21st June 2015
Job 38.1-11 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 Mark 4:35-41
with Canon David Stranack
My wife and I have always enjoyed trips to the sea from time to time, in fact neither of us would ever like to be too far from the coast. There is something invigorating and also relaxing about walking along the beach and listening to the gentle rhythm of the waves breaking on the sea shore.However there is a verse in the book of Revelation 21 which, in describing the life to come, says ‘and there shall be no more sea’. My personal reaction to such a thought is ‘O what a shame!’ I am sure St Peter would agree with me!
But we need to remember that, for the Jews generally, the sea had always meant trouble especially in times of storm. It symbolized the power of chaos and death which threatened God’s kingdom. It represented the home of the great mythical sea monster Leviathan in the book of Job and in the psalms, and also as the whale in the story of Jonah.And then in the Genesis story of Creation there is drawn a wonderful picture of a wind from God sweeping over the face of the waters of chaos as God divided the waters from the waters and dry land appeared. The message of that pictorial image of creation is that it is by God’s will that order replaced chaos. And in our first reading Job was reminded of God’s great creator power over the sea and over the fury of the waves when he said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped”.
So for the disciples, even though they were fishermen and would have been used to the sudden changes of weather on Galilee, a storm at sea meant even more to them than for many others.
Today’s Gospel reading describes the shock of some ordinary people brought suddenly into close contact with God’s power in their ordinary lives. In the Gospel the disciples are a-float in their solid, wooden hulled fishing boat, with its smell of salt, damp and stale fish. The stained and wet sails were straining under the increasing wind, and the ropes were creaking.The lake Galilee was well known for its sudden storms. Violent squalls would sweep down from Mount Hermon in the north and would be channelled by narrow ravines to bring sudden chaos to the waters of the lake.
So as the power of wind and waves increase out of control, in their anxious panic they wake up Jesus from his deep sleep. As a result they then witness a much greater power and authority than anything else in the created world.
The storm is dramatically hushed by Jesus and the amazed disciples immediately have new questions about his full identity. We are told they began to say to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ They had witnessed God’s power in action, and it shakes them. Jesus, as we believe, is the divine Son of God, and so he has God’s creator power within him. In this action, through Jesus, God is asserting his divine power over the power of chaos and evil.
But how does this story affect us? Where do we come in with all this? Although we perhaps know that God is all-mighty, the way we actually live our lives often gives the impression that we don’t take God’s power terribly seriously.
Many claiming belief in God seem to speak of him as a slightly out of touch, useless but well-meaning gentleman, part safety blanket and part Father Christmas. Many believe that any God with real power should act to prevent pain and suffering in the world, and design creation differently so that things didn’t go wrong. It is as if they would like God to wrap us up in cotton wool to keep us from harm.
But surely we are wise enough that we do not do that even with our own children, so why should we expect God to deny us our freedom to take risks just to keep us from harm.
But alas for the most part God is ignored much of the time, even by his supposed friends and worshippers, and we often live our daily lives with only an occasional glance in God’s direction. Praying is often used as the last resort instead of our first response.
There is a story about a group of people on a life-raft after their ship had sunk. The situation was pretty hopeless. There was no sign of help and the wind was growing stronger and the waves getting higher every hour. In desperation somebody called out, ‘can’t someone do something religious’. An old boy stood up, took off his cap and stated taking a collection. So many people only turn to God in times of emergencies. In time of war people flocked to church. Strong and powerful men on the battlefield fall to their knees. In times of fear men and women do begin to pray.
People forget that God is there at all times to help us, not only in times of crisis and chaos, but in everyday life, in our lesser struggles which are often bad enough.
And because they are not in regular contact with God they do not know his voice; they do not know God’s power to help them. My own experience recently and on various occasions in the past of exorcism in cleansing a house of evil forces in the name of Christ Jesus is for me a most convincing illustration of God’s superior power over chaos and evil.
When Jesus stills the storm we see the divine power at work bringing order out of chaos.
And when the storm is calmed and there is peace, he doesn’t go back to sleep. Instead, because the disciples are now calm enough to listen, we find he now starts teaching them. He talks to them about trusting God, even in the middle of raging storms.Jesus calmed the wind and the waves but what is even more important, he calmed the storms of fear and desperation in the hearts and minds of his disciples.
When we bring Jesus into our own storms we can truly have an inner peace even when the storms of life are still raging around us. And in that peace we can begin to hear his voice.Jesus gives us peace in the storms of sorrow. When we are filled with grief in bereavement he tells us of the glory of the life to come. ‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.’ (John 14) By his promise he offers his peace in our bereavement and loss.And Jesus gives us peace when life’s problems overwhelm us in a tempest of doubt, tension and uncertainty.
There are times when we do not know what to do – which way to turn. It is so easy then to turn to some self-preservation fix that is only short term or is hurtful to others. But when we turn to him in prayer and consider what his kind of solution would be, or consider how he would behave in our shoes, then we can find real light at the end of our tunnel of despair.
Jesus gives us peace in the storms of anxiety. How easy it is to be overwhelmed with worry, worry about what might or might not happen, worry about ourselves, worry about our loved ones, worry about our health or old age. St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10.13, ‘God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it’.
But please note – St Paul is here speaking of those who turn to Christ, and he is saying that God will give them strength to cope. And of course the opposite is also true that those who do not turn to Christ in time of need will be denying themselves the grace that he offers. They put themselves outside his help and they are indeed on their own.
Often in life we will find that when we have invited Jesus into our boat – into our life – we won’t get nearly so thrown about by all our stormy problems (things like quarrels in friendships, loved ones moving away, financial problems, pressure and stress at work).
God never promised his followers a smooth ride through life even for the strongest believer, or perhaps I should say especially for the strongest believer. But what he did promise however, in the words of Jesus, was this: ‘I am with you always, to the end of time’.
We must always remember that when we turn to God through Jesus even in our darkest hour we are never alone and with him we will come through to know his inner peace. Thanks be to God. Amen.