Sunday’s sermon: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Texts used for this sermon – 1 Samuel 17:32-49 and Mark 4:35-41

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

  • Being a safety patroller as a kid
    • Basic jobs of safety patrollers
      • Being stationed on corners to help kids cross street safely
      • Monitoring lines for various grade levels in the morning while students waited to go into school
    • Being a patroller was a pretty big deal.
      • Application – 4th grade
      • Mentoring period – followed older student around learned from them
      • Final step: practical exam (followed around by one of the captains to make sure you were doing things properly)
      • “Pay-off” – bright orange belt and a small modicum of power
    • A lot of the time, being a patroller was fun, especially if you ended up being grouped with some of your friends.
      • 7 different corners that you could be stationed on (2 or 4 people on the corner, depending on how busy the traffic was)
      • 7 different grade levels (K-6), each with their own door to line up at (2 people per door) → Door duty could be fun if you were on one of the ‘younger’ doors – kindergarten through 3rd The kids we were monitoring were younger siblings, friends’ siblings, or even kids that we babysat for. Most of them thought patrollers were really cool! But door duty presented special challenges, especially if you were assigned to patrol the door of whatever grade you were in or (even more challenging) if you were a 5th grader assigned to monitor the 6th grade door. Suddenly we were policing our peers.
        • Put us between a rock and hard place – doing the job we were supposed to be doing often jeopardized the peer acceptance that is starting to become so crucial at that age
    • And when I read through our passages today, it struck me that both stories also involve people being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
      • David’s difficult situation: single combat challenge in lieu of a major battle – in the text leading up to today’s reading, Goliath says to the Israelites, “Pick your best fighter and pit him against me.If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!”[1] → facing enslavement vs. grossly unmatched fight to the death – rock … hard place
      • Disciples’ difficult situation – caught in a crazy storm → 2 most important descriptors in same verse[2]
        • “huge storm”: think hurricane, not just a gust here and there → wind, rain, waves, lighting, thunder … total chaos
        • “Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it” – Gr. = filled → This wasn’t just a little bit of water splashing over the sides here and there. The boat was filling up with water. It was going down.
  • One of the things that struck me most about these difficult situations was the different ways they were handled.
    • David – confidence in God despite reactions of all those around him
      • Saul expresses doubt and disbelief: Saul answered David, “You can’t go and fight this Philistine. You’re too young and inexperienced – and he’s been at this fighting business since before you were born.”[3]
        • BUT David praised God: David said, “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.”[4]
      • But Saul wasn’t alone in his doubt. Not surprisingly, Goliath also expressed doubt and disbelief: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? … Come on. I’ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I’ll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice.”[5]
        • And again David praised God in the midst of an incredibly difficult situation – David’s simple but powerful declaration to the army of Israel: “Don’t give up hope.”[6]
  • Disciples’ response to their difficult situation is quite different from David’s
    • Context within the rest of Mark’s gospel: story follows on heels of the only parables found in Mark – 4 parables that inextricably link the Kingdom of God and the importance of faith, no matter how small
      • Mk’s segue into today’s story: With many stories like these, [Jesus] presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.[7]
    • Jesus tried to explain everything to them using these parables – these stories – in hopes that it would be easier for them to understand, but the disciples still didn’t get it. And then they encounter The Storm.
      • Hurricane whipping around them
      • Boat on the verge of sinking
      • Icing on the cake: Jesus is curled up in the front of the boat sleeping through the whole thing!
      • Disciples’ response: “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”[8] → The disciples couldn’t swim away from the sinking boat because the hurricane would have drowned them. That’s the rock. The boat was sinking, and a sinking – or worse yet, sunken – boat can’t carry you safely to shore. That’s the hard place. When their conventional options were no longer viable, they panicked. Did they really think that Jesus didn’t care whether they lived or died? Probably not. But fear and panic do funny things to our ability to think, don’t they?
    • Summer chaplaincy internship at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center → I visited with patients and their family members on some of the most challenging and critical units – surgical intensive care, outpatient dialysis, and the secured psychiatric ward, to name a few. And while every experience differed in terms of the challenges faced and the prayers needed, I noticed something: during difficult times, we like to make a to-do list for God. We like to give God parameters for the way we want God to work in a situation. When we look first at the rock and then at the hard place between which we’re stuck, we look for God to work in one situation or the other in the ways that we expect, ways that we can anticipate and understand and predict.
      • PROBLEM: We aren’t God! → doesn’t mean that help, strength, comfort, peace, and all those other things that we ask for are bad things or that they aren’t the solution to the problem
      • My questions this morning: Do we ever ask for the unconventional solution? Do we ever take our eyes off the rock and off the hard place and simply look up? Do we look to God simply because God is the One who created and sustains us and in whom we place our trust and our love?
        • Most dangerous prayer: Thy will be done
  • You see, our Scripture readings this morning remind us that God can provide salvation in the most unexpected of ways.
    • Obvious: David in and of himself = UNCONVENTIONAL → small, teenage boy (text called him “a mere youngster, apple-cheeked and peach-fuzzed”[9]) defeating a seasoned warrior who just happens to be 10’ tall!
    • Jesus’ reaction to the disciples’ request[10] = also unconventional:
      • The Message: “Quiet! Settle down”
      • NRSV: “Peace! Be still!”
      • Gr. = simply two different words side by side that both mean “be silent” → You see, in both Greek and Hebrew, when two words that basically mean the same thing are used together, it is taken as extra emphasis. This emphasis conveys the force of Jesus’ pronouncement. Whatever the disciples may have been expecting Jesus to do in that moment, I would guess that commanding nature itself to be silent and actually having nature respond in kind was not a part of their expectation.
    • Similar interesting point that can be found in Mark’s story
      • Result of Jesus’ rebuke to the wind: “The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass.”[11] – Gr. = “great calm” → Now, I don’t say this very often, but I actually don’t like the translation here. I think it effectively ends up taking away from the language of the story. In the Greek, the same word is used here as is used to describe the great windstorm – the hurricane – from a few verses back. Using the exact same word to describe the calm ordered by Christ inextricably and sacredly ties the two extremes together – a great windstorm tamed into a great calm by Jesus’ very words.
        • IN OUR OWN LIVES:
          • The great windstorm = the chaos, fear, vulnerability that we feel when we’re tossing about in the midst of a difficult situation
          • The great calm comes from placing our faith in God → Instead of trying to fix the situation ourselves by reminding God what we think we need, we trust in God’s wisdom, power, and love, believing – truly believing – that those are far more potent than whatever we had in mind and that they will bring us through the storm.
  • I know that this isn’t easy. Trust me, I’m a worrier who comes from a long line of worriers! And I knows I’m not the only one in this room! Most of us tend to be pretty fearful and worried when we don’t know how things are going to work out – when all we can see are the problems while the solutions remain hidden.
    • Interesting disclaimer about this in text: [The disciples] were in absolute awe, staggered.[12] – Gr. = “great fear/great terror” → God doesn’t promise it won’t be difficult, but God does promise to be there and to get us through.
      • Quote from Julie – African proverb: “Every shut eye ain’t asleep, and every ‘goodbye’ ain’t gone.” → situations we’re facing may cause us to shut our eyes, may cause us to whisper (or scream) our ‘goodbyes’ to people/places/things in our lives, and that may be painful … but that doesn’t mean we should be counted out because God isn’t counted out yet!
  • During my chaplaincy internship at the VA hospital, I spent many hours sitting with the veterans, listening to the stories of their lives, their service, and their faith. Each conversation was different, but they all had one thing in common: those men and women (and their families) had been through difficult, sometimes impossible situations, and despite it all, they’d maintained not only a belief, but a genuine trust in and love for God. We all face difficult situations in our lives – challenges for which we feel ill-equipped, situations that make us uncertain and worried and afraid. But when we find ourselves stuck between those rocks and those hard places, we are not alone in that space. God is there with us, and God is God is certain. Into the chaos of our lives, God speaks: “Peace. Be still.” Amen.

[1] 1 Sam 17:8-10.

[2] Mk 4:37.

[3] 1 Sam 17:33.

[4] 1 Sam 17:37.

[5] 1 Sam 17:43-44.

[6] 1 Sam 17:32.

[7] Mk 4:33-34.

[8] Mk 4:38.

[9] 1 Sam 17:42.

[10] Mk 4:39.

[11] Mk 4:39.

[12] Mk 4:41.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s