Year B, Proper 7, Pentecost
In one form or another, implicitly and explicitly, Jesus’ words to the storm run through both sets of lectionary texts this week. “Peace! Be still!” As well as his words to the disciples (in paraphrase), “Have faith in God no matter what!” With these phrases in mind and recognizing that a storm can be a metaphor for conflict, I have chosen stories that speak of peace even in the midst of struggle. These stories have images of battle and the warriors who fight them, as well as storms, ships and the people who navigate them.
In the face of the giant warrior, Goliath, David exudes the peace of faith, saying, “The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine” (I Samuel 17:37). He continues rooted in this stance as he is brought to Saul’s courts and sent out to lead Saul’s armies.
The book of Job gives us the story of the ultimate test of the peace of faith during the most horrendous and stormy times in Job’s life. Our text from Job is God’s answer when Job finally does lament and question his circumstances. It is God who made creation and all that is in it and holds it all. Who are God’s creatures to question God’s ways? Is this the way to be in relationship with God? Will it further the relationship? Ultimately it is left to the creature to be humble before God in the midst of all circumstances. In the covenant of creation, all creatures must trust the ways of God.
As if in preface to the gospel story, Paul exhorts the believers in 2 Corinthians to “not accept God’s grace in vain.” Just as Paul has been given the armor of God in all his afflictions, trials and persecutions so will the believers. God will provide “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute.” All they – we – need to do is to open our hearts wide to God as Paul has opened his heart to God and to the believers that he loves.
Paul’s exhortation for open-heartedness sets the tone for Jesus’ stilling the storm in Mark. “Peace be still!” And for Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” You can almost here Jesus add, “Open your heart to God’s grace and protection.”
I have always been curious about the phrase in verse 36, “and they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.” One common sense meaning is that they left immediately after his teaching. There is a sense of urgency. And this is most likely the simplest and best interpretation. However, reading the phrase just after pondering the text from 2 Corinthians, I was struck with the image/idea that Jesus always seems armed with the weapons of righteousness and the armor of knowing that God is present with him. He can always “leave”, move one, “just as he was” because he is always ready to follow the Spirit’s lead and is attune to it. He is steeped in the peace of faith and always infused by its power. Even when awakened from a sound sleep he can immediately say to the storm, “Peace be still!”
All the psalms for this week reinforce God’s peace given to the faithful in difficult times. The psalmists label God’s love as steadfast, ordained as a blessing for all, life forevermore, and redemption for those in trouble. Psalm depicts God as a stronghold against trouble. Psalm 133 extols the virtue of unity among kindred and community. Psalm 107 actually echoes the story from Mark with its poetic description of ships that go down to the sea, meet with storm and disaster yet are brought safely home.
The texts remind me of a very powerful sculpture I saw on a road between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is titled “Peace.” The piece envisions the reunion of a warrior, naked, exhausted and vulnerable, and a woman who represents peace. I invite you to ponder this sculpture on your scripture and story journey this week.
Blessings on the way, Jane Anne
The most obvious choices for stories this week are in the scripture texts themselves. I Samuel provides the preacher and educator with two excellent stories of trusting in God’ peace in the midst of conflict. David speaks his faith as well as acts it. His leadership demeanor is full of peace in contrast to the agitated King Saul. The gospel story is a powerful one to tell straight from the words of the scripture. It is short and easy to internalize. The action is clear and concise. It is also very accessible for acting out with children, youth or adults. You can tell the story while they mime the actions. The actors can speak the three short phrases spoken by the disciples and Jesus if they choose. They are integral to the action and easily memorable. This is also a good story for a group to improvise without an external narrator. If you already have folks comfortable with this process or with the process of internalizing and telling the scripture I would suggest using them to present the story dramatically or as the children’s time in worship.
Two weeks ago I recommended a story entitled “Two Warriors” by storyteller, Dan Keding. Mr. Keding’ story is quite moving, yet he requests that you gain his permission before telling the tale and this may prevent easy telling. This week I found a similar story in the ancient lore of Ireland, the book, God’s And Fighting Men by Lady Gregory. It is an ironic comment on the battle stories of King David as inspiring as the story of the boy versus the giant, Goliath, can be.
Lady Augusta Gregory was a folklorist, dramatist and theatre manager. A close colleague of the poet, W.B. Yeats, she was one of the founders of the Abbey Theater in Dublin and a prominent figure in the Irish Literary Revival of the early 20th century. You can find her books on Amazon and in Kindle version.
The tale Lady Gregory recorded is of two Irish warriors, Streng of the ancient race of the Firbolgs, and Bres of the Tuatha de Danaan who had just come to Ireland. Here is the story in the words of Lady Gregory:
“Eochaid, son of Erc, was king of the Firbolgs at that time, and messengers came to him at Teamhair (Tara), and told him there was a new race of people come into Ireland, but whether from the earth or the
skies or on the wind was not known, and that they had settled themselves at Magh Rein. They thought there would be wonder on Eochaid when he heard that news; but there was no wonder on him, for a dream had come to him in the night, and when he asked his Druids the meaning of the dream, it is what they said, that it would not be long till there would be a strong enemy coming against him.
Then King Eochaid took counsel with his chief advisers, and it is what they agreed, to send a good champion of their own to see the strangers and to speak with them. So they chose out Sreng, that was a great fighting man, and he rose up and took his strong red-brown shield, and his two thick-handled spears, and his sword, and his head-covering, and his thick iron club, and he set out from Teamhair, and went on towards the place the strangers were, at Magh Rein.
But before he reached it, the watchers of the Tuatha de Danaan got sight of him, and they sent out one of their own champions, Bres, with his shield and his sword and his two spears, to meet him and to talk with him.
So the two champions went one towards the other slowly, and keeping a good watch on one another, and wondering at one another’s arms, till they came near enough for talking; and then they stopped, and each put his shield before his body and struck it hard into the ground, and they looked at one another over the rim.
Bres was the first to speak, and when Sreng heard it was Irish he was talking, his own tongue, he was less uneasy, and they drew nearer, and asked questions as to one another’s family and race. And after a while they put their shields away, and it was what Sreng said, that he had raised his in dread of the thin, sharp spears Bres had in his hand. And Bres said he himself was in dread of the thick-handled spears he saw with Sreng, and he asked were all the arms of the Firbolgs of the same sort. And Sreng took off the tyings of his spears to show them better, and Bres wondered at them, being so strong and so heavy, and so sharp at the sides though they had no points. And Sreng told him the name of those spears was Craisech, and that they would break through shields and crush flesh and bones, so that their thrust was death or wounds that never healed. And then he looked at the sharp, thin, hard-pointed spears that were with Bres.
And in the end they made
an exchange of spears, the way the fighters on each side would see the weapons the others were used to. And it is the message Bres sent to the Firbolgs, that if they would give up one half of Ireland, his people would be content to take it in peace; but if they would not give up that much, there should be a battle. And he and Sreng said to one another that whatever might happen in the future, they themselves would be friends.”
(Gregory, Lady (2012-01-10). Gods and Fighting Men; The story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland, arranged and put into English by Lady Gregory (Kindle Locations 286-288). Kindle Edition.)
Another story that comments ironically on the gospel is the familiar humorous tale, “God Sends a Lifeboat.” If you are not acquainted with it you can find it at http://epistle.us/inspiration/godwillsaveme.html . The story takes a twist on the meaning of faith, transforming the definition from blind, narrow-minded, stagnant trust, to a trust that requires action on our part in reciprocity for God’s initial reaching out. In this context faith is a verb. How might this resonate with the faith Jesus is urging his disciples to use actively in the boat?