1 Samuel 17:1a-49 and Mark 4:35-41 – June 21
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Proper 7
Power is the topic du jour this Sunday: Who’s got it? When do they use it? What does it reveal about the one who wields it? Where is it evident? How do people respond to it?
Let’s start with 1 Samuel: In this iconic tale of the winning underdog, who has the power?
All evidence suggests Goliath and his crew of uncircumcised Philistines have the power. They have the size and strength to defeat those of their choosing. Goliath has the power and he enjoys it, taunts those without it and engenders fear in all around him. He exercises his power at will and without mercy as one after another falls victim to his violence. Who’s got the power? The physically strong and well-armed, they’ve got the power.
I am thinking you can come up with a Goliath-like list to hold up as “exhibit A” this Sunday. Who’s got the power? ISIL has the power. Human traffickers have the power. Coyotes have the power. Abusers have the power. Who’s got the power? Goliath has the power! Always has, always will! Watch the History Channel, read the newspaper, tune in to the 24-hour news cycle, Goliath has the power!
But what about that David upstart? The one who annoys the fire out of his bigger, older brothers? Who does he think he is? Shouldn’t he be tending the sheep? What business does he have on the battlefield? How could he possibly have any power?
In good biblical fashion, there is a role reversal and the shepherd boy has come with just the right skills and tools at just the right time. Bears and lions aren’t so different from bullies. Smooth stones, well timed and well thrown, can take out even a giant. David has power, too, and he is confident in it and unafraid – that’s the key. Goliath has counted on everyone being terrified in the face of his might, but not David. David knows he, too, has power, and the source of his power cannot be defeated. That’s the real difference. David knows the true source of power and it’s the God of Israel who demands justice, upholds the weak, refuses to abandon the vulnerable.
David knows he can’t lose. The victory is as sure as won, so he enters the battle – not with Saul’s armor – with the tools and skills he knows, the ones God has given to him to use for God’s purposes and for God’s glory.
Who has the power? God has the power and those who trust in that source and seek that One’s glory may not be invincible, but their cause is unstoppable.
Where are the examples of God’s power? Where do you look to hold up “exhibit B” to your people? Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon? Selma? South Africa? A teenage girl on an Afghanistan school bus? Examples are all over Scripture, of course. Joseph, Rahab, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the woman at the well and the women at the tomb… examples all of God’s strength in weakness. Share the power of God with your people through a few of these stories and you provide some biblical education that is far from boring. But don’t stop there, because surely God is still at work in your community. Who do you know who is bold like David? Fearless in their faith in God? Relentless in standing up to the bullies of our day?
If you have not read Timothy Tyson’s “Blood Done Sign My Name” stop right now, get a copy and start reading. If you are like me, it will put what you fear in your ministry into perspective and might bolster your courage and cause you to break out your prophetic voice with a little more frequency. Read about Miss Amy in chapter four and consider the Miss Amys that you know. Jonothan Kozol’s “Ordinary Resurrections” is full of people powerful only through faith and the bold use of seemingly paltry gifts. You see, there are Davids facing off Goliaths all the time. This week pay attention and you will see them, too.
Keep in the front of your consciousness those who, what, where, when and how questions regarding power and I suspect you will have too much material for one sermon. Make note of the Goliaths – they are everywhere – but be ever mindful of the Davids God is calling to stand up to them. (Who knows? It could be you and your congregation.)
Who has the power? In Mark’s Gospel it is all God, all the time, over all that threatens to undo us. It is both immediate and cosmic. Jesus heals the sick and calms the storm. Demons know who he is, his closest followers don’t. Disciples know he can do something, they aren’t so sure he will. Parents bring their children to Jesus, religious leaders plot to kill Jesus. Power, power, who has the power?
These few verses from Mark make it abundantly clear that God has the power. Jesus has the power. Even the wind and sea obey him. Mark’s hearers would have heard echoes of Psalm 107 (check out verses 25-32) and Psalm 65. I suspect they would have recalled the exodus, too, what with the parting of the Red Sea and all. No wonder there was fear or awe or some combination thereof on the part of the disciples. This “Peace, be still!” moment reveals not just the what and when and how and where of power, it reveals the WHO. They may be asking the question, but the fact that the disciples are voicing it implies that they, on some level, know the answer. The Living God is in the boat with us, now what do we do?
That’s the next question: If the Living God is in the boat with us, not an arm’s length away every moment, what do we do now? If God and God’s power is for us, who can be against us? And what does that mean for our living?
Daniel Mendelsohn, in his book about family members killed in the Holocaust titled, “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million,” writes this: “The Holocaust is so big, the scale of it is so gigantic, so enormous, that it becomes easy to think of it as something mechanical. Anonymous. But everything that happened, happened because someone made a decision. To pull a trigger, to flip a switch, to close a cattle car door, to hide, to betray.”
Goliath is so big, the scale of that power and evil so gigantic, so enormous. It becomes easy to think he is inevitable, undefeatable, eternal. But every day we have choices that reveal who we believe has the power. We choose to give into Goliath or we choose to remember that God and God’s power is in the boat with us, regardless of the size or threat of the storm. Our actions reveal to whom we’ve given the power in our lives.
Who has the power? The One who even the wind and sea obey, the One who does indeed care if we are perishing, the One who gifts us with a spirit not of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). Use the experience, the skills and the tools God has given you and preach knowing that you have the power of God not only in the boat with you, but in your every breath.
- Read the epistle lesson for this week: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13. Consider what these verses have to say about power and strength.
- Read the daily headlines either in print or online. Who are the Goliaths? Do you notice any Davids standing up to them?
- Read Mark 4:35-41 pausing to consider each verse. Since this is a short passage, take the time to read/pray it lectio divina style. Here is a link to the steps: http://qvdays.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/lectio_divina.pdf.
- Consider the disciples’ reaction to the storm in Mark 4. They seemingly trust Jesus can do something but they appear uncertain that he will do something. Have you ever felt this way? When? What happened? Where are other biblical passages where Jesus’ care is questioned? (Hint: The same word is used in Luke 10:40.)
- Another prominent theme in both the 1 Samuel text and the one from Mark this week is fear. How do we keep our fear at bay? Of what are we most afraid? Do a brief word study of “fear” and note the details of those passages. Be sure and include the words of assurance that are often part of those texts.
- Consider the quote from Daniel Mendelsohn’s book, “But everything that happened, happened because someone made a decision.” Do you agree? Theologically, what does that say about our agency and God’s? Be mindful of the decisions you make this week. What do they reveal about where you put your trust? Do they show a spirit of cowardice or of power, love and self-discipline?
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