Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA

Faith or Fear? (1 Samuel 17 and Mark 4:35-41)

There can hardly be 2 more dramatic passages in Scripture than the ones read today.  You can’t sleep through these – right, Jesus?  If you ever attended Sunday School, then I think you may have heard them both, many times, for on that level, they describe the timeless battle of so much of human experience & literature & today’s movies too – the great competitions between good & evil, insiders & outsiders, chaos & order, life & death.  And God always wins, right?  So surely it must follow, that we win too, if we choose God.  May the force be with you!

But life’s not always that simple.  Our human fears & lack of understanding can keep us from putting our faith in things unseen – or unusual.  In our experience, Might makes Right, and so it’s Fight or Flight.  That’s the norm.  But the lessons of Scripture show us quite a different outcome, when we focus on God as an active character in these stories, a mover & a shaker.  There’s a whole new way of living, a new kind of power available to us, if we open our hearts & minds to who God is and what God wants.

God’s ways seem odd to us, not really playing by the rules.  Goliath certainly made assumptions – that a huge muscular body & costly, heavy weapons of war were enough to win.  Sounds like all that football gear our team wears for the big hits, when someone smaller & more agile like David will just up & run around us, all the way down the field.  That’s a whole different game, that Goliath hadn’t counted on.  David’s approach was simple & vulnerable, with only the everyday tools of a shepherd’s crook, a sling, and a stone.  But the real power was in his heart, truly laughable to Goliath who mocked him, one who would never understand the strength of being shielded simply by God’s love.

We know God’s love, so we shouldn’t be surprised by how far & beyond our own expectations God will go to shower that love upon all creation.  We worship a God of covenant & promise, a God of faithfulness & forgiveness, slow to anger & full of mercy, yet also a God who will forever & always overcome the injustice & oppression that WE practice, in our self-centeredness & our self-protection.  Yes, we belong to God, but God will challenge our wrongs, for our own good, because God loves us.  So God is on our side, yet God is not always on our side!  God is with us, & yet we are not always with God, letting fear & misunderstanding & mistrust rule the day.  I’m no political warrior, yet I can’t help but compare the image of the towering Goliath over the young shepherd boy David – to the Time magazine cover we’ve seen this month.  Not that one is evil and one is good, but instead that we’re letting fear & misunderstanding & mistrust rule the day.

One of my seminary professors Walter Brueggemann has written (Texts for Preaching, B, 395-6) about the triangle of social power & social reality seen in the Psalms, with one member named the wicked & the second named the oppressed, stating the obvious imbalance of power.  And yet Yahweh is ever the third member in this human equation, serving as the powerful equalizer, so that the strong cannot prevail and the weak can have a good outcome in life.  This third party reshapes our social reality, and the needy then have a powerful defender & advocate, keeping the social process open, so they are not inevitable victims of the designs of the wicked.  For God acts on behalf of the forgotten & marginalized, and it is clear the pretentiously powerful are not as strong as they imagined.  When their hot air evaporates before the real power of God, fleshed out in our lives, the weak are then safe & have room for the living of their lives.  This powerful movement of God staggers human history.  So both the strong and the weak may then together sing our praises to the One who saves us from our inhumanity.

Yes, we belong to God, and God will challenge our wrongs, for our own good, because God loves us.  God will challenge our fears, for are we not made by the Creator of All?  Such was the waterspout on the Sea of Galilee that day, a challenge for the fairly new disciples who didn’t yet catch on.  They’d seen Jesus heal, they’d heard his parables about the kingdom of God, and they were drawn to his mystery, but they didn’t realize God’s kingdom was so very near, even in their midst, as close as a breath.  The calming of wind & wave was but the first of other extraordinary deeds Jesus would accomplish.  Still to come were his casting out demons of the Gerasene man and his compassionate raising of Jairus’ daughter.  But even then, they could not be sure.

Yet on this day of challenge, the disciples seemed most upset that Jesus didn’t care.  He couldn’t possibly still be asleep, for there was too much noise & shouting & splashing & thrashing about.  So he must not care whether they lived or died, or he’d be doing something, bailing water with them or at the least praying for them.  So isn’t it the best of all twists in the story, that when Jesus awoke, what he did was far beyond their expectations?  He did nothing, but merely spoke, as God had spoken on the day of creation.  And his voice brought new life into being, a stillness & a calm, a rescue from the chaos, a challenge to put their trust in the word of their Lord.  Too bad it didn’t last!  They were still terrified!  But now not from the storm around them, but the storm within – as they tried to make sense of who Jesus really was and how this miracle happened.  There was so much more to learn on their journey, step by step by step with God.

God knows us through & through, and does not abandon us.  For a time we may reap what we sow.  Our injustice & oppression, our fear & mistrust, may rule the day, but Jesus has promised the faithful work of his Spirit to comfort & to challenge us, as we partner with him to welcome the kingdom of God to earth, in our time, through our lives.  So we already know the end of the story.  We know the outcome of Goliath’s battle and the calming of wind & wave even before they begin, because we know the patient & steadfast love of our Lord will prevail.

So as we grow in faith and in this knowledge, may we find even in this life that common place where great & small come together in mutual support & understanding.  Only then will the peace of Christ be able to rest, upon us & within us, as his Spirit feeds our longings with hope & confidence, with trust & faith, enough to take each new step in our journey – never alone, but united by God’s everlasting love & grace.

Come quickly, dear Lord, to fill us with your peace.  Amen.

Beecher Mathes