Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 20, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 4

Pentecost 4, 2021
1 Samuel 17:32-49
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

If you drive west on route 30, somewhere over near Dalton there’s a business that has a big sign out front, which reads “Our doors are open.  We believe in faith over fear.”  I’ve been thinking about that sign a lot, especially given this Sunday’s readings.  I’ll come back to that in a bit.  But first, let’s look at David and Goliath.

We all know this story of David and Goliath.  We reference it all the time.  Any time there’s an underdog in a sporting event, any time some citizen takes on city hall, any time a fledgling democracy narrowly escapes the jaws of authoritarianism.  David and Goliath is part of the fabric of the stories we tell each other.  A handy metaphor that doesn’t need to be explained.  The seemingly weaker person wins out over the obviously stronger person.  We love it as a metaphor because it is always rooted in absurd levels of hope.  Like, miracles can happen.  Like, the Browns or the Bills could actually win the Super Bowl.  You don’t expect it, and that’s why it’s great.  It keeps hope alive.

But the danger of any Bible story becoming a metaphor for our daily life is that it becomes divorced from its real context.  We forget the story itself, and the phrase “David and Goliath” becomes more of shorthand for Smaller Beats Bigger.  And that saddens me a little, because there is such rich detail in this tale.  Things that get lost when it’s just a catchphrase.  And really looking at this story with fresh eyes can reveal important things that we might overlook.

And one of those things I noticed this week is this.  When David comes to Saul and says, “your servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” Saul tries to talk him out of it, using reason.  “You are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”  So David tries to reason back with him, about how he already has all this experience fighting wild animals.  It’s like the potential employer says, “You have no experience for this job.”  The prospective employee says, “Here’s why my other skills would be great for this situation.”    They’re both looking at the past ways of doing things in order to figure out the future.  

Then Saul takes it one step further.  He says, “Okay you can have the job, but here’s the way we’ve always done things.  Put on this huge armor that will never fit you.”  Like saying, if you’re going to do a thing no one’s ever done before, here’s how we have failed in the past.  Let’s try to make you into something that you’re not, using the way we’ve done things before, to face a situation we’ve never seen before.  And that’s the thing that really jumps out to me reading this story this year.

You and I, along with just about everybody else on the planet, are trying to navigate how we move into the future.  We’ve never been collectively isolated from one another for a year like this.  We’ve never had to close the building for months on end like this.  We’ve never come out the other side of a national trauma quite like this one.  And it’s tempting—or dare I say natural—to want to just return to what we’ve done in the past.  To put on Saul’s armor; put a bronze helmet on our head and clothe ourselves with a coat of mail, and try in vain to walk.

The challenges we’re facing right now have never been faced by this congregation.  The future we’re walking into together is big and new and intimidating.  We are like David facing Goliath, and putting on Saul’s armor from former times is not going to help.  Because that armor was not made for us in this moment.

What worked in the past might work in this very different present, but it also very much might not work for us right now.  What definitely will work for us in this moment are the gifts and abilities God has already given to us, as the community that is St. Timothy’s Church in Massillon.  Our own five smooth stones, our own sling in our collective hand, and—most importantly—our God by our side.  I am confident we will find our way into our future together, because God is walking with us, just as God was walking with that little shepherd David.

Now let’s return to that sign out on route 30 in Dalton:  “We’re open.  We believe in faith over fear.”  I get the sentiment.  It’s a way saying that God is more powerful than this virus.  And, sure, God is more powerful than this virus.  But the implication in that sign, and in that attitude, is that it is the strength of our faith—rather than the power of God—that makes us unafraid.  I’ve seen the signs in front of plenty of churches in Stark County.  “If we really trusted in God, we wouldn’t be afraid.”  Let me say in the plainest terms:  That is not true. 

And we can go to today’s gospel lesson to see why that is not true.  As you’ll recall, Jesus and the disciples are out in the boat.  Jesus is sleeping.  A storm comes up.  Jesus is sleeping.  The disciples start to panic.  Jesus is sleeping.  You get the theme by now.

And they wake Jesus up and ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”  Do you not care that we are perishing?  Then Jesus says to the wind and the sea, “‘Peace!  Be still!’  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”  There was a dead calm.  And then comes the moment that we have to get right here, because it definitely colors how we hear the words of Jesus.

Jesus says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”  Why are you afraid.  Not why were you afraid?  It’s not that they were afraid of the storm.  It is that they were afraid that Jesus could not save them in the storm.  Their lack of faith comes down to this:  They were afraid they had put their trust in the wrong guy.  They were afraid that Jesus isn’t who he said he was.  They were afraid they had backed the wrong horse.

The question from Jesus isn’t, “Why were you afraid of the storm?”  The question is, “Why did you doubt that I could save you?”  And this is important.  It is in fact crucial when we think of approaching our own death, as each of us will one day.  To have faith doesn’t mean that you are not afraid of death.  Of course we are afraid of death!  But to have faith means that you trust that Jesus will save you in death.  Not save you from death.  Save you in death.

We get the whole thing wrong when we expect Jesus to save us from the perils and dangers of this life.  Suffering comes to us all, even with Jesus in our boat.  Our faith, which is a gift from God, enables us to trust that Jesus will in fact save us.  Whenever trouble strikes, like the disciples we find ourselves asking, “God, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And the answer is, yes.  God cares very much that we are perishing.  And that is why Jesus is in the boat with us!

It is not a lack of faith that makes us afraid of the dangers in life.  That sign that says, “Faith over fear” is a false dichotomy.  We should be afraid of dangerous things.  Being afraid of death, and viruses, and falling off cliffs is what keeps us alive.  Fear of dangerous things is a good thing.  But what faith does, what trust does, what Jesus does is remind us that we are not alone, and that God will bring us through our uncertain future by showing us new ways to be the church, to trust that Jesus is who he says he is, and that he will one day raise us up from our silent graves, along with all those who have gone before.  Jesus said: Peace.  Be still.  And there was dead calm.  And in that dead calm we know that we are safe, just as we have been safe all along.  God is with us.  Jesus is in the boat with us.  We will see the other side.


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