Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 20, 2021
Texts: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Context: At least in America, there is a stream of Christianity that emphasizes that life in Christ is a life victorious. Not victorious solely over sin and Satan and death – which we are very definitely victors over as partakers in the victory of Christ in his resurrection! – but all manifestations of deprivation and suffering such forces might cause. Poverty, suffering, disease – these are not to be considered by the Christian! The one with enough faith in Christ is immune and free from such mundanities! And of course, for the many, many, many Christians who do deal with these things, it’s simply evidence of insufficient faith. But the reality of human existence – and Christians are human – is that suffering is real. Poverty is crushingly real at times. Deprivation not just of liberty but of food or clean water or even life itself at the end of a gun or the point of a sword is a reality many Christians have and do face, and will likely continue to experience. Is God somehow remiss in allowing this? Is He unable or unwilling to deliver his people not just in the day of our Lord’s return but in every day in between? The readings today call us to remember the essence of faith not as comfort or leisure or lack of suffering, but rather as the insistence that God is God, and He is the God who is there (to quote Francis Schaeffer). Our duty as his creatures is to trust him in all things. Not in a passive, resigned, helpless sense, but in the understanding that some things are out of our control, but never his. And in the end, He will be revealed in truth and glory, and our faith will be vindicated.
Job 38:1-11 – If the story of Job is well known to many Christians, I wish the conclusion to his travails were! After nearly 40 chapters of suffering and agony, God finally comes to Job. We prepare ourselves – ah, at last! Job will have his answer! But the answer God gives is anything but comforting, at least at first glance. Rather than soothing Job with explanations and perhaps even an apology, God drives Job to his knees before the power and majesty of the Creator of the Universe. Who is Job to demand an answer? Who in all creation can or should demand anything of God, and on what pretext? Who is like God in power, in majesty, in eternity? The answer stings. We may not get an answer to our questions and our laments in this life. We may not get them in eternity! But what we do have is the presence and assurances of God who is the Creator of all things. If we are unhappy with how things are going, do we imagine God is somehow absent or not in control? Of course not! Our strength and comfort lies not in being able to control our circumstances (though we do to some extent), nor the knowledge we can summon God like a genie to grant our wishes, but rather the confidence that God holds all things in his hands, including us and our suffering. We never suffer alone, and we know that our suffering does not define us. Rather, the defining word in our lives for eternity is life. Life made possible by faith in the atoning death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ.
Psalm 124 – We easily forget deliverance when the struggle has passed. It is easy for us to forget how God has preserved us throughout our lives. Indeed, were it not for God there could be no hope – something our culture is discovering the hard way after its flight from God. Christians are defined as the people God has rescued from sin, Satan and death. We have hope, and that hope is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Although the Epistle reading does not necessarily align with the other readings during the liturgical season of ordinary time, today it meshes well with the theme of the reality of suffering as well as hope. Lest we think Jesus’ disciples were somehow exempt from suffering we need only look at St. Paul’s list of endured hardships to know this was not the case. Yet rather than seeing such suffering as evidence of the falseness of Christ, they understood such sufferings as opportunities to exercise faith and trust in God. Each day, regardless of how difficult it is, is a day in which we do by faith experience the favor of God and his salvation given to us through faith in his Son.
Mark 4:35-41 – Mark concludes one of his few longer records of Jesus’ teachings with not a final parable but an event. Having spent the day explaining the nature of the kingdom of God and the power in it despite external experiences, his disciples experience this reality in a concrete way. Fearful of death via one of the powerful storms that can sweep across the Sea of Galilee, and having exhausted their own skill and knowledge they cry out to Jesus who has fallen asleep in the rear of the ship. What faith and trust He has in his heavenly Father, to sleep so soundly when the ship is tossed by waves and wind! When awakened He rebukes the wind – this is no ordinary storm. Mark uses the same word here as he does later in Chapter 9:25 when Jesus rebukes an evil spirit. Opposition to Jesus is raised in the form of wind and wave by powers opposed to him. But what power can oppose the will of God the Father, who is above all things and controls all things? Jesus rests in the knowledge that God the Father will allow nothing untimely to befall him. Jesus’ disciples do not appear to have the same knowledge or confidence, but then they are still unsure as to who Jesus is. Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, something inappropriate in a disciple. Do they not trust their master and teacher? The question seems unfair. They don’t know Jesus is more than just a master and teacher. That confession will come later (Mark 8). Yet Jesus expects that based on what they have seen and heard so far, that faith should already be better defined and exercised. God is God. If all our efforts have failed to deliver ourselves from a given situation, we are called to remember our true situation at all times – we are in God’s hands. Thus Jesus will consign himself as He nears death (Luke 23:46). This is the language of the faithful at all times. God is the one who holds our lives and situations, not us. We can and should deal with all situations in this faith that sees through the struggle at hand to the victorious Savior and his promises to us through faith.