1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Stories of Crisis

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1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Stories of Crisis

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

Some of us here today may be struggling through a crisis. Or there may be someone dear to us now dealing with terrible circumstances. And some in this room may have a crisis waiting for us in the days between now and next Sunday. Or we may have arrived at church this morning grateful that a particular season of sorrow is now behind us. Whatever the case, crises happen in our lives. That’s how it is, as all of us learn sooner or later.

Thus we have our reasons to listen carefully to stories of crisis from scripture, such as those we just heard from the First Book of Samuel and from Mark’s Gospel. Let’s put these passages in their biblical contexts so that they may be able to address our situations even more eloquently.

The First Samuel reading tells us of David and Goliath. Let’s consider the story,not with a focus on David the young hero, but from the perspective of the soldiers of Saul before David vanquishes his opponent.

We know how the story will turn out, but they do not. All  they know at the time is that an enemy giant, nearly ten feet tall, stands a short distance in front of them, challenging them to single combat.

These soldiers are overcome with fear, and with good reason. Their opponent, Goliath of Gath, exceeds them in every respect. Everything about him is outsized: not only his height, but his helmet, coat of mail, the greaves on his legs, and especially his spear. None of them can match his vast size, his big weapons, and his bold attitude. None can answer his challenge to engage in combat, man to man. And so the entire army finds itself in crisis.

Deliverance comes from an unexpected direction: not a mighty warrior, someone too big to fail, but a shepherd boy, a civilian, in the camp to deliver a parcel to his soldier brothers.

Saul and his troops “are dismayed and greatly afraid.”
(1 Samuel 17:11). David, on the other hand, is confident. He has struggled successfully against lions and bears that were intent on ravaging his flock; he can handle this boastful Philistine just as well.

He tries on conventional armor and weapons, but they are almost comically too much for him to manage. Better to stay with what he knows: courage and a shepherd’s sling. And soon Goliath is dead upon the ground.

David prevails because he trusts, not in himself, but in the One  larger than himself whose purpose he serves regardless of how outmatched he may at first appear.

Now let’s consider today’s passage from Mark, a story of what occurs in a few frightening minutes. Jesus and his disciples are out sailing on that large lake which we call the Sea of Galilee. As sometimes happens there, a violent storm suddenly arises. High winds batter the boat, filling it with water. Up and down and up again the boat goes, but amazingly Jesus remains asleep, lying on a cushion in the stern.

The terrified disciples shake him awake, he stands up and commands the storm to cease. The disciples, no longer in the grip of fear, are now overcome with awe. The man beside them can control the wind and the waves! It seems like nothing to Jesus, however. All he says to his companions are two short questions: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

These questions are not addressed only to the disciples on the boat. They are directed to us as well.
“Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?”
As we travel through frightening storms, as we are driven by life’s crises, Jesus asks us these questions time and again.  For occasions arise when fear controls us. Occasions arise when we forget about faith.  The waves of the storm stand very tall. They seems to us bigger than Jesus.

We consider each storm as it arises, and we fear that it will never end. We cannot believe that a new calm will come.  Our mortality wants to swallow us up alive. Jesus sees this differently.  What follows the storm is what matters. The storm before this calm is but a prelude. It must give way to peace.

We grow in faith, my friends, as we increasingly see our crises from the Jesus perspective, when the powers of death no longer enslave us, but we are moved to wonder at how life prevails, and how it is through the crisis that we are led to life.

I will tell one more story about crisis.  It does not come from the Bible, but is much more recent in origin.

The man in the wheelchair was fifty-three, but he appeared almost infinitely older because of what cancer had done to him.

The dozens of men who had gathered to hear him speak were well aware of his illness and how this would be the last time he would meet with them.

The man in the wheelchair was Bonaventure Zerr, abbot of a Benedictine community in Oregon. The men around him were monks of that community. Eight years earlier, they had elected him as abbot, expecting that he would occupy the position for a good twenty years.

They knew him well, this very large man with an imposing intellect who yet was totally affable and compassionate and confident. They knew him well, and in a short time he would be dead.

The assembled monks looked on Bonaventure Zerr with affection and respect. They also looked on him with reverence, for according to the Rule of Benedict, the abbot holds the place of Christ in the monastery. So here was their Christ – Christ in a wheelchair, days away from death.

His very last words to the assembled monks were almost exactly what he said to them moments after he had been elected abbot eight years before. “In biblical times,” he told them from his wheelchair, “when God’s people were in trouble, he would send an angel to help. He has not sent an angel this time, but I have an angel’s message.”

This bear of a man, sick yet strong, slammed his fist down on the table in front of him, and commanded with a loud voice, “Stop being afraid!”

(Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B.,  A Monk’s Alphabet: Stories of Stillness in a Turning World (New Seeds, 2006), 205-20.  Taken from an advance reading copy.  Pagination may differ in the revised text)

Copyright 2015, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.