Sermon for June 24

Old Testament Readings 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Epistle Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Gospel Reading: Mark 4:35-41

Sermon: “Who is this?”

We have been studying the intimate relationship between several of the great hymns of the church and the scriptures that they illuminate on Wednesday evenings over the past several weeks. This week, a multitude of hymns abound in resonance to the themes comfort and salvation in the face of fear and challenging circumstances. The image of a storm tossed sea, such as Mark describes evokes such feelings in us that we can’t help praying and singing to the one who comforts us in our distress and offers us ultimate salvation both here, in the midst of this life, and for all eternity beyond the reach of trials and tribulations.

This past week’s hymn – “It is Well with my Soul” spoke of Horatio Spafford’s abiding comfort from his faith even as he went through crushing grief with the loss of his four daughters in a shipwreck. This next week’s hymn, “Jesus, Lover of my Soul” written by Charles Wesley – the founder of the Methodist Church, was also inspired by a rough sea voyage. Even on dry land, the image of a stormy sea still holds our imagination. To the Hebrews and others around the Mediterranean Sea, the stormy waters spoke of primordial chaos and all the unknown and hidden dangers of the world – a place of unfathomable mystery and danger.

It was also a place where the might of God was revealed – among God’s early acts of Creation was the separating the waters below and above – creating a safe place for the land and placing bounds on the sea. To master the waves was to show divine power. Which is why the disciples in Mark’s retelling react with great fear and ask “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Who indeed! They did not yet know that the one who spoke to the storm was the same as the one who said “Let there be light!” It gives one an entirely different perspective in saying that Jesus is Lord. Lord of Creation, Lord of Nature, and my Lord and my God as Thomas would eventually proclaim after the resurrection.

As I was studying these verses however, another hymn leapt to mind from my days in the Methodist church. It comes from a man who knew struggles and difficulties first hand and who patiently conquered them with his Lord and was used mightily in the opening days of the 20th century. His bio on the Hymnary website says this about his life: “Charles Albert Tindley was born in Berlin, Maryland, July 7, 1851; son of Charles and Hester Tindley. His father was a slave, and his mother was free. Hester died when he was very young; he was taken in my his mother’s sister Caroline Miller Robbins in order to keep his freedom. It seems that he was expected to work to help the family. In his Book of Sermons (1932), he speaks of being “hired out” as a young boy, “wherever father could place me.” He married Daisy Henry when he was seventeen. Together they had eight children, some of whom would later assist him with the publication of his hymns.

Tindley was largely self-taught throughout his lifetime. He learned to read mostly on his own. After he and Daisy moved to Philadelphia in 1875, he took correspondence courses toward becoming a Methodist minister. He did this while working as a sexton (building caretaker) for the East Bainbridge Street Church. Beginning in 1885, he was appointed by the local bishop to serve two or three-year terms at a series of churches, until coming full circle to become pastor at East Bainbridge in 1902. Under his leadership, the church grew rapidly. They relocated in 1904 to the East Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church, then again in 1924 to the new Tindley Temple, where the membership roll blossomed to about ten thousand.

Tindley was known for being a captivating preacher, and for also taking an active role in the betterment of the people in his community. His songs were an outgrowth of his preaching ministry, were often introduced during his sermons. Tindley was able to draw people of multiple races to his church ministry; likewise, his songs have been adopted and proliferated by white and black churches alike. He wrote 50 different hymns, at least three are still sung regularly in the Methodist Churches and others, but are unfortunately not in either of our hymnals: “If the world from you withhold of its Silver and It’s Gold” (normally known by the refrain: “Leave it there”); “Nothing Between My Soul and my Savior” and the one that fits our text today:

Stand by Me

1 When the storms of life are raging,

stand by me (stand by me);

when the storms of life are raging,

stand by me (stand by me).

When the world is tossing me

like a ship upon the sea,

thou who rulest wind and water,

Stand by me (stand by me).

2 In the midst of tribulation,

stand by me (stand by me);

in the midst of tribulation,

stand by me (stand by me).

When the host of hell assail,

and my strength begins to fail,

thou who never lost a battle,

stand by me (stand by me).

3 In the midst of faults and failures,

stand by me (stand by me);

in the midst of faults and failures,

stand by me (stand by me).

When I do the best I can,

and my friends misunderstand,

thou who knowest all about me,

stand by me (stand by me).

4 In the midst of persecution,

stand by me (stand by me);

in the midst of persecution,

stand by me (stand by me).

When my foes in battle array

undertake to stop my way,

thou who savèd Paul and Silas,

stand by me (stand by me).

5 When I’m growing old and feeble,

stand by me (stand by me);

when I’m growing old and feeble,

stand by me (stand by me).

When my life becomes a burden,

and I’m nearing chilly Jordan,

O thou Lily of the Valley,

stand by me (stand by me).

Rev. Tindley wrote about an experience common to most of us: Finding ourselves in a stormy situation and knowing that God stands with us, in the face of trials, illness, grief, or any of this life’s many difficulties – even and including (Thanks be to God) the results of our own stupidity and mistakes. Even then, God is there. God does not always spare us from the storms, but God is with us in and through the storms. This is the consistent testimony of both scripture and our own experience.

Little did David know what was in store for him when the old prophet Samuel came to his house that day to anoint him as God’s eventual choice to lead Israel. He was young and brave and innocent. When he alone responded to the Philistine giant’s challenge to the Hebrew army and their God. He was amazingly and divinely victorious over Goliath. Even the name sounds huge! Yet that was just the beginning of his challenges. When he is invited to the palace to work for Saul he finds need for all his skills – musically, physically and militarily. He also finds himself in the sights of a deeply jealous and somewhat insane king who increasingly wants him dead. This is the training ground that God puts him in to prepare him to be king. A raging storm indeed.

Paul too started out with a great crisis. He was originally know as Saul – a Pharisee and was a particularly passionate persecutor of the early Christian church. His confrontation with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus forever changed his life. But he found that ministry was never easy, as today’s reading from 2nd Corinthians explains. Paul suffered both physical abuse and social strife. The whole letter is an attempt to speak to the insults and charges laid against him by his detractors. Later he too would suffer his own turn at being shipped wreaked on a storm tossed sea. Paul knew very much what is meant to depend on the grace of God. Salvation was a daily experience for him as it was for David.

Mark’s Gospel tells us this story of Jesus going to the lakeshore after a long tiring day of preaching and healing. He tells his disciples to head off toward the far shore of the Sea of Galilee. Its still early in his ministry, the crowds are becoming large, yet the disciples are still young in their faith, not entirely sure of who he is. The closing verses of last week’s reading indicate that Jesus had told them much: (Mark 4:33-34 NIV)

“With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. [34] He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

Let’s face it brothers and sisters, being told and being fully convinced are two different things. And so they were terrified of the storm even though Jesus was right there with them. Afterwards, they were terrified to think who Jesus might actually be. Faith must be faith in something or someone. It’s not an abstract concept – some intellectual precept or postulate. Faith is not a thing unto itself. We can only say we have faith in something – faith in a bridge to hold us up – therefore we are willing to step or drive across it; Faith in a relationship – therefore we share our selves. Faith leads to trust and trust leads to action. That’s the point of these scriptures and these hymns. God has been faithful and trustworthy in ages past. God is faithful still today and God may be depended upon the continue to be faithful – it’s God’s nature, It’s who God is.

We know it, because we know the God of Creation revealed in Holy scripture, the God of Samuel and David. We know it because we know Jesus – God in Human flesh, who lived among us and demonstrated the grace and love of the Heavenly Father, who died and rose and will come again to take us home with him forever. And we know it because of the presence of the Holy Spirit – the gift of God to all who put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Fear not, for even the wind and the waves obey him. Be at peace and know the Lord. – No, No – that’s not quite right, is it? – Know the Lord, and be at peace!