We're a pretty self-empowered bunch, we educated middle-class Americans. We've adopted mantras like "If you build it, they will come," "the sky's the limit," "you've got this," "You can be anything you want to be."
Is there anything we can't imagine? Nothing we can't do with our myriad gifts and abilties as humans? Any power or expectation or force that exceeds ours? Problems we can't solve? Movements we can't subdue? Sometimes it feels like the language of culture says 'NO, there is not.'
But are these the right things to focus on?
This week in scripture, we're challenged to accept the limits of our own imagination, ability and understanding.
In both passages from Samuel, the story of David, not yet King, continues to unfold. First is a story so well known that it is part of cultural myth - David & Goliath. It's a story we interpret as the little guys abilty to overcome the big bully. But take a moment to read what is really happening. David is confident in the Lord's protection. Saul suits him up with armor, but David gives it back. He actually takes his mark in his face-off with Goliath in the name of God. It's a little difficult in our day and age to grapple with a God of war, but in a time when culture, politics, sociology and religion were not distinguishable facets, every battle was one of Good and Evil. David sought to defeat the Philistine for the glory of God. And he knew he wasn't doing it on his own.
In the next "chapter" in David's story, we see Saul take him in. As readers we know that David has already been anointed King and so we see a power struggle begin to unfold. Saul's own son Jonathon became David's friend and soul mate. And something mysterious happened to Saul. The text says he was overtaken by an evil spirit (from God - yikes). David evades Saul's crazy rants and even manages to sooth Saul with his harp. The story tells us that God departed from Saul and was with David. Are there times when we cannot be successful then without God? What role does our relationship with God play in our ability to do things?
We can certainly read these stories as messages of Hope--The little guy always has a chance against evil. However, what does it do to all of us when we internalize this message and start to view ourselves as somehow Failing or Less Than if we do not surmount the insurmountable odds?
We are fortunate this week to have THREE choices of Hebrew text...and the third is from Job. Job is the text in Hebrew scripture that calls into question all previous understood "truths" about who God was and how God behaved. For unknown reasons, Job is subject to horrible suffering. He loses family, he suffers his own illness, this property disappears. Job's life sucks. And he works through all the reasons why - he's been righteous, he's attended to the Lord...and still he suffers. Our selection is from God's response to lots and lots of chapters that detail Job's suffering, his sadness, despair, frustration and eventual anger with God. And there is little comfort in God's response. It sort of reads like this, "who are you to question God, to pretend to understand how things work, to apply human logic and notions of cause and affect?" These aren't words that make us lean back and say, "God's got my back." They aren't words that justify claiming that God is good all the time. This isn't a dialogue that assures us that all we need is a "close personal relationship" with God or Jesus Christ. These are bewildering words that leave us wondering if we really know anything at all.
Paul writes to the church at Corinth and he's chastising. Look closely at how he describes the life of his followers who he says are doing things right and well: they are imprisoned and beaten, they are hungry and afflicted. But while they are sorrowful, they are rejoicing. There is no prosperity gospel here. These people are relying on something bigger than themselves. By societies measures, they are downtrodden. But their God is real. They are not subject to their own power and ability, but to God. And Paul describes them as if they are blessed even in the midst of their difficult life. What are we working for? Ease?
In a whirlwind of confusing responses to relationship with God, Mark's account of a storm at sea which terrifies the disciples adds another nuance. Jesus has been traveling with his disciples and it is late. He's asleep in their boat and a storm comes up. When the disciples cannot stand their own fear and discomfort any longer, they wake Jesus who calms the storm and then scolds them for their lack of faith. Wait a minute - they believed Jesus could do something about it. But it seems Jesus might have expected them to do something about it themselves. He sees their reliance on him as a lack of faith. In whose name do we claim comfort in our lives?
And again, look at the message both Paul and Jesus are putting out there in contrast to what we find in the stories of David. They are talking about reliance on God bringing internal and personal satisfaction and peace rather than outward and political or financial success.
Are we focused on the right things?
God, we are easily distracted. We follow the shiny objects of money and success and ease. We shy away from satisfaction and peace and love. Help us as we attempt to focus on those things that bring real beauty and compassion to us and to the World. Amen.
© laura & matt norvell 2012 www.settingourstones.org - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask thatyou let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you