Sunday, June 21, 2015

“Underdogs” (I Samuel 17:1-49 and Mark 4:35-41)

Friday as I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of Shopko I thought about the “furious squall” that was mentioned in our gospel reading this morning.  Sitting in the car I endured a quick thunderstorm that produced torrential rain, hail, and winds that were rocking the car.  It got so bad that I could not even see the car that was parked one stall away.  When it calmed down there was a lake in the parking lot and two inches of hail covering the ground . . . it was a mess.  From the moment the darkness of the storm set in and began its furious attack I kept hoping that the hail didn’t get any larger than the pea size that it was and that the wind didn’t flip the car over.  To say the least . . . it was scary.

That little thunderstorm made me think of the story we heard a few minutes ago of Jesus and the disciples crossing over to the other side.  It was an easy journey at first with calm waters . . . one of those sorts of trips in a boat where the boat seems to rock you to sleep . . . which, of course, is what Jesus did.  He laid down to take a nap.  We all know that thunderstorms or squalls know no boundaries and have a tendency to show up when they are least expected.  So it was on the trip across to the other side . . . a quick and unexpected squall unleashed its fury upon the disciples and Jesus in the boat. 

The winds were blowing.  The rain was coming down.  The waves were lapping over the sides of the boat.  They were getting pounded . . . and, all the while, Jesus laid there sleeping.  The disciples panicked . . . “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Now the writer of the story this morning does not say whether or not Jesus was having a great nap, but I would imagine that after all the teaching and preaching and dealing with people Jesus had just done that it was a well-earned nap.  And, I do not know about Jesus, but I know that I can be quite grumpy when I get woke up from a nap I am not really to surrender.  Because of that, I imagine that Jesus was not in too good of a mood when the disciples started panicking and bothering him.

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet!  Be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  Then he turned to his disciples and addressed them: “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”

As I was being rocked in my car on Friday afternoon under a torrential downpour of heavy rain and hail . . . swaying in the wind . . . under a deafening onslaught of noise . . . I will admit that I was scared.  It was a mess . . . a nasty mess.  I was scared about what the storm could do to me . . . what it could do to my car.  Yeah I was scared and at that moment I really wasn’t giving my faith a whole lot of consideration.  I just wanted out.

At the end of eighth grade I got what I considered the worst whooping ever when I got into a fight with the class bully.  Billy Zapor was the biggest and meanest kid in the class and he liked using that to his advantage.  On the last day of school he started picking on a kid on the bus when I told him to “knock it off” . . . which, I guess, he thought meant that he should turn all of his attention to me.  Flicking my ears with his fingers, slapping my head, he antagonized me until I had had enough.

You know how you say stupid things when you are mad or scared?  Well, I said a stupid thing . . . I told Billy I was going to pound him when we got off the bus.  Scrawny little me was going to pound big, monstrous Billy.  He just smiled, “Yeah, right, Keener.”  From that moment on I became scared . . . thought about jumping off the bus a stop early to save my life . . . thought about the fact that I was going to be in a world of hurt and it was all because of my big mouth.

At the last stop everyone piled off the bus.  The circle of kids was made with me and Billy standing in the middle facing each other.  I realized that my only chance was one of surprise . . . that I had to get the first punch in.  So, I rared back and punched Billy right in the mouth . . . a mouth filled with braces . . . the blood spurted out.  You know how the sight of blood—especially your own—can make some people crazy?  Well, Billy went crazy.  He grabbed me . . . threw me into a head lock . . . and, began wailing on me.  It was not a pretty sight from my point of view . . . and, then, just as suddenly as it had started . . . it stopped. 

It just stopped.  Billy released my head from his grip and declared that the fight was a draw . . . which, of course, no one was going to argue with him about, especially me.  Bleeding and bruised I took his declaration and crawled home.  From that moment on Billy and I were pretty good friends . . . he never picked on me . . . and, he gave me the reputation that I wouldn’t back down from a fight.  Actually, I think he gave me the reputation of being a crazy person and no one wants to mess with a crazy person.

When it comes to the forces of nature . . . I admit that I am no match.  When it comes to taking on people like Billy Zapor . . . huge behemoth individuals . . . I am no match.  In both situations I am sure the odds makers would put me down as the underdog . . . and, who am I to argue?  I know when the odds are stacked against me . . . I wasn’t going to beat that storm on Friday afternoon—no one was.  Nor, was I going to beat Billy Zapor . . . shoot I never saw a fight in the years that I knew Billy that he ever lost a fight.  I know the underdog role quite well.

Which brings us to the story of David and Goliath over in I Samuel that is a part of our scripture readings this morning.  As we all know, the Philistines had gathered their forces to invade Israel.  Saul, the king of Israel, gathered his forces to opposite the Philistines . . . a battle line had been drawn.  It was a draw . . . or at least what seemed to be a draw until the Philistines sent out their secret weapon—a monstrous warrior by the name of Goliath.  Goliath was huge—over nine feet tall and ripped like Adonis.  Goliath had never lost a battle . . . he was undefeated.  Out steps Goliath who issues a challenge—send out a warrior to fight me and if he wins we are done . . . we go home. 

Now remember . . . Goliath is over nine feet tall, built like a brick house, and has never—ever—lost a battle.  He towers over the competition.  So, what do the Israelites and Saul do upon hearing this challenge?  The writer of the scripture tells us that they were “dismayed and terrified.”  They knew that they did not have a warrior to beat Goliath . . . they knew beating the Philistines was a long shot especially since Goliath was on their side . . . they knew they were the underdogs.  Knowing this, the Philistines pushed forward and encroached on the land of Israel.

This continued for forty days until a challenger step forward . . . a shepherd boy by the name of David.  Now I imagine that David was not an individual who struck fear into others with his presence, after all, he was a mere boy . . . a skinny, scrawny child . . . one with no military training . . . no fighting experience . . . and, no real weapon.  Nope, all he had was a sling shot he used to scare the varmints away from the sheep.  He steps up and volunteers to fight Goliath to stop the Philistine onslaught.  At best, David was a long . . . long . . . shot to defeat Goliath.  He was an underdog.

Now this is not a picture of expectant triumph . . . no, far from it.  Despite their fear of the Philistines and Goliath, I am sure that the mere presence of David volunteering to take on Goliath brought out more than a few snickers of laughter.  But David was adamant that he could defeat Goliath . . . that he could do it with his sling shot.  After all, time after time, when the sheep had been threatened and attacked by bears and lions God had been with David . . . and, he had won by striking them dead with his sling shot.  As far as he was concerned, underdog or not, he had this in the bag . . . God was on his side.  If God was on his side, who could be against him?

So . . . Saul let David take on Goliath.  Not only does he take Goliath on, but he pops him in the head with a rock from his sling shot killing the monstrous warrior instantly.  The battle is over and done . . . just like that to the amazement of the warriors on both sides of the conflict.  The skinny, scrawny shepherd boy takes out the champion . . . the underdog wins.  The underdog wins because he believes that he cannot lose with God on his side . . . he has faith.

So, Jesus looked at his disciples after rebuking the storm, and asks, “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”   We are among the disciples that he addresses.

There are moments and times in our lives in which we feel as if face unbeatable odds . . . that we are overwhelmed with life and the world around us . . . that life’s storms are more than we can handle . . . that we are the underdogs.  Times when we are scared and frightened . . . times when we are terrified.  Times when we feel as if are on a boat being lashed upon by a furious squall . . . facing an unbeatable foe.  Times when we just want to embrace our status as an underdog and slink away to our homes.

And, then there is Jesus . . . standing there and asking us: “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”

Where was the faith of the disciples when the storm began to rage?  Where was the faith of Saul and his army when they were threatened by the Philistines and Goliath?  Sometimes in life we are reminded from the littlest things or people what faith is and what its power is.  In the example of David we see the underdog triumph because the underdog believes . . . believes that God will not abandon . . . that God will not desert.  We are reminded that no matter how bad it looks, how unbeatable the odds seem, and now much the odds are against us . . . God will always be there.  In God’s presence we never lose.

As badly as Billy Zapor whipped me . . . and, everyone who was there knows it . . . it turned out okay.  Billy and I became friends.  I got a reputation that saved me from a whole bunch of fights in the future.  And, life was great.  Was it faith that propelled me into that fight with Billy Zapor?  Not really, but I stepped forward anyways . . . took my beating . . . and, reaped the rewards.  God took care of me in the end for standing up for the underdogs . . . God will take care of you.

Have faith . . . out of faith the darkest storms bring new light.  God has always sided with the underdog . . . believe it.  Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Love it. I might go back to church if I could find a preacher that told memorable stories like that.