Sermon, 6/20/21: A Hidden Parable!

Posted on ; Filed under News

4 Pentecost

Psalm 133; I Sam. 17:57–18:5, 10–16; II Cor. 6.1–13; Mark 4:35-41

And they were filled with great awe.  Mark 4:41

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Is it not beautiful, Psalm 133?  Its brevity makes its one of the shortest of the psalms.  The shortest is Psalm 117, consisting only of two verses.  But brevity alone does not give Psalm 133 its beauty.  For me, Psalm 133 gains its beauty in the realization, that it is aspirational.  It is affirmative.  Psalm 133 speaks of possibilities.  It speaks to the good that our Divine Creator proposed at creation. 

In an era where we acknowledge that the wording of the psalm seems to exclude women and girls, and those in our world who may be transgender, I maintain, nevertheless, that there is beauty in that psalm.  The language of Psalm 133 reflects its historical setting, as do all the historical documents included in our Book of Records, in the Bible.  However, acknowledging that, if we can but look beyond that immediate perimeter, we come to understand and appreciate, that in its poetic beauty it evokes in our hearts a possibility, a longing for how we might view our being.  In its succinct form, Psalm 133 is an inclusive psalm which captures the essence of that which our collect for the day expresses. 

I read again that collect:   “O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”  And if I were in the classroom, I might even suggest that you might want to highlight or underline the words “make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving kindness.”

Over many years, both in civic and history classes, as well as from commentators on radio and television and in the printed word, and from political and religious leaders, you and I have been reminded that the founders of our country, the United States of America, were mindful of the flaws of a state-established and -sanctioned religious community, so much so that they declared and established in our Constitution a separation of church and state.  Yet, this has not deterred fellow citizens from declaring that we are a Judeo-Christian nation, and from using this unofficial description of the United States to signal to those who are not adherents of a Judeo-Christian tradition that they are not welcome and, if they come, if they are admitted, that they should expect to be looked upon with suspicion and treated as a “Less-Than.”

The Gospel according to Mark appointed for reading in this season of Post-Pentecost (or Ordinary time) challenges this position, and it does so through parables, through those pithy tales of how dwelling together in unity brings the kingdom of God nearer.  The gospel appointed for today, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, would seem, then, to be out of place.  But is it?

  • Jesus has concluded a series of parables: “The Kingdom of God is like….”
  • Jesus suggests that he and his immediate followers should go to the other side of the lake.
  • Jesus, being human, falls asleep, and even as the winds cause a minor tsunami, he continues to sleep.
  • His disciples awaken him, and Jesus prays that the waters become calm in order to promote safe passage.
  • His disciples experience, in their minds, a miracle.

However, the question that looms in my mind, and which I share with you this morning, is this: Is this prayer for calm and peace during moments of stress and distress not itself a parable?  Here is a parable according to Butler:  The kingdom of God is like when men recognize that a combined effort can produce powerful results.  They are those who recognize their own human limitations and, recalling God’s promise to be with them all ways, unite in their call upon the source of being. 

We tend to think and to speak of the disciples, those in the intimate circle, as if they were monolithic, as if they came from the same background.  We know, but tend to forget, that we are individuals, each unique and made in the image of God, but with different desires, different talents.  The disciples were not exempt from this valuable and unique diversity.  Some in that intimate circle were fishermen and thus acquainted with the life-threatening upsets that could occur on large bodies of water when winds arise.  Others were tillers of the soil.  Jesus himself was a skilled carpenter.  And even among those who were fishermen, they did not all think and work alike.  However, what they had in common was their humanness, their humanity.  And Jesus was there to calm their fears.

If we are to call ourselves a Judeo-Christian nation, are we not bound to acknowledge what brings peace into our world and to share it with those who are also tossed about as real calamities befall them and us?  Permit me a brief review.  And I do so, not in quoting Kierkegaard, or Bultmann, or Carl Jaspers, or Tillich, or any others of the great theologians or saints, such as St. Augustine.  Rather, I turn directly to the source, our Book of Records, the Bible.

So, what is this thing we call Judeo-Christianity?  Here is a bit of homework for you:

  1. Genesis 18.1–8:  The Preamble: Hospitality to strangers.
    God tests Abraham, née Abram, by seeing how the man whom God would choose to be the father of God’s people would react to and receive strangers, individuals whom he had never before seen.  Apparently, Abraham passes the test, for it is next recorded in Scripture:
  2. Genesis 18, 18-19.  There are consequences to Abraham’s actions and, in this instance, because of Abraham’s generosity of spirit, a positive consequence.  If Holy Writ is to be believed, God entered into covenant with Abraham, a covenant which was to be an example of how the Holy One desired humans to interact with and live among each other.  In subsequent generations, the people of God forsook that covenant and found themselves subsequently as slaves in Egypt, then delivered from slavery, and given another opportunity to demonstrate God’s compassion to the rest of humankind.
  3. Deuteronomy 5: 1, 6–21.  The Divine Contract or Ten Commandments.  I shall not recite them all here, because they are familiar to you.  To paraphrase the words from the Preamble to the United States Constitution, we, as Christians, hold these biblical dictates to be self-evident, that Almighty God recognizes human frailty and that we humans need a framework by which and with which we may live with each other.  This is a social contract, not for God’s benefit, but for our sake.  However, this contract takes on specificity.
  4. Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9–10, 15, 17.  These and other principles spelled out the Divine Contract and in such terms that no one could misunderstand.  It is imperative that the people of God not only welcome strangers, for they were once strangers in a foreign land, but they must also take care of the less fortunate in their own community.  I dare call this social security, welfare.  Why, you may well ask, would God demand this of those who identify with God?  The answer is a simple one, and you sing it in the Doxology: All things, we believe, come from God, and we are but stewards.
  5. Matthew 5. 17. Reaffirmation of the Covenant of God with God’s people.  Jesus closes a loophole for those who wish to claim that simply by saying they believe in Jesus the Christ, as their personal savior, but do not accept his reinforcement of how we are to behave towards one another.  And like a good teacher, knowing that often we need to hear something a second and third time before we comprehend, Jesus repeats himself.
  6. Matthew 22. 35 – 40.  The Great Commandment.  Jesus strove for and achieved clarity, and in no other area could he be clearer, when he said the following: Love God; love neighbor as you yourself wish to be loved.

The unspoken or hidden parable in the miracle of calming the waters may, perhaps, be so articulated: “The Kingdom of God, who wants nothing better for us than that we might dwell together in unity, is like standing on a rocking and tilting boat and coming to understand that we need only remember: the One who called into existence the seas can provide relief from those threatening waves if we but recognize that we need help, and join with others in seeking it.  To whom can one turn when the foundation underfoot appears unstable?”

God sends the right person to right the wrongs that have been done.  The Prophet Samuel reminds us of that assurance in David’s battle with Goliath.  The take-away for me, and I hope also for you, is a) that one cannot sit idly by, immobilized by fear, when faced with challenging and inhumane actions.  And b) each of us, in our own vulnerability—remember that young David could not and did not fight Goliath using heavy armor—is cared for and supported by the one true God whose sole will it is, as the psalmist recites for us, who comes to us in those around us, that ‘brothers should dwell together in unity’. (Ps.133); and when we do, you and I can reclaim our rights bestowed upon us at our baptism, by the Christ whom ‘even the wind and the sea obey.’  I know not the commanding tone of voice that Jesus used in order to reassure those with him in the boat, that God has not forgotten them.  But it was sufficient for their time and situation.  This unspoken, hidden parable assures us that we, as people of faith, follower of Jesus of Nazareth, can do likewise; for we, too, are created in the image of God!  Amen