I love the way that scripture lessons line up, as if by coincidence, with what we happen to be wrestling with when we read them.
In today’s gospel, Jesus has taken the disciples out on a boat. A huge storm comes up.
This is an overwhelming storm, larger and bigger and fiercer than anything they have faced.
It’s called a “great windstorm,” with waves beating into the boat.
We’re told “the boat was already being swamped.”
I feel swamped.
Do you feel swamped?
By now you have heard, I assume, through the letter mailed Tuesday and shared electronically Wednesday, the news that in late August I will be leaving St. James’ in order to accept the call of the Falls Church Episcopal to serve as their next Rector.
As I said in my letter, the decision I made to accept this call was gut-wrenching. When I was first approached about this, when it was still just a remote possibility, the very first question I was asked was “would accepting this call to serve them mean leaving St. James?”
I wish there were some way I could respond to this call – accept what I believe God is calling me to do – without it meaning I have to leave St. James’ in order to do it. Regrettably, there is not.
And so at least for me – and I know from your emails and calls, it is so for many of you – this has been a week of both joy and sadness.
In fact, all week long and even longer I have found myself wishing there was some English word for “sad-joy.”
I have had this paradoxical “sad-joy” inside me: sadness over the prospect of saying goodbye to a congregation, a faith community, a people, that I have loved deeply for over 13 years; sadness over the loss entailed in every gain; sadness over the swirling emotions of grief involved in such a decision.
And yet I dare say there is also joy. Not just the joy of having said yes to something I truly believe I am called to, but the joy of the prospect of all of us saying yes to the One we are called to follow.
Whenever we feel swamped – whether it’s the personal kind of being swamped I feel and that you may feel right now in regard to St. James’ or whether it is something else going on in your life, it is good to remember something:
This – St. James’ Episcopal Church – is not an institution, or a charity, or a business, or a school, but a faith community:
And what that means is that what we have in common is not a mission statement, or cause, or purpose, or goal, but a god we follow, and not just any god but the Lord God we hear about in Scripture.
And the God we hear about in Scripture has much to say to us when we feel swamped.
Swamped by circumstances, by contradictory emotions, by challenges, by life itself sometimes.
“Being swamped” is the feeling of “there’s just too much.” Too much change, too much storm, too much coming at me too fast.
Swamped by seemingly overwhelming odds.
Those times when we are David, facing Goliath.
You know the story of David and Goliath.
Here are three things we can learn from this part of the story:
One, if the giant, the ‘Goliath’ you’re facing seems big, it IS big.
A little background: Goliath in this story is described as a “champion,” an expert and seasoned soldier, who has challenged the Israelite army to a man-to-man combat. The stakes are big. They couldn’t be higher: a man-to-man fight to the death. If the Israelites take Goliath up on the offer and whoever they pick as the Israelite soldier wins, then the whole nation of Israel wins.
But if Goliath wins the hand-to-hand combat, all of Israel, the entire nation, will become slaves of the Philistines, their most dreaded and frequent enemy.
So the stakes are huge. And Goliath is huge.
We’re told his height was “six cubits and a span,” and depending on what translation of the original Hebrew you use, that’s between seven and ten feet tall.
He has a bronze helmet, and bronze armor all over his chest and legs – the chest armor alone weighs over 125 pounds.
He’s got a bronze sword strapped on his back. He carries a spear that’s described as “like a weaver’s beam” with the spearhead (the sharp part at the end) alone weighing more than sixteen pounds.
(I’ve not been in a lot of hand-to-hand fights, but the idea of spearhead the weight of a bowling ball coming at me is not something I’d look forward to!)
Now is all this talk about Goliath’s size just exaggeration? Hyperbole? Part of good story-telling?
Maybe. But again, think about it. If the giant facing you…if the problem threatening you…if that thing or situation seems huge, then the exact facts – feet and inches in this Goliath’s case – exact dollar amounts or strict deadlines or precise nature of the challenges you’re facing do in your Goliath’s case – don’t really matter.
If a Goliath seems big, it is big.
The second thing to remember is that the "Goliaths" in our lives go after our hearts.
Read the story carefully and you see that it’s not just Goliath’s size that is intimidating. It is how Goliaths in general – the giants we face in our life – attack our heart.
This Goliath, we’re told, mocks the armies…he taunts them. He calls them “servants of Saul” instead of “Servants of God,” –he tries to get under their skin by saying they are mere soldiers led by a mere man, instead of God’s people led by God.
And so everyone is terrified, paralyzed with fear, afraid to fight.
Everyone, that is, except David.
What makes David different?
That’s the third thing to remember: David alone compares Goliath not to his own size, but to the size of God. And compared to the size of God, Goliath is just another lion or bear, an enemy that he's faced before and can face again, confident he is protected by God.
In other words, David has perspective, while everyone else has lost perspective.
Which brings us back to the boat in the storm with those disciples. They are “being swamped” – and where is Jesus?
In the stern, asleep on a cushion. They are terrified and where’s Jesus? Head on a pillow, taking a nap!
That’s what we often do when we feel swamped, we ask “Where is God in the middle of all this?” and we feel God is absent, napping through our problem.
So they wake him up and what they say is very telling, a good insight into our hearts when we are full of fear instead of full of faith: they say “teacher, do you not care…?”
Well as they are about to find out – as any of us who turn to Jesus when we feel we are being swamped find out – he is more than teacher, he is the Living Son of the Living God, the Lord of the Universe.
And he wakes up and rebukes the wind and says to what overwhelms them, and us, “Peace! Be still.”
(Or as The Message puts it, “Quiet! Settle down!”)
(Isn’t that what your parents told you when you were little and getting all out of control?)
And “quiet, settle down!” “Peace, be still” are words spoken by our heavenly father when we feel swamped, overwhelmed.
David stands there and says, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin?!?--I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel!,…this very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand.”
And he puts his hand in his bag, takes out a stone, and slings it.
“Peace, be still.” Jesus says. “Quiet, settle down.”
When there is fear, when there is doubt, when there are feelings of being swamped…overwhelmed and outmatched…
…the people of God turn to God for strength and help and comfort.
...and the stone strikes Goliath, who falls face down on the ground.
And the “wind runs out of breath,” and “the sea became smooth as glass.”
At Jesus’ command, the wind ceases.
And there is calm.