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Today in the Spirit: Proper 7B

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At Proper 7B, we continue with Mark’s version of the events in Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee. Mark 4:35-41(5:1-20) gives us the narrative of Jesus stilling a storm as he and his disciples are in transit across the lake, and as an optional addition, the story of a man possessed by multiple demons on the remote eastern shore. We note in both accounts common references to the witnesses of these events being greatly afraid. The question the disciples ask one another on the lake sums up the reaction of all worshipers meditating on these events: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41). 

Strikingly, that question mirrors the questions posed by YHWH to Job in the assigned OT reading out of Job 38. Concerning the seas, in particular, God inquires with a challenging tone:

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Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?”

Having heard this reading, the actions of Jesus in the Gospel reading, of course, will inspire us as believers in our worship of Jesus as God. The assigned Psalm 107:1-3(4-23)23-32 is an ode in ballad form to a variety of disparate types who are redeemed by God against all odds. With a concentration in the select verses on those who went down to the sea in ships (23), we are prepared in worship to hear the Gospel account of Jesus stilling the storm for the disciples.

Our Year B NT reading series in 2 Corinthians continues this week with the well-known passage from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. (Parts of this seminal text also come up on Ash Wednesday and Lent 4C). Paul, still in the mode of personal testimony but transitioning to universal address, offers inspired teaching in this passage on the work of God to make all those who are in Christ, without exception, a new creation and further to declare that those made new are incorporated into Christ’s larger ministry of reconciliation (18-19). Our Collect this week is a devotional prayer pleading to the Father who is “the author and giver of all good things” as a matter of priority, for “true religion” and“goodness” and“the fruit of good work” in Jesus’ name. 

The Collect

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Who Is It Who Obscures My Plans? (Job 38:1-11[12-15]16-18)

1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

3 Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.

5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?

6 On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,

7 when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,

9 when I made clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,

10 and prescribed limits for it
    and set bars and doors,

11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

(vv. 1-11)

Or,“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge” (1, NIV). This translation may provide us with a firmer understanding of the purpose behind YHWH’s sudden intrusion into the drawn-out conversation between Job and his friends. The whirlwind (1) here is not at all like the storm that brought destruction onto Job’s family at the beginning of the story (see 1:18-19), but, ironically, more like the silent whisper given to Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kgs. 19:11ff). Loudly or softly, God will make his divine revelation known to his servants to bring correction of wrong thinking and consolation for advancement to the next stage of their journey.

We, too, can be found obscuring God’s plans for us with long, wayward conversations (either with ourselves or others) on matters we know nothing about. At some point, in following the Lord, we need to stop and hear the word of God clarifying in no uncertain terms, “I am God, and you are not.” I wonder if Jesus has not arrived at that place of exasperation with his disciples when, after hearing ad nauseam their concerns about his mysterious departure, he declares, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing ” (John 15:5). The Father God will dress us down if needed, reminding us that there is often in his counsel mystery to be quietly respected and surrendering to circumstances even if we do not fully understand.

Are you paralyzed just now in your walk with God, obscuring his plans with what amounts to idle “conversation”? Today, Holy Spirit, intrude into the movement of my circular thinking that, like Job, I might be pushed forward to the new places of restoration you promise in your word. 

Oh Give Thanks to the LORD (Psalm 107:1-3[4-22]23-32)

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

    for his steadfast love endures forever!

2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,

    whom he has redeemed from trouble

3 and gathered in from the lands,

    from the east and from the west,

    from the north and from the south.

(vv. 1-3)

This is a long psalm. If not on a Sunday morning, it is worth finding the time to contemplate the whole piece in a group setting. The overall theme is thanksgiving to God, who is at work redeeming people who are lost in different walks of life and vulnerable against opposition, human and natural. There are three ballads of those in need of God’s rescue: those who wandered in desert wastes, those who languished in prison, and those who went out to the sea in ships. Each type rescued by God receives the exhortation of the psalmist: Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love. Finally, the congregation of Israel is invited to see themselves as those redeemed by God and give thanks.

Is there ever a time when we graduate from having to appreciate our redemption from sin and remain thankful? While it may seem an impertinent question, I have caught myself more often than I like, giving a sigh and hesitating to enter yet another worship service. Those of us who have walked with the Lord for a long time, and especially those who do religion for a living, can feel exempt from joining wholeheartedly in giving thanks to God for his salvation through Christ. We have done it for so long: it is right and good that those younger in the Lord should do so, but I will hold back my passion. This psalm is directed especially to us. We are all the people in the ballads: the wandering, the imprisoned, the lost at sea. 

Today, in the Spirit, let the drama of Psalm 107 cause me to recover the spirit of having been lost and saved by God the Father through Christ the Son.   

That Those Who Live Might No Longer Live for Themselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

By this point in this section of 2 Corinthians (2:12-6:2), Paul has transitioned from a strict separation between we/us (his apostolic band) and you (the church, see 4:12) to employing the universal we/us (applying to all Christians). I put the exact point of transition at v. 15: and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (15). With this declaration that [Christ] died for all, the apostle pulls the whole body of believers into the flow of the gospel movement of God to which he and his team have dedicated their lives. Everyone in Christ is meant to understand that they no longer live for themselves, that they are participants in God’s ministry of reconciliation in the world, and that they are all ambassadors for Christ through whom God is making his appeal. Even the last sentence in the section, I tell you now, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (6:2), is no evangelistic plea to non-believers to convert but an exhortation to believers to seize the opportunity of spreading the good news.

No more putting the call aside, brothers and sisters–no more leaving the gospel work to the professionals. It is time for all of us to open our hearts and our eyes to what God is doing in the world with us and press into the work. It is time to walk into our workplaces and our gyms and our Walmarts saying, “Lord, what are you up to right here and right now, and how do you want me to help you? You have died for me, and now my life is no longer my own. My concern is no longer how others will respond to me and how I will come out looking if I speak for you, but in telling your story.” Talk to God like this throughout the day and see how many wonderful, redeeming conversations will suddenly come your way.

Today, in the Spirit, feeling the apostle pulling me in this text from the receiving end to the giving end of the gospel movement in the world, I resolve to give attention to seeing what you see around me and take advantage.

Asleep on the Cushion (Mark 4:35-41[5:1-20])

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

(4:35-41)

The picture in our mind’s eye of Jesus asleep on the cushion in this situation is among the most unsettling moments we find in the Gospels before the Crucifixion. We read this alongside those most comforting words from Ps. 121: He will not let your foot slip–he who watches over you will not slumber (3), and we wonder. But Jesus is not asleep in the manner Mark describes, just out of exhaustion. He was most certainly fatigued from work, but we know from human experience that fatigue alone would not keep anyone from waking up in an emergency like that. The words asleep on the cushion (a detail found only in Mark) are meant to suggest to us that our Lord was completely at rest, sleeping with an assurance that nothing can harm him before the appointed time. 

Consider the prayer we say at the outset of family Compline: “I will lay me down in peace, and take my rest; for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” The great fear that fills the disciples’ hearts when Jesus stills the storm is not designed to leave them (or us) full of anxiety, wondering what he will do next. Quite the opposite: he who stills the storm can easily still my heart so that I can rest, knowing the Father God will preserve me until my appointed time when I am beyond the reach of any further storms to come.

Today, Holy Spirit, as I lay my head down to sleep at night, let it be with the peace the Son of God displayed on the boat in the storm, knowing you are never asleep even when I am. 

Today in the Spirit

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Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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