Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, June 24, 2018

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
June 24, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16; Psalm 133; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

“Peace, be still.”

We’ve skipped over the famous story of David slaying the great Philistine warrior Goliath and helping win a great victory for Saul and Israel, and now we are back in Saul’s house.  His son Jonathan and David are “friends of the soul” – whatever that means, and David in battle does not fail.  He also plays a mean harp and sings beautifully.  David … has all the luck.

And Saul, who has received “an evil spirit from God,” – whatever that means – has no luck at all.  He tries to spear David, and David eludes him.  The Bible says of Saul:  he was afraid of David, and he was in awe of David. 

In the section skipped over, between verses 6 and 10, Saul and David returned from victorious battle, and as the people rejoiced, the women sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Saul was less than thrilled by this, and decided to keep an eye on David – and the next day was the spear-throwing episode.  So it’s probably safe to say that Saul was also jealous of David, because both the people and even his own son loved him, and he had all the luck.

Between this week and next, there is a whole lot of the story we skip, and I don’t really want to take the time to brief you on it now, so please, find some time to read the rest of the First Book of Samuel; you will find it filled with strange tales of love, betrayal, escape, rejection, slaughter, rescue … honestly, it is a shame that the lectionary doesn’t include these stories.  Of course, that’s my opinion; you don’t have to agree.

But it is clear that Saul is neither at peace, nor is he still.  In the silence in which God apparently has left him, his storms do not abate, but rather grow in strength until they overpower his reason.

When I was a child, our mom, when angry enough, would withdraw from us kids.  She would ignore us, and our overtures to make peace.  She would remain silent, she would not look at us, and she would withdraw from us.  It.  Was.  Awful.  I used to get nightmares about being abandoned – even into my 20s.  I was fortunate to find a therapist who was able to help me, and the fact was, my mom did love me, and I knew she did; she just didn’t know what to do with her anger.

So I may have a bit of an inkling of how Saul felt, when he realized that God did not care for him.  Perhaps he, like the disciples who were with Jesus that night on the Sea of Galilee, cried out in the dark night, “Do you not care that I am perishing?”  Only God didn’t answer him.  No wonder he lost it.

In our own time, there are times when it seems God does not answer, and does not intervene as we might wish, whether in our own lives or in the world at large. 

Why won’t God heal my cancer?  Why won’t God stop the war?  Why won’t God free the oppressed?  Why won’t God find me a job?  Why won’t God save the life of my beloved?  Why won’t God avert the flood?  I’m sure you can come up with a long list of things you would like God to step in and fix, just as Jesus stepped up and ended that powerful storm.  And it doesn’t happen.

Jesus woke up – Mark doesn’t even say he stood up, like the picture on the front of the bulletin shows – and, without even a prayer, simply rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!”  And the storm was over.  Just like that.

Then he turned to the disciples and asked them, “Why are you afraid?”  Not “Why were you afraid,” but “Why are you afraid.”  That’s an important distinction that we might just slip right past – the disciples were still afraid.

They were afraid of Jesus.

They were afraid of his power, his ability, his authority, his person.  They were filled with awe – a word that encompasses not just wonder but also fear – and they asked one another – not Jesus – “Who IS this?”

The gap between Jesus and themselves must have seemed impassable in that moment.

He wasn’t what or who they expected in a messiah.  He simply spoke and the world – or at least some corner of it – changed. 

“Have you still no faith?” he asked them. 

Fear is the beginning of evil – the foot in the door, the crack in the window.  Saul was afraid of David, afraid of Samuel, afraid that God had abandoned him.  Maybe a more rational response, when he heard from Samuel that God had withdrawn favor from him, would have been for Saul to abdicate.  But instead, he doubled down, and held on to what he had with all he had, and it was not pretty.  When he died, he was a broken man, and all that he had ever hoped for was taken from him.

Fear destroyed Saul.

It is said that fear generates three responses:  Fight, Flight, and Freeze. 

Now I do believe there is such a thing as a “healthy fear” – the fear that moves us away from danger, or the fear that God’s very presence instills.  But fear can destroy our reason, too.  Fear is so deeply ingrained in our brains that it can take over how we respond to threats and events.  Fawns will freeze, but their spots provide camouflage.  Tigers will fight, but their claws and their teeth will help them conquer.  Antelope will flee, and their speed will help them escape the lion – or at least most of them…

But people are supposed to be more than the sum of their parts.  We don’t have spots to camouflage, or claws to slice, or swift feet to run.  We have to find other answers to threats.

One of those answers is faith.

Saul lost his faith in God.  The disciples in that boat gave in to fear.  They would face much worse.  They would need to learn that God would always with them, even when Jesus was gone from among them,

Remember the angels?  Every time they showed up, their first words were “Do not be afraid.”  Every time.  Yes, they had other messages to deliver, but the first task was to remove the fear – because when we are afraid, the simple fact is, we cannot hear.

Are you still afraid?  I’m afraid of a lot of things, but one thing I cling to is that God wills our good, God wills my good – not at the expense of others, not to lift the burdens or end the storms, even the ones in my heart, but for the good of my soul. 

God asks of us love, and we are enabled to love because God loves us.  God asks of us faith, and we are enabled to believe because God believes in us.  Yes, I know that sounds counter-intuitive, because we know how often and how much we can fall short, but there it is.  God believes in us.  God has made us for good.  God has placed us where we are for good. 

We do not need to fear, for nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Do not lose faith.  Faith makes us strong to face the storms of life, secure in the knowledge that God can still the worst storm, calm the strongest winds, and bring peace to our souls.

Peace, be still.


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