“In the Face of the Overwhelming”

Pentecost 4

June 21, 2015


Text: 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 16-23, 32-49; Mark 4:35-41


          A lot of people find life overwhelming at times, even much of the time. In doing some crowdsourcing this week on Facebook, I got a variety of responses when I asked people to name some things they find overwhelming. Some examples:

  • Some people find themselves overwhelmed by their crowded schedules, trying to balance work, parenting, family activities, caring for family members who are hurting or dealing with health issues or needing help to care for themselves, community involvement, and time for self, and the conflicts that sometimes arise between these various things.
  • Some find all the tragedy in the world overwhelming, especially when it comes to find meaningful ways to respond to the tragedy. The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night is the latest example of that.
  • Some people find getting ready to move overwhelming, especially when it comes to deciding what to keep and what to let go of.
  • Some are overwhelmed by their own fear, seeing the possibilities and opportunities in front of them but overwhelmed by the fear they will miss out because they procrastinate or sabotage themselves into underachievement.
  • One person in particular said it isn’t necessarily the big things she finds overwhelming, but the sum of all the little things. She commented, “I can take care of the elephants, it’s the gnats with which I need help.”

          Whether the overwhelming things we deal with are one or two big things or the accumulation of many little things, the feeling that comes with being overwhelmed is similar. We feel helpless. We believe that what we are facing is more than we can handle, and the end result is going to be disastrous.

          Two of today’s Scriptures deal with people in overwhelming situations: the story of David and Goliath, and the account of Jesus calming the storm.

          The story of David and Goliath occurred during one of the ongoing wars between the Israelites and the Philistines. We find the two sides in a standoff at a place in Judah called Socoh, where they had been for forty days. As those familiar with the story know, Goliath was the Philistine champion. Not only was he a skilled, experienced warrior, Scripture tells us he was at least nine feet tall. (Today he would be a basketball player instead of a warrior.) Goliath had the Israelites intimidated, and was dictating the terms of engagement. Goliath twice daily challenged the Israelites to send out their best warrior to fight him one on one, and the side whose representative lost would became the slaves of the winning side. It apparently never occurred to the Israelites to reject Goliath’s terms and insist on fighting each other as whole armies, which would have given them a much better chance of success. They were so overwhelmed by Goliath’s size and braggadocio that they were intimidated. No Israelite soldier believed he had a chance against Goliath.

          Then David showed up. The future king of Israel had been sent to the front by his father Jesse to deliver provisions for his three oldest brothers and to see how they were doing. He heard Goliath issue his challenge and insult the Israelite army. Instead of being intimidated, David started asking, “Who does that guy think he is? Why is he being allowed to insult the army of the living God? And what reward will the king give to the one who defeats him?” When King Saul heard what David was saying, he sent for David, and David immediately volunteered to fight Goliath. Saul tried to talk him out of it, but David wouldn’t take no for an answer, telling the king he had killed lions and bears that had attacked his sheep, and that the Lord who had rescued him from lions and bears would also rescue him from this Philistine.

          So David went. King Saul offered David his armor, but David was not used to armor, and when he tried it on found it too restrictive. David was armed only with his shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five stones.

          Can you imagine what people were thinking and feeling as David went out to meet Goliath? We are told what Goliath said. He was insulted because the Israelites had sent a lightly armed boy to fight him. I’m sure he thought this was going to be easy.

          What were the Israelites thinking? Probably something along the line of “we’re dead meat”. I’m sure they figured David didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in July of beating Goliath.

          Of course, we know what actually happened. David, after informing Goliath he was going to defeat him, slung a stone at Goliath, which sank into his forehead and killed him. David did not allow himself to be overwhelmed in the face of Goliath. He trusted in God and the skills God had given him the ability to develop. The Israelites won the day thanks to the combination of David’s faith in God, youthful cockiness, and skill with the sling.

          Our Gospel lesson tells another familiar Bible story. Jesus had been sitting in a boat along the shore of the Sea of Galilee teaching a crowd all day. As evening arrived, he was ready to get away, so he said, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.” So they set out. As they were crossing the lake, a storm arose packing gale-force winds, causing waves to crash against the boat with such force that it was swamped. Meanwhile, Jesus was sound asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat. The disciples woke Jesus and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to drown?”

          Can you hear the desperation in that question? They were overwhelmed by the wind and the waves, they couldn’t bail fast enough to keep afloat, and they were feeling abandoned because Jesus was sleeping through the whole thing. “Don’t you care?”

          Does that strike anyone as a strange question at that moment? Jesus was asleep! Did they think he was faking sleep in order to get out of helping? I imagine that would have been totally out of character for Jesus. Was it his fault he was a sound sleeper? Why would that give the disciples reason to believe he didn’t care?

          Maybe this storm at sea wasn’t the only thing overwhelming them. One of my fellow pastors commented: “The disciples were overwhelmed with Jesus telling the parables and the private meaning he shared with them. They didn’t think they could survive the gathering storm of opposition and criticism that was happening.” Jesus didn’t seem to care that this was happening to him, and maybe the disciples believed that he also didn’t care how this was affecting them.

          Now I’m not sure what the disciples were actually expecting Jesus to do in this situation, but it is plain they didn’t expect what he actually did. Jesus spoke to the wind and the water: “Peace! Be still!” The wind and water obeyed him. The wind died down, and the water became calm. Jesus said, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith?” The disciples were amazed: “Who is this? Even the wind and the seas obey him!”

          Jesus was not overwhelmed. Jesus calmed the storm. Although he made the storm at sea go away, the storm of controversy around Jesus would not go away. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that if they trusted in God and trusted in him, they would have the strength and courage they needed to face what was threatening to overwhelm them.

          We, too, sometimes find the circumstances of our lives overwhelming. What David and Jesus can teach us is that through trust in God, we can face what is overwhelming, even when things seem hopeless, because God helps us. We can face the biggest, toughest opponent or the nastiest storm in our lives and emerge victorious.

          There are many days when I need to hear this message and take it to heart. That may also be true for you. Let us trust in God at such times and at all times, for not only does God care, God comes to our assistance. Thanks be to God!


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