Sunday’s Sermon, June 23, 2024: Who Then Is This?

The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges

Our Samuel reading today has lots of good story material: it’s almost cinematic. David has slain Goliath: now he is presented to King Saul as the MVP of the war with the Philistines. The King’s son Jonathan is instantly enthralled by David – remember, we were told a couple of weeks ago that he was ruddy and handsome and had beautiful eyes; and now he’s a conquering hero too: what’s not to love? David becomes a member of the royal household, and he is acclaimed and rewarded wherever he goes in the King’s service.

A little context here might be helpful: Saul previously disobeyed God’s command to put to the sword every living thing belonging to his enemies the Amalekites. As a result, Saul has lost God’s favor and Samuel’s counsel. Samuel subsequently sought out David and anointed him as the future king, as we heard last week, but Saul doesn’t know this.

Several verses have been skipped in our reading, and I’m going to share them with you because they help to build up the dramatic picture. After the line “All the people approved” comes this:

1 Samuel 18:6-9

“As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they made merry: ‘Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands.’ Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, ‘They have ascribed to David ten thousands and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?’ So Saul eyed David from that day on.”

Now comes the next day, when King Saul is afflicted by an evil spirit, apparently sent by God. The writer has clearly set us up to guess that this is a spirit of jealousy and insecurity, perhaps exacerbated by Jonathan’s infatuation with David. Saul tries twice to murder David, only to be outsmarted by his protégé.

And now we get to the core of the issue: Saul was afraid of David, and all the more afraid as David’s reputation, popularity, and political power increased. It was becoming more and more clear who God’s favor rested on and whom God had abandoned. What would happen next? Stay tuned for the next exciting installment. Next Sunday we will find ourselves much further along in this saga, so I encourage you to take ten minutes this week and read the rest of First Samuel before then.

Fear, and the distancing from God that often accompanies it, is the thread that connects the Hebrew Scripture with our Gospel story of Jesus calming the storm.

In our year-long journey through the Gospel of Mark, we are now starting a three week series of readings intended to answer the question “Who is Jesus?” The clues include: demonstrating his sovereignty over nature, banishing demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, and sending forth of the disciples as pilgrims, not conquerors. The picture starts to come into focus: this is a savior who is very different from an earthly king.

Jesus says, “Let’s go across to the other side.” He has just been teaching parables while sitting in a boat in the shallows of the Sea of Galilee, so this means a sea voyage. Going over to the other side not only means setting sail across a notoriously unpredictable body of water, but also heading into hostile territory, for on the other side of the lake is the country of the Gerasenes, not Jewish land at all. This is to be a missionary journey, going out to an unknown part of the country to share the good news. It makes me think of one of the questions we are considering in our strategic planning effort: which underserved segments of the community should we reach out to? What constitutes “the other side” for us?

The storm on the lake recalls the watery chaos of the beginning of creation, ordered and tamed by God; only God can control the waters, the source of life which can paradoxically become a place of death. This was and remains a fundamental truth for the people of Galilee, even for experienced fishermen, as were some of the disciples. It’s a truism that many professional fisherfolk can’t swim, and a fear of shipwreck is well founded.

So the disciples were afraid as they set sail. When the storm blew up, they were terrified. And there was Jesus, taking a nap on a cushion, oblivious to the danger. When we are afraid we may misplace our fear, turning it into blame, looking for a scapegoat, disguising it as anger. Often we fixate on the authority figure – the government, the boss, the priest, God. I’ve been rewatching the British TV show “Cobra”; it’s all about navigating complicated disasters and demonstrating strong national leadership. A strong thread throughout the series is the dilemma that the best decision for the country may involve suffering for individuals, and may end the decision maker’s career. The prime minister is repeatedly excoriated for his apparent callousness as he weaves his way through the obstacle course of natural catastrophes, foreign plots, and political shenanigans. We tend to blame God for natural disasters or personal tragedies. And yet it is God who can bring us through difficult times, if we can only find the capacity to be still and listen for a word of peace.

The disciples didn’t ask Jesus to fix the situation but rather to enter into their panic. They had no expectation that he would be able to do anything about the storm, but they wanted him to be as afraid as they were. Instead, when Jesus woke up, he remained calm and rebuked the wind. He addressed the natural elements as if they were living beings, using the same words he had previously used to expel a demon. And, like the demon, the wind and the waves obeyed his command.

If there’s one super-power I would like to have, it’s the power of remaining completely non-anxious in the midst of turbulence. It’s what I admire most about our former Presiding Bishop and Assisting Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori: I remember watching her back in 2007, as a newly installed PB, dealing with clergy who were being really rude to her at a diocesan gathering. She listened to what they had to say and then, very calmly, somehow she managed to hand their anxiety back to them, without taking any of it on herself. In the Gospels we read that perfect love casts out fear. When we are really tuned into God’s love and power, we can move beyond fear and rest in faith.

But the disciples are still afraid – the translation says they are filled with awe, but a more literal rendering is that they are frightened with a great fear – after Jesus demonstrates his power. They don’t yet get who he is, and as we know, their lack of understanding and their lack of faith will continue to be a theme throughout this Gospel.

Fear is a fact of life, and we live in fearful times. How do we deal with our fear? Not by scapegoating or blaming; not by seeking to spread the fear to others. We sit here today in our own boat with Jesus: look up at the cathedral roof, and see a ship, an ark, that can carry us safely through any storm. We can’t avoid the storms, but we can be sure that Jesus is with us. All we have to do is to trust in him and keep on rowing.


Like this post? Share it with your friends and family...


Leave a Comment


Because of you, we can continue to serve as a center of transformative love, faith and service!

Have questions or need to make changes?
Feel free to contact us, and we will be more than happy to answer all of your questions.