Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pentecost 3 (proper 7), Year B, Sunday June 21, 2009

1 Sam 17:32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Cor 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

When I was about 12 years old, my family owned a summer cottage on the Connecticut shore and I had my own 14’ sailboat.  I spent many hours and days sailing that boat, and I was comfortable sailing it in almost any weather conditions.  I even went far out into Long Island sound – farther than I ever admitted to my parents.   

There was only one thing on the ocean that I feared.  We kept this boat in a large cove, and at the mouth of the cove was a reef.   The reef was almost always submerged below the surface, but it was still pretty easy to tell where it was because the water was usually churning and waves were usually breaking just above it.

One time I sailed fairly close to this reef, and I could just make out the jagged rocks, covered with seaweed, just below the surface.  I could imagine the danger that this reef posed: if anyone sailed too close, our small boats could be smashed to pieces and the waves could pummel those on board against the rough edges.  For some reason, I’m not really sure why, I was greatly afraid of this reef. I knew where it was; I knew very well how to avoid it, and yet I was greatly afraid. Logically, I knew that I need not be afraid, and yet I was and my mind continually created disaster scenarios of shipwreck and destruction.

Ancient peoples learned how to navigate the seas and rivers and even oceans, but they also had much fear of the power of the water and storms at sea.  In the story of creation in the Book of Genesis, there is a description of the “formless void” and of the “darkness [that] covered the face of the deep”.   We can imagine that this description of the beginning of creation was influenced by the mysterious and awesome power that ancient people saw in the great seas and strange sea creatures. 

But God created safe space.  In creating the earth and the heavens, God defined the boundaries of the chaos of the “deep”.  The land was separated from the waters, and was held back so that life and order could thrive on earth.  Still, ancient peoples were always just a little afraid that the chaos of the deep could once again overtake the order and safety that God had provided.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear that Jesus also brought order and quiet to the raging sea.  We can be sure that at least some of the disciples were experienced fishermen and sailors, and knew how to manage their boats in a storm.  Yet they turn to Jesus, saying “Hey, wake up!  Don’t you care that we’re going to sink and drown?”  Jesus does wake up and “rebukes” the wind and commands the sea to be peaceful and still.  Jesus brings order to the wildness of the storm, just as God brought order at the beginning of creation.  No wonder the disciples are filled with awe and say to one another: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41)

Today, there are still many things that we fear.  I no longer worry very much about rocks and reefs, but sometimes I’m still afraid in my heart, even when I know I need not be.  And my mind still enjoys creating disaster scenarios of everything that could possibly go wrong.  We know that too much fear and anxiety can be paralyzing and inhibiting.  Fear can drain away the energy we need to move forward.  And yet, still, we are sometimes afraid of all the worst things that could possibly or even improbably happen.  

David surely felt fear in challenging the great Philistine warrior, but he had the experience of God’s faithfulness to him.  God had kept him safe from the lion and the bear, and so David had confidence that God would continue to protect him.  David trusted in God.

That’s not always so easy to do.  We are so often convinced that it is our own power, our own smarts, and our own efforts that will get us through and save us.  Yet the scriptures tell us over and over again that it is only when we strip away the reliance on the modern day equivalents of “sword and spear and javelin” that we can come to face our fears in the Name of the living and almighty God.  And it is an awesome thing indeed to realize that in letting go, we may gain the greatest courage and strength.

Paul wrote that the disciples of Jesus endured all hardships to reach the greatest joy.  He wrote that they were “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. (2 Cor 6:12?)

Surrender to God is the intention of a prayer attributed to St. Ignatius of Lyola: Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will.  All that I am and all that I possess you have given me.
 I surrender it all to you to be disposed of according to your will.
 Give me only your love and your grace.  With these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

What a brave thing it would be to offer over to God all of our gifts and all of our being, trusting that God will cherish all that we are and give us the love and grace to fulfill His will for us in this life.   We are not promised complete freedom from all fear and anxiety and hardship, but we are promised the grace to carry us through.

Jesus said, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Jesus offers another way of being -- beyond fear and anxiety.  The way of Jesus is through faith and prayer and surrender to God.  The way of Jesus is to let go of worry about tomorrow and our favorite disaster scenarios for the future, for the worries of today are more than enough.  The disciples themselves eventually overcame their fear, and they went bravely out into the world to tell the Good News, at great personal risk and sacrifice.

In Vacation Bible School this past week, the children said pledges each day:  God is with me; God guides me; God teaches me; God loves me; God sends me.   What a great reminder to us, as well, that we start with God’s loving presence, guidance, and teaching.  We can face each fear with confidence in the faithfulness and protection of God.  In prayer, we can dare to ask for grace and blessing.  We can have the courage to expect miracles.  We can receive the peace and freedom from fear that will make all things possible.  And because God loves us, as the children learned this week, we will stay close to God.

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