Proper 7B – St. Paul’s, Durant. I Samuel 17:32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41.
One of the humbling aspects of being at the Lambeth Conference of Bishops last year with brother and sister Anglicans from around the world was hearing their stories of faithfulness and real heroism as Christians in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
Whether that was a bishop from the Sudan trying to preach the Gospel in a land whose wars never seem to end; or a bishop from Pakistan facing imminent danger from the Taliban; or a bishop from Polynesia worrying about whether the fact of global warming will ultimately cause his little island to disappear under the waves of the Pacific, due to melting glaciers and rising levels of the sea in that part of the world.
Their situations are desperate! But the amazing thing to me was how they continually drew upon the resources of our faith to sustain them in their times of testing. They would cite texts like our first one this morning, and the unlikely victory of the young, relatively untested David against the seasoned warrior, Goliath.
“Yahweh, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine,” David said. And so it was.
Or the assurances in today’s Psalm that “Yahweh will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in time of trouble/ Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, for you never forsake those who seek you, O LORD.”
Or the catalogue of suffering Paul endured while doing the work of an apostle and evangelist; “…beatings, imprisonments…sleepless nights, hunger…” and all the rest of it, making him “…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Dear friends, I have seen Christians like that – at the Lambeth Conference, and around the world. And I can tell you that the words of these biblical passages are as true today as on the day they were written! True in their lives; true in their ministries.
And I thought this week how instructive today’s Gospel is in this regard. It’s a familiar story to us: Jesus and his disciples are in a fishing boat crossing the Sea of Galilee when a “great windstorm arose” whipping up the waves and threatening to swamp the boat.
I’ve been on that body of water and I can tell you that conditions can change in a matter of minutes as it’s found surrounded by hills and is not very deep, so a simple change in wind direction can add a chop to the water and bounce you around pretty good, even on a larger vessel than Jesus and his friends were in!
Jesus was either exhausted or relatively unconcerned because he was asleep in the back of the boat and, touchingly, Mark tells us, “asleep on a cushion!” “Teacher, do you not care if we are perishing?” the disciples shout. Jesus wakes up, calls for Peace and Stillness and – the text tells us – “there was a dead calm.”
This story has been used in a variety of ways over the years and a number of ancient commentators were fond of pointing out that the Church itself has often been depicted as a boat. Even our church architecture sometimes reminds us of the construction of a ship, and the fact that the part of the church building you are sitting in is classically called “the nave.”
And the Church itself has passed through many times of turbulent waters. From the early conflicts we see in Paul’s letters, to the great split between East and West in 1052, to the Reformation when the Catholic and Protestant churches broke apart, to the establishment of The Episcopal Church on these shores free from the control and Establishment of the Church of England. Complex issues that we confront today. Christians are no strangers to turbulent times in the Church and in the world.
Whether it’s the kind of pain you’ve gone through here at St. Paul’s in recent months, to the struggles of the Diocese of Iowa to respond to the many challenges before us when congregations can no longer provide the kind of financial support they used to, to the challenges The Episcopal Church will face at this upcoming General Convention, not because of the potentially controversial issues we will have to confront but because the economic downturn which challenges us as individuals and our congregations and our dioceses are also causing us to make very difficult choices on the national and international level as well.
Certainly my budget has been slashed in 2009 and the next three years looks even bleaker. You may be facing that in your own households or in your places of employment.
But when I think of my sisters and brothers in the Sudan…or Pakistan…or Micronesia, all I can hear is their faithful telling of the stories of the young David…the songs of the Psalmist…the heroism of St. Paul…and Jesus, in that little boat, saying “Peace. Be still.”
The problems we face are real enough. But they do not compare with what our forebears in the faith have gone through or what many of our fellow Anglicans live with every day of their lives.
Let’s just try to remember, when we feel ourselves buffeted about in a storm-tossed sea,that we have the same resource available to us that those original disciples had. We have Jesus in this boat with us.
And he’s no longer asleep. He is saying, “Peace. Be still.”