4th Sunday after Pentecost
‘IN OUR WEAKNESS, GOD IS OUR STRENGTH’
1 Samuel 17:1-11; 32; 38-40; 45-49
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
In one of the most profitable Hollywood movies of all time, Avatar, a decisive battle takes place. The alliance of Na’vis people, the natives of the planet Pandora, come face to face with the powerful force of humans who come to conquer their planet. The alliance’s strength is in its sheer number. But the humans come to the battle with a far superior technology.
In the beginning of the battle, the alliance seems to have the upper hand. But soon it is clear that the traditional weapons of arrows and spears used by the natives’ alliance are no match for the human’s advanced weapons. In a short period of time, the native’s entire force is almost wiped out. They are on the brink of a disastrous defeat.
It is then that something extraordinary happens. Eywa, the divine protector of the planet, the divine keeper of the balance of nature in Pandora, sends an army of wild animals to help the natives. This force of nature is so powerful that even the advanced weaponry of the humans is rendered useless. Victory finally belongs to the natives. The humans are finally defeated and Eywa has once again restored the balance of nature in the planet that is once threatened by the greedy humans.
In our reading today from the first book of Samuel, God was also seen as the One who granted military victory to Israel. David came to Goliath claiming that he came in the name of the God of the armies of Israel (1 Samuel 17:45). But David also called God as the LORD Almighty, an English translation of YHWH Sabaoth, which means Yahweh of the heavenly army. Indeed, for ancient Israel, battles were won not by the might of their armies, but by God. YHWH was the One who fought the battle for them. Without YHWH, victory was impossible.
Today, we may feel uneasy reading ancient story about God being involved in violent battles. But for ancient Israelites, there was nothing wrong with this kind of belief.
They saw their survival as dependent not on their own strength, but on God’s might. They were a small nation surrounded by other bigger and stronger nations. Their sense of security came from believing that God, not their own might, would protect them from danger. God, not their strength, was the reason for their survival. Without God, they would never have existed in the first place.
We hear the embodiment of this core belief of Israel in David. He knew that his strength would come from God alone and not from the coat of armour and bronze helmet and sword that Saul offered to him. “It is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the LORD’s (1 Samuel 17:47 - NIV),” said David to Goliath before he defeated the giant.
In our reading in the Gospel of Mark, we encounter another ‘battle’ between the weak against the powerful. This time it was the ‘battle’ between the disciples in a small boat against a terrorizing squall in a great lake. The story in Mark happened in the middle of Lake Gennesaret. The lake was so big that Mark described it as Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16). Indeed, by calling the lake sea, Mark tried to bring back the memory of the time when God liberated the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt across the read Sea. In our story today, Jesus also liberated the disciples from their own fear by calming the terrifying wind and waves.
Indeed, the Gospel of Mark was written for the Christians living in the time of terror; the time of war between the Jews and the Romans. Many people died in the struggle; many more suffered. It is not a surprise that, in his Gospel, Mark told us that six times the disciples were filled with fear. Mark must have wanted his readers to know that, just like them, the disciples too had experienced fear. But in the midst of their fear, the presence of God in Jesus was always with them. A terrorizing ‘storm’ may have threatened their ‘boat’, but God never abandoned them. God may have seemed distant, just like the sleeping Jesus in the stern of the boat, but Christ never left them alone.
Jesus’ words that he directed to the storm were meant for all Christians of all times, “Quiet! Be still!” In those times when the world around us and within ourselves are trembling with fear, Jesus’ words bring reassurance of his presence in our life.
We can see the same power of God working in Paul’s life. He had been through everything in his life: good and bad; happiness and sorrow. Yes, he was weak in the eyes of the world, but in his weakness, he found strength for others and for himself.
In his letter to the Corinthians that we read today, Paul was pleading to the estranged congregation in Corinth. He asked them to be reconciled to himself. Yet, Paul commended himself to the Corinthians not by showing to them his brilliance, but by reminding them of his endurance in hardship for the sake of the Gospel. His badge of honour was his endurance in suffering.
In the part of the letter that we read today, he began by describing the difficulties that he had to face: troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). But he didn’t stop there. He moved on to describe the strengths that balanced those difficulties he had faced: purity, understanding, patience, kindness, love, truthful speech, righteousness, the Spirit and the power of God (2 Corinthians 6:6-7).
No, God did not leave him alone. Using contradictions as a tool of his argument, he declared that he found glory in dishonour, good report in bad report; he was genuine even though he was treated as an impostor; he was known to God even though he was regarded as unknown by others; he lived on after he was beaten and dying; he was always rejoicing in his sorrow; in his poverty, he made everyone else rich; and even though he had nothing, he possessed everything (2 Corinthians 6:8-10)!
In other words, Paul was following the path of Jesus who brought freedom and healing through his suffering on the cross. It was in this path of suffering that the power of God had been working in him. It was in the same path that he hoped that reconciliation between him and the Corinthian congregation would be possible.
Friends, our problem may be big, but our God is bigger. We may not have the resolution to our problem now, maybe even not in our lifetime, but our faith can help us face our problems with dignity and integrity. So the questions that we need to consider are these: When we face our own 'Goliath' or 'perfect storm', are our lips still able to proclaim that our God is bigger than the problem we face? Can we still live with integrity no matter what happens to us? Can we still cling on to our faith when the storm of life rocks our boat? Can we still feel God’s presence even when we think that we have to deal with our problem alone?
Today’s readings remind us that our God never leaves us behind. Like Jesus, God may seem asleep, but his presence is always with us. And with God on our side, like David, we can have courage to face our ‘enemies’; with God on our side, we can say to our troubled soul, “Quiet! And be still.”
 Sharon H. Ringe, Commentary on Mark 4:35-41, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (June 21, 2009)