As is often the case during the long series of Sundays between Pentecost and Advent, the assigned readings from Holy Scripture offer choices when it comes to the Old Testament reading and the psalm. Today, one of those alternates is Psalm 107…..a psalm much beloved by sailors and therefore frequently included throughout the world during annual blessings of fleets. Given this background and the wicked storm described in today’s Gospel reading, I ask you to listen carefully to the words of that psalm:
Some went down to the sea in ships, and plied their trade in deep waters. They beheld the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. Then a stormy wind arose, which tossed high the waves of the sea. They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; their hearts melted because of their peril. They reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble; and he delivered them from their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper, and quieted the waves of the sea. Then were they glad because of the calm, and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy, and the wonders he does for his children.
I suspect that whoever first wrote those words, did so from personal experience. Life on the water takes on a whole new meaning when the wind begins to blow beyond 25 or 30 knots……and when that same wind is blowing hard against the flow of the Gulf Stream…..and the skies become dark both night and day….and the waves begin to break and become confused and seem to be coming at you from every direction…and when those same confused waves reach heights that no landsman can possibly imagine. Such conditions have led many a sailor to make promises to God that run something like this: O Lord, if you save me from this storm, then I promise to move from New England to a small farm in Wisconsin and never go down to the sea again.
Happily, most of those prayers go unfulfilled on the part of offshore sailors: the sea continues to speak to them much as it did to John Masefield in his famous poem written long ago:
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide, is a wild call and a clear call that many not be denied
That’s the way it has always been when it comes to a sailor’s relationship with the sea; and in similar ways, much the same holds true for all of us when it comes to the voyage of life! Sooner or later, storms will come our way and we too will be afraid; and perhaps it is then that we will desperately seek immediate relief and perhaps even be tempted to give up in despair. And if so, then we are in good company because all of the great “sailors”/ saints of our faith passed through many storms during the course of their lives.
Samuel in our First Reading found himself threatened by the insane behavior of Saul. Saint Paul suffered imprisonment, beatings, betrayal, slander, and shipwreck.
The disciples of Jesus quickly discovered that following him would also mean venturing out into new and dangerous situations that would cause them to fear for their lives.
Whether it be 12 frightened men on a small boat crossing the Sea of Galilee, or you and me struggling with the vast expanse of personal and societal issues which threaten to divide and overwhelm us: the situation remains the same and it runs something like this: when the storms of our human existence become unbearable, we reel and stagger and we find ourselves desperate for direction and a peaceful harbor of refuge. During times such as these, when we are confronted with unspeakable anguish, new creation with all its hopes for the future seems but a distant proposition at best. Grief and sorrow can become overpowering emotions which turn our lives upside down without a moment’s notice.
Those who have lived through the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the diagnosis of some incurable illness, know what it is to feel as though we’re perishing in a terrible storm, much as the disciples felt in their small boat on a lake so long ago.
Those who are appalled by the injustice and cruelty they see being perpetrated in their name, know what it means to find their hearts melting, and yet like St Paul with hearts that are open because of the suffering of widows and orphans, the homeless and the oppressed and all those with whom Jesus so closely identifies himself in his Gospel: “I was hungry and your fed me; I was in prison and you visited me…”
When such times come our way, as they will, we can sink into despair, but we do not need to stay there, for we can also remember who it is that the wind and sea obeyed so long ago.
Yes, when storms come our way, we do have a choice….we can be the victims, or we can be the priests:
We can be the ones who turn to God and remember the things that he has done for his people in ages past.
We can be the ones who treat Holy Scripture with reverence and fidelity: not as a cherry-picked weapon to diminish the poor and those who are numbered among the “least of our brothers and sisters,” but rather, as God intends: as the Good News of the one who began his ministry reminding us that he had come to fulfill the Law: the one whom God has anointed to proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives; the one in whom and through whom the blind receive their sight, the lame leap for joy…..for the time has come and the Kingdom of God is at hand.
We can shrink back in fear, or we can face those challenges head on by placing our despair, our grief and our sorrow in the hands of the one who has come: the man of sorrow who was and is acquainted with grief and by whose wounds we are healed…..
For he is the living God who has brought us to this Eucharist today, and given us the Holy Scriptures to inspire us, the Bread of Life to strengthen us, and brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage and uphold us through their prayers and their love even as we do today because as St Paul reminded Timothy, our God has not given us a spirit of timidity but the Spirit of power, making us a holy people and pouring out upon us those same gifts of the Spirit spoken of by St Paul in today’s second reading: patience, kindness, holiness, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God.
These are some of the Mustard seeds referred to in last week’s Gospel Reading….the seeds of the coming Kingdom of God when every tear will be wiped away, and through which, even now, the strangers and refugees will find a harbor of refuge, and the hungry will be satisfied, and the sick will be cared for with compassion, and holy wisdom will rule the hearts of those entrusted with authority, and the faithful in Christ throughout the world will embrace with integrity the beautiful prayer that has touched the hearts of countless generations in ages past:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred let us sow love. Where there is darkness, light; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope, where there is sadness joy……Grant that we may we not seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Yes, storms do come our way; answers to complex issues all too often seem to be hidden by waves and winds of uncertainty and division.
But, as God’s Good News reminds us over and over again, it is then, in those same times of fear and uncertainty, that we are called to remember who it is that stands among us in the maelstrom and even the wind and the waves obey; ….who it is that keeps watch with us on the decks of our daily lives….….who it is that is that is speaking words of peace and truth and wisdom which are meant to guide us with integrity to the harbors that are holy and acceptable in the sight of God. (pause)
Let us pray:
O God of creation, eternal majesty, you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm. Look upon us with compassion and by your Spirit strengthen and pilot us; by your power preserve us; by your wisdom instruct us, and by your hand protect us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Collect of the Day
P Let us pray… O God of creation, eternal majesty, you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm. By your strength pilot us, by your power preserve us, by your wisdom instruct us, and by your hand protect us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
The Readings: 1 Samuel 17:57–18:5, 10–16 • Psalm 133 • 2 Corinthians 6:1–13 • Mark 4:35–41
The First Reading:
L The First Reading is taken from 1 Samuel, chapters 17 and 18…
So when David came back from killing the Philistine, Abner sent for him and presented him to Saul. The Philistine’s head was still in David’s hand. Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, my boy?”
“I’m the son of your servant Jesse from Bethlehem,” David answered.
As soon as David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan’s life became bound up with David’s life, and Jonathan loved David as much as himself. From that point forward, Saul kept David in his service and wouldn’t allow him to return to his father’s household. And Jonathan and David made a covenant together because Jonathan loved David as much as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his armor, as well as his sword, his bow, and his belt. David went out and was successful in every mission Saul sent him to do. So Saul placed him in charge of the soldiers, and this pleased all the troops as well as Saul’s servants.
The next day an evil spirit from God came over Saul, and he acted like he was in a prophetic frenzy in his house. So David played the lyre as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand, and he threw it, thinking, I’ll pin David to the wall. But David escaped from him two different times.
Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with David but no longer with Saul. So Saul removed David from his service, placing him in command of a unit of one thousand men. David led the men out to war and back. David was successful in everything he did because the Lord was with him. Saul saw that he was very successful, and he was afraid of him. Everyone in Israel and Judah loved David because he led them out in war and back again.
Metrical Psalm 133: [Tune: I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord]
When friends abide in peace, At peace in unity,
Behold how good a thing it is, A pleasant thing to see.
It is like fragrant oil, Which glistens and runs down
On head and beard, on Aaron’s beard And collar of his gown.
It is like Hermon’s dew That falls on Zion’s hill,
For there the Lord has promised peace And gives a blessing still.
The Second Reading is taken from 2 Corinthians, chapter 6…
Since we work together with him, we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain. He says, I listened to you at the right time, and I helped you on the day of salvation. Look, now is the right time! Look, now is the day of salvation!
We don’t give anyone any reason to be offended about anything so that our ministry won’t be criticized. Instead, we commend ourselves as ministers of God in every way. We did this with our great endurance through problems, disasters, and stressful situations. We went through beatings, imprisonments, and riots. We experienced hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. We displayed purity, knowledge, patience, and generosity. We served with the Holy Spirit, genuine love, telling the truth, and God’s power. We carried the weapons of righteousness in our right hand and our left hand. We were treated with honor and dishonor and with verbal abuse and good evaluation. We were seen as both fake and real, as unknown and well known, as dying—and look, we are alive! We were seen as punished but not killed, as going through pain but always happy, as poor but making many rich, and as having nothing but owning everything. Corinthians, we have spoken openly to you, and our hearts are wide open. There are no limits to the affection that we feel for you. You are the ones who placed boundaries on your affection for us. But as a fair trade—I’m talking to you like you are children—open your hearts wide too.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark.
Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.
Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”
Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”