Sunday, June 24, 2018
The story of David and Goliath from 1
Samuel 17 was a great start to our scripture readings on Sunday. With the children gathered on the chancel steps, we read the entire story from start to finish. The young disciples were on the edge of their seats when they heard that the small shepherd boy took off Saul’s armor and headed to face off with the Philistine warrior Goliath. David had such confidence he didn’t need the armor. As he said, “The battle belongs to the Lord.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we had the faith and assurance of David marching into the field of battle with nothing but five smooth stones he had chosen from the wadi and the slingshot he always carried with him?
But our attempts at confronting our fears or our “Giants” is a little more like the disciples in the boat on the sea of Galilee when the storm rose up:
On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, [the disciples] took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
There was no confidence and no faith on the part of the disciples. In the midst of the chaos of the storm, they did pretty much exactly what we find ourselves doing:
- We recognize the chaos/storm and. . . Panic!
- Try to handle it ourselves (I imagine the first response of the disciples was to begin to bail out the boat; they were career fishermen weren’t they?).
- Recognize we had better cry out to God (the disciples woke up Jesus saying, “Don’t you even care?!”). Our cry is a bit like that “God, where are you? Don’t you care?”
- We are filled with awe when things work out — we find ourselves surprised that God has been with us in the boat all along.
Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you afraid?” We could ask ourselves the same thing, “Why are we afraid?” Of course an easy answer would be: LIFE. We’re afraid because real life — death — disease — illness — crime — violence — real life stuff rains down on us all the time. It’s been a long time for most of us to be able to rush into battle our giants with only those things God has prepared us with. David’s confidence in God is stunning; the disciples’ doubt is so much more realistic. But when Saul placed upon David the heavy armor (built not for a child but for King Saul), David realized God had already prepared him through years of picking up rocks, aiming them in his slingshot just right, and then letting fly the blessed and chosen stone. Had he walked into the battle with that heavy armor on, he certainly would have perished: his faith would have been in the sword rather than in God.
In the midst of chaos, my prayer for you is that the first thing you do is cry out to God for help. Go ahead and bypass the panic and the crazy attempts to bail out your own boat (or put on the big and heavy armor that was not made for you), and move to the awe-inspired “How has God prepared me for this and how will we beat this giant together?”
And then let fly your blessed and chosen stone with assurance.
God may be ineffable, but as the church we need to become the visible Jesus to the world.
I explained it like this to the children during our “Time for Young Disciples:”
The Trinity is hard for us to understand, right? Let’s think about it as if we are blowing bubbles. There is the wand, which represents our Creator who forms us and shapes us. The liquid is “Emmanuel” or the visible “God-with-us”; the skin that God put on Godself to be visible in the world through Jesus. The air we blow through the wand into the liquid is the Holy Spirit, the breath of God that moves and fills us and enables us to become what we are called to be.
It’s a silly metaphor maybe (and God knows the world doesn’t need another silly or faulty metaphor for the trinity), but what I really wanted to highlight is that you can have a bubble and it’s all good and well, but what really makes the bubble wonderful and beautiful is when the light is reflected in the liquid. It makes an iridescent reflection that is vibrant and visible (like the light of Jesus that shines out of our lives). If we are just mere humans and didn’t reflect any of God’s love for the world, this world would have no visible Jesus. See how that works?
It all really relates to how well we show the beauty of the love of God to the world. It’s our job; we are the post-resurrection Body of Christ that is visible to the world.
And what I’ve been noticing lately is that somehow that light isn’t shining brightly enough. Someone shared a statistic with me today that 22 veterans complete suicide daily. That’s an epidemic. It’s emphasized in the media any time someone famous completes suicide. People talk about it around the dinner table, and around the water cooler at work, and there are numerous opinions available on social media and radio and television talk shows. Maybe the one place that can really do something about it, and the one place where we rarely bring it up is church!
Our scripture readings from Luke and Corinthians both speak to this. In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ mother and brothers are concerned about his welfare: he is constantly healing people and not even finding time to eat. They “intervene” and Jesus pretty much says, “These people are my family now.”
Our Epistle reading is one of my favorites:
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).
Don’t you just love that? “So we do not lose hope,” and “slight momentary affliction” are wonderful reminders to me that we live not for a temporary promise but for an eternal promise. I can honestly say I don’t know what that eternity looks like or when we actually arrive there on the life-death continuum. But I’m banking my whole life on some kind of eternity that’s better than this. An eternity where we are not so painfully far from our Creator.
We all have our ideas of what eternity will be like. Mine looks a little like a
floating on the light summer mountain air,
shifting reflections of the light
with every movement
and every moment.
So “I do not lose heart.” And I hope that we can inspire each other to reflect more light so that others may not be so inclined to lose heart.
May you find yourself reflecting the light of our savior, helping to add some beauty and whimsical love to this world in much the same way that Jesus did as he healed the broken hearted, and drew the outcasts back into community.
Last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we talked about the “ineffable” nature of God, and how we try our human best to understand it through the Trinity. It is difficult to try and contain something so BIG and OTHER as God through our language! But the one part that needs to be visible and as plain as the nose on each of our faces is Emmanuel: God with us. This is evidenced and visible in the modern world through all of us. We are the “Visible Jesus.”
Our Epistle reading spoke to this. It was from 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, and Paul writes to explain that we are merely human (clay jars) and fallible; it’s the Jesus part of us that shines. When we care for others, we are caring for Jesus and we are being the visible Jesus to that person. It’s a pretty cool concept:
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
So yeah — we are supposed to be the visible Jesus to one another. Even in our hurting. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Letting others care for us and to be vulnerable to them, but when we remember it is part of our calling to one another, it’s a little easier to open up and share. Because if we don’t, we are denying others of seeing and being Christ.
Apparently though, it was difficult for those who lived and walked with Jesus to actually see the light. Those who were vulnerable to him, of course, recognized him immediately as pure, living love. But there were so many who were absolutely closed to Jesus, and it pained him that their hearts were so hardened. Our Gospel reading from Mark 2:23-3:6 offers two examples of some people with some pretty hardened hearts. They were obedient followers of the Torah and keepers of the law, but in their strictness and passion to follow the letter of the law, they lost the Spirit of the law.
One sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”
And Jesus said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Again Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure the man with the withered hand on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And Jesus said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against Jesus, how to destroy him.
Jesus saw suffering — whether in the hunger of the disciples or in the pain of the man with the withered hand — and he chose to be present to their suffering and heal them.
Early last week when I had already begun studying these two lectionary readings for preaching them on Sunday, I also took some time to listen to one of my favorite podcasts. Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” podcast features interviews with famous people who will share openly about their faith. The one I listened to was called, “How to Listen With Compassion” with Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I listened and was really intrigued. In fact, I listened to it again as soon as I finished it the first time.
What I noticed was Thich Nhat Hanh’s gentleness in teaching, and I noticed how he paralleled Jesus’ teachings in what he was calling people to put into practice. It was such a powerful message. He said he practiced these things all the time: being present; being present to people in their suffering; and taking time to listen to them with compassion. He cited several Matthean passages where Jesus is teaching and living the very same thing: “Worry not about what tomorrow brings; tomorrow will worry for itself” and “Give us today our daily bread.”
Wow! I had never considered those passages to be so closely parallel to the practice of “being present.” I listened to the podcast again and decided, upon conferring with God in my morning meditations, that I would give the day to being present. My schedule was full and I was a little anxious about accomplishing everything, but I agreed to an attempt at practicing being present.
Have you ever noticed that when you pay attention to things like this there are opportunities EVERYWHERE around you? My day started with preschool chapel and the children seemed extra loving and excited about chapel time. They sang at the top of their lungs and shared such enthusiasm for the love of God that I found myself on sacred ground with them. Great way to start the day with huge rewards for being present!
Then I received a call from a couple from Texas. They wanted to elope. They had a big ceremony planned for November but wanted God’s blessing on their marriage and wondered if I would do the service. Today. As soon as they could drive over.
My inner pharisee started in, remembering the process by the Book of Order and the details I needed to cover before performing a marriage. My inner voice said, “Paula, your policy is six sessions of premarital counseling and ample time to discern that they understand the commitment of marriage, especially one that is being blessed by God. Then you need to contact the elders of the church and ask for permission to use the sanctuary for said marriage. . .”
And then I caught myself. What was I learning about being present? Could I challenge myself to be THIS present? I pondered what the couple was asking for — a blessing from God. Could I meet them in their suffering and be present to what they needed? Could I somehow serve as the visible Jesus to them in their need? I stilled my mind and prayed and before I knew it I had invited them to come over for some brief counseling before we did a short service in the forest.
When I blessed their rings and helped them exchange their vows of love and commitment, I found myself on sacred ground again. The light dappling through the pine trees, the backdrop of the Continental Divide, the fresh smell of our Colorado summer: all of this would have been missed if I had let my inner Pharisee take over. The joy in their eyes as they walked through the rest of the forest hand in hand, officially married before God and all of Creation – this would not have filled my day at all.
And though my day was busy, it ended up being such a productive and blessed day. I recognized that sometimes the inner Pharisee needs to be quieted so that I can be the visible Jesus as well. I need to remember that my old clay pot needs to let God’s love and light shine through even when it means I’m not following procedure and obeying polity. Isn’t that what Jesus was teaching through his healing of the man with the withered hand on the holy Sabbath?
May all of you find a way to become more present to others as we move through this beautiful and wondrous life. And in your presence, may you also bring the gift of a visible Jesus to a world that needs his presence, love, and grace more than ever.