Sermon: Proper 7 / Pentecost 4 RCL B – “Where is God?”

Elmer Bendiner, in his book, The Fall of Fortresses, describes a bombing run over the German city of Kassel:

Our B-17 was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That was not unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple.

On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks—eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had been parted for us. Even after thirty-five years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from Bohn.

He was told that the shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused. The armorers told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They could not say why at the time, but Bohn eventually sought out the answer.

Apparently when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless. Empty? Not all of them.

One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually, they found one to decipher the note. It set us marveling. Translated, the note read: “This is all we can do for you now.”

Czech slave labor in a Nazi ammunitions plant managed to do one small thing: not place the explosive charges in a few twenty-millimeter shells. How many more lives did these heroes save?

Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “As we work together with Christ, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’”

Today we read the story of David and Goliath. We learned that the Philistines had come to do battle with the Israelites and that their champion, Goliath, came forward to taunt and shame the Israelites. He called and called, but there wasn’t one who was willing to go forward and do battle with the giant. Not one, until the young shepherd boy, David, arrived.

At first King Saul said, “No,” but eventually relents when David said to him, “The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul has David dressed in fine armor and equipped with his fiercest weapons to go forth and fight Goliath. Yet the boy was not strong enough to wear the armor or carry the weapon, so after taking it all off, he went and found five small stones that would fit in his sling. He then goes out into the field of battle to meet the giant. There is a rather colorful exchange between the two. Goliath makes his threats and David responds, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down.”

A these words, the Giant advances on David, but David does not wait for the giant to bear down on top of him, instead, “When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.” There he killed the giant with his sling and one of the small stones he had gathered.

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

In our Gospel reading the disciples and Jesus go out on the Sea of Galilee. A fierce storm blows up around them, but this is not uncommon for the area. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level and the hills to the east are over 2,000 feet high. When the cool air from above meets the hot muggy air near the sea, what do you get? (You folks are from Oklahoma, you know the answer!) You get a storm, and these storms are frequent, but the storms over the Sea of Galilee can arrive up so quickly that they catch you by surprise.

The disciples that are with Jesus know all about these storms. Why? Many of them are fishermen and have been fishing these waters all their lives. They know how the storms come up suddenly and they know how to handle themselves and the boats when they do occur. Yet in this case, the storm is overwhelming. They are in fear for their lives. Where is Jesus? Asleep! “We’re dying here! Don’t you care?!” “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Twelve people are working through a Bible study getting ready for the Sunday service. They were apparently studying the exact same lessons as we had this morning, the African Methodist Episcopal Church uses the Revised Common Lectionary. They had read about the storm. About the disciples fear. How the disciples woke Jesus and asked, “Don’t you care that we are dying?” A visitor arrives and sits in for an hour, then without warning pulls out a gun and kills nine of those in attendance.

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” God helped them? I think some would say that God was still sleeping in the bow of the boat.

He’ll save a bomber during WWII bombing run. He’ll save a boy during a battle with a giant. He’ll show up and save twelve fellas who are about to drown in a sudden storm. But he won’t save nine people at a prayer meeting in a church?

Where was God? Is he sleeping? That idea of an absent landlord or sleeping God works, not only with Charleston, but in so many other tragedies, great and small. From what is taking place in the Middle East to Charleston to the hospital room where a little child lies dying of some incurable disease to a family that is breaking apart due to infidelity to the single dad who can’t pay the power bill and feed his children to this to that – and the list goes on. In witnessing these things, hope dies, faith dwindles and people begin to ask, first only in whispers but then in shouts, “Where is God?”

Elie Wiesel is a survivor of Auschwitz and author of numerous books. In his book Night, he describes how he and the other prisoners were forced to watch the hanging execution of two adults and one young boy. The two adults died quickly, but the young boy survived for quite some time. It was a horror to watch. Wiesel said that it was at that point he heard someone from behind him quietly ask, “Where is God now?” Wiesel says, “And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows…’”

The events of Charleston, in and of themselves, are events almost too horrible to contemplate. However, they have a tendency to force our focus on the more universal horrors that assault so many others and even ourselves. We can look at stories about Czech slaves saving the flying fortresses, about David and Goliath, and so many others, and say, “Yay! The good guys won.” Those are the days when it is easy to have faith and shout, “Our God is King.” But then in the very next breath the “good guys” end up suffering for no apparent reason. They lie dead by the hands of some plague of a human being. So, where is God? Here He is – He is lying in the church with those nine. He is in the bed next to the cancer patient. He is sitting with the family in distress. He is reaching out to the struggling father. He is hanging upon the cross and with his last breath, he is interceding for us, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He is with us and He is redeeming us, even in the midst of so many horrors.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved,
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

Let us Pray: Living God, our refuge and strength, even the wind and sea obey your voice. Put the wind back in its place, and say to the sea: Peace! Be still! Fill us with great faith, and save us from the surging water, so that we may tell the good news of your saving love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is our Hope in the storm. Amen

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