Archive for the ‘Thirty-Ninth Bundle’ Category

MARK 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 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?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 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?”

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” It is clear from these two juxtaposed questions that fear and faith are opposites. Fear comes when the control of our self-definition – how we presently define ourselves – is threatened or to some degree lost. Whether it be our social position, respectable reputation, personal power, or existential security, we have defined ourselves by such things and are anxious about losing them.

We work hard to earn a living, and then fear that we might lose our job and be out on the streets. We work hard to find love, and then fear that it won’t work out. We work hard to manage the many details of our lives, and then fear that we will go off the deep end. All the while, there is likely some voice in the back our our minds accusing us of not trying heard enough, or of not being deserving enough.

Faith should not be construed as confidence in our self-definition, but rather as the belief and assurance that there is something within us that transcends definition altogether, but which is a grace amazing and immeasurable. In other words, faith is not some cheery doctrine that “God will give me a job so I won’t end up homeless,” but is instead the deepest confidence that whatever happens God will provide the grace you need to release your fear and rest in Him.

Tragically, so many of us live in the fear that something or other may be lost or forever taken away, that we fulfill our own prophecy. These things are not who and what you are deepest down. Knowing that can make all the difference between a happy or anxious life.

MARK 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 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?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 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?”

Reading this story symbolically we might see the sleeping Jesus in the tossed-about boat of disciples as the “sleeping” or unconscious or dormant “deeper self” that indwells each of us. While we strain at our oars and try desperately to stay afloat, pumped with adrenaline and nearly overwhelmed emotionally, this deeper self is at the rear of our boat, detached and at peace.

We don’t realize that this source of inner peace is always available to us, and instantly accessible. Our trouble is that our focus is so exclusively directed to the threat “out there” and our thinking so riveted on problem-solving, we can easily accuse the deeper self of being aloof and uncaring. So we pass it off as so much impractical mysticism.

This peace within, however, is far from impractical. Indeed our greatest resource for meeting the external challenges of life is this core of serenity and strength, accessed through contemplative, or “centering,” prayer. You know what it feels like when you’re off-center and out of balance. Your focus is fractured, your energy drains away, and the pressures of life seem impossible to handle. Arousing the deeper self – not as a last resort but as your first priority – provides you with sustaining strength, a wider and longer vision, as well as with a miraculous power to “still the storm” that is wrecking the sails and swamping the boats of so many around you. The hardship may not instantly vanish, but you can now bring to it the insight and faith it needs.

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; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

As we discover the unique powers and talents that God has given us, we become aware also that exercising and investing them can open us to significant risk. What if David had kept his stones in the bag for fear of embarrassment should he wind up but miss his target? What if, for fear of being skewered and squashed by the giant, he had ducked out behind the tents of Israel and cowered with the rest of them? The impulse for self-preservation is strong in all of us, and the risk of losing our standing, our reputation, our control, our security, or our life can sometimes be enough to keep our spiritual gifts tucked away and out of sight.

The Christian community in Corinth had apparently become a hideout for some who didn’t want to expose themselves to the chance of falling victim to shame, blame, or hardship of any sort. Paul’s exhortation for them to “open wide your hearts” saw their rational precaution for what it was – rationalized fear. The apostle wasn’t bragging, but his short list of troubles and persecutions suffered at the hands of the world was the experience behind his testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace. He had taken many risks – some of which we might consider imprudent and foolhardy – in his devotion to the gospel, and was intimately familiar with the dangers of being a Christ-follower. And yet, he insisted, Jesus never promised us a safe haven.

PSALM 9:9-20

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
    Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
    See what I suffer from those who hate me;
    you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
14 so that I may recount all your praises,
    and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
    rejoice in your deliverance.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.

17 The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
    let the nations know that they are only human.

The lesson from the story of David and Goliath can be summed up in the maxim, “Put your trust in God, but still take careful aim.” God doesn’t hand us every success in life, but He has blessed us with a hearty stock of instincts, talents, and brains to make our way through. It’s easy to fall to either extreme, where we put it all in God’s hands and relinquish responsibility, or rely exclusively and often tragically on our own strength and ingenuity. It can take a Goliath-sized crisis in life to teach us that our confidence must rest in something greater than ourselves alone.

David’s request to God, to “let the nations know that they are only human,” reflects his own personal lessons in humility. When very young, he had found strength and courage in knowing that God was near. Later, having made a fantastic moral blunder in cultivating an adulterous affair and then arranging for the murder of his mistress’ husband, David had to face up to the fact of his own condemnable motives for power. And toward the end of his reign, on the run from his own son’s overthrow attempt on the throne, David realized once again that he was not invincible. Through it all, he learned to rely on God more deeply and to seek God earlier in his need rather than waiting until he was desperate.

Being “only human” is not a bad thing, but we need to remember that we are not God.

1 SAMUEL 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 

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.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 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. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 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.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 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.” 34 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, 35 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. 36 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.” 37 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!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 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. 40 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.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 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.” 45 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. 46 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, 47 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.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 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.

Further reflection on this story prompts an interesting question: If David was so confident that God was going to give Goliath into his hands there on the battlefield, why did he collect five stones into his leather bag rather than only one? We might think that, had he been fully trusting in God’s power, one smooth stone would be sufficient.

But let’s look at it again. Could it be another lesson of this story that God doesn’t do things for us but rather works through the instruments of our talent, skill, freedom, and intelligence to bring about the closest possible approximation to what He would do were He in absolute control?s This suggests the further idea that God may actually be dependent on this fallible and frequently disappointing mix of human capacities for the forward advance of creation and fulfillment.

However far we may personally be willing to go with this notion, we can’t deny that the Bible consistently upholds the human being as the primary agent through whom God accomplishes His will. The kingdom of God that was central to Jesus’ gospel is manifested wherever otherwise ordinary people rise above their natural impulses to achieve extraordinary things. Rather than burying their talents, they use them and let them be used by God for the greater good. And because his aim was not always right on target, David packed away a back-up supply of stones … just in case.

1 SAMUEL 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 

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.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 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. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 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.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 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.” 34 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, 35 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. 36 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.” 37 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!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 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. 40 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.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 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.” 45 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. 46 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, 47 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.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 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.

King Saul is the important middleman in this story, since his temptation lies precisely in the promise of technology for defense and domination. As the first to Israel’s throne, Saul’s roots were firmly set in the rural and nomadic past, while his vision as her commander-in-chief could not ignore the fascinating prospects of a military-industrial future.

Saul’s struggle is clearly illustrated in his attempt to dress David up in the equipment of a soldier who might stand a chance against the giant. But finally, having been heaped with heavy gear, David complains with a remark that really amounts to a profound confession: “I can’t go this way! All this armor is covering up and encumbering what I really am inside.”

The apostle Paul would later warn the Christians in Rome not to “conform to this world,” which is another way of saying the same thing. Once you begin taking upon yourself layer on layer of what the world claims you need in order to be happy, successful, and the envy of your neighbors, the true center of who you are is gradually lost to view and you will likely wake up one day to the cold feeling of being a hollow person. Discovering, and then building into your life the disciplines for protecting the core consciousness of who and what you are, is one part of the path of salvation.

1 SAMUEL 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 

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.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 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. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 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.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 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.” 34 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, 35 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. 36 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.” 37 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!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 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. 40 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.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 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.” 45 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. 46 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, 47 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.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 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.

Sociologists of religion tell us that this episode between the shepherd David and the armored warrior Goliath is really about a tension within Israelite society, between the tradition lifestyle and values of a pastoral people on the one hand, and the lure of a warfare technology with its very different set of values on the other. And while that likely is what was going on to a great extent, the spiritual lesson, and the reason why this story was passed on, centers on the simple yet challenging question: In what should we place our ultimate trust?

The story’s author did a marvelous job setting up the contrast between the mighty Goliath with his hundreds of pounds of metal, and the sling-shot wielding, scrapping “pretty boy” from the pastures. David’s reply to the Philistine’s taunt reveals the true contest at hand: “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts …” It may well have been that many Israelites were asking themselves, “What hope have we against the bronze wall of enemy armies?” But his story throws the challenge back at their feet by reminding them that their “secret power” lies not in what they can bring against the Philistine threat, but is rather in what stands behind them – the God of destiny.