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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?


A Sermon preached at 
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and on Facebook live broadcast Sirach 26:10
June 20, 2021 


So, at the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I just have to say – without even the slightest attempt to hide my enthusiasm and excitement – that the readings for today are precisely why I chose to follow Track I of the Revised Common Lectionary.


I’ll get to the gospel in a minute but, oh, can you just stand the excitement of the story in the first lesson from Hebrew Scripture? Whether you’ve been aware of it or not, we’ve been building up to this encounter between David and Goliath for weeks now.


That’s the beauty of Track I. Major narratives and themes from Hebrew Scripture are provided in a continuous reading, not necessarily related to the Christian readings, but encourage familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures on their own terms.

Here’s the thing: I think we forget the stories of our faith at our own peril – at the diminution of our faith.

There’s probably not a person in church this morning who doesn’t know the story – at least in broad terms – of David and Goliath. We either learned it in a Sunday school classroom long ago or saw it in a movie or heard secular references to it when the mighty are brought down by those considered small and weak.


To only know this part of the story, however, without what has led up to it is to miss the real importance of the story and how it informs our understanding of the gospel lesson we heard this morning about Jesus calming the storm. We also miss, as well, how it is that God has always acted to raise up the meek and lowly to give us a glimmer of the Realm of God.


So, let’s go back to a few weeks ago, to the first book of Samuel, when we heard that the elders came to Samuel at Ramah and told him that none of his sons had leadership qualities so they wanted Samuel to appoint a king for them; they wanted a king just like everyone else.

Samuel prayed to God and God said to Samuel, “Listen to them. They have not rejected you; they have rejected ME as king over them. So, let them have their own king and let’s see how they like it.”


Samuel tried to warn them of what it would be like to have a king – sort of “be very careful for what you pray for because you might get it and then what will you do?” – but the people persisted and they appointed Saul as their king.


Last week, we heard how God sent Samuel from his home in Ramah to Bethlehem, to chose a successor to Saul among the sons of Jesse. Seven of the sons of Jesse passed before Samuel but God gave no indicated to him of God’s favor.


Samuel then asked Jesse if had any other sons and Jesse called for his youngest son, David, who had been out tending sheep. When David appeared before Samuel, he anointed him with oil in the presence of his father and brothers and the spirit of God came upon him and was with him from that day forward.

David was to replace Saul, whom God would set aside because of his disobedience. God promised to build David a kingdom that would last through all eternity, and that a descendant of David would rule as the eternal king. The early years of David’s reign as king were extremely successful as he followed closely after God – well, not so much in his personal life, but that’s another story for another time.


Enemies constantly threatened David and his kingdom, especially the Philistines, including Goliath of Gath. In this morning’s first reading we hear about the famous battle between David and Goliath.


David fought the Philistines at Gob and several times at Gath. Four of the giants who were descendants of Goliath fell by the hand of David and Jonathan, the son of Saul, as well as many of his servants. (We’ll hear about David’s love of Jonathan next Sunday.)


So, who are these Philistines? And, what might they have to teach us today, especially in light of today’s Gospel? Well, they were known as a seafaring nation and non-Semitic people, who left Crete and arrived in Canaan at the beginning of the 12th century B.C.E.

They inhabited the Mediterranean coast of Canaan, founding five principalities, including what is today known as Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, and the southern portions of Lebanon and Syria. They came during a time when cities and civilizations in the Middle East and Greece were collapsing. 


Their highly developed weapons brought a great threat to the Israelites. During the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites purposely took a southern route to circumvent them. But when the Philistines stole the Arc of the Covenant, God struck them with “the plague of emerods”, which translated means boils, tumors, or severe, bleeding hemorrhoids.

(I am not making this up. You can read all about it in 1 Samuel 5-6. See? And you thought scripture was boring.)


Whatever it was, it was bad enough that the Philistines returned the arc to Israel along with “five gold tumors and five gold rats and two cows that have calved” (1 Sam 6:7). But, we actually don’t know much about the Philistines because they left no text of their own. We do know that they worshiped the god Dagon and disappeared about 600 years after they arrived.


Today, the word ‘philistine’ is used to describe a smug or boorish person, one who is guided by materialism and self-interest, or a person who is disdainful of intellectual or artistic values.


The Philistines no longer existed by the time Jesus was born, but certainly he and his disciples had heard the stories of the wars between the Israelites and the Philistines; they most certainly knew the story of David and Goliath of Gath.


So, it should be no surprise to us, then, that Jesus becomes so annoyed at hisdisciples when a great storm arose on the sea, and the waves beat on the sides of the boat so that the boat was being swamped.


Jesus had been asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat and the disciples, being rightfully frightened that they would drown, woke him up. Well, they didn’t just wake him up. They woke him up with these words: “Teacher, do you not care that weare perishing?”


Do you not care? Do. You. Not. CARE? OMG. The disciples treated Jesus as if he were a Philistine – someone who did not care about others. Smug. Guided by self-centered interest.


But, Jesus calmed the storm and then cut them to the quick with these words, “He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”


Did they not remember the story of David? Did they not recall how God had directed Samuel to call out the youngest? The one relegated to tend to the sheep? The eighth and most insignificant of his brothers, to be the next King of Israel? Did they not remember the story of David and Goliath and how David did slew the giant with just his slingshot? And how Goliath of Gath did fall face down into the ground?


Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?


I think we forget the stories of our faith at our own peril – at the diminution of our faith.


There are Philistines among us today. There are giants who call to us and taunt us and threaten to kill us. There are cultural giants of greed and corruption. There are societal giants of prejudice like racism and sexism and homophobia. There are personal giants of fear and shame, insecurity and doubt.


I think we forget that God always chooses the weak to overcome the brutal oppressor. Like: Lilly Ledbetter who sued a major corporation concerning employment discrimination and not only won for herself but inspired the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. We forget that it was a little old lady seamstress, one Rosa Parks, who just got tired of her feet hurting so she sat down in a seat for a White person and when she got up she had sparked the Civil Right’s Movement. 

We forget that it was Ms. Opal Lee, the 94 year old activist, who, when she was 89 years old, walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. two and a half miles at a time, to commemorate the two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, when more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas learned that they were finally free, marking the end of slavery in America. Five years later, she found she had become the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” which is now signed into law as a federal holiday.


I think we forget the stories of our faith at our own peril – at the diminution of our faith.


If God can send David to slay Goliath, and God can send Lilly and Rosa and Opal Lee to slay the cultural giants of our time; and if we know that God sent Jesus, the son of a very young woman and an elderly master craftsman, who calmed the storm for the disciples, then we know that Jesus and can calm any personal storm of fear or shame, insecurity or doubt we might have.


Which makes the long ago questions Jesus asked the disciples in that boat the same questions Jesus asks of us today:


Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?



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