Lectionary Reflections: The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday June 24, 2012
1 Samuel 17:32-49; 17: 57-18:5, 10-16; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
I recall hearing a definition of courage as “fear that has said its prayers.” Today’s passages speak of the interplay of courage and faith. Those who experience the nearness of God are able to face challenges and threats with resolution and courage despite their fear.
In the era of biblical literacy, every school child – churched or unchurched – knew the story of David and Goliath. It is a classic underdog tale: the mighty warrior is defeated by a teenage boy. Some congregations will “fear” reading this whole passage because it involves violence, jealousy, and – perhaps most challenging – a god who takes sides, who can give or withdraw energy and power with little or no reason. They may resist the imagery of David stunning Goliath with a blow to the head and then beheading the giant. In fact, I recall our Sunday School teacher reminding us not to try this on our siblings we acted out the story in our class! This passage is not for the faint-hearted – it is for those willing to take risks for their nation and their God.
I must admit that I have some problems with the passage from 1 Samuel. I wonder how the story might have been told from Goliath’s perspective: perhaps, this “bully” had only one option in life, war-making, as a result of his size. He might have preferred a different occupation, but realized early that he would either be a fighter or laughing stock, because of his size. I also wonder how the story might have been told from Saul’s perspective: he is a tragic figure, like Richard Nixon, who achieved great things only to lose it all. Once upon a time, God was on his side – he was God’s chosen leader – but then the spirit left him, descending on the shepherd boy David.
Neither Goliath nor Saul is a one-dimensional character, and our opponents aren’t either. They are flesh and blood, fearful and hopeful, and sometimes forced by circumstances outside their control to take certain personal paths that place them at odds with us.
Still, we can’t dismiss the heroic path of the shepherd boy. Without assuming that God abandons people, often arbitrarily, we can claim the importance of trust in God as a source of courage. Our lives on a day to day basis are an adventure. We may not meet giants, but we often face issues that dwarf our abilities or force us to leave our comfort zones. Perhaps, even David had second thoughts, but inspired by his vision of divine companionship he took on a giant and won! When we open to God’s presence as a living reality, new energies and possibilities flood into our lives, giving us the power to face obstacles with courage and grace.
The words of 2 Corinthians proclaim that now is the day of salvation. Or as the Psalmist affirms, this is the day that God has made! God is near, giving us power, energy, and guidance to become healed and whole – strong and courageous for God’s way – right now. This power – grounded in the interplay of divine presence and personal openness – enables Paul and his colleagues to maintain their integrity despite problems, disasters, and stressful situations.
The gospel reading describes a storm at sea. Coming out of nowhere, the storm threatens to capsize the boat. The disciples lose heart and panic, thinking all is lost until they realize that Jesus is with them, sleeping like a baby. This is one of many “miracle” stories in the first ten chapters of Mark’s gospel; and, as I see it, the miracle here is two-fold. I suspect that once they realized that Jesus was with them, the disciples began to experience God’s peace despite the waves that rocked their boat. Recognizing that the healer was with them may have delivered them from the paralysis of fear. While the calming of the waves is more than an afterthought, I imagine that awakened to Jesus’ presence, the disciples knew that they could face and survive the storm at sea and the storms of life.
Events such as calming a storm are often scoffed at by liberals as supernatural violations of the laws of nature and, conversely, accepted as factual by conservatives who see them as proofs of God’s power and Jesus’ divinity. We don’t need to explain the mechanics of stilling the storm to appreciate the creative transformation of fear to calm through faith in God’s intimate presence. Nevertheless, ancient wisdom – archived in the experiences of shaman, medicine men and women, and rain makers – suggests the possibility of spiritual synchronicities that may lead to changes in weather patterns. We are more than aware of the negative impact of human behaviors on weather patterns (global climate change). But, what about positive impact on weather patterns?
Could it be that within the interdependence of life, the quantum entanglement of the micro that shapes the macro, often described metaphorically in terms of the butterfly effect, our spiritual states – or the spirit states of certain spiritual leaders – can bring forth the healing and calming aspects of the non-human world? Just as positive thoughts and gentle images can nurture the growth of plants, positive energy and imaging may lead to changes in the weather? This is not prosperity thinking, new age magic, or supernatural intervention, but the naturalistic healing which emerges when we befriend and embrace positively, rather than fear or devastate, the non-human world around us! In an interdependent, open-ended, energetic world, our faith in God’s deeper energies radiates beyond ourselves to shape in small ways the human and non-human world around us.
Despite the challenges of these passages, they are an invitation to “open our hearts wide” (2 Corinthians 6:13) to the creative energies resident in each moment of experience. With God as our companion, we can become large-souled people who bring beauty and healing out of otherwise difficult – and desperate – situations. In fact, given our current global, economic, and political malaise, this is what we must do!
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.