Smooth Stones and Stormy Seas
I Samuel 17 (Selected Verses) and Mark 4:35-41
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 (Selected Verses)
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. There came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why have you come out for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man, 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." When Saul and Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were greatly afraid.
Saul, and the Israelites were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.
David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse (his father) had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going to battle. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, Goliath came, and spoke the same words as before.
David heard him. David said to Saul, "Let no one's heart fail because of him; your servant will fight this Philistine." Saul said to David, "You are not able; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth."
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, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; 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 Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of God. 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!"
Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd's bag; his sling was in his hand.
The Philistine drew near to David. When the Philistine saw David, The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field."
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. This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; so all the earth may know there is a God in Israel, 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."
When the Philistine drew nearer, David ran quickly to meet the Philistine. 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.
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
I have a small guilty habit to share. I like action movies. I know some people like romance or drama; however, I like action movies. I enjoy watching movies as the Jason Bourne Trilogy, the early Jack Ryan movies like The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games; and of course, the James Bond movies. I will not get into the argument as to who was the best James Bond, but this last Bond is not bad. Action flicks are pure escapism for a couple of hours. Tthat is okay. I can afford a few calories of brain candy. I probably got this liking in high school when I worked in a movie theater.
Action movies share one common characteristic. The heroes are fearless or they manage their fears to an extraordinary degree. What would paralyze us - like driving off a cliff, someone shooting at you, or someone hitting you repeatedly in the face - they take in stride. In a crisis, they think, plan, and execute. Of course, they always survive.
It is not that way with us, is it? We are not fearless in a crisis, nor do we know we will survive. That leads us towards difficult feelings, such as anxiety, fear, doubts about ourselves, and uncertainty about the future.
Some feelings lead towards depression. We gain a low opinion of ourselves, and our ability to face whatever is before us.
Sometimes, people feel so bad about themselves and their future they take their own lives. Suicide, according to last month’s report from the Center for Disease Control, is up by 30% from 1999-2016. That is a huge increase. The most prevalent reason for suicide is failure in a relationship - being alone and isolated amidst the people around them. The recent suicides of designer Kate Spade and TV chef, traveler Anthony Bourdain, highlight a truth we have not wanted to face.
So, unlike the heroes portrayed in movies, we do not manage our fears well.
The Scripture Lessons
That leads us to our Scriptures lessons. Both deal with managing your fears.
In our lesson from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and the disciples are cruising across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus falls asleep. All is well until a storm comes upon them. The boat is taking on water. The disciples are in imminent danger of sinking. To their Jesus keeps on sleeping. “What,” they say,” do not you care we are sinking?” Jesus wakes and calms the sea. However, before Jesus does so, he calls the disciples a curious word - in English the word means, “chicken-hearted.” Jesus is calling his disciples “cowards.” The disciples are not the heroes in our action flicks.
In our lesson from I Samuel, the story is also about managing your fears. Except here, the hero – David – acts differently than the disciples.
The young David does not run from trouble, he runs towards it, in the form of the giant named Goliath. The other Israelites are afraid of Goliath, and for good reason. Goliath stands 10 feet tall in his stocking feet, wore a size 20 collar, a 91/2-inch hat, and a 52-inch belt. He considered underarm deodorant something wimps used. With his full armor, he looked like a Sherman tank or a Panzer coming your way a blazing.
David, however, was unmoved. Why? David had a special background. As a shepherd, he had to protect his flock against animals like bears and lions. David had to attack these marauding animals to protect his flock. His battles won over the lions and bears fostered a deep reliance on God for protection. David’s experience, battling these animals and shepherding by himself, made him focus on God.
Facing Goliath, David remembered his previous experiences and how God, in danger provided, sustained, and protected him. Therefore, he went out and faced this Philistine. Picking up five smooth stones – just five smooth stones in his bag – David slung at Goliath and killed him.
Whether you feel like David, ready to do battle; or whether you feel like the disciples fearfully floating on chaos, both stories tell us about managing our fears in crises. JAs David picked five smooth stones to do battle, and one of them did the job, let us consider five ways to manage our fears, with hope one will save us from allowing our fears to conquer us.
The first smooth stone to pull from our bag when we face stormy seas is this – do not take appearances to be reality. Whenever we face anything that threatens us or our way of life, fear arises. Fear’s first impulse is to tell us we are losing everything. Seeing events in those terms, we react rather than act, believing what our fears tell us is true – we are losing all. Therefore, we react impulsively. We do not plan, we do not investigate the validity of what we face, we do not trust ourselves. We do as the disciples did, react out of terror. We believe we are doomed.
Jesus had the ability to see beyond appearances, to see beyond first impressions, and to act not react. Whenever Jesus tells his disciples to not be afraid, he is telling us to not let fear real you and tell you that what your fears tell you is true. People act out of impulse – they fear loneliness, and what they face now is what will always be. Sometimes they act fatally.
Do not let fear determine your life, the crisis you face, or how you will act.
The second smooth stone to consider is to trust you experiences. Put your faith in God. The trouble we found with our action heroes is that they always depended on themselves, which was okay if you are following a movie script where the future is predictable. In real life, we cannot depend on ourselves alone. We need help.
When David faced Goliath, that giant of a crisis, he managed his fears because he remember his experiences of the past. He remembered that when he was a lone shepherd, and a marauding animal suddenly attacked, he found that he was able to manage his fears because he trusted that just as God had protected, sustained, and provided for him in the past, God would do so in the present. David knew he was not facing the crisis alone. David was not thinking of God as a Mr. Fix-it, or as Someone who would keep trouble always at a distant; rather, he knew that as God had been with him in the past, and given him strength, God would strengthen him now.
Of all the prayers that are said, the one God always answers is the repeated and often prayer for strength.
Third, repent. By repentance I do not mean to repent of your sin. Rather, I mean look at yourself in a new and different way. Change the way you have seen yourself in the past as one who is unwanted, unlovable, unable, or undesirable by God or any one. Repent of your belief that you cannot face the future, that because your life has changed, because your relationships are no more, you face a horrible future. Being alone is not the worst that could happen to you. People live good, productive, and happy lives alone. If you cannot love yourself alone with yourself, you cannot love yourself with someone else. Much of life is facing life and death alone. Yet, people do it with confidence because they trust God and themselves. They realize what God in Christ has taught – you are something of value. You are valuable, wanted, and needed. God created you for a purpose – to make the world and other people’s lives better. Now go out and make that purpose a reality.
Fourth, put your faith in the right person and place. Do not place your faith in what others say about you. People can be fickle – loving you one day, condemning you the next. That has to do with them, not you. Manage your fears by placing trust in what you have learned from your experience. Your past tells you that you have ability, you are lovable, that you can survive, and that as God has been with you in the past, God will be with you now. That does not mean God will make your life smooth. It does mean God will give you strength if you pray repeatedly and often for the ability to endure. Fear is not the last word. The first and the last words Jesus said to his disciples were – “Do not be afraid.” Jesus says those words to you today.
The fifth smooth stone to pull from your bag is this truth to recall. Remember the battle belongs to God. God has been battling chaos from creation to the end of time. God has overcome chaos that have come before you and will conquer those that come after you. God will surely conquer the chaos you deal with today. As David said when he faced a giant, so we can say in our lives – “The Lord does not save by sword or by spear, for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
God is for us, and God will win over the chaos we endure. Trust, therefore, that God will win the battle for you. Whenever you are floating on chaos, and you face stormy seas, use the smooth stones God has given you. God will strength you and be forever with you. You never fear being alone again. Amen!