Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.
“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’
“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at selfcontrol nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.
“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’
“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’
“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’
“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.
“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.
“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”
—The Way of a Pilgrim
What a wonderful story of the multifaceted ways in which Christ works in our lives! Notice first how Christ uses human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice the monk’s persistence and the faith he has in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.
Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered in his quarters to read it.
Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul
If you are struggling with your faith, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story and its lessons. Here is indeed balm for your soul!
Sermon delivered on Trinity 4B, Sunday, June 28, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
There is no audio podcast for today’s sermon. We apologize for the inconvenience.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Interruptions are always frustrating. I just get engrossed in studies and my son wants my attention right away. I am swimming out in the pool and I am wet and I’m wanted on the phone. Interruptions are a part of life. Few of us would consider the possibility of God being interrupted, but this is precisely the case in our Gospel today. Jesus was on His way to heal a young girl on the verge of death, when He was interrupted by a woman who was also in desperate need of help. For those of us who have not thought very deeply on the theological implications of divine interruptions, todays readings invite us to engage in such noble enterprise.
As we look at the account of the healing of the daughter of Jairus in the four gospels, we find that in each of them the author interweaves the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage. The focus, I believe, is primarily upon the dying daughter, while the ailing woman is presented as a tragic, unnecessary and fatal interruption. As we work our way through the events of this great miracle, I want us to do so through the eyes of the synagogue official Jairus, sensing what must have been his feelings and fears as he learned to trust in the Lord Jesus, even when all the circumstances of life seemed to be working against him.
Jairus was an official of the synagogue, and as such he was a man of influence and prestige, but when he came to Jesus he did so as a desperate father seeking to spare the life of his critically ill child. Jesus was not present at what seemed to be the ideal time to deal with the illness of this child. He had crossed over the Sea of Galilee and had not yet returned. I would imagine that the ships we read about last week in Mark 4:36 which had followed Jesus into the middle of the lake and were caught in the storm had returned to port and had told of the miraculous stilling of the sea.
If I had been Jairus these reports would have been of little consolation, for they would only have served to underscore the tragedy that, though Jesus could have helped, He was not present. From Luke’s account (8:40), we know that when Jesus returned by boat from the other side of the lake there was a large crowd gathered which had been there waiting for the return of Jesus. It would not take much imagination to suppose that Jairus was one of the crowd, wringing his hands in dismay, knowing that even now his daughter may have passed away. Every minute was critical and the only One who could help was absent.
Just to imagine, I can envision Jairus as being the first one to greet Jesus as He stepped from ship to shore. Mark tells us that Jairus fell at the feet of Jesus, beseeching Him to quickly come to the aid of his daughter who was on the verge of death. Mark graphically describes the pleading of the father and we can almost feel the intensity of the situation. Without delay, the Lord Jesus made His way to the home of this dying girl followed by a crowd.
Even the presence of the crowd must have been an irritation to Jairus, who would have looked upon these people only as a hindrance to more rapid travel to his home. Some may have wanted to ask questions or to be taught. Others might have asked for healing for themselves or others. Regardless, the crowd refused to be left behind. Perhaps they only lingered to see another miracle. If so, they were not accommodated in the house to see Jesus perform the miracle ( 5:37).
One woman in the crowd is singled out by the gospel writers. She was a woman who had suffered from some kind of hemorrhage for twelve years. Her suffering was much more than physical, though that would have been enough. She suffered as much from her ‘cures’ as she did from her case of bleeding.
To add to the injury of cures this woman was also subjected to tremendous social pressures. The nature of this woman’s illness fell under the stipulations of Leviticus 15, whereby she would have to be pronounced unclean. As such she had been an outcast for twelve years. She could not take part in any religious observances, nor could she have any public contact without defiling those whom she touched. Apparently, she was also forced to be separated from her husband.
Last of all, this pathetic woman has lost all of her financial resources. Mark tells us that she had spent all of her money on doctor bills, with no relief—indeed, with added affliction. And in those days to my opinion, there was no such thing as a malpractice suit.
This unnamed woman, like Jairus, had heard that Jesus was back in their region and set out to find relief through His power. Conditioned, no doubt, by her long-term rejection and isolation she dared not approach Jesus to ask for a miracle as Jairus did. Her physical contact would defile all that she touched. The best she could hope for was a kind of secret healing. “I need not bother the Master,” she may have thought. “ but I need to touch the hem of His garment.” The faith of the woman may well have been mingled with magical ideas as to the power conveyed by one’s clothing. Regardless of this, the moment she touched Jesus, she was healed.
After her healing, the woman probably began to shrink back into the faceless mob who were pushing and shoving for a look at the Master. To the great dismay of Jairus, Jesus stopped. It would seem that for an instant the crowd was perfectly silent. They expectantly waited to hear what Jesus would say, but they could not believe it when He questioned, “Who touched My garments?” (Mark 5:30).
The disciples considered such a question absolutely incredible, worse yet stupid. The rudeness of their thoughts was expressed by none other than the spokesman, Peter: “You see the multitude pressing in on You and You say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:31). Everybody was touching, pushing, shoving, and grabbing at the Master. How could He ask such a question, they thought.
Surely we are to understand that Jesus was not ignorant of what had happened, nor that He needed to be told who had touched Him. Jesus, in His omniscience, knew the need of the woman before she ever put forth her hand to His garment. Knowing her faith, His power was granted for her healing.
Why, then, did Jesus ask this question? More than this, why did Jesus stop at such a critical time to ask the question? Surely Jesus knew the importance of time.
(1) Our Lord Jesus did not need to learn the woman’s identity. Mark does not tell us that Jesus looked to see who had touched Him, but, “He looked around to see the woman who had done this” (Mark 5:32).
(2) Our Lord delayed in order to give the woman the opportunity to give testimony to her healing. Had Jesus not stopped and asked who touched His garments, no one would have known of the miracle. When she saw the eyes of Jesus fixed upon her, she knew that He knew everything. She had taken nothing from Him, but He had given healing to her. She now poured out her sad and miserable life story, telling how Jesus had done what all of medical science could not.
(3) Our Lord stopped in order to correct any misconceptions on the part of the woman. If there were any elements of magic in the thinking of this woman, Jesus swept them away by making it completely clear that it was her faith that had saved her, not her grasp on His clothing. Jesus touched many as He went about, but few of these found in physical contact with Him a wonder such as this. It was her relationship with Jesus by faith that made her whole.
(4) It has also been suggested that this was a gracious act of our Lord to make it publicly known that this woman had been made whole, so that she was no longer to be considered ceremonially unclean.
(5) Most significantly in the context, this delay of Jesus resulted in a greater miracle, and greater faith on the part of Jairus, for now the young girl was not sick, but dead.
Upon this woman’s confession of faith, the Lord Jesus sent her off with the words, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).
If the disciples were irritated by our Lord’s seemingly unnecessary delay, you can well imagine that Jairus was fit to be tired. He knows that at any moment his daughter would be dead, and here was Jesus making mountains out of mole hills. Why could He not have simply ignored the woman in view of the present crisis? Jairus must have been frustrated, but how do you hurry God?
Jairus’ world came crashing down with the report of his servants that his daughter had died (verse 35). The common belief in his day, as ours, is that ‘where there’s life, there’s hope.’ And now all hope was gone. Knowing that every ray of hope had been swept away by this announcement, Jesus ignored these words, and spoke encouragingly to Jairus, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe” (Mark 5:36). His faith was faltering, and it was through faith that the child would be raised. Where there is life, there is hope. But with God, we must also believe that where there is death, there is hope as well.
Leaving the crowd with all of His disciples but the inner three, Jesus continued on to the home of the deceased daughter. Outside the home the commotion of a typical near-eastern funeral had already begun (verse 38). All of this crying-on was unnecessary our Lord informed the mourners, for this girl was asleep.
Thinking our Lord to be either naive or completely self-deceived the mourners mocked and ridiculed Him by their laughter. They knew death when they saw it. Such unbelief will never witness the power of God and so these people were put outside, with only Jesus, Peter, James and John, and the parents going to where the girl’s body had been laid.
The actual event was both simple and sweet. Jesus raised the girl and instructed the parents to feed her and not to tell anyone what had happened.
As I started by saying interruptions are part of life, today’s message is calling us to accept and create room for interruptions in this life with understanding that the destiny will remain uninterrupted.
Paul writing to the Corinthians talks about financial interruptions that the church need to give to support the needy, in this case the church in Jerusalem. Our budgets have and will be interrupted for the noble course of our calling as Christians.
In our first reading we see King David interruption, instead of being joyful that he is now the King he stops to lament over the death of King Saul who had become an enemy to him and his friend the prince Jonathan “how the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle”. Our joys are also interrupted daily
The ruling this week by the SCOTUS on gay marriage is an interruption, the house of bishops of ACNA issued a statement on this and just to quote a portion of it our leaders say:
The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is often summarized as, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Because of his love, we love and care for all those who experience same-sex attraction. The Anglican Church in North America continues to welcome everyone to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
The interruptions will never alter the gospel.
As a church we believe that we are changed by God to make a difference for God. Let us expect and allow God to interrupt us as we seek to accomplish His goal for us.
Just a reminder from last week’s sermon: Jesus is risen and Jesus is Lord. Therefore we possess unconventional power. Let us Pray for our nation and its leaders
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
The church will need in the years ahead to articulate what we believe about marriage; we cannot assume that people agree with us, or even understand us. Let’s not simply talk about marriage in terms of values or culture or human flourishing. Let’s talk about marriage the way Jesus and the apostles taught us to — as bound up with the gospel itself, a picture of the union of Christ and his church (Ephesians 5.32).
As we do so, we must not just articulate our views of marriage, we must embody a gospel marriage culture. We have done a poor job of that in the past. Too many of our marriages have been ravaged by divorce.
Too often we’ve neglected church discipline in the cases of those who have unrepentantly destroyed their marriages. We must repent of our failings and picture to the world what marriage is meant to be, and keep the light lit to the old paths.
This gives the church an opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place. Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st-century culture.
We should not fear that. We believe stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is alive, and will show up in the Eastern skies on a horse. We believe that the gospel can forgive sinners like us and make us sons and daughters. Let’s embrace the sort of freakishness that saves.
Let’s also recognize that if we’re right about marriage, and I believe we are, many people will be disappointed in getting what they want. Many of our neighbors believe that a redefined concept of marriage will simply expand the institution (and, let’s be honest, many will want it to keep on expanding). This will not do so, because sexual complementarity is not ancillary to marriage. The church must prepare for the refugees from the sexual revolution.
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“From the Beginning”: God’s Design for Marriage
A Statement from the Anglican Church in North America The Archbishop and Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America have received the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States of America and are deeply grieved by the stark departure from God’s revealed order. We are concerned for the inevitable results from this action to change the legal understanding of marriage and family life.
While this decision grieves us, God’s truth and the goodness of the order established in creation have not been changed. The kingdom of God cannot be shaken. We pray with confidence that God will reveal his glory, love, goodness, and hope to the world through his Church as we seek to follow him in faith and obedience.
Jesus Christ teaches that God is the author of marriage from the beginning of time (Matthew 19:4-6). God’s design for marriage has always involved a man and a woman: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). These truths have ordered civilization for thousands of years. Where God’s designs are followed in any society, including his designs for marriage and families, the result is the greatest possible blessing and abundance of life.
The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is often summarized as, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Because of his love, we love and care for all those who experience same-sex attraction. The Anglican Church in North America continues to welcome everyone to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Marriage is established by God for the procreation and raising of children and for the good of society. For this reason, governments have an interest in marriage and have delegated authority from God to protect and regulate it. But no court, no legislature and no local magistrate has the authority to redefine marriage and to impose this definition on their citizens.
The United States of America, so its founders believed and taught, is a nation under God whose citizens’ fundamental rights are derived from the Creator. There is no right to a relationship which is contrary to the Creator’s express design. We cannot accept the Supreme Court’s decision purporting to find a fundamental right to same-sex “marriage” any more than we can accept its claim to have found a right to destroy human life in the womb. We will work with others to overturn this decision, and we pray that others will join with us in this effort.
Meeting this week in Vancouver, British Columbia, we are reminded that our Canadian members have been living under a similar legal standard for the last ten years. Their situation includes minimal legal protections for those who in good conscience cannot recognize this redefinition, and it is our prayer that stronger protections will be put into place and honored in the United States.
In the meantime, we shall continue to exercise our religious freedom to perform marriages for those who come for holy matrimony as defined by our Church. The Anglican Church in North America only authorizes and only performs marriages between one man and one woman. We respect the consciences of those clergy who may decline to perform marriages as agents of the state. We ask our churches to respect such decisions and help make arrangements to minister to those seeking to be married. We are also well aware that this ruling may create difficulties for our lay members and Christian institutions as they seek to be faithful in upholding God’s design for marriage, and we will make every effort to find ways to support and stand with them.
The Church bears witness to the truth of God’s Word and God’s design of marriage (see attached statement on “Bearing Witness”). When government oversteps its rightful authority, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Today there is no place for either triumphalism or despair, so we prayerfully and sincerely urge a spirit of charity by all. We speak out of a concern for the consequences that our people and our neighbors will suffer from an unjust and unwise decision by five justices of the Supreme Court. We call those justices to repentance, even as we echo Jesus’ words, praying for God the Father to forgive them, for they know not what they have done.
We call our people to a season of prayer for marriage and offer the accompanying Litany and Prayer to guide us.
Unanimously adopted by the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America.
June 26, 2015
Sermon delivered on Trinity 3B, Sunday, June 21, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 17.1a,4-11,19-49; Psalm 9.9-20; 2 Corinthians 6.1-13; Mark 4.35-41.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We live in a world that sometimes seems to be going completely mad. The latest high profile example is the murder of nine saints during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Worldwide we are witnessing an unprecedented level of persecution and atrocities committed against Christians. Then there’s all kinds of evil we deal with in our daily lives: sickness, addictions, broken relationships, death of loved ones, our fears and anxieties about the present and future, guilt over past behavior, and much more. How can this be? How can this kind of evil exist in God’s good and beautiful world? And more importantly, do we have any resources available to help us not only fight against the various evils that afflict us, but to prevail against them? After all, as we saw two weeks ago, Paul reminded us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the dark powers and principalities, against the spiritual and cosmic forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6.12). All of this is enough to make us lose heart and hope and wonder if God really has abandoned us. Fortunately, our readings this morning provide some timely lessons for us to consider. Whether directly or indirectly, each of our readings speak to our fears about the various kinds of evil that confront us and remind us that we do have power at our disposal to fight against evil, whether the evil is outright persecution or the personal challenges we all face. But it is not the kind of conventional power that the world values (and sadly many of us who call ourselves Christians value), and this is what I want us to look at this morning.
Think for a minute about the kind of conventional power the world values. Nations equate military strength with power because might makes right. We can’t afford to let bullies push us around or interfere with our national interests, and the only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to carry the biggest stick. Let your enemy become stronger than you, i.e., let your enemy develop more firepower and manpower than you, says conventional wisdom, and you’ve already lost the war. This, of course, explains the arms race madness between the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War years, a race that is apparently heating up once again with Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine and Crimea.
Likewise on a personal level. A lot of people spend a lot of time working out in the weight room so they can defend themselves or have the physical tools to help assert themselves over others. After all, who wants to risk tangling with someone physically stronger than you? And if we can’t be the strongest person on the block, we arm ourselves with weapons so that we can protect ourselves and our families. On other fronts, we strive to earn as much money as we can because, well, money talks. Everybody knows that. At work, if we want security or desire to get things done, we strive to rise to the top of the organizational food chain where we can impose our decisions on others rather than have them impose their decisions on us. I could go on but you get the point.
Now let me be clear. I am not arguing that these things are right or wrong. I am simply observing that we all value what the world calls conventional wisdom and power, and in one way or another we all seek to accumulate at least some forms of that power, whether it is on a personal, economic, social, or political level. But here’s the thing about conventional power. Try as we might, we are eventually going to run into someone who is bigger than us, faster than us, stronger than us, smarter than us, has more money than us, is more powerful than us, or who is better armed than us, and when that happens, if our interests come into conflict with that person’s interests, we and our interests are toast. Conventional power has its limits.
We see this illustrated in our OT lesson with the story of David and Goliath. As we saw two weeks ago, God’s people Israel wanted a king for themselves so that they could be like the other nations. Careful what you wish for, you may just get it, and here we see that coming true in spades. God indeed gave Israel a king. His name was Saul and he was an imposing physical specimen who stood head and shoulders above his fellow Israelites (cf. 1 Samuel 10.20ff). But now Saul and his forces were confronted by an enemy who had a bigger stick than they did and a mightier warrior than Saul. The Philistines had Goliath who checked in at an impressive 9’9” tall. Here is a man that even LeBron would have trouble handling on the basketball court!
But the text does not focus on Goliath’s stature, jaw-dropping as that was. Instead, the writer focuses on Goliath’s armament. His body armor alone weighed 126 pounds and the tip of his spear weighed in at 15 pounds! Here is conventional power at its finest. Here is the man who literally and figuratively carried the biggest stick and was therefore not to be messed with! The intended effect of this weaponry was to intimidate and it succeeded in doing just that because there was not one man in the entire Israelite army, mighty king Saul included, who dared answer Goliath’s challenge to them. Goliath’s stature and conventional power is also what allowed him to curse God’s people and God himself. But there was no one who dared call Goliath on his blasphemy because the Israelites were afraid. They allowed conventional power to intimidate them. You want to be like the rest of the nations, Israel? Welcome to the real world.
Israel’s reliance on conventional power is further seen in the almost cartoonish scene where Saul tried to make David wear his oversized armor. In trying to impose his armor on David, Saul was in effect declaring publicly that David’s only hope against Goliath was to use conventional power against him, and even then David’s chances of success were slim to none. Once again we see fear operating based on faith in conventional power. It was the same fear that probably made David’s brother, Eliab, so angry with him. David’s fearlessness in the face of conventional power, a fearlessness based on a living faith that God would be true to his covenant promises with his people, exposed Eliab’s fear for what it really was, a fear based on a misplaced hope and trust. Is this why God, who sees the heart, picked David over Eliab to be king? For you see, reliance on conventional power is all about self-help. In fact, conventional power is little more than self-help, the belief that only we can act to protect our self-interest because no one else can or will. Here we see human pride and self-reliance at its very worst and its very best.
But David would have none of it. His faith in God was simply too strong and vibrant for him to rely solely on conventional power. David was a shepherd, not a warrior, and so David chose the tools of a shepherd to fight the conventional power of Goliath the warrior. But David fought Goliath with a deep faith and trust in God. Notice this did not make David immune from danger or the various circumstances of life that confront all of us. What David’s faith and reliance on God allowed him to do was to prevail over the evil that confronted him.
So what can we learn from this lesson? The story invites us to look at several things. First, it reminds us that God’s power always trumps conventional power. That is why we are not to let appearances deceive us. To be sure, sometimes things look daunting and overwhelming, hopeless even, as they did to the Israelites. But evil is not in charge. Neither is it omnipotent. God is, and God is actively involved in the lives of all people, especially those who put their ultimate hope and trust in him rather than themselves.
Second, then, this story invites us to look at our faith as well as our beliefs about God. Do we believe God really is active in his world and our lives? Do we believe God loves us and and is faithful to his promises to heal and rescue us from all evil, including the ultimate evil of death? It is hard for us to answer yes to these questions because so often it appears that evil triumphs over good. But this is where we can learn from our story because one of its lessons is that looks can be deceiving. David entered the battle as a decisive underdog but emerged a conqueror, not because he had superior weaponry, but because he fought using the power of God, a power that was made manifest in the ostensible weakness of a shepherd.
This, in turn, leads us to a third lesson from the story. Our faith, while being a gift from God, ultimately depends on how well we know God. The more we know (not know about) this God who has revealed himself supremely in Jesus Christ, the more we will have confidence that God does love us and does intervene actively on our behalf, even when that is not self-evident to us. The more we know the heart of God as revealed in Scripture and ultimately in Jesus, the greater our faith and trust will be that God delivers on his promises. Jesus’ resurrection stands as the unique and supreme example that God’s power always trumps conventional power.
Last, the story of David and Goliath invites us to look at the folly of self-reliance. Don’t misunderstand. We are called to carry our weight in this world. It’s called sweat equity as we work with and for God. But that is different from self-reliance. As the name implies, self-reliance puts its ultimate hope in self, not God, and as we have seen, it leads us to put our ultimate trust in conventional power. But for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, this creates a dilemma for us. For example, in the coming days, we will surely hear voices clamoring for better security in churches (and probably elsewhere). Had someone been armed, perhaps those nine people would not have been murdered. And this is where it gets tricky because we are confronted with a choice. Do we go for conventional power or rely on God’s power? The problem many of us have is that if we choose to rely on God’s power we can feel terribly vulnerable. There’s a real chance that we could end up being killed! But that is the risk we have to run as Christians because we are called to hospitality and we all have seen what hospitality did for the nine dead at Emanuel AME. Isn’t it better, then, that we protect ourselves, i.e., that we rely on conventional power? Lives might be saved. Then we hear the words of Jesus. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16.25).
Again, I am not telling you what position to take on this issue. Rather, I am inviting us all to let our stories this morning be a catalyst for us to really examine our faith and relationship with God. One thing is certain, however. The more we know the God revealed in Jesus, the God who overcame our sin and death and who has given us a preview of the life to come, the more we will learn to trust his power rather than our own because at the end of the day, only God can call into existence things that are not and give life to the dead (Romans 4.17).
We see this theme of strength being weakness and weakness being strength echoed in our epistle lesson. Paul has just declared that now is the time for all to put their hope and trust in Jesus so that everyone might embrace God’s eternal salvation. He maintains that he has done just that and continues to defend his apostolic ministry against the detractors in the church at Corinth. As part of his defense we cannot help but notice that Paul is bragging in the Lord. Bragging in the Lord is different from plain old bragging because the former blesses God while the latter attempts to bless us. Once again we are confronted with the biblical paradox of strength because Paul is clearly telling us that real power, God’s power, is made perfect in our weakness. Paul tells us that he and his gospel of Jesus crucified are the real deal precisely because of how Paul has made God’s strength known. He isn’t a world-famous teacher or scholar. He doesn’t have wealth or power or fame, i.e., conventional power, as some others who call themselves apostles have. Instead, he’s suffered beatings, imprisonments, riots, hardships, hunger, and the like for the sake of proclaiming the gospel. And Paul is perfectly good with that because his hardships and weaknesses have allowed the power of God to be made known in him. Listen to what he says: I’ve responded to my hardships with, “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God, [i.e., the power of the Holy Spirit]; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.”
In other words, Paul’s hardships and his personal weaknesses have provided a venue for God to make God’s power known through Paul in ways that are contrary to conventional power. As a result, even though others sneer at him and call him a liar or think he is as good as dead, Paul knows otherwise. He knows he is the real deal and is made alive in the power of Christ, even if he were to die, because death is part of the old creation, not the new, and new creation is the reality under which Paul operates. Therefore, Paul can rejoice even in his sorrow because he is manifesting the paradoxical and enigmatic power of God made known in human weakness. Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 12.8-10:
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it [Paul’s thorn in the flesh, whatever that was] would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
So what’s going on here? Is Paul just nuts or is he on to something else?
Again, this lesson invites us to look at our faith and ourselves. Paul is clearly not crazy. Instead, what we are seeing here is a living faith in the risen and ascended Lord. Paul understands clearly that Jesus’ death and resurrection have changed everything and represent how God typically works among his people. The power of evil has been broken decisively on the cross, if not yet permanently defeated. In other words, the power of God defeated conventional power, but it did so in a totally unexpected way. Conventional power was defeated by the power of love and in the appearance of weakness. But we would not have known this without the resurrection. So once again, Paul is inviting us not to accept appearances at face value because the story is not yet finished. The power of weakness, God’s weakness, has the power to overcome the conventional power of evil. Jesus Christ crucified is not dead but alive. The new creation has burst upon us, albeit only partially. Nevertheless, it signals the reign of evil, sin, and death is finished. And Paul understood that if we want to follow Jesus, we must pattern our lives after Jesus, who lived in ways that conventional power labels as weak and ineffective. Many of us have bought into this logic of conventional power more than we realize, and so folks like Paul tend to shake us up or make us want to dismiss them as irrelevant or crazy or both.
But once again Emanuel AME simultaneously validates Paul’s experiences and reality of living in the new creation while turning conventional wisdom and power upside down. If you have not yet done so, look at the video of the accused murderer’s bond hearing and listen to the victims’ families who confront him. In their grief and sorrow, they offer no evil for evil. They offer no hate-filled diatribes or desire for revenge. Instead, they offer forgiveness and mercy and a desire for the accused to come to a life-changing relationship with Jesus! Absolutely amazing. As you listen to the victims’ families, pay attention to your own feelings. If you are like me, there is a strange sense of peace and a power that will descend on you. On the one hand, you won’t be able to explain it. On the other hand, you will intuitively know that this is how the kingdom comes: In weakness, forbearance, mercy, charity, patience, and love. It is the weakness and strength of Christ dying on a cross and being raised from the dead to reign as Lord over this vast cosmos. The nine martyred saints at Emanuel AME have been slain, and tragically so. But they are gloriously alive in the life-giving power of Jesus Christ crucified and raised (this, BTW, is what the entire book of Revelation is about). Do you have a resurrection faith that is vibrant enough and real enough for you to embrace the seeming paradox of weakness and power?
Last, of course, is our gospel lesson and here we have to dig a bit deeper. We see Jesus calm a raging storm to save his life and the lives of his disciples. So where is the paradox of power and weakness? In terms of conventional power this story seems pretty straightforward. But let us look at this story a bit closer and put it into the broader context of Mark’s narrative. Prior to this story Mark reports three parables of Jesus: the mustard seed, the sower, and the growing seeds (Mark 4.3-20, 26-32). Immediately following this story Mark reports a series of miracles including exorcism, the healing of a hemorrhaging woman, and the raising of a dead girl (Mark 5.1-43). So why did Mark place the story of Jesus calming the storm where he did?
Because Mark doesn’t want us to see Jesus as some kind of Cosmic Superman who flits around and does miracles to make us believe in him. No, this story comes on the heels of Jesus’ parables about how the kingdom of God comes. Think about it. The kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed that is planted. So from a conventional power perspective, it can safely be ignored. It can be trampled on or missed entirely, and it appears to be weak and insignificant. It is therefore easy for us to dismiss the kingdom’s power as being unreal because it does not live up to our own expectations that are driven by our embrace of conventional power.
But here again, Mark is reminding us not to let appearances deceive us because nothing could be further from the truth. The kingdom of God, while appearing to be as weak and insignificant as a seed, is just the opposite. It bursts in on God’s hurting and broken world and people in great power that manifests itself in healings of all kinds and the overthrow of evil. Mark also wants us to remember that the kingdom of God is within us as Fr. Bowser talked about last week. It is powerful, but that power is often hidden or made known in unconventional ways, at least for the moment.
This is why Jesus berated the disciples. Of course they should have paid attention to his previous miracles. But Jesus wanted them to see him not as a miracle worker but as a man in whom the kingdom of God is supremely made known. Yes, it is made known in mighty acts of power. But it is also made known in Jesus’ love and compassion for the least and the lost, and for his desire for sinners to repent and give their lives to God instead of themselves. This is surely the greater meaning of taking Jesus as he is, not as we want or expect him to be, and this is a challenge for us because Jesus ultimately made the kingdom of God known by going to the cross for our sake so that we could live as the healed and reconciled people of God. This was God’s power made perfect in weakness, the same weak power that was vindicated in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Is Jesus a miracle worker? You bet he is. Is the kingdom of God about power that we would recognize? You bet it is. When Jesus calmed the storm he declared that he was Lord over all creation so that even the forces of nature obeyed him. But Jesus is also our crucified Lord who gave himself in weakness and love so that we could learn to live in obedience to God and have the kind of relationship with God that we were created to have (cf. Philippians 2.5-11). This is the same Jesus who tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. This is the same Jesus who bids us come and die, sometimes literally as well as metaphorically. This is how the kingdom comes on earth as in heaven, and this is what Mark’s story invites us to see and ponder.
As Christians, we are not immune from evil or suffering. In fact, the whole story of God’s people, especially in the NT, reminds us to expect suffering, not necessarily as punishment, but rather as a way to allow the power of God to work through us, just as it worked through David, Paul, and Jesus. Once again, if we do not know this God who revealed himself in Jesus, and if we do not know the story of God’s rescue plan for us and all his creation, we will likely not buy into that story. We will instead be content to pursue the futile path of conventional power.
But God wants better for us and invites us to trust him, to be weak for him so that his power can flow through us and we can demonstrate to the world that his kingdom indeed does live within us. Every time we choose to love instead of hate, every time we choose mercy over revenge, every time we choose to forgive those who persecute us or berate us or despise us, we open ourselves to the power of God living in us in the person of the Holy Spirit so that God’s strength is made known to the world and the kingdom continues to come. Like the saints of Emanuel AME, every time we choose to love in return for those who hate us, evil is diminished and ultimately defeated. This is terribly hard work and it is terribly hard for us to believe, precisely because it is so deeply enigmatic for us. And oh yes. It can make us afraid. But Scripture tells us constantly not to be afraid. In fact, that is the most common exhortation in the Bible! If that’s the case, it must mean there is plenty out there to make us afraid!
But our lessons today, each in its own way, encourage us to believe and remind us not to be afraid because Jesus is Lord and the powers of evil are not. Jesus is Lord because he died in weakness for our sake and was raised in power to rule over God’s old creation until the new comes in full. He is available to us each and every day in the power of the Spirit, in worship, in the sacraments, in our fellowship, and in Scripture. Most importantly, he loves us and wants us to enjoy real life in which we put our ultimate hope and trust in him, confident that he will use even our weaknesses to make us strong. Will you accept Jesus’ invitation to be weak so that his power can be made known in and through you? May our Lord Jesus Christ bless each and every one of us with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts and minds to believe, so that we can experience the grace of seeing Jesus’ power working in and through our weaknesses to help bring in the kingdom on earth as in heaven. Then we will truly know that we have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A Northerner bows, deeply, to the South:
I have never seen anything like what I saw on television this afternoon. Did you hear the statements made at the bond hearing of the alleged Charleston, S.C., shooter?
Nine beautiful people slaughtered Wednesday night during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their relatives were invited to make a statement today in court. Did you hear what they said?
They spoke of mercy. They offered forgiveness. They invited the suspect, who was linked in by video from jail, to please look for God.
There was no rage, no accusation—just broken hearts undefended and presented for the world to see. They sobbed as they spoke…
Charleston deserves something, a bow. So too do the beautiful people who go to Wednesday night Bible study in America in 2015. They are the people who are saving America every day, completely unheralded, and we can hardly afford to lose them.
There’s only one thing Charleston doesn’t deserve. People apart from the trauma, far away, have already begun to bring their political agenda items to the tragedy and make sure they are debated. Because this is the right time for a political debate, right?
Here’s an idea: Why don’t you leave the grieving alone right now? Why don’t you not impose your agenda items on them? Why don’t you not force them to debate while they have tears in their throats?
Don’t politicize their pain. Don’t turn this into a debate on a flag or guns. Don’t use it to make your points and wave your finger from your high horse.
These people are doing it right without you.
They are loving each other and helping each other. Let them grieve in peace. And respect them as what they are, heroic.
Listen carefully because friends and family of the murder victims are hard to hear. What you will hear is this. Despite the pain and grief and anger and sorrow, forgiveness is offered to Roof by one person after another. This is how the kingdom comes, unlikely as it seems. This is how evil gets defeated in the trenches. The accused is not given the opportunity for further self-justification for his actions because he doesn’t get to hear hate-filled diatribes from those whose lives are forever changed. Instead, forgiveness and mercy are offered in the midst of unspeakable evil and its aftermath. This is how love triumphs. It’s terribly difficult and utterly breaks the heart. But it is the only way because love and forgiveness and mercy follow the way Christ defeated evil supremely on the cross. God bless these saints. God have mercy on this kid’s soul as well as all those who helped make him who he currently is.
A splendid talk. Listen if you have ears to hear.
Food for thought.
Things happen in our lives that make us want to “pack in” on everything, as the English say. We work and plan and look forward to something and it all comes to nothing and we are tempted to say “What’s the use?” But perhaps we should take a careful look at some of our dashed hopes and try to remember what actually happened later. This isn’t always possible, for our memories are often short. But for years I have kept a sort of journal in which I put down things that seem worth remembering, and it has frequently amazed and cheered me to see the pattern of things past. Some of my hopes failed, and then there have been occasions when something far beyond my hopes took place. “To those who love God,” wrote Paul, “everything that happens fits into a pattern for good” (J. B. Phillips’s translation of Romans 8:28).
Sometimes the worst has to happen in order for the best to happen. We hold a high hope, we lose it, and to our utter surprise something infinitely better than we had hoped is given to us.
Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church, some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel.
For instance, what writing has taught us to turn to the East at prayer? What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all parts of the tabernacle open to every one? Moses was wise enough to know that contempt attaches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar. In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful [awesome] dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad [subject to rumor] at random is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and condemned by the multitude through familiarity. “Dogma” and “Kerygma” are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence; the latter is proclaimed to all the world. One form of this silence is the obscurity employed in Scripture, which makes the meaning of “dogmas” difficult to be understood for the very advantage of the reader.
Thus we all look to the East at our prayers, but few of us know that we are seeking our own ancient country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East. We pray standing on the ?rst day of the week, but we do not all know the reason. On the day of the resurrection [Greek anastasis, ‘standing again’] we remind ourselves of the grace given to
us by standing at prayer, not only because we rose with Christ [Greek sun-anastantes, ‘stood again with’] and are bound to “seek those things which are above”; but also because the day seems to us to be in some sense an image of the age which we expect. Of necessity, then, the Church teaches her own foster children to offer their prayers on that day standing, to the end that through continual reminder of the endless life we may not neglect to make provision for our removal thither [there].
Moreover, all Pentecost is a reminder of the resurrection expected in the age to come. On this day the rules of the Church have educated us to prefer the upright attitude [standing] of prayer, for by their plain reminder they, as it were, make our mind to dwell no longer in the present but in the future. Moreover, every time we fall upon our knees and rise from off
them we show by the very deed that by our sin we fell down to earth, and by the loving kindness of our Creator were called back to heaven.
—Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (370-379 AD), On the Holy Spirit, 32.188-192
These elements are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is perceived by the senses and another thing by the mind. What is seen has bodily appearance; what the mind perceives produces spiritual fruit. You hear the words “The Body of Christ,” and you answer “Amen” [so be it].
—Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272.