Mark 4:35-41; 1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Yesterday we celebrated Juneteenth, June 19th, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. This happened when enslaved peoples in Texas learned from Union troops on June 19, 1865, 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation, that they were a free people. This past week congress passed a motion signed into law by the President to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Since 1865, Juneteenth has been celebrated primarily in African American communities with prayer and religious services, festivals of food, music and dancing, community picnics with speeches and educational events. While it is a holiday that celebrates the official end of slavery, it also points to the ongoing work that remains to be done to bring about racial justice and harmony in our land. The challenge remains despite the celebrations.
We live in challenging, stormy times. All this produces enormous anxiety, fear in us. Where will the next mass shooting take place? Violent crimes are spiking. Prices and taxes are going up. Will our children be able to afford college or to take out a mortgage? Will we be able to retire? What will happen if we get sick? How will we pay the bills?
Our readings today speak of battle, overwhelming challenge, nightmarish storms. In our reading from 1 Samuel, David, a shepherd boy, encounters a valley to be crossed, a valley separating two armies poised for battle. On one side of this valley stands the army of the Philistines and their top warrior, Goliath of Gath. A giant of a man, all decked out in the latest technologically advanced and seemingly impenetrable bronze armor. He is the ultimate fighting machine, the heavy weight champion of the Philistines, ready to make mince meat of the hapless Israelites.
On the other side of the valley stands the Israelite army. Upon seeing Goliath, the soldiers are quaking in their boots. But there on the sidelines, is a young man named David, a boy, a teen-ager, eighth son of his father, the youngest, not yet old enough for his driver's license. David’s skills so far include tending and defending sheep, playing musical instruments and writing poetry. When this kid hears Goliath shouting his insults, he goes to King Saul and says, “I’ll go fight this Philistine.” So, David crosses into enemy territory with nothing more than those stones and his shepherd’s staff and sling. Goliath is insulted that his enemies could not come up with a more worthy opponent. When Goliath came forward, David reached into his shepherd's bag, took out a stone, and slings it, striking the Philistine in his one vulnerable place – his forehead. Goliath, the mighty giant, is taken day by a mere stone.
What enabled David to win? What kept fear, trauma and anxiety away? David’s words have become a rallying cry for us in our times of trial – “The battle is the Lord’s.” David stayed centered in this belief. David declares “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine!” David may be young, but he is mighty in faith. He has been delivered before. He holds onto this knowledge as he prepares to confront another adversary. David’s words and deeds reminds us we have been in battle before, we have crossed the valley many times in the past. With God’s help, we have made it through.
Our gospel story from Mark finds Jesus and his disciples crossing the sea in the midst of a storm. Jesus had been teaching the crowds much of the day. When evening had come, Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus was bone-tired from ministering and teaching the crowds all day. They were leaving the Capernaum area on the Northwest side of the lake and traveling about 4-5 miles across to the eastern side of Lake Galilee.
As they traveled, in the dark, a ferocious storm hits them. Waves were coming in over the sides of the boat. Although seasoned fishermen, used to terrible storms, they are terrified at the viciousness of the current storm they find themselves in. The boat was on the verge of sinking, and Jesus was asleep, through it all. Teacher, they finally cry out, at the point of desperation, “do you not care that we are perishing?” Unlike David, the disciples are talking from a place of fear, not belief. We’ve been there too.
Sometimes, at very important times in our lives, when we are in the dark and buffeted by the storms of life -- it feels that as though God has forgotten us. That Jesus doesn’t care. That Jesus has fallen asleep while we are fighting for our lives. We feel alone. Fear replaces faith. The boat is taking on water. The winds are whipping, we’re losing our balance. We shout out, “do you not care, God?” Do you not care God, that my loved one is on the verge of death? Do you not care God, that my bank account is almost empty? Do you not care God at how alone I feel, how helpless I feel, how much darkness and despair I am in?
When the disciples finally awaken him, Jesus immediately rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And when everything has calmed down Jesus in a similar fashion rebukes the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” This word here is actually more like, “why are you cowardly?” Jesus was with them. He would not let them drown. In some ways, Jesus was teaching them the kind of faith they would need to minister among different peoples, in challenging times like today-- a faith we need to withstand the hardship that comes from daring to get to the other side to righteousness, justice and peace and faith.
Both stories, the one about David and Goliath and this one about the storm on the lake, are about facing almost insurmountable challenges. What giant looms large in our lives? What storms threaten our safety? How do we overcome this fear-mongering, greedy, materialistic culture and stay rooted in faith? What has enabled all oppressed people, hurting people to endure and stand up for healing, wholeness, peace and justice? That’s why holidays like Juneteenth, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, are so important to celebrate. They remind us of the words and deeds of people of faith who have gone before us.. How are parents sacrificed for us. How to survive and thrive in adversity in the storms of life. They did it, we can too.
Consider this. A young boy, at the age of seven, he had to go to work to help support his family. At nine, his mother died. At twenty-two, he lost his job as a store clerk. At twenty-three, he went into debt and became a partner in a small store. At twenty-six, his partner died leaving him a huge debt. By the age of thirty-five, he had been defeated twice when running for a seat in Congress. At the age of thirty-seven, he won the election. At thirty-nine, he lost his reelection bid. At forty- one, his four-year-old son died. At forty-two, he was rejected for a land officer role. At forty-five, he ran for the Senate and lost. At forty-seven, he was defeated for the nomination for Vice President. At forty-nine, he ran for Senate again and lost again. At the age of fifty-one, he was elected President of the United States. During his second term of office, he was assassinated. But his name lives on among the greats in U.S. history--Abraham Lincoln. Who issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.
Think of the sprinter Allyson Felix who has won more medals in track and field than any other woman in America. An Olympic hopeful for the Tokyo Olympics, she recalls her loss in Beijing through the lens of faith. “Sometimes God puts you through something in order for you to accomplish something bigger in your life… There is a bigger picture. A lot of times with faith, you don’t get it in the moment. Then later you see why that happened.” (New York Times Magazine, June 20, 2021)
Like the first celebrants of Juneteenth, we claim what was already theirs – freedom. Hope. Faith. A better future. Remember, the battle is the Lord’s. Others who need our help are waiting. There is a bigger picture, that faith leads us to see. The Battle is the Lords. So today we face the storms within us, around us. Through faith we face the giants along the way, with the true knowledge that with the Grace of God, we will cross that valley, we will get to the other side, victorious. Amen.