Third Sunday after Pentecost Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

I Sam 17:1a, 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The little bit that I heard anew as we were reading it this morning, and again we had Stuart - this is great actually, this is Samuel’s granddad, he seems to be hogging the Book of Samuel at the moment. The bit that stood out for me was, ‘I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth’, and I thought, we actually miss something because the language of today and the language of scripture – we’ve moved on. So when we hear something like that you think, ‘Oh, that’s not very nice, is it,’ until you realize that it’s often in symbolic language. The first giving, the first giving in love was the giving to humanity – the Creator created and the birds of the air and the animals were given to us. Now in the story of David there’s talk of the reversal of that. See what I mean? It’s not about feeding bits of flesh to animals and to birds, there’s a symbolism that’s saying something - that shift has occurred. The Philistine has rejected that initial gift of the Creator and therefore, instead of creation being the gift given, he will be given to it. Anyway that was just as an aside!

Overall today, as I said at the beginning, the readings that we heard are quite well known. The gospel account of Jesus in the boat, when I first looked at it, tongue in cheek, I thought, maybe it’s a proof-text, to show that Jesus was in fact a church-goer, probably attended synod and most likely was an Anglican. And the way I got to there was, he is safe in his own boat, even though there’s a storm raging outside and he was in the stern asleep on the cushion. One does wonder!

Anyway, we’re not going to start there. Let’s have a look at the reading from Samuel. The story of David and Goliath - Israel and the Philistines - and for those who think religion and politics should not be mixed and that priests should stick to the scriptures and let politicians stick to the “gospels”, this is one, one of many texts that show that religion and politics are totally, totally inseparable. They make no sense, either of them on their own. How we choose to represent or re-present David and Goliath will very much then influence the way that we interpret this text.

Goliath of Gath is presented as a weapon of mass destruction. And it’s sobering for us to remind ourselves that the western world has yet to locate a weapon of mass destruction; it is yet to find that which it has for so long spoken about and imagined. Now although using the setting of a war-zone in this narrative, it is very clear that the narrative is not about war, and very little of the narrative is actually taken up with the activity of war and if you read through it again you’ll see that the activity of war takes up one verse, verse 49 - the rest of the text is actually not about the activity of war.

The purpose of the text is to focus us on the leading up to that - the interaction between David and Goliath - and in doing that to introduce us to the figure of David. We actually get an introduction and begin to have an understanding of David, and David provides us with an early telling of the gospel narratives. Jesus is from the house of, from the line of David. And as we can appreciate that and say, hang on, this story is being told here, I’m now going to encounter this story later on in the story of Christ; I’m now going to encounter that story later on in the story of Stephen; I’m now going to get that story again in the story of Paul and we keep going all the way through scriptures, till we get to ourselves. So we have the story of David from the Hebrew tradition, which is the story of Jesus in the Christian tradition, which is the story of Mohammed in the Muslim tradition, the story of Vishnu in the Hindu tradition. It’s the story of Luke Skywalker in the science fiction tradition, it’s the story of Neo in the I-Tech tradition and so it goes on. Why are these stories being told about these people over and over and over? Because they hold an eternal truth; they hold a truth that can be told and retold to everyone, in every age, at all time, everywhere. David, Christ, call us to see the obvious - the dominant paradigm - and ask us to look in a different way with different eyes to the eyes that the world looks on and with.

So if we go into the story and see what is the truth that it is seeking to tell us, verse 34, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him.’ This huge weapon of mass destruction, this threat: it’s a story of courage. Verse 34 continues, ‘your servant used to keep sheep for his father’: it is a story about just being who we are - even the meek have part to play. The one who looks after the sheep was considered fairly low in the order of things. This is a story about valuing your vocation, your calling, and also knowing its strength no matter what it is: do not give your power away to the dominant world view. Verse 37, ‘The Lord will save me from the hand of this Philistine’: it’s a story about faith, but not the sort of faith that we have. David’s faith looks slightly different, for his actions are aligned to his faith in the power of the Divine that has been given and entrusted. David doesn’t need to change who he is or what he is, because he has faith that the power of the Divine is with him. The more we listen to the story of David, we begin to see that he is, and points us towards being counter-culture. When he’s clothed in the dominant paradigm, when Saul seeks to load him up with armour and fridge magnets and all of that sort of stuff, what does he say? ‘I cannot walk with these’ so David removes them, he removed them. He operates outside, outside of the dominant paradigm and we detect by the time that we get onto the field, a complete absence of fear.

As we hear about David so too we come to understand the power of God and the way of the Divine – verse 46 and 47 – ‘all may know there is a God, all may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear’. This is clearly not a gospel that the ‘coalition of the willing for war’ want to hear.

When we get to the gospel reading itself from Mark, it’s as if Mark has taken the almost believable narrative of David and Goliath and then magnified it, both in import and impact, by pitting Jesus against a great wind storm. David and Goliath - the ante is now upped, and we have Jesus versus storm and sea. Once again, it’s a story about faith and about courage and that’s implied in the questions that are asked: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ Being true to himself, Jesus realizes his power and gives voice to his power. ‘Peace! Be still!’ It might be helpful for us to reflect on who is it that speaks these words today? For where they are uttered in truth, there and perhaps only there, will Divine power be realized. Peace, be still: Paul suggests that now is an acceptable time for this word to be heard, now is the day of salvation in its hearing.

The other point we might reflect on is to hear the question that Jesus addresses to the disciples, addressed to us: Why are you afraid? And the interesting thing is, probably when we’re asked it initially, if someone stopped you in the street with one of the forms and asked, it’s very easy to answer because the world has already provided us with a hundred and one reasons – terrorism, crime rates, pandemics, refugees, boat people, illegals, financial insecurity – you could just go on, they roll off the tongue.

Why are you afraid? Perhaps we’re afraid because we’ve lost three words from our vocabulary: Peace, be still!

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Proper 7B/Ordinary 12B/Pentecost 3 June 25, 2006