Old Testament:1 Samuel (17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49)
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle, and there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but 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, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
The Response: Psalm (9:9-20)
9 The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, *
a refuge in time of trouble.
10 Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, *
for you never forsake those who seek you, O Lord.
11 Sing praise to the Lord who dwells in Zion; *
proclaim to the peoples the things he has done.
12 The Avenger of blood will remember them; *
he will not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Have pity on me, O Lord; *
see the misery I suffer from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gate of death;
14 So that I may tell of all your praises
and rejoice in your salvation *
in the gates of the city of Zion.
15 The ungodly have fallen into the pit they dug, *
and in the snare they set is their own foot caught.
16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice; *
the wicked are trapped in the works of their own hands.
17 The wicked shall be given over to the grave, *
and also all the peoples that forget God.
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten, *
and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.
19 Rise up, O Lord, let not the ungodly have the upper hand; *
let them be judged before you.
20 Put fear upon them, O Lord; *
let the ungodly know they are but mortal.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians (6:1-13)
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
The Gospel: Mark (4:35-41)
On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they 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 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?”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
We’ve all heard it before, many times. Somebody is teaching or trying to explain some concept, and a student or other listener starts to ask a question but begins with the disclaimer, “This might be a dumb question, but…” And the teacher or instructor interrupts to say what? We all know the cliché: “There are no dumb questions.”
I’m sorry, but yes there are. They are rare, but they do exist. And, in the story we just heard, I strongly suspect that Jesus’ disciples were convinced that Jesus had just asked one of the dumbest questions they had ever heard in their lives.
Mark tells us that it was evening when Jesus and his disciples got into a boat and started to journey to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. A storm suddenly came up. By now, it might have been late evening or even nighttime, and they were out in the middle of the lake, far from land. The small boat was being tossed about by the wind and the waves. It was already being swamped with water, and they were terrified. It looked like they were not going to get out of this one alive: they were going to drown right then and there.
Jesus, probably exhausted from the day’s activities, was in the back of the boat, sound asleep on a cushion. In sheer panic, they woke him up, hoping desperately that he would do something. And his response was to ask them, “Why are you afraid?” That must have come across as the most stupid question they had ever heard. Who wouldn’t be afraid, even terrified in their situation?
They were in the same sort of predicament that the armies of Israel had faced in today’s first reading, having been defeated time and time again by the Philistines, and now facing the bombastic and bullying Goliath. They were thoroughly intimidated by him and seem to have been paralyzed with fear; and so, nobody did anything. Their great leader, Saul, doesn’t seem to have done any better than the rest of them.
Their response and that of Jesus’ disciples 2000 years later, was the same: “Why doesn’t God rescue us from almost certain death? Why doesn’t God do something? When you get right down to it, where is God anyway?”
Sometimes in life, we might well find ourselves in a similar place. Our lives seem to be spinning out of control. Maybe we or a member of our family has just learned about a very serious heart problem or a life-threatening form of cancer or some other debilitating disease. Maybe we have just lost our job and don’t know what we are going to do. Maybe the challenges of dealing with an aging parent or with one of our children are sapping all our time and energy, and we don’t know which way to turn. Like those who looked up and saw Goliath towering in front of them or like those caught in a storm in that small boat on the Sea of Galilee, we feel overwhelmed, like we’re being swamped. And our reaction, like theirs, is to ask “Where is God? Why doesn’t God step in and do something?”
What the Israelites armies didn’t realize was that God was already there with them, working through a young boy named David. And what the disciples apparently didn’t realize was that God was with them, too, in the person of Jesus. In fact, they and God were literally in the same boat together.
That is where God is with us too: not necessarily stepping in and taking away the threat, taking away the storm, but faithfully staying right there with us through all the fears and in all the storms of our lives. And when we open ourselves up to God’s presence, then, like the disciples, we find that we and God are traveling through the storm together.
Sometimes, God might deliver us from those things that threaten us, often in unexpected ways, just as happened in today’s first and gospel readings. But there are other times in life, probably more often than not, when God isn’t going to just jump in and fix things and make everything well.
Just ask St. Paul about how that works. In our second reading, he describes his own situation and experience to the early Christians at Corinth (2 Cor. 6:8-10): “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” God hadn’t magically taken away the problems and sufferings that Paul was facing; but Paul knew that, through them all, God was with him to support him, to comfort him, to give him strength, and to bring him that peace of God that passes all understanding. And the same thing is true of us.
A clergy colleague recently told me about a conversation that he had with a woman who walked into his church from off the street. She had been struggling with addiction and a variety of other problems. She explained to him that she had tried to do what God wanted her to do, to live the life that she knew she needed to live. But, despite her efforts, her life was still tough; she still had to struggle. And she explained that all that she wanted to do was to live her life like Jesus, free from all those sufferings and problems. He paused for a minute, and then pointed to a cross on the wall in his office. “Jesus lived a pretty good life, too,” he reminded her; “and that is where he ended up.” Trying to live the life God wants us to live didn’t guarantee that Jesus would live without problems and sufferings. And it doesn’t guarantee it for us either.
More often than not, God doesn’t miraculously take away all our problems, all the difficulties that we encounter in life. But God does ride through the storm in the same boat with us. And, in doing so, God enables us to face all our troubles and all our fears. Like a loving parent, God can’t shelter us from every difficulty in life. But God can and does walk the journey along with us, assuring us of God’s unfailing love, assuring us that we never journey alone.