Sunday, June 20, 2021

4th Pentecost, 21-B: Reason to rejoice

Lectionary: 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41 

Last week I talked about feeling drowned in an ocean of love. Today our readings take us to the other side of that coin – feeling drowned in a storm. Most of us can recall many times we felt like we were in the midst of a “storm” in our lives and, like the disciples, called out: “Lord, do you not care that we are…” perishing, hurting, trapped, scared… The Good News in this gospel is that our faith assures us that God is always there with us, knows what’s happening, how it’s affecting us, and is already acting to redeem. 

The reality is sometimes God doesn’t swoop in and calm the storm. When we pray like the Psalmist does, “Have pity on me, O Lord; see the misery I suffer…” and the storm rages on, we may wonder where is God? Are we not worthy or praying right?

Sometimes we know and can feel the presence of God in the midst of the storm. Other times it isn’t until we look back that we can see God had been there with us, carrying us through. At all times, it is truly a matter of our faith – our trust in God, God’s promises, and our great value to God.

We know that the plan of redemption, the reconciliation of the whole world to God, is still in progress. The created world and all of us in it, haven’t yet reached the divine goal of unity and harmony. There will, therefore, be storms within and without, but just like in the creation story in Genesis, God continues to calm the chaos waters and establish peace and safety for the created.

For now, the world can be a scary place. Weather storms can ravage our sense of safety, destroy our homes, and remind us of how small and powerless we humans really are. News stories tell us how human enemies of all kinds threaten our peace with personal and national violence. We hear about or experience how easy it is for hackers to steal our personal identities, shut down governmental processes, and disrupt the rhythms of our lives.

In response to this sense of vulnerability, people have sought ways to establish a sense of safety for themselves against the potential storms of life: preppers with their underground shelters stocked with food and ammunition, companies selling online security against identity theft. But in the end, we’re still vulnerable.

Steve and I have had our identity stolen several times over the last few years. One thief even tithed what they stole from us, offering $600 to a Christian charity from the $6,000 they stole by cloning our credit card! And just this past week my church email was hacked - again.

On a side note: be assured that I will never ask for money for myself or a ministry by email. Episcopal priests don’t do that. We use the proper channels for such a request: the vestry and the treasurer. If you get an email that looks like it’s from me, don’t call the number they provide, don’t open any links, don’t buy any gift cards, and – please – don’t send any money!

As I mentioned in our newsletter, people have found ways to steal and swindle throughout the ages. That stems from the ‘me-first’ mindset that is the opposite of everything Jesus taught us and the opposite of what our tradition offers: thou shalt not covet, steal, or kill.

Historically, political or military domination have been, and continue to be, a major threat to our communal safety. In personal relationships, domination always points to abuse.

One young man I know worked out until he looked like Michelangelo’s sculpture of Hercules, and he was as strong as he was beautiful. When asked about it, though, he admitted that his goal was to be able to “beat up” anyone who threatened him. It didn’t work. The someone who attacked and nearly destroyed him used brains, not brawn, identifying and exploiting his emotional vulnerabilities.

In today’s Old Testament reading, David takes a similar approach against Goliath, who was a Philistine, and therefore an archenemy of the Jewish people. Goliath is huge, well protected by armor, experienced in battle, and unmatched in his javelin and personal combat skills. He believes David, a scrawny, sheep-herding kid with no battle skills who refused to wear armor and carried only a slingshot, would be an easy victory.

In those days, wars between countries could be decided by a single fight between men. This was one of those times, so the stakes were high. Saul warns David that he’s no match for Goliath and David’s response was golden: “The LORD, who saved me [as a shepherd] from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”

That’s why this story is so appealing. The scrawny underdog runs into the battle, stands up to the giant bully, claims victory in the name of God, and fells his opponent with a single rock shot from his slingshot.

David knew and trusted that God was with him, that God had sent him on this mission, so he ran into the thick of it with his only battle skill: a slingshot. As it turned out, it was enough.

Our meager gifts are enough too – especially when taken together as a community of faith. All churches will experience storms, some worse than others. When that happens, it is our faith that God is with us that will carry us through, because we know God has a purpose for us.

The church can and should be (if you ask me) where we learn the spiritual disciplines and prayer practices that enable us to respond faithfully like David did: certain of God’s presence and calling, to run into the storm before us and open a path for God’s redemptive love to act.

Whatever storms the church faces, we are enabled to respond using worship, Scripture, tradition, and reason. Right now, the church is being attacked by those who co-opt our Christian identity and use it to foment hate and division; and they practice a kind of coercive control God has never asserted over us.

As followers of the one who spoke peace to the wind and the waves, we are called to respond with holiness of spirit and genuine love in the face of affliction and hardship, with patience and kindness amid calamities, and with continual rejoicing even when we are in sorrow. As St. Paul reminds us, when we have lost everything, we have lost nothing that matters, because we have everything when we have faith in God who created us, loves and sustains us, and gives us purpose.

In the beginning, when chaos waters covered the earth, God brought order to the chaos, creating the firmament, the land, and all that dwelled therein. When Jesus calmed the chaos waters of the Sea of Galilee, he was doing what only God can do, and those who witnessed it were filled with reverence and awe at the sight of it.

Whatever chaos we experience, whatever our storms, Jesus is with us, doing what only God can do. We don’t have to be worthy or strong or well-armed because we are beloved, redeemed, and sanctified by God. 

The ultimate grace of God is the gift of life itself, and God’s presence in us, through Jesus, our Emmanuel. For that we rejoice continually.

I close with a prayer from Steven Charleston, retired Episcopal bishop and member of the Choctaw nation. He posted this prayer on his Facebook page last Tuesday: 

 “Still I will rejoice and give thanks. No matter how difficult my life may be at the moment, no matter what may come in the days ahead, still I will rejoice and give thanks. I have been blessed by the gift of life. I have been given my chance to walk this beautiful Earth, to see its wonders and learn its hidden wisdom. I have loved and been loved. How can I be anything but grateful? How can I not offer my thanks to the Spirit? As a family in faith, each with our own story to tell, each with our own burden to bear, let us offer this common message of hope, of renewal and resolve, to all who struggle: no matter what tomorrow may bring, still I will rejoice and give thanks.” 

Amen and amen.

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