The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 20, 2021
I Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49, Psalm 9:9-20, II Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41
Today’s readings involve the ability of persons to go against the odds when they realize that God is with them. In the storms of life, God our companions. Facing what we perceive to be impossible odds, we receive divine guidance and energy. Trusting God, we can do greater things than we can imagine. The impossible becomes possible as we tap the deeper energies of the universe and human agency.
Miracles don’t violate the nature’s law; nature’s power and the powers residing in us are more than we can imagine. Faith opens us to quantum leaps of power, inspiration, and energy. God’s grace is sufficient for us to respond to every crisis. Though we appear weak, we are strong in God’s love.
What child doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath, described in I Samuel 17. There is violence in the victory, and this story is an inspiration for the hero and heroine within each of us. The underdog defeats the villain, the bully gets what’s coming to him, and the weak defeat the strong. Yet, beyond the real violence of the story – after all Goliath is vanquished and beheaded – a deeper message may be found. When we trust God, we can respond with courage and strength to the forces that threaten to defeat us. Power belongs to God, and our alignment with God’s vision, not with bullies, oppressors, and those who would plan evil. God makes a way when there is no way! God inspires us to be agents in our own destiny.
Still, we have to be compassionate toward Goliath. He was a tool of the opponent. Perhaps, gigantic as a result of a genetic abnormality, the military gave him status and income, and delivered him from social ostracism as a result of his size. Fighting was all he knew, and bluster and bloviation were his meal ticket. Perhaps, Goliath hoped for a quiet life, faraway from the battlefield. But, his destiny was to fight and sadly to die. He is more a victim than a villain in this story.
Psalm 9 describes God’s preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. The oppressor’s days are numbered. Our prayers will be answered. We will be liberated from those who unfairly treat us. God will deliver the weak from the snare, and the impoverished from the unjust. We will rise. Yet, God’s timetable differs from our own. Will we have the patience to let the moral arc of history emerge in its patient and persistent way?
Paul proclaims that now is the day of salvation. Today is the day of healing and transformation. Yet, healing and transformation often appear under their opposites. Paul and his companions are described as externally powerless and the objects of scorn. They are of no account and subject to the whims of the powerful. They have nothing. Beneath the persecution and contempt, they are empowered by God’s presence. They possess an inner joy that flows from trust in God. Their joy is not the result of external circumstances but their relationship with the Living God, revealed in the suffering and resurrected Christ. Salvation and healing are real, and contemporary, regardless of the circumstances of life. In our own lives, we need to look for God’s presence – the peace that calms and empowers – despite what we are currently enduring. We have everything we need to experience God’s grace and sustenance in adverse circumstances.
Mark 4 describes Jesus’ ability to still the storms of life as well as the storms of nature. The disciples panic when a sudden windstorm rocks their boat, filling their craft with water. In their fear, they call upon Jesus, whose calm voice stills the storm. There are two storms described in this miracle story – the first is the storm at sea, the external realities that put us at risk. The passage proclaims God’s ability to work within the forces of nature to bring health and peace to the planet. Yet, stilling the storm seems a phantasm for those in the path of hurricanes and tidal waves. In an interdependent universe, we may have some effect on the forces of nature, and perhaps in the tradition of rainmakers and shaman, Jesus’ own spiritual power and synchronicity with nature could have influenced the course of a storm. Still, it is best – during severe storms – to pray and then find a place of safety!
For many congregations, the storm at sea is more existential than meteorological. The storms we face involve budget and membership, and coming together after the pandemic. We have lived through a year-long crisis and we are uncertain about the future. We fear what will happen to us; we wander if our congregation will survive the changes in the North American spiritual landscape and its own aging demographics. The second storm Jesus addresses is the inner tumult, the fear and anxiety within each of us and our institutions. A fishing prayer goes, “The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.” Dwarfed by the grandeur of the universe and the challenges that confront us, we appear to be powerless. We are uncertain if our lives matter or if the universe cares for us. An alternative version of the saying gives us another perspective, “O God, your sea is so large and my boat is so small.” The sea is God’s sea, not an indifferent force, and God’s sea ultimately will bring us homeward with waves of healing.
As I read this story, I see two miracles described. The first is the inner miracle. When the disciples remember Jesus is in the boat, they are still fearful, but they are no longer hopeless. They know that Jesus’ love and power is greater than their fear. Their attitude toward the storm begins to change: yes, this is a difficult situation and we are in trouble, but God is with us and we’re going to make it. The second miracle is the pacifying of the storm. According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is so in synch with the energies of the universe that by his energetic word he can calm the storm. Jesus sets up another type of vibration, strong enough to neutralize the destructive impact of the storm. (For more on Mark’s Gospel, see Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel and Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel for Year B.)
Today’s readings remind us that despite our apparent weakness, we can experience newfound courage and strength when we trust God’s loving power. The storms of life will not cease, bullies may continue to threaten us, and external factors may put us at risk, but nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Bruce Epperly is a professor, pastor, and author of over 60 books including MYSTICS IN ACTION: 12 SAINTS FOR TODAY, WALKING WITH FRANCIS: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM, GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET, and PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS.