Readings: 1 Samuel 17:32-49, Mark 4:35-41
Let us pray: O Christ, open our minds to understand more clearly your word to us. May we know you as a God who never leaves us nor forsakes us but walks with us through the up and downs of life that we may grow and learn in the freedom of life in you. Amen.
The streets of Dunedin are hilly on the whole. Had you noticed? I did when I came here after 20 odd years of walking on the flattish lands of North Canterbury. I was determined to get fit for them but so often I would look up to the top of where I had to go and would be overwhelmed – I am never going to make that I would think. And then I was given a wee hint. Keep your eyes lowered, place one foot before the other and you will get there before you know it. And it worked. I would get to the top and marvel at how relatively easy it had been to get there in contrast to the perception of difficulty from the bottom. Now there is several ways that little anecdote could take us but I would like to lead us in this direction. I wondered if it might be that we keep our heads down just a bit too often. I wondered if we too often try to contain scary and challenging spaces into something that is manageable and containable as I did just to get to the goal and miss out on some spectacular scenery on the way. Hey, don’t get me wrong, it is a great technique to get us up some particular hills, in fact it’s the only way sometimes, because that is all we can cope with at the time, but I do wonder if that can become a bit of a bad habit.
Sometimes the enormity of things can overwhelm us, mystery can be threatening, beauty can be just too much of a contrast to our particular reality of the time, that which we can’t see clearly can seem dangerous, full of unpredictable possibilities, and so we look to our feet.
I love that the stories of Matariki are all about the stars in the sky – that, if anything is, is a place of mystery: of inconceivable distance and glorious beauty and yet dependable constancy. You can understand why stories were found to kind of explain that vastness, to connect with it in a meaningful way, the stories of the sisters or the smashed star or the seven eyes. And I guess in the same way we try to understand the mystery and wonder of a God who is beyond anything we try to define by sometimes containing God in stories and words and yes doctrine and dogma. And that is understandable and actually required, for we need the stories to reach understandings, to teach and share the gospel message. But the problem comes when we do not temper that understanding, hold it in tension with a sense of wonder and awe of a God who cannot be explained, contained, or predicted. That’s a pretty steep hill for many – one where it can be easier to keep our sights lowered with plodding to the top of the hill our only goal. I hope it’s not too tenuous a connection for you to see that Peter was kind of doing that in the boat. He was overwhelmed by the moment, thinking he wasn’t going to make it out of the storm. He couldn’t see any other possibilities than drowning or the storm being stopped – his view of God made known in Christ was limited by his own understandings of the power of the storm and the frailty of the vessel. He didn’t get that there was a third possibility, riding out the storm, safe in the unexplainable, uncontainable power of the love of God. And he didn’t get that in doing so he would experience a God that was greater and just more than he could ever imagine. He was amazed at the stilling of the storm – but had he shut himself off from the greater experience of riding out the storm with God, I wonder?
David, on the other hand, in facing Goliath, seemed to almost have his eyes fixed on a too huge a horizon. He came to the outer circle of the battlefield simply to bring provisions from his father to his three elder brothers who were part of the army. But like all young brothers he wanted to see what was going on and went to find his siblings. And yet when he got there he found the Israelites cowering from the taunts and challenges of the champion of the Philistines, Goliath. They too could see no way of victory with such undefeatable odds before them. But David, almost musingly we read, asked “who was this man that he should be greater than the armies of the living God?” His brothers questioned his motives, seeing only that he had come to gawk at the battle, but Saul heard the truth of those words and invited David to his side. Even then it was still about girding David in all the possible armour to protect him, still eyes down you might say, and when that failed you almost get a sense of ‘Well this is a young life chucked away but you have to admire the bravery’. But David I think had his eyes wide open to the possibilities of God in our human situations. He seemed rather more prepared than Peter to trust that God was with him in every step, especially the difficult, beyond belief, places he found himself – the places where others views were contained by their own limitations.
Is that what faith is do you think? Knowing that there is way more under the sun than what you and I or the whole of creation can ever perceive or know. I suspect that is a rather fragile definition and is open to some serious criticism but hey I’ve been brave and left it in. It will give you something to redefine over morning tea?
But back to the conundrum we face – how to pause in our walk through life, which can be a plod sometimes, to stop and lift our eyes to the possibilities of a God beyond our individual or communal imaginations, to embrace mystery and grow in new and challenging experiences when they present themselves.
It is at times like this, at mid-winter, when we are often forced to slow down, to stop trying to race through life at a million miles an hour, maybe this is the time to listen to the voice of God speaking to us, encouraging us into new possibilities, new visions for the transformation of this world we live in.
It’s at times like this, at Matariki, that we have time and opportunity to catch a glimpse of the vastness and wonder of a God in the patterns of the stars and the life of the world beyond. And within that is the sense of constancy that the Maori people know in the rising of a constellation faithfully each year – an anchor in a turbulent life.
It is at times like this, in worship together as the people of God, that we can be open to the possibilities that living in Christ Jesus will open up for us, if we can be bold and brave enough to raise our eyes and trust that Christ will still get us to the top of our respective hills, but with some slightly scary but enormously fulfilling experiences on the way. Let us be open to the possibilities of the Spirit in this place. Thanks be to God.