Am I the only one who dreads the splitting of the lectionary into track one and track two? The only anxious bulletin organizer and sermonizer who worries constantly that she has accidentally chosen the wrong track? I digress.
This week we have several roads we can choose to travel, but all lead toward God with us.
This week’s gospel reading tells the story of Jesus sleeping through a storm and then calming the seas. Jesus and his disciples (at least four of whom are accomplished and professional fisherman) hop in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. There are some small gems that may capture your attention; leaving the Jewish community he had been teaching and crossing the sea to a land of Gentiles is one. What did that mean for his disciples and new followers? It is often in places of offering radical welcome that we can receive the most push back and anxiety from our members and parishioners. What metaphorical tempests are we hoping to quell?
Michael Lindvall’s essay in Feasting on the Word is informative to this text as well. Lindvall points out the situation of a terrified child calling out for their caregiver, and the caregiver soothing the child with those familiar adult words, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Jesus did not tell his disciples there was nothing to be afraid of. He asked why they were afraid. We have a lot of reasons to be scared: loss of loved ones, death, divorce, loss of our jobs or incomes or housing. Jesus knew that even his fishers of men were afraid of the storm, and probably with good reason, and yet Jesus calls for peace and the waves smooth out and the howling wind quiets.
Does this create space for us to ask what we are afraid of? My church is not the only church that is looking at re-opening head on and with many questions. We don’t know what it will look like now, from the people forever missing from our communities, to those who will choose not to come back, to those who have sought and found peace with us via online worship opportunities.
Does this create space for us to turn again to the ways and teachings of Jesus to inform our lives together? Does this offer the opportunity to reflect in pastoral ways on how even in our fear Jesus is with us? Lindvall notes that perhaps a more reasonable response to a child’s late night fear is, do not be afraid, I am with you. Indeed Jesus is still with us as we grapple with all of our fears and anxieties, offering a steady hand, a demonstrated way of living, and a voice that calls for the chaos to cease if only we can choose to hear it.
Speaking of loss and fear, we enter the story of Job an amazing 37 chapters in, a place where God finally deigns to speak to Job and does so in a show of divine glory, a series of where were you statements thundering from the heavens. God offers Job the opportunity to reply and Job is rendered silent.
Is Job an example of what happens when we question God? Are we shouted down and rendered speechless, waving the flag of surrender when we still don’t understand and yet are striving to love God in the midst of deep sorrow? Does God inflict sorrow on us?
These are deep theological questions, and maybe you don’t have the bandwidth to wrestle with them in the pulpit. Maybe your people, struggling with a million small deaths all piled up at the end of the pandemic don’t have it either.
Our lack of understanding, our lack of answers even in the Job text point to a God that gives more mystery when we want proof, a God that draws more gauze curtains over what God is doing in there. A God who will not let us see the inner workings – like the great and powerful Oz. Maybe God has questions for us like the questions asked of Job. Were we there when the curtain was torn in two? When God could not watch God die and the friends had fled and the women remained? Were we there and did we see the powerful love of God caught up in an act that reconciled all of humanity to God? Did God speak then and do we hear God speaking now?
Let us be careful not to bumble into the messages of a prosperity gospel. The lies that say that if we had just believed more, just been more faithful, prayed one more time our people would not have died, we would have kept our jobs. Because Job is proof of those lies. Job had no secret sin, no missed Sunday service in his assigned role as an usher or offering counter or Sunday School teacher – Job did nothing and Job lost everything and the question he asks is the same profound why that we and our people ask.
Sometimes the faithful answer is, I don’t know. The Job lection is proof of life, proof that God hears our why and so is with us always. Slim hope, maybe, but hope nonetheless.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul begins by citing Isaiah, kairo decto, at a favorable time.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth as their founding father, recalling for his audience the sufferings he has endured for the gospel, exhorting the church to live as he has lived, to accept what he has come to believe and planted in their hearts when he planted their church. This letter can be read as all about Paul, a listing of his resume or CV, his credentials. But as Paul sometimes does, he gets in his own way and we are tasked with sorting the real message of his missive.
Is now is the favorable time to re-open our churches with intention and radical welcome? Is now is the time to recall our own examples of faith and leadership, our own founders of faith? Is now is the time as the church holds space between two realities, the kingdom of God, and a world that is dying and longing for a word of good news? Paul teaches that true joy doesn’t come from a life elevated about hardship, but from knowing that even in the hardship God exists with us. We are learning that the kingdom of God is right here, right in front of us.
Is now the favorable time to ask your re-opening committees what the kairos of your church is? Who are you in your neighborhoods, how can your people be sent out even amid personal hardship and failure to sow the word of God and reap new life in Christ?
1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
If we harken all the way back to the sixth chapter of Genesis we learn about the creation of giants like Goliath. It says the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive and took them for wives. God numbers the days of men and the passage goes on to say the Nephilim (or giants) were also on the earth. This is some Lord of the Rings stuff, it isn’t hard to see how Tolkien came by his middle earth inspiration.
This can be an alternate way to tell the story of David and Goliath, a story often trapped in the smiling confines of VBS and Sunday School classrooms. We can paint in a background of Goliath that many people (me included, until now!) may not know.
In Genesis 6 we get a scant paragraph and then enter the story of the destruction of the world by water and the saving of Noah. I Enoch is not a canonical book, but it does seem to pick up where Genesis six leaves off, painting a picture of giants and their sorceress wives wreaking evil and chaos on the earth, an all to familiar good versus evil refrain.
It is notable for the figure of David to be assigned a messianic role in the slaying of the Nephilim, Goliath. And, while Enoch is not part of our canon or Apocryphal writings, the story does lend itself to the power of God to quell the evil in our world by unlikely means; say, a shepherd boy and a slingshot, or something good coming out of Nazareth (John 1:46).
To me this was a fun moment of learning, and yet another reminder of the way the love of God triumphs again and again over what and who the world believes is most powerful.
However you choose to approach this week, I think the message of every single reading is that God is with us. An important reminder when we feel alone and at sea.
Good luck this week preachers! Where are you planning to take your sermons this week? Feel free to comment below or in the Facebook group.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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