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Dean Gibson's WORSHIP NOTES will return later this summer.
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We identify with the disciples in this Sunday's gospel lesson. Their boat is being swamped in turbulent seas; they feel weak and overwhelmed. Jesus, meanwhile, is asleep on a cushion in the stern. Doesn't he care? Will he not help? When they wake him, Jesus calms the wind and sea. Then he says to his disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"
Jesus continues to act as a powerful calming force in our turbulent world, even when our faith is weak and we give in to our fears. He works through the inspiration and courage demonstrated by faithful followers of his Way. He works through the powerful prayers of his people. He works through the strength of the communities that love in his name. We may not always be able to see this work, but we can have faith that it is ongoing and that we can be part of it through our own faithful practice of living with compassion, humility, and love of neighbor.
Paul encourages the members of the Christian community in Corinth to "open wide [their] hearts." His words written long ago encourage us now. As followers of Jesus, we are called to set aside our fears of what is happening in the world or in our own lives and to open our hearts. The faith we need will be given to us, and we will be empowered to share the love of Christ with a hurting world.
Jesus's disciples "were filled with great awe" at his power to calm the storm. We can be, too.
If a weed in your back yard has ever turned into a tree, then you have seen a real life parable for the kingdom of God. Whereas great trees, especially cedars, were symbols of powerful empires in the times of the Bible, Jesus likens the kingdom he represents to an invasive shrub. Most of us grew up taking the mustard seed parables very seriously, but Jesus was probably having a little fun with this in the parables we read this week from Mark. His point, however, remains seriously true: the kingdom of God grows from seeds so small as to be unseen, and it grows more quickly and widely than you can believe. But it does not look like the kingdoms we have seen before.
As we follow the story of Samuel in our Old Testament readings, we see there also how God’s kingdom works differently from the norm, as this week we come to God’s rejection of Saul as the first king of Israel. Saul had looked like a likely king, but his reign displeased God. So, God sent Samuel out to anoint a successor as king, and God warned Samuel not to be led by appearances: “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” From among the many promising sons of Jesse, God chose the least and the last, young David, who was out keeping sheep.
In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes, “we walk by faith and not by sight.” Because we follow Christ, who loved us and died for us and was raised for all, we no longer see anyone “from a human point of view.” We are “urged on,” compelled, by the love of Christ for us to see all people as he sees and loves them. Because of this, the creation is becoming new, as the old passes away, even though we cannot see it happening.
We often get stuck in believing everything we think and accepting everything we see at face value. Our lessons from scripture this week encourage us to have faith in the unseen workings of God’s kingdom, even now growing all around us. It just doesn’t look the way we expect!
The word listen in Hebrew sounds like the word Samuel. True to his name, Samuel listens to God, as we heard in our first lesson last Sunday, which recounted the boy Samuel’s call, when he learned to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Again this Sunday, when we encounter Samuel at the close of his ministry, he listens—not only to God, but, as God instructs him to do, to his people as they ask for a king. Samuel listens to God, while the people of Israel refuse to listen, both to Samuel and to God.
In our gospel lesson this Sunday, we hear another instance of God’s people not listening or understanding. The scribes who came down from Jerusalem to witness Jesus’ work believed that he was possessed by the ruler of the demons. Jesus’ own family believed that he was out of his mind. Upon hearing these judgments, Jesus looked around him and said that his family was comprised of “whoever does the will of God.” Those who stood “outside” God’s will, whether those in authority or his own family, were not part of Jesus’ community, or “tribe.”
These may seem like hard teachings—about listening to and following through with views with which we disagree, and about choosing the community of Christ’s followers above the claims of kin. But these two teachings point us toward Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the church in Corinth: through challenge to our “outer nature,” our sense of the order of things, our “inner nature” is being “renewed day by day.”
Through loss and openness to change we move from the temporary life we can see right now toward the eternal life from God that is ours to claim. In order to participate in the transformation that leads to eternal life, we must learn to listen, to accept God’s teaching and will, and to find our renewal in embracing what we do not yet see.
The Very Reverend Beverly Gibson, Ph.D., Dean of the Cathedral