Year B — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

Commentary for June 24, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Who doesn’t love a good “David and Goliath” story?

Here we have David, the prototypical underdog — a skinny, knock-kneed, snot-nosed teenager filled with ambition and foolish enough not to know any better — against the prohibitive favorite in the fight, Goliath — the mighty, battle-hardened, swaggering bully who never met an Israelite body he didn’t want to separate from its head.

If we want to help our parishioners feel some of the tension that was present on this day, we need only understand that the word “Philistine” with which we are so familiar from childhood Bible stories is the same word that passed through the Latin language via the Roman Empire and became transferred as “Palestinian.” This battle account could be today’s headlines in a “holy land” war story.

Of course, one of the prerogatives of coming out as the winner in a war is the chance to write the history books — so this one turns out A-OK for Israel and their God.  

How did the ancient people of Yahweh hear this story? With much favor, as well as fervor, no doubt! The young boy-who-would-become-king rejects not only the curses of the enemy, but the artificial aid of his own ruler and countrymen. In this account, David needs absolutely nothing other than his faith in God and his trusty sling. (A curious question — why did he select five stones, if God was going to aid him with the first shot?)

In short order, the score is Yahweh 1, Pagan Gods 0. What else can you say?
Psalm 9:9-20
Given the background of David’s victory against Goliath, I have often wondered if v.20 might not be translated: “Put the fear in them, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human.”
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16
We get a glimpse of the paranoid Saul — a sad departure from the days when he was the champion of Israel. After the departure of the Spirit from his life, he is left only with jealousy and rage. The figure of Jonathan, his son, is the most redemptive aspect of Saul’s life that remains. Through Jonathan’s friendship with David, the “soul” of Saul’s reign is joined with the “soul” of all that David would come to represent in Israel.
Psalm 133
Verse 1 is in stark contrast to the tone of rivalry, bitter jealousy, and rage in the earlier readings. In comparison, unity is indeed refreshing  and renewing. (Mt. Hermon is the highest point in Israel — the water that runs down from its “dews” and snows feeds the Jordan River, which in turn feeds the Sea of Galilee and most of the rest of the land.)
Job 38:1-11
The Creator God revealed in Job, who is powerful enough to lay a foundation for our earth and to cause the oceans to cease their crashing at our shorelines, is certainly powerful enough to sustain and protect us, eh?
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
After the storm-tossed passages of our lives, it truly is a blessing sometimes to enjoy the quiet of a desired haven. God is good when the storms are raging, but seems even better when they have passed.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul understands a thing or two about storms and being tossed (not to mention the occasional beating and prison term.) So, when he urges us to take care of today’s business today, it’s a pretty important idea. You never know where the storm will blow you tomorrow!
Mark 4:35-41     

Speaking of storms…

It is so easy to berate the disciples in this story for panicking over the waves. I’ve seen the type of boats that were used on the Sea of Galilee during Jesus’ time (not that different from the boats that are still used today) and, let me tell you, I would be a little nervous, too! The sides aren’t more than 12-18 inches above the waterline. They were getting swamped!

I am also amazed that Jesus manages to sleep through the storm; I think we’re supposed to take our cue from that and learn something about the essence of faith. Relax, God’s gonna take care of you…or something along those lines.

That is certainly true, whether we hit the panic button or not. God is going to take care of us. Notice that Jesus’ “rebuke” to the disciples is much more gentle than that he gives to the wind and the waves. In hindsight (which, they say, is always 20/20,) I’m sure the disciples could see it all playing out much more clearly. God’s provision and care depend, not on our faith nor on our confidence, but on God’s faithfulness.

So, if you get a little scared next time your boat starts filling up — it’s okay. Try to have at least a little faith.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In a move that some might find whimsical or even bizarre — which is precisely why it fits here on the Lectionary Lab — we honor the confluence of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist with the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in this homiletical offering by Bubba #1.
THE NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
Texts: Malachi 3:1-4, Acts 13:13-26, Luke 1:57-67 (68-80)
Well, did you get all your “Nativity of St. John the Baptist” shopping done on time? Did you get your Nativity cards out? Did your Nativity office party go well? Boy, wasn’t it a pain doing all that decorating and putting lights on the house, particularly this time of year when it’s so hot and all? What? You didn’t do any of those things for “the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist?” You didn’t even know we were celebrating the Nativity of St. John the Baptist? Well, to tell you the truth, until recently, I didn’t know much about it either.

At a recent pastor’s meeting, our Bible study leader shared research on the celebration of the Nativity of John the Baptist and I learned a lot.

For example, I learned that it was placed on this date for biblical reasons. John said of Jesus, “I must decrease that he may increase.” Well according to the calendar in use when the date was set, June 24 was when the days started getting shorter, decreasing; just as the Nativity of Our Lord, Dec. 25, was when the days began getting longer, increasing.

I also learned that John the Baptist (the “Forerunner”) is extensively celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Besides June 24, they also celebrate;January 7: The Commemoration of St. John the Forerunner 
February 24: First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner.May 25: Third Finding of the Head St. John the Forerunner.August 29: The Beheading of St. John the ForerunnerSeptember 23: Conception of St. John the Forerunner.

(Here’s an interesting question: Why can’t they keep up with his head? I mean John only lost it once, and they had to find it three times. I tried to find out more about that but came up empty. I’ll keep looking, maybe something will turn up.)

One thing is for certain – all this celebrating points to the importance of John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, or John the Forerunner as the Orthodox call him, or John the cousin of Jesus as he was probably know around Nazareth; for the Bible tells us that his mother Elizabeth was a cousin of Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

And the question for us today is a simple one. So what? Why should we care? Why should we think about and celebrate the people involved in the Nativity of St. John the Baptist? And what about their journey can help us as we move through our own journey of faith?

In order to understand today’s Gospel lesson, we have to remember what happened nine months before. Zechariah and Elizabeth were, like Abraham and Sarah, quite old and childless. He was one of the priests who served in the temple in Jerusalem. He was serving on the altar one day. He was in the Holy of Holies, in the Sanctuary of the Lord, where no one but the appointed priest went.


He was standing at the altar of incense when suddenly an angel appeared beside him, and scared the daylights out of him. The angel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child, but frankly, Zechariah didn’t believe him, and said so. “We’re too old. It’s not going to happen.” So the angel Gabriel said to him, “But now, because you did not believe my words, . . . . you will become mute, unable to speak, until the days these things occur.”

Zechariah wanted a relationship with God, but he wanted it on his own terms. He wanted to tell God what was and was not possible. God said to Zechariah, “I’m not arguing with you over what I can and can’t do. I’ll just show you while you have to stand silently by and watch.” And so it was. Zechariah was unable to speak for nine months. And Elizabeth indeed got pregnant, and Zechariah could say nothing. 

Finally the day came, and the baby was born, and they went through the naming argument, at the end of which Zechariah made a statement of faith, writing down the name the angel had told him. At that moment his tongue was loosed and he was able to give voice and words to the miracle of God that had happened in his life.


Unless we believe, deep in our souls, deep in our hearts, that God can and will love and redeem all humanity; unless we trust to the very core of our being in the steadfast and endless grace and mercy of God, we have nothing to say to the world that cannot be better said by any number of secular, non-profit, benevolent organizations. 

Without that gut level willingness to throw ourselves into the arms of the divine, we are just playing church, dancing around the edges of the holy. To really believe is to make it personal, to move from ideas about God to a relationship with God, to move from discussing God with others to talking things over with God.

Zechariah knew a lot about God, but he didn’t know God, not until that day at the altar. And until he put aside the terms by which he would be able to relate to God, he had nothing to say.  But when he laid aside all his defenses and trusted God completely, his long unused voice burst forth in song.

So it is with us. We as individuals and as a community are called upon to trust the promise of God. God has promised to love us, to forgive us, to support and sustain us through all life’s difficulties and troubles.

Do we trust God? Do we trust God’s love? Do we trust God’s care? Do we trust God’s compassion? Do we trust God’s mercy? Do we?

We invited today to join in the Song of Zechariah. We are invited to feel deep within ourselves the joy of knowing that we are a beloved children of God, and as that oy wells up within us, our tongues will be loosed and our voices heard.

Amen and Amen.

2 thoughts on “Year B — The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

  1. Why five smooth stones? Check out 2 Samuel 21..Goliath had four brothers…David failed to deal with these giants the first go around…so had to face them in his old age…only he was too exhausted to do so, so his men had to slay the giants for him.

  2. Interesting…the "parallel" account in 2 Samuel 21 mentions the four sons of Rapha, who was himself a strong man as evidenced by his 7+ pound spearhead (though that is only about half the weight of Goliath's!)We really only have some traditional source material to deal with these brothers, as the scriptural text is not explicit. There is some speculation that we have a second account of the fate of Goliath here, as the Hebrew text doesn't contain the phrase "the brother of" when referring to Elhanan (a boy from Bethlehem) and his conquest of a giant. It may say that he killed Goliath.Of course, the David version is much more popular and is the one that gets told over and over again…so I'm going to go with that. But thanks for raising the fascinating connection!

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