his way is not met with open arms. Instead, there is skepticism, and doubt, and anger. Ultimately, the more Jesus acts like the God who sent him, the more the religious rulers want to kill him—which is exactly what happens in our reading from the Gospel of Mark.


Here, we find a two-part confrontation, a two-part wrestling match between Jesus and the Pharisees. First, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field on a Sabbath. (Minding their own business, we might say.) When they get hungry, they pluck some grain to munch on. The Pharisees pounce—inquiring of Jesus why they are breaking the Sabbath law. But Jesus tells them that humankind was not made for the Sabbath; Sabbath was made for humankind. In other words, the Sabbath is meant to be a gift, a blessing, a day of rest—for one’s household, for one’s servants, even for one’s animals. Constant work enslaves us to our own efforts. It was true then. It is still true today.


The Pharisees are enslaved to something other than the Sabbath, though. They are enslaved by their own understanding of a set of rules and regulations—rules and regulations that mean more to them than the Sabbath—rules and regulations that mean even more to them than compassion and mercy and love. So, on another Sabbath, when Jesus enters the synagogue and meets a man with a withered hand, sadly, the Pharisees’ actions are hardly a surprise. Jesus knows full well he is being watched. Regardless, he calls the man forth and asks the Pharisees if it is lawful to do good or harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill. They refuse to answer. Heartbroken and angry, Jesus restores the man’s hand. And what do the religious leaders do? Well, they go out and immediately conspire with the Herodians to have Jesus killed. I suppose, to them, healing is not an acceptable activity for keeping the Sabbath holy—but plotting a murder is just fine.


Undeniably, we have little trouble making the Pharisees out to be evil. I mean, it’s so easy to consider their unreasonable behavior and side with the “good guy,” who usually turns out to be Jesus. But by hastily doing so, we may miss a golden opportunity for spiritual growth. For the truth is, these Pharisees are likely good people (though somewhat misguided) who are trying to preserve their laws, rituals, and traditions—things that mediate their faith for them. And isn’t it true that we are prone to behave in similar fashion when our favorite worship practices are threatened, or when someone interprets a Scripture passage much differently than we do, or when some preacher comes in who has a proclivity for trying something new—AGAIN?


The Pharisees are not wrong to uphold the Sabbath. They are wrong to allow their definition of keeping the Sabbath rightly to override the greater law of love. Nothing is more sacred than God’s love. The true spirit of the Sabbath is the spirit of love. Love that looks upon a man with a withered hand and gives thanks when he is healed—no matter what day of the week it is. Love that makes a way where there seems to be no way.


Which brings us back to the place where we began in Mark’s gospel—with Jesus and his disciples making their way through the grain fields; plucking off heads of grain to feed their growling stomachs. In other places in the Hebrew Scriptures, we are told that it is acceptable for a traveler to pick and eat if they find themselves hungry. So, plucking and eating on the Sabbath may not really be the issue. The real issue may be that they are “making a way” for it is against sabbath rules to make a road. Yet, Jesus and his disciples are traveling through the fields, forging a path, trampling wheat, making a way. And Jesus and his followers, well, they are just getting started. They will make their way to healing more people, setting more crooked paths straight. They will create a path where there is food aplenty. They will make their way to abundant life—for themselves and for all people. They will bring forth a time when healing and visions and a word from God are common—rather than rare. Through Jesus, Yahweh forges a path—a path of love. Jesus’ way is always the way of love and Jesus comes to show the religious rulers and all people how to live in love—how to choose love.


On the Sabbath and on every other day of the week, we are given choices to make. Will we choose love, or will we choose our own selfish desires? Will we stick to our own understanding, or will we be open to God giving us new eyes to see and new ears to hear? Every day, we choose. What is the path we are making for our life? Are we dining from the Table of the Lord? Are we growing in kindness and steadfast love?  Or are we sticking to a set of rules and regulations that always make us out to be the good guy whenever someone disagrees with us? Are we intentional about keeping the Sabbath as a holy day—to worship and rest and spend time with family and friends? Or is it just another day of doing and grabbing and getting? On the Sabbath and on the other six days of the week, we have choices to make.


God called Samuel—a boy. God wasn’t looking for the experienced, the privileged, the all-knowing. God was searching for an open heart—a vessel through which God’s love might be delivered. Samuel was such a vessel. Christ was such a vessel. And you—you who have been baptized into the family of faith—you who are indwelled by God’s own Spirit—you are such a vessel. Go forth and make a way in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


*Cover Art “Heaven’s Highway” by Stushie; Used by subscription.