Are We Afraid of Our Faith?

Rev. Martha Jacobs
Are We Afraid of Our Faith?
1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11,19-23,32-49, Mark 4:35-41
Sunday, June 24, 2018

I grew up hearing the story of David and Goliath in my Sunday School classes. But, I don’t remember God ever being included in this story. This was a story of King David, in his formative years, standing up to giants and kings and leading the armies of the Israelites as they fought for the land that God had promised them.

So, imagine my surprise, when I realized that God is featured so prominently in this story! Didn’t David slay Goliath with his slingshot as he had killed lions and other beasts that preyed on his flock of sheep? Wasn’t David a hero on his own account? What does God have to do with my Sunday School version of David slaying Goliath to show that he wasn’t afraid of challenges and could stand his own ground, despite his stature?

Well, clearly I had been taught a pediatric version of this story of soon-to-be King David.

If you were with us last Sunday, you heard about David being anointed as the next king, even though he was not big and brawny, like his brothers. He was an unlikely candidate for king, and yet God anointed David because God looks on the heart of a person, not on their stature.

So, when looking at David’s heart, his belief in God is paramount. David’s courage is not rooted as I had thought, in his own prowess and courage and skill with a slingshot. But, rather, David’s courage is rooted in his experience of God acting in his life. He believes in his heart that God will act when he is facing Goliath. As Rev. Kathryn Matthews reminded me, “Little David’s trust and confidence were firmly fixed in the power of the living God who sustained him and his people. His people at that moment [of fear], just needed to be reminded of who had brought them out of the land of Egypt and slavery and had brought them to the Promised Land: the God full of lovingkindness and faithful compassion.”[1]

David does remind the people of that, because he gives all the credit to God when he says, “God saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, and God will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” In David’s relationship with God, God has the power and the people witness it when David, with one smooth stone, slays Goliath and reminds them not to fear. What an amazing way for David to make an impression on the people he was about to govern. What an unusual way to remind them of God’s lovingkindness and compassion for them. Having slayed Goliath and then giving the credit to God, enables David to show the strong relationship he has with God. David was not afraid of his faith nor of God.

So, fast forward to Jesus and the disciples in the boat. Unlike David, the disciples fear for their lives when the challenges of the storm hit. It’s like they don’t think Jesus cares that they are being tossed about and could perish. Most of us can relate to the feelings of the disciples as they were tossed around in that boat because sometimes we too wonder if God cares about us as we try to make our way in this world. As we watch innocent children being separated from their parents, as we watch gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals still being shunned by their families and faith communities. As we watch children being shot in schools and in their homes and on the streets by police officers who are supposed to protect them. These days, I want to say, “Wake up Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

But, then I take a step back and I take a breath, and know deep down that Jesus does care. He reassures us over and over to not be afraid, to know that God does care. God does hear our cries of anguish for the pain and suffering we humans bring on each other. One of the things that reminds me of God’s care for all of us in this reading, is realizing that the disciples are in the boat precisely because God cares and knows how we humans have treated each other.

You see, Jesus wants to travel to where no other rabbi would dare travel – to the Gerasenes, where he wants to be with those who have been isolated because of who they are: those who are sick and those who suffer from mental illnesses. They were moved to the Gerasenes to be away from their community because they were considered unclean. They have been all but forgotten, except by God. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is relentless in pursuing a remarkable care and concern for all of God’s children. Jesus is determined to free people from all the things that keep them from the abundant life God promises. Things like demons, disease, social exclusion, hunger and even death. Jesus shows us a God who cares passionately for the wellbeing of all of God’s people, and especially those that we humans have chosen to forget or ignore.

Jesus spends his time here on earth to help us remind each other of God’s presence and love. We reach out to help each other when we are able to use our faith to help us navigate our world – whether it is in the boardroom or in the classroom. Whether at home or here in church. God calls us to boldly use our faith, use the love and acceptance and non-judgement we have developed to reach out to those who are hurting, are in pain, are feeling left out.

This past Thursday evening I participated in an event entitled, “Faith and the LGBT+ Community: A welcoming and affirming Pride Week event about faith and the lived experience of LGBT+ people.” One of the things that most moved me was seeing so many clergy of both Christian and Jewish faiths sitting together, talking about the issues that LGBT+ individuals face as a minority, and one that is constantly under fire from those who believe we are not God’s beloved creations and God’s children. When we went around and introduced ourselves, I was so proud to be able to say that here at FCC, we are a community that welcomes all people, no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey, and no matter who they love.

One person at this event reminded me, that when someone is hurt by something said in the name of God, God clearly could not have said it. Why? Because God would not intentionally hurt one of God’s children.

I needed to be reminded of that. I needed to be reminded that God would not intentionally hurt one of God’s children. But, quite frankly, sometimes I am concerned that my faith will not be enough to deal with the issues that arise within our faith community, our world and in my own life. In those moments, I need to remember that God would not intentionally hurt any of God’s children.

The Rev. Matthew Skinner, wrote, “When Christ quiets the forces that threaten chaos, makes the unclean clean, and restores the unacceptable to wholeness, these acts upend our cherished assumptions about order, security, autonomy and fairness. When God comes so near, we cannot hide. Nor can we push God away.”[2]

Sometimes I feel that when God is the closest is when I am afraid of my faith. Why? Because God does rock our boat. We are not called to serve Jesus because it is the comfortable thing to do – we are called to be uncomfortable – to not close our eyes when we see discrimination whether it is against a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered person. To not close our eyes when we see discrimination against someone whose skin color or culture is different from ours or someone who has come to the U.S. for asylum. And especially when we see children being treated as less than, our eyes must be open. Jesus said “let the little children come to me.” He didn’t say – only the Jewish children or Gentile children, or the children lucky enough to be born in the United States. Jesus welcomed all children. So, we must work to help ensure the equal and humane and loving treatment of all of God’s children.

Our faith must be strong enough to withstand the chaos of our lives and of our world. Luckily, we don’t need to do so alone. We have God and we have each other on which to lean. Together we have accomplished much this church year in both tangible and powerfully non-tangible ways. You know the tangible ways – From our Tag and Barn Sale, to our Youth Volunteer Fair, to housing our guests who are homeless, to helping those affected by hurricanes, wildfires, and other acts of nature, to helping our youth understand that they too are a part of this community and can give as well. Yes, we have accomplished much. But the intangible ways are even more powerful. As I said last week, your presence was felt with me 3000 miles away as I sat by my brothers’ bedside. And, from what many of you have told me, you too have felt the presence of our community beside you in times of despair and in times of joy.

So, while there may have been times when we have been afraid of our faith, perhaps that’s because our faith is so powerful and God’s presence is so near.

When that boat rocks as you are traveling what you thought was going to be a smooth uneventful time in your life, know that you will not be alone in that boat. Jesus will be there. Or when you come upon something in your life that feels like a Goliath that makes you want to turn and run, do not be afraid. Because God will be there with you and we will be there with you. And together, we can and will and do make a difference.

 

 

 

 

[1] Sermon Seeds, UCC 6/24/18

[2] New Proclamation, Year B 2006

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