This Sermon was delivered at St Andrew’s Fersfield and St Remigius Royden on the 24th February 2019. Readings: Luke 8:22-25, Revelation 4.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Gospel reading today is perhaps one of the most striking moments from Jesus’ life apart from his passion and resurrection. It’s certainly one of the most dramatic. Jesus is with his disciples, disciples who would go on to preach the Gospel throughout the known world, instrumental in the birth of the Church who would pass on the Christian faith throughout not just the world but the ages, down even to us. It’s a mindblowing thought to realise that each of us here who believe in Jesus can trace the heritage of our faith all the way back and back, person by person to the disciples of Jesus.
Indeed, The world as we know it, our culture as it has been shaped by history, would not exist in any comparable way if these first disciples had not witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus, and preached the forgiveness of sins if we would but believe in him.
I say this to make clear the stakes at hand in this story on a tumultuous and stormy Sea of Galilee. Sometimes there are small pinpricks of history on which hinges the shape of the future. This is one such moment in time. Although several of the disciples were experienced fishermen, as the gale heaved and the waves raged the boat began to fill with water and they cried out ‘we are perishing!’ Despite their skill, they can’t keep the boat from succumbing to the waves.
This scene, of a sea at storm, encapsulates the chaos of reality. It might remind us of Greek legends such as the Oydessy of Odysseus who was constantly waylaid by fate and the Gods while at sea, being driven off course and shipwrecked several times.
The difference here is that while in Greek mythology stormy seas can serve as a useful plot device showing the power of the gods affecting the lives of mortals, here in the Gospel accounts we encounter not just a real situation, but also we encounter a real God who acts from within the midst of the chaos.
Jesus is woken, for he somehow remained asleep, and he ‘rebukes the wind and raging waves; they ceased and there was a calm’.
This is not a comparative calm. It’s not ‘calm-er’ than it was. The implication is of abrupt serenity. When a sailing boat is becalmed there’s not enough wind to catch in the sails, leaving the boat barely drifting as it rests on the water.
Jesus turns to them and asks, “Where is your faith?” and as he does so the stakes shift subtly from life and death to something far more profound. This realisation amazes the disciples, and they are afraid, asking: “Who is this that the wind and water obey him?”.
It could be tempting to simply enjoy this as an impressive supernatural episode in the Gospel Series of the life of Christ. But in each of the accounts of this incident, the commentators are surprised at how succinct it is. Three verses and it’s all over. There’s no embellishing or hyperbole. If anything there’s a hint of embarrassment: “So yeah, this happened and we didn’t know what to make of it at the time. If only we’d understood then what we know now.”
In this storm we are vividly presented with the reality of Jesus, the incarnate Lord who has the creative power to bring out of chaos order and peace.
For when we look upon the face of Jesus, standing in the boat on calm waters, we see the face of God. The one who commands the storm to still is the one who has the authority of that Heavenly Throne we heard read about in Revelation 4. A throne which exudes glory and majestic power. He is worshipped now as the one who lives for ever and ever, surrounded by the company of heaven who sing without ceasing:
Holy, holy, holy,
The Lord God the Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come.
This is a key principle of our faith, that the majestic and holy God truly makes himself known to us as one of us in the tangible reality of our world. Glory clothed with humanity, humanity unveiling divinity; living, dying and living as an eternally prevailing reality of the love which has eternally united us with God so that we might glorify him forever.
Through the witness of the disciples, we encounter this God in the man Jesus as he calms the storm. Through our worship here today we encounter this God in the Eucharist. When we, at last, arrive in the new creation we shall encounter and live with him without separation.
This scene where Jesus calms the storm shows us both that he is God, but also that he is our God and he is at work in our lives.
In a very real way, Jesus is the person where heaven and earth meet; through his physicality as a human being who is truly divine he opens our eyes to a fuller, more complete perception of the world around us.
The world around us ordinarily confronts us with the narrative that we are just an individual, swamped by the scale of the world and therefore are of no consequence. You can vote for whatever you like, but your vote doesn’t matter. You can recycle all you want, but you aren’t going to impact the health of the climate. You can spend your time going to church but you’re never going to make a difference to your community – so says the World.
Encountering Christ exposes these lies for what they are. In Christ, we realise that we are known and called by name to love and be loved by God.
It’s a neat theological sentence from the curate yet I assure you that it’s not just doctrinally faithful but is and can be our lived reality.
There was a time when I wasn’t the confident curate you see standing before you with several years of theological training. At one point I was a hurt and struggling young man; wounded by a difficult break-up, distrustful of whether people were really my friends or if they were just pretending to my face and laughing behind my back.
I arrived at Theological college feeling like a failure of a Christian, struggling to pray as much as I thought I should and preferring to hide away and play war games on my Xbox in my room, which I shared with a guy called James.
What I didn’t know was that James had been praying for months for his future roommate. Looking back on things now, we would both say that neither of us could have coped sharing with anyone else at college. It was a blessing that we’d been paired together.
A couple of weeks in I met Robbie, who, to be honest, would feed me whenever I walked past his room. His parents would send him food parcels of tasty snacks. I began to spend time with him, partly for the company but also for the snacks, but quietly and not saying much. Then his best friend Sam realised I was hanging around a lot and so we went for a long walk to get take out from the only chicken place still open at 2 in the morning. It was basically an interview.
The following day they both knocked for me and we went out for pizza. They became friends I’ll have for life, and James was one of my groomsmen at the wedding.
On the one hand, I made some friends.
On the other hand, I made some Friends who I learned to trust, friends who have supported me and who I have been able to support. I made friends who I prayed with regularly, and we still pray for one another. I can say hand on heart that these friendships were shaped and guided by God, and that through them all of us grew into the men we are today.
When I say that encountering Christ gives us a fuller perspective of reality, I say that as someone who, through these friendships and other aspects of my story (which would take too long to go into now), has grown to see God acting in my life; I have grown to hear the voice of God saying that I am known and loved. More than this, that I am to tell you, (yes you, dear reader), that you are known and loved.
Jesus calming the storm is God acting in the reality of our lives. I wonder where you have seen him at work in your life? Where have you recognised that he is showing you his love? How has this shaped your life over the years? And do you each know this about one another? If you don’t maybe when you’re talking to each other after the service or to your neighbours and friends in the week maybe you could share those moments where God has been present in your life.
When we see the face of Jesus, we see the face of God. We can see him in our lives, and if we haven’t yet then let us keep our eyes open to see when he appears. Because our God acts within our reality. Indeed, we shall encounter him acting within our tangible grasp when we soon come forward to eat the bread and drink the wine, which in Christ are indeed Christ himself given for us so that whatever storms we might find ourselves in, he might calm us and sustain us in the presence of his glorious love.