III Pentecost, Year B
Proper 7, Year B
1 Sm 17:(1a,4-11,19-23),32-49 or * Jb 38:1-11
Ps 9:9-20 * Ps 107:1-3,23-32
1 Sm 17:57-18:5(10-16)
2 Cor 6:1-13
(1 Samuel 17:1a)
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle.
(1 Samuel 17:4-11)
And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." And the Philistine said, "Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
(1 Samuel 17:19-23)
Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.
(1 Samuel 17:32-49)
David said to Saul, "Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth." But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God." David said, "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." So Saul said to David, "Go, and may the LORD be with you!" Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, "I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them." So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield- bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field." But David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and 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, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand." When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
(1 Samuel 17:57-58)
On David’s return from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine in his hand. Saul said to him, "Whose son are you, young man?" And David answered, "I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite."
(1 Samuel 18:1-5)
When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.
(1 Samuel 17:10-16)
And the Philistine said, "Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three eldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle; the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.
(2 Corinthians 6:1-13)
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by 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. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return–I speak as to children–open wide your hearts also.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He wokeup and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
Mimetic theory primarily describes human relationships. At least that is how Girard and those who use mimetic theory speak about it. We have seen this Year B how openly the gospels themselves expose the roots and functions of the various elements that compose mimetic theory. We have also seen the positive imitation that is found in Jesus’ relationship to the Father. In short we have sought to locate two opposing mimetic centers, one found in sin, death and culture, the other found in God.
We have also frequently been at pains to point out the importance and value of clear trinitarian thinking. We have suggested that a significant component of the scapegoating mechanism is dualism and that this dualism has been with Christianity for a long, long time. We have seen the importance of a christologically focused positive mimesis.
We have also tried to make clear that we affirm the Creator by affirming the creation. Christian systematic theology has generally placed the doctrine of creation within the context of a discussion of evolutionary theory. Much of this discussion is needed and important but it is not the whole picture. One aspect of the larger picture that must be taken into consideration is the effects of our mimesis on the creation and how positive mimesis also expresses itself ecologically, that is, taking seriously our relationship with the physical world around us.
One may wonder if we are engaging in some sort of ‘natural theology.’ It may be that we are but not at all in the way ‘natural theology’ is understood in typical theological discussion. This discussion of natural theology has been limited to whether or not human reason had the capacity to know God. The 20th century watershed in this discussion took place in 1934 between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth. While we may come down on one side or the other in this debate, when we speak of natural theology, we have no doubt that God communicates in, with, under and through the creation. We also are aware that the contemporary tyranny of human reason has impoverished humanity. We are blind slaves to a system that we don’t even know exists. More than that, no matter how good our reasoning is, it is always caught up in the lies generated by the victimage mechanism, or as Luther would say, “our hearts are turned in on themselves.” Humanity needs help. Clergy may wish to consult the many books of Jacques Ellul for profound and prophetic insights on these subjects.
Biblical scholars frequently look askance at texts like this week’s. It is difficult for us to imagine that a human being could walk on water. This is almost too much to ask of our intellect. On the other hand those in the church who believe that Jesus walked on water probably wouldn’t even attempt it for fear, that like Peter, they would sink. Nor would they think of commanding a storm away. Either way something fundamental is missing in this discussion. In terms of the phenomenology of religion we believe that the category of “shaman” goes a long way to explain what is actually occurring here.
The “miracle” that is described here is the story of a human who had such a relationship with the creation that it obeyed his voice. Later, as early Christian theology develops, stories like this would form the basis for the christological affirmation that Jesus was the agent of the Creator in the creation.
But as such, he is also the recapitulation of the originary relationship of humanity to the creation, before ‘the fall,’ before the curse (what Paul calls the New Adam). It is difficult for us in civilized society to appreciate this. We are completely estranged from the creation. Maybe we recycle, or pick up our own litter but how far does our relationship to the creation extend? The human sciences have only just begun mapping this side of our soul, but what has been said is both prophetic and healing. For this reason, we believe that it is appropriate to underscore the positive mimesis in relation to the creation that Jesus also brings as the one through whom all things were created.
This is not about magic. Magic is about manipulating God, and Jesus does not manipulate his Abba. This is about the great energy that can be found for the soul that is at one with the creation. We have tapped that energy physically, but modern civilization is only just beginning to see the spiritual energy the creation freely offers. Unfortunately, too few see and it is almost too late for us to change the course we have put the planet’s ecology on.
Mark’s gospel reflects a frightening aspect of mimesis in today’s narrative. Both Ched Myers and Robert Hamerton-Kelly point out that it is the non-understanding of the disciples that is central to the narrative. Their incomprehension, their inability to see, highlights Jesus’ verdict on them. Myers: “Once again Jesus quells the wind but not the disciples apprehension. Jesus’ verdict upon their failure to understand is harsh: their hearts had become hardened, like those of his opponents (6:52). (Binding The Strong Man) “The irony of the excluded insider is part of the poetics of sacred violence.” (Hamerton-Kelly The Gospel & The Sacred) Good thing we aren’t talking about ourselves. Or are we?
Commentators often point to sea stories from the Hebrew Scriptures as a potential component in the shaping of this narrative. This, then, makes the disciples’ distress the heart of the story and we have the theme of non-belief. It seems to us that while there may be analogies to the sea stories, the disciple’s question is an embryonic potential awareness, viz., that this is one who exercises control over the entire natural world. Their question comes after the storm has abated. It stems from an experience of redemption. Thus we think their question evokes the power of the God of the Exodus, who parts the seas, and more so, the One who in the beginning, hovered over ‘the deep’. The God who redeems is the God who creates. The God who creates redeems.
Now while it may be said that the disciples may not have made these connections we surely may. Western theology has too frequently bypassed the important and intimate connection of God the Creator and God the Redeemer in its hundreds of years of intellectual dominance. The Church had long ago suppressed this way of thinking. Neither the church nor the academy give much consideration to the relationship of humanity to the natural world. It is the world of the way things can be; it is the world of the man and the woman walking in the garden with God. It is to be in intimate relationship with the Creator and the creation.
In short, rather than viewing this narrative as some sort of ‘theos aner’ christology with its concomitant ‘divine’ element, we are invited by the disciples question to ask about this human figure and his authority.
Finally, we should not overlook that Jesus uses the same language to silence the demons as he does the wind and the sea. Some have suggested that here, nature is seen as primordial and chaotic, as e.g., in the epilogue to the Book of Job or some of the Psalms. What is underscored is the disjunction between the human and the natural world, not the ‘demonic’ character of nature. Jesus is Lord of all, the true human who manifests both the saving power and the generous grace of God to other humans.
We have spoken at times throughout this site that Jesus not only restores our relationships with God and with one another and with ourselves, but he also restores our relationship to the natural world.
Well, our planet is dying, and together we hold bedside vigil. From 1950 to the present, the world has consumed more goods and services than all previous history put together. Our mad run on consumerism is the storm that rages the world over. Our consumer culture is violating the planet. We strip her naked of her forests and topsoil. We rape her daily, pumping our poisons and toxins into her rivers, oceans and air. Every single day we wipe out literally hundreds of ecosystems. We have thrown the earth off balance and in the process have thrown ourselves into an almost hopeless future. It is only our naivete that keeps us from the facts: humanity is destroying the planet faster than it can heal itself. The Native Americans said that we are a civilization that will starve our grandchildren to feed our children.
Preaching peace is more than the proclamation of the healing of social relationships. It may be that in terms of mimetic theory, but the gospel pushes this peace into all the facets of our existence. There is a direct correlation between the rejection of the mimetic monetary system by Jesus and his relation to the creation. As long as we keep believing that God wants us all ‘wealthy in Jesus,’ ‘touched by the blessing of his mighty arm,’ we might as well surrender our selves to the fact that we chose to be delusional and self-destructive. As long as we think that if we only had a few more dollars we would be happy we will never know how it is that the Creator feeds us, or clothes us, or shelters us. And we will never know happiness. We can no longer afford to perpetuate the gospel of American consumerism from the pulpit; to do so is to participate in the further destruction of the creation that God called good. We must flee from all theologies of glory that equate monetary wealth with God’s blessing. We must renounce the Satan in all forms (political, economic, social, psychological, intellectual, judicial, spiritual, etc) thus affirming our baptismal vows (made with water from the Earth). See Walter Wink The Powers.
Friends, today we may be as blind and uncomprehending as the disciples. We don’t see the big picture either. We stare off into outer space putting our faith in celestial mathematics that tells us there must be other planets out there we can inhabit. We have forgotten that the earth is our home. She feeds us, she gives us to drink. Without her we cease to exist. Yet we continue to live as though she does not exist. And we miss how God reigns, how God feeds the sparrows, how the lilies of the field are clothed. If God is our abba, then surely the expression of this covenant God, the creation, can indeed be called our imma. The gospel is about far more than we often can imagine or think. It certainly was the case in the disciple’s experience.
How can we, instead of being uncomprehending as the disciples, become as Jesus in relation to the creation? What is our relationship to the physical world? We recommend a series of essays in the discipline of ecopsychology. (Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner. Ecopsychology San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995). This discipline seeks to understand what is occurring in the human soul when it moves away from urban civilization to wilderness, to the experience of the natural world. The results speak for themselves. They indicate what is known as ‘the wilderness effect.’ You experience it on micro-scales in your gardens or a day in the park or at the beach. (Paul Tillich was an avid gardener, Karl Barth wrote an awful lot of his Dogmatics in his vacation home in the Swiss mountains and Dietrich Bonhoeffer loved to hike the Prussian countryside) When we recall that Jesus spent a lot of time in the wilderness and that some of the unknown 90% of his life was more than likely also spent exploring the created world, we begin to get a picture that we are not accustomed to seeing. For Jesus to have such a relationship with the creation is not totally unusual, it can be seen round the world in shamans (Geza Vermes has demonstrated the usefulness of this category in relation to Jesus). It is to know, through the creation, the beneficent Creator that Jesus taught us to love and who proves love to us. It is, in short, a holistic peace, peace with the Creator, peace with the creation and peace with one another. And, of course, peace with ourselves. What more could we ask?
As Christians we participate fully in the humanity of Jesus, we are brought into the ‘transformative anthropology’ of the Gospel. This is more than moral, it is more than intellectual, it is ‘soulful’, full of both earth and spirit, full of the unlimited vistas and possibilities of healing and reconciliation found in Jesus.
Rather than being Gnostics who have nothing to do with matter, earth, space and time, we can and may share with Jesus in the full capacity of restoring and serving all created life. In short, we are called like Jesus to walk on water, to bring peace to conflict and anxiety wherever it manifests. And we do this as Jesus does: we bring the power of God to bear and thus bring about transformation.
So the next time you see brothers and sisters overwhelmed by their dire straits, speak the word to the principalities and powers, the word that brings order out of chaos, life in death, healing in disease. Speak peace, and your presence like that of Jesus, will bring peace.
Some Sermon Thoughts:
Michael has pointed out to us that our pericope today suggests a realm of possibility in terms of our redeemed relationship to Creation that shatters our notions of what God desires for us. (Anthropological section) He has also pointed us to the heart of the story (Historical Cultural section), which is the incomprehension of the disciples in the face of Jesus’ freedom in the face of things we assume to be "law." (Gravity, etc.) In both cases, what emerges from the examination of the text is God’s radical freedom to act on our behalf, and our discomfort with that. We are fond of thinking that whatever God chooses to do to restore us to communion with God and one another, it must still happen within the bounds of certain laws.
This binds us in terms of our relationship to Creation, because we limit God’s activity in nature to that which we can imagine, and our imagination has some pretty tiny boundaries, thanks to the Enlightenment. There is an intimacy with Creation available to us that suggests a freedom that frightens us. What if we didn’t "need" our houses, cars, expensive medical solutions, etc? What if healing were really available to us? What might we do differently? Can we face that freedom?
Similarly, what if the things we take for "common sense" aren’t common, or sense, at all? Of course we have to punish criminals! Of course we have to have deterrents! If we don’t, we’ll sink!
In the presence of the New Adam, who sets us free to walk on water, whether literal or figurative, our first reaction is likely to be "Who is this, anyhow?"
I think that, as preachers, we can help our congregations own our "Who is this anyhow?" moments. We can suggest that a Jesus who doesn’t prompt that initial moment of fear is unworthy of our worship, is rather a creation of our intellects. I think we can take them into the boat with us and point out there and say, "I don’t exactly know either, but there he is, and whatever the limits I thought I had to live with, I don’t buy ‘em any more!"
We can all describe the storms that our own congregations experience. (Not all of them figurative. Remember Katrina?) We can also, if we think about it, identify the "laws" that seem to make those storms insurmountab
le. And we can point at the one who, showing us the way, walks on the waves!
Following Jesus or the imitation of Christ does not lead to success in the way the world understands success. Our modern conception of what constitutes success is based upon competition and winning, climbing the ladder, rising to the top, beating one’s opponents, doing a better job than one’s fellow workers and being rewarded. Our current world structured by the principle of mimesis tha t leads to rivalry and one-upmanship is in fact the exact opposite of what constitutes success when following Jesus.
The ambassadorship given to us in 5:16-21 is the calling to preach a message that is at complete and total odds with the philosophies of the world. It is also at odds with many current ministerial models for success. In too many denominations, ministers are perceived as successful when they have bigger churches and greater salaries. Ministerial gatherings (that I have attended) are just a “pissing match” with each comparing their surrogate phallus to one another. It is all very depressing for the minister of a small congregation that is barely making ends meet. One could also point to the preachers of the “Prosperity gospel” (which is no gospel at all) or the “Health and Wealth gospel” (which is no gospel at all) who dress to the nines, drive fancy cars and live in expensive housing while so many of their parishioners live in low income housing. In all these cases, ministers who perceive they are successful are really just good at competition and rivalry, complicit with the butt kissing that goes with climbing the ecclesial ladder.
This is exactly the opposite of how the apostle Paul perceives success. To be successful is to be found as different, and thus marginalized as a scapegoat, for our text is about the consequences of what happens when a nonviolent gospel, a gospel of reconciliation (5:16-21) is preached to a world (and a ministry) that values success built upon victims. That we are indeed seeing in this catalogue of suffering the scapegoat mechanism we only need recall the metaphor of 2:14ff on ‘being led in a triumphal procession.’
If this does not convince that we are dealing with what happens to a minister who preaches the gospel, there is the indicator of ‘scandal’ found in 6:3; Paul did not set himself up as a model/obstacle precisely so others could not discredit his ministry. The scandal would have been a ministry that had all the marks of success, yet Paul’s has none of these, instead his ministry is characterized by beatings, hardships and distress. Yet even in this, he is not depressed or dismayed for he knows that ministry is about giving one’s life away, and the more he gives himself away, the greater the joy. The parallel to this passage is already said earlier where “we (apostles) have this treasure in earthen vessels” (4:7ff).
Ministry and the proclamation of the gospel, indeed, the following of Jesus do not have as a marker of value worldly success; dollar signs have no place here, only fidelity, perseverance, and love.
See the commentaries on Paul’s use of hardship catalogues as a validation of his ministry.
Preachers: what I said in the Anthropological Reading is harsh, yet so many people in the pews have the completely wrong view of what constitutes success. If we hold ourselves up as examples to imitate, if we claim to follow Jesus we, to quote songwriter Dar Williams “have to follow him down.” It is not in exaltation that we will find blessing, but in speaking the truth and perhaps, losing our jobs. From my perspective ministers in America are not ministers of the Word, nor are they ministers to the congregation, they are servants of their wallets and they preach to their wallets. How many times have I heard preachers ignore the hard possibilities of discipleship in a text because they didn’t want to offend anyone. Well, it is time to offend, not by being a mimetic stumbling block but by announcing that God’s perspective is not to be equated with that of liberal or conservative American values but subverts all values.
I suspect the most successful minister in North America is completely unknown to any of us, struggling with a small congregation somewhere, just seeking week by week to be faithful to the Gospel and to lead her people from the darkness to the light. God bless them and be with them wherever they are.