This month’s posts are by Don Carlson, Assistant to the Bishop in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Pentecost 4B – June 24, 2012
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49Â - David and Goliath: The Lord who saved me from the lion and the bear will deliver me from this Philistine.
or I Samuel 17:57 – 18:5, 10-16 – Jonathan loved David. Saul tries to kill David.
or Job 38:1-11 – The Lord answers Job out of the whirlwind: Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Psalm 9:9-20 – The Lord judges the nations.
Psalm 133 – How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 – God stilled the storm and quieted the waves of the sea.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13- Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…
Mark 4:35-41 – Jesus asleep in the boat, wakes and calms the sea: Peace. Be still.
Artwork: “David and Goliath” by Rubens; “Jesus Calms the Storm” by Rembrandt and Backhuysen; “Job” by Chagall.
There is a veritable plethora – maybe even a smorgasbord – of texts from which to choose. In my mind, the ones that work best with the Gospel (leaving out the second lesson) are: 1 Samuel 17:31-49 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32. Although, as you’ll see towards the end, Job is very applicable.
It isn’t part of the reading, but it’s good to remember Samuel anointing David in chapter 16 last week. Samuel reviews all of Jesse’s sons, but none are “the one.” David, who is the youngest and least likely, is out tending sheep. He is the one. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
The wisdom of this foolish choice then gets played out almost immediately in the confrontation with Goliath. I mean, what are the odds? What line would Vegas be posting on this matchup? Goliath taunts, but David answers, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”
“Thwack, thud, here endeth the lesson.” OK, so it’s not a very warm and fuzzy theological lesson. But the point is that it’s not about David or Goliath, it’s about God. It doesn’t matter how dire, desperate, or dispirited the situation, it’s never about the situation; it’s always about God. This, in my mind, is the link to the Gospel reading.
The Phoenicians were the sailors.
The people of Israel were largely an agrarian people. For them, the sea often represented chaos; or at least something that could not be controlled. (The Mediterranean Sea was the realm of Leviathan.) The creation story in Genesis 1 may well be an monotheistic Hebraic adaptation of Egyptian creation myths that had influenced the Hebrew people during the Egyptian captivity. Certainly the story of Noah can be seen as the earth being again consequentially reduced to complete chaos, only to be reordered by the gracious hand of God.
And that makes this “calming of the sea” story a miracle/sign with deep theistic connotations about Jesus. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Who indeed? Who but God has the power to order the chaos? And, of course, that’s where the link to the readings from Job and Psalm 107 come into play.
Job: “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?- when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
Psalm 107: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.”
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? And why does this Jesus, who can command the wind and the waves and order the chaos, wind up being crucified along with the powerless and oppressed?
“Jesus Calls Us, O’er the Tumult” 696, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” 756, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” 755, “My Life Flows On in Endless Song” 763, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” 773, “When Peace like a River” 785, “Calm to the Waves” 794, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” 596, “God of the Sparrow” 740.
Another great piece for solo or performance group might be
“Be Not Afraid” by Bob Dufford, sung by John Michael Talbot. You could even use the YouTube video as a call to worship or contemplative piece. It’s rather well done.
In closing, some thoughts on the reading from Job as it might relate to the Gospel reading:
The Book of Job is a counterpoint to Deuteronomic theology and tries to deal with the mystery of evil and inequity. Job explores the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That’s a question we like to ask. But there are other related questions: “Why do good things happen to bad people?” “Why do good things happen to good people?” and, “Why do bad things happen to bad people?” We may think some of those questions easier to answer than others; but the truth is that if we can’t answer all of them with certainty we probably can’t answer any of them at all.
The mystery of evil and suffering has been with us for a long time. It is part of the mystery of God. St. Augustine, dealt with the problem of evil and suffering by writing, “Do not seek to know more than is appropriate.”
Augustine’s answer is essentially God’s answer to Job, and yet we are seldom satisfied with it. We are Adam and Eve in the garden who long to eat of the tree that is beyond our bounds and understand everything.
Why do the good die young? Why are people killed in their homes? What possesses a person to destroy the lives of others merely for the sake of possessions? Why do people suffer inexplicable diseases and die untimely deaths? Especially in this time – with fingers being pointed in every direction – why must war and terrorism plague the peace of the world?
Why are children and spouses abused? Why do prejudice and bigotry survive so tenaciously? And why is the bad so often attractive and the good so often unappealing?
If God is good and almighty, why do these things come about? Are they punishment? Are they matters of consequence; or, do they just “happen”? Perhaps the temptation is to believe that there is no sense to it at all; that life is “nonsense”. Maybe there is no good and almighty God at all. As the Thomas Aquinas admitted, “The existence of evil is the best argument against the existence of God.”
Like Augustine or Aquinas, I can’t give you the answers to those eternal questions and I would warn you to be wary of anyone who says that they can. I can’t answer the mystery of evil or the mystery of God.
I can’t tell you about the God who holds all creation in hand and sees all of history in the twinkling of an eye. I can’t explain the providence of the Alpha and the Omega. I know little about the eternal God who rules the heavens. The only God I know is the incarnate God who rides the boat.
Jesus was with the disciples but the storm still came. In the face of the storm the disciples began to fear for their lives. They woke Jesus. “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and waves. “Peace, be still!” What’s the point?
Some would say that the point is that Jesus had the power to still the storm, but I think the story is as much about the disciples as it is about Jesus or the storm. I think the point of the story is Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And the unspoken answer is of course, “No, I’m afraid we don’t.”
The English poet Emily Bronte wrote, “No coward soul is mine, no trembler in the world’s storm troubled sphere.” I think that’s a bunch of pious nonsense! There are frightening storms and anyone who believes otherwise sails a different ocean than I. Only a fool is never afraid and even knowing why storms arise would not rob them of their power. Of what comfort is meteorology when the hurricane is upon you?
Can Jesus calm the storms? Yes. Will he calm all of them? It doesn’t seem that he will. Why not? I don’t know. But I do know that amid the roaring wind I also hear the whispered question, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And in hearing I know that, even more than the storms, it is I who need be calmed.
And so, until next week, “Peace, be still!”