Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7B

Track 1: Now Is the Acceptable Time

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Psalm 9:9-20
or
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16
Psalm 133

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

In life we can face great obstacles, tests, and trials. David was facing a great challenge which might seem beyond him or any Israeli: The giant Goliath. Goliath was a massive Philistine soldier. He was prepared to fight anyone from Israel who was willing to face him. The victor would determine the fate of the two nations. From 1 Samuel we read:

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!”   (1 Samuel 17:32-37)

For David, preparation was the key. He had faced dangerous situation in the past and he knew that he could call on God for help. God would answer him and come to his aid as he had done so many times before. David was prepared for an immediate response to Goliath. He was ready because he knew that God was with him and that God was ready.

Are we ready to face our Goliath’s? We cannot and should not do it alone. God must be with us. Do we have the confidence that David had that God is on our side and we are on his side?

Maybe we have not been faithful in our walk with God. Maybe we have not cultivated a personal relationship with God that David had done. We might think: If only we had done so, then we would have been prepared for the crisis. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that, though we may not be ready, God is still ready. The Apostle Paul wrote:

As we work together with Christ, 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!   (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

God is an immediate God. He is ready to act now. Are we ready? Are we ready to abandon in notion that we might that we can navigate our lives without him? The disciples of Jesus had to learn this lesson. In Mark’s Gospel we read:

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus 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 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?”   (Mark 4:37-39)

Jesus was in the boat with his disciples. Is he in our boat? If he is not then we should invite him in – right now. Now is the acceptable time!

 

 

Track 2: Peace! Be Still!

Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

In today’s gospel reading the disciples of Jesus were facing a dangerous windstorm. The boat they were end was in danger of capsizing. Form Mark’s Gospel we read:

When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “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 woke up 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?”  (Mark 4:35-41)

The disciples of Jesus were seasoned fishermen. They were aware of the destructive nature of the storm they were facing. What makes such storms of nature scary? They can get out of hand. We are not able to control such storms. We need a safe escape plan. Will there be enough warning and time to escape?

There are other kinds of storms in life. Everything seems to be falling apart at times. Job was facing such a storm. He knew that only God could help him. But would God help him? Would God still be able to make a difference at such an advanced stage of the crisis he was facing. He was at his wit’s end, so to speak. Job had run out of piously correct prayers. He cried out to God in desperation.

Job was not prepared for God’s answer:

The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.   (Job 38:1-4)

In a similar state, the disciples of Jesus were facing a grave crisis. They were aso not prepared for Jesus’ answer: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

What might be missing in both of these storms? God is in charge of everything, including storms. God the Father laid the foundation of the earth. He is the creator of the entire universe. God the Son was the very agent of creation. In John’s Gospel we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.   (John 1:1-3)

Jesus could rebuke the wind because Jesus formed the wind. God was in control of the world because he created the world. This meant that God was also in control of the circumstances in which Job found himself. Is God in control of our circumstance? Or do we find ourselves in a storm which we believe may be out of control?

Jesus was in the boat with his disciples. They were not alone. He spoke to the storm: “Peace! Be still!” Is Jesus in our boat? He is if we call upon him. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.   (Psalm 9:9-10)

And again:

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore.   (Psalm 121:5-8)

In our lifetime our faith will be tested. But we have this assurance from our Lord:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”   (John 16:33)

He will never leave us or forsake us. Let us never abandon our hope in him.

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 6B

Track 1: Our Greatness Is in God

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20
2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17
Mark 4:26-34

God had asked Samuel to anoint a replacement for Saul as king. Saul was the first king of Israel, but he had gone his own way, disobeying God. Samuel was directed to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem. Jesse had seven sons that passed before Samuel. We read from 1 Samuel:

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”   (1 Samuel 16:6-12)

What was so special about David? He was the youngest who was the youngest who was keeping the sheep. David was young, but he had something that his brothers did not have. His faith in God was unshakeable. This is how David, the psalmist, would later describe his relationship with God:

We will shout for joy at your victory
and triumph in the Name of our God;
may the Lord grant all your requests.

Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed;
he will answer him out of his holy heaven,
with the victorious strength of his right hand.

Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.

They collapse and fall down,
but we will arise and stand upright.   (Psalm 20:5-8)

Unlike Saul, David was willing to listen to God and obey him. He did not depend upon himself alone. He knew that God was there for him because spent so much of his time with God. He had formed a relationship with God. Over time, David had come to rely upon God and trust him in all circumstances. As we may remember, David went through many difficult trials before he actually took the throne. God continually proved himself to David and David demonstrated his faith in God by never losing hope or distrusting his God and his purposes.

Do we have such a God on our side? The Apostle Paul wrote:

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.   (2 Corinthians 5:)

Perhaps we have been living for ourselves. We may not have had the track record of David. We may have strayed. We may have doubted. But all of that can change in a heartbeat. How? Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Are we in Christ? We can step into our destiny as much as David or anyone has done. We just need to allow God to make us the man or woman he had intended for us to be. We may not be a king, but we can become a brand new creation, pleasing to God in every way. King Saul never understood the greatness that God had for him. Let us chose a different path. It is time to put our whole future and destiny in God’s hands. He will never disappoint us when we put our trust in him.

 

Track 2: The Mustard Seed

Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4,11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17
Mark 4:26-34

The psalmist writes about the spiritual growth that God provides for those who remain planted in him:

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.

Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
shall flourish in the courts of our God;

They shall still bear fruit in old age;
they shall be green and succulent;

That they may show how upright the Lord is,
my Rock, in whom there is no fault.   (Psalm 92:11-14)

The righteous shall flourish, but not all will flourish. God speaks to the Prophet Ezekiel concerning the Davidic line leading  to the Messiah. He tells Ezekiel that two kings will be cut off: Jeconiah, king of Israel and Zedekiah, king of Judah. These kings had disobeyed God. Both were taken into captivity in Babylon. God would take the matter into his own hands:

I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.

I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;

I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.

On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,

in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.

Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.

All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the Lord.

I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;

I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.

I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it.

God will still establish the Messianic rule. God would work around these two kings. Even though it may appear, at times, that his plans have been thwarted. God will accomplish his purposes in due season. The tender one about whom God is speaking is the son of Joseph and Mary.  He will do everything in his power to fulfill his promises to his people.

Jesus told a parable that illustrated how God works, often behind the scenes to accomplishes his purposes:

Jesus said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”   (Mark 4:30-32)

God might begin small. For awhile it may not appear that anything is happening. The growth may be imperceptible at first. But before we become fully aware of what he has done God has accomplished his purposes.

This is true for us who are a part of the growth of his kingdom here on earth. We may not believe that we are making any progress. We must be patient. We must trust the Lord. We must remain grounded in his word.

I love red bud trees. I bought one that was on sale. It was just a small stick of a tree. When I put it in the grown the root-ball fell away. Half of the tree lived and the other half died. I started to pull it up because I thought that there was not enough left of the tree to be attractive. Nonetheless, I cut off the dead part and hoped for the best. Today the tree is quite large and has a beautiful shape. All this one done by the grace of God.

God loves us more than tress. He wants us to flourish. He wants his kingdom on earth to flourish. This will happen when we remain planted in him. If we are not planted in him then his kingdom will still flourish, but we will not be a part of it.

We want to be a part of the mustard seed because we want to be a part of a Mustard tree that will never end. It started small, but it will grow into a beautiful tree whose eternal glory will never end.

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Saint Barnabas

Son of Encouragement

Today we celebrate Saint Barnabas, the traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. He was more than a traveling companion. Barnabas was largely responsible for encouraging Paul to undertake an active ministry.

We know about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. We know that Jesus Himself called Paul into ministry. Nonetheless, Paul was not easily accepted as an apostle of Jesus by the leadership in Jerusalem. He had been persecuting the Church. Barnabas, however, looked at Paul through the eyes of Christ. He rescued Paul and presented him to the apostles, testifying that Paul was indeed a true believer. This was typical of Barnabas. His name meant “son of encouragement.”

Barnabas was chosen along with Paul for a special mission:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.   (Acts 13:1-3)

This was the beginning of the great mission to the Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul were willing to travel without special requirements or treatment. They endured great hardships for the Gospel. They were willing to follow the instructions which Jesus gave His disciples concerning the conduct of ministry:

Jesus said to the twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.   (Matthew 10:7-10)

What can we learn from Barnabas about our own ministry? He did not care what others thought about Paul. He listened only to what God was telling him. He wanted the praises and approval of God more than that of human beings.

A positive attitude is helpful. Prayer and fasting is preparation. The support of a community is vital and of absolute necessity. A willingness to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for ministry directed by God and not by our own desires. Perhaps this last one is most difficult. The Holy Spirit may lead us into difficult places where we must rely solely on God.

We may not be asked by God to leave home and job. We may, however, be asked to give up some of our cherished beliefs about ministry. We may be asked to leave our comfort zones. We may be required to work with others who are not on the approved list. We might just be called to offer encouragement and support to others in their ministry. God is still calling his Barnabas’s.

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