Adventurous Lectionary – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – 6/23

Adventurous Lectionary – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – 6/23 June 17, 2024

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 23, 2024

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 scriptures describe challenging life situations in which our abilities may not seem equal to the difficulties we face. They promise that divine resources will enable us to face what is beyond our abilities to confront alone.  They don’t promise ease, but they do promise persistence and power, and a way made where we see no way forward. In the storms of life, God is with us. Facing 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 into 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. The underdog defeats the villain, the bully gets what’s coming to him, the weak defeat the strong, a bully is convicted. 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.  The forces that threaten to overwhelm us are often only as powerful as we allow them to be.

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 may have hoped for a quiet life, faraway from the battlefield. But, because of his size, his destiny was to fight and sadly to die. He is more a victim than a villain in this story.  We can pity the bullies of politics and business, even when we confront their dishonestly and destructiveness, knowing that as large as they may seem, their souls are cramped.

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. We have hope in the everlasting now of God’s movements in history. We don’t have to wait for tomorrow, when now is the time of divine presence. 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 or apparent power 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.  We have the power of creation, big bang, and Jesus to call up to enable us to be victors in the midst of strife.

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. Jesus is with them all along.  Asleep in the boat, that is, hidden from their gaze, he is always with them, and in the boat of our soul or congregation, there are always resources despite the apparent overwhelming threats.

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. 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, and not an indifferent force, and God’s sea ultimately will bring us homeward with waves of healing.  Within the sea are the resources of salvation and healing for persons, communities, and nations.

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 pastor, professor, and author of over eighty books, “Jesus: Mystic, Healer, and Prophet,” “Process and Politics,” Spirituality, Simplicity, and Service: The Timeless Wisdom of Francis, Clare, and Bonaventure,” and “The Elephant is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theology and Religious Pluralism.” His most recent books are “The God of Tomorrow: Whitehead and Teilhard on Metaphysics, Mysticism, and Mission” and “Head, Heart, and Hands: An Introduction to St. Bonaventure.”

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