Sermon by The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Click link above for the audio.
June 24, 2012 – 4th Sunday After Pentecost – Year B
1st Reading – 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Psalm – Psalm 9:9-20
2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Gospel – Mark 4:35-41
May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
Several years ago, when I was in my late teens/early twenties (no, let’s not talk about exactly how many years ago that was – but it was more than a couple)… Anyway, I was with a group of Explorers – the young adult co-ed division of the Boy Scouts (I think they now call them Venturers). I was the National Chairman of one of the subsets of these Explorers, and was with a group of them at a Marine base watching a demonstration of rappelling. The marines rappelled down this 90 ft. cliff (small by their standards) several times, even once face forward while holding a machine gun. We were all really impressed. Then they wanted to know who would like to try it. When it seemed that none of them would do it, all eyes turned to me (being sort of the leader in this whole thing). I’m thinking – IT’S 90 FEET!!!!!! YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!
But… I figured, I have the perfect out! I am not wearing appropriate shoes. I was in sandals. So, I told them, “Gee, I would, but it isn’t safe – see – sandals!” I said, pointing to my feet. And then I heard a voice say, “what size do you wear.” Well, of course she was willing to lend me her sneakers, and darn it all – they fit.
So, up to the top of the cliff I bravely went (bravely on the outside anyway…on the inside, I telling myself – why didn’t I just stay home today) They get me all rigged up, and then the marine who would rappel down with me walked me toward the cliff face. We turned around and backed toward the edge, and he said, “Ready? Now lean back” I’m thinking – are you crazy? But, I did my best to hold tight to the ropes and to lean back. He kept saying I needed to be at a 90 degree angle to the cliff, but I was too afraid to lean back that far – I felt more secure staying upright, nearer to the rope and the side of the cliff, holding on for dear life as I tried to plant my feet on the rock face. And, then…it happened. My feet went right out from underneath me!
When I saw the readings for today, my mind went right back to the moment on the cliff. Right to that…wait for it…cliffhanger! Sorry, couldn’t resist.
But there are no cliffhangers in what we heard today…though I can just imagine if the TV networks were doing them, there would be a commercial break just as David went out to face Goliath with his slingshot, or just as the camera panned the stormy sea and the frightened faces of the apostles a voiceover would say…”Will Jesus continue sleeping, will the storm toss them all to the sea, will Peter ever get anything right?…Tune in next week to the Gospel of Mark!” Thankfully, we get the full stories in our lectionary without commercials.
Now, as I have said before, it is usually better to pick one of the lectionary readings, and work solely with that when preaching, and I usually do. But like the last time, I am hoping you will bear with me because they really are all leaning on one another.
I want to start first with the last line of the epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, which we heard this morning. St. Paul writes, “I speak as to children– open wide your hearts also.”
There is real joy in a child’s face, especially when they are very young, and act on instinct and in the moment. And it is then that the parents need to keep a keen eye on them, because they haven’t learned to fear a hot stove or a pool of water. They fall down, and get back up with an odd sort of look on their face. I think many hope that those who are young hold on to his child like wonder as they grow so that they can fully live into the joys of life. And, while all parents want their child to live a life without pain – a life filled with possibility and joy, no parent can guarantee this for their child. And what they will face changes so rapidly in this age of technology. All of us are living in an time filled technology that changes every day – a world with all sorts of must have tools….where we cannot seem to go a single minute without relying on some sort of technology – smart phones, computers, electronic gadgets. Technology is a good thing, but the adults in a child’s life – parents, teachers, family, church, all hope that we have over the years they have given each child the ability to live fully into who they are, to believe in themselves, and to have the resilience, love and faith to walk through the hurts, pains, and disappointments of life. These are the tools that will serve them when technology doesn’t.
I remember a scene from the first Star Wars film, which was actually the fourth episode – just to confuse everyone, but anyway… This first movie was about the battle between the Rebel Alliance and Darth Vardar’s empire forces. The empire had a ship, the Death Star that was meant to wipe out the Rebel Alliance. If you haven’t seen this movie, well…think of a big naval battle. Now, there was this thing called “The Force,” which was the energy that flowed through all of the universe. Our hero – the young Rebel fighter Luke Skywalker, is the last one left who can hit the right target to destroy this huge ship – a teeny hole on the side of this massive ball. And, like all fighters flying their spacecraft, he is using all the technology at his disposal to accurately target his last missile. And as he is nearing the target, he hears a voice in his mind – the voice of his mentor – saying…“Use The Force, Luke.” He shut down his targeting computer – all the technology that was available to him he turned off. He closed his eyes, and opened his heart to The Force, allowing it to guide him. He hit the target and saved the day.
“I speak as to children– open wide your hearts also.”
In the story of David & Goliath, we have another young hero. David had a heart wide open – defeat never entered his mind. Here was this big ole Goliath – with all his bling (coat of bronze, big helmet and all). But David threw off the armor the king had given him. He let go and let The Force…The Force we know as God. He too hit the target.
In the Gospel story though, we hear about the disciples in the boat with Jesus. The disciples who were experienced fishermen, and knew full well the dangers of the sea. They had every reason to be afraid – they were not children. Their experience of life told them that they were in danger. For all their craft – their nets, their boats – they knew that nature was a powerful force. And Jesus rebuked them and calmed the storm.
When we are young, we are often told that David and Goliath and the disciples in the boat are stories about true faith – David who put his trust in God to help him defeat this gigantic foe as an example of how we should be, and the disciples who Jesus rebukes for being afraid of the storm, an example of a lack of faith. We don’t really read Paul to much to kids – he is confusing enough to us as adults. Well meaning folks will stand in pulpits or Sunday School classrooms and declare that these stories tell us that with faith – all will be well.
But the truth is…
Sometimes Goliath wins the battle.
Sometimes, the sea overtakes the boats and passengers.
Sometimes the Empire Strikes Back.
And hear is another truth – Faith is not about everything going smoothly. Life just doesn’t work that way – God is not a vending machine for what we want, or what we hope for.
And over time, as we weather the storms in our life, or watch others suffer them, we naturally become afraid of losing what we love, risking what we know, believing in what we cannot see. We start to trust manuals over instinct and experts over our own common sense. We stop believing in ourselves, and look to technology, governments, agencies, anyone or anything that will help us. We close off our hearts to protect ourselves, and we pray not as conversation with God, but as a sort of direct request list to the divine.
What these stories are telling us is that we need to open our own hearts to the working of God within us – to know that no matter what happens – what storm overtakes us – what enemies seek to defeat us – we are never alone in that moment. God is always with us, always walking alongside us, grieving when we grieve, rejoicing when we rejoice. As the Psalm today says, God “is a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.”
All of the passages today are telling us to “open wide our hearts,” to believe in ourselves and in God – not as a cure all, but as our refuge in times of trouble.
Because trouble will come.
And we can’t open our hearts if we are holding tight to the things we think will make life easy: money, prestige, technology… We can’t experience the fullness of relationship – with God, and with each other, if we close our hearts to protect ourselves from the pain of loss. We have to shed that armor and walk boldly forward to face our deepest fears, knowing that God will be with us – no matter the outcome.
Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for the day when they would not have him physically there. If they always looked to him in times of trouble, they would be lost to fear in the storms that lay ahead for them. They needed to open their hearts, so that the Holy Spirit could guide them.
We too have to let go of our fears, our reliance on what we think is important, our belief that we are not good enough, strong enough, or that we are all alone. We have to let go, and lean back on the side of cliffs.
You see, that day on the cliffside I didn’t trust anything or anyone but that rope. I couldn’t think about leaning so far back as to be at a right angle to the cliff. I clung to that rope and hoped I could hug the cliff enough to get through it. I thought I had to do it all myself – me and my tools… but when my legs went out from under me… I ended up flailing in the air – I didn’t fall! It was then that I realized something…I wasn’t in this alone. Down at the ground, the brakeman was holding fast to the rope – it was the brakeman, diligently at watch, that allowed me to swing in the breeze and not fall down the side of the cliff when I refused to let go of my fear and lean back to the right angle. And, in that moment, I realized how foolish I had been to hold so tightly to what I thought would save me. I placed my feet back against the cliffside…and I leaned back to a 90 angle. I let go, and trusted the brakeman to see me through if I got in trouble – and the journey to the ground was an incredible ride.
Letting go of our fears…letting go of our grip on our precious things – trusting in ourselves and in God to work in us and through us – it won’t mean we will always defeat the Goliaths of the world. It won’t mean that storms won’t blow into our lives. It won’t mean that our open hearts will not be broken, our souls kept safe from deep despair. But it will mean that God will be with us – walking along with us most especially in those darker parts of our journey. And it will mean that the journey will be a lot freer, a lot less anxious, a lot more fun. I used to say to my team at AIG whenever they would start stressing about outcomes – believe that everything will all work out. Because in the end, the result will be the same – but the journey will be a whole lot more enjoyable.
You see, faith in God isn’t about everything going smoothly, but about being given the strength and the love to face the bad, and to embrace the joys, to step boldly towards life’s challenges, and to stand up again when at first we don’t succeed. Faith is about “opening wide our hearts,” to believe that the storms will eventually pass, to let go of the armor we have built up, the tools we think will save us, and to let God work in us and through us, so that we may be the incredible children of God that we are.
Faith is knowing that the Holy Spirit will guide us, that the body and blood of Christ will sustain us, and that God, our brakeman, will be there with us always to the end of our journey.