Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Stilling the Storm - a sermon for next Sunday

Based on Luke 8.22-25 :-

The Sea of Galilee is really a lake rather than a sea, but it’s a big lake, and very prone, I’m told, to sudden squalls and storms. The squall that sprang up in the story we’ve just heard must have been pretty bad. There were seasoned sailors in the boat, and they were very alarmed. But Jesus had fallen asleep.

It’s no surprise that Jesus should have been so tired. He’d had a tough couple of days of intensive ministry. But a wooden boat like that would have got pretty noisy as the storm raged, so I’m surprised it didn’t wake him. He must have been really exhausted. So the disciples had to wake him; I’m not sure that they expected him to do anything - I imagine they just wanted him to help them stop the boat from sinking, and to save himself if it did sink.

But what Jesus did do was to rebuke the wind and the sea, and the storm ceased: the air and the water were still. And the disciples are amazed - who wouldn’t be? “Who can this be?” they ask. “What kind of man is this, that he tells the wind and the waves what to do, and they do it?”

They were beginning to realise what the apostle John later wrote, in chapter 1 of his Gospel: that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The man they already honoured as teacher and leader was more than just that. For he spoke with all the authority of the Creator God.

Jesus responded to the panic of his disciples by asking, “Where is your faith?” In other words, “With me in the boat, how could you think we wouldn’t get through?” Fair enough, but it’s all too easy to panic when things begin to look stormy and rough. Or to get depressed and downhearted: you should hear how we clergy moan when we get together. And yet surely, if we’re with the Lord and he’s with us, if we’re really his folk, we should never allow the world around us to control us, to get us down, make us afraid or leave us feeling that we’re lost. We’re with the Word of God.

This is what Paul wrote to the church in Philippi: “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Now Paul was in fact no stranger to storms and hardship, and there were certainly times when he was tested so hard he was tempted to give in; but in the end his faith and his sense of Christ’s presence kept him confident and hopeful whatever the storms around him.

When we find ourselves in times of trouble, we probably end up asking, “How could this be happening to me?” - or even, “How could God let this happen to me?” Reading this story we could ask why God allowed a storm to threaten his Messiah and those with him. But nowhere in scripture does it say that God’s servants will have things easy - not all the time, anyway. Scripture’s full of times when folk were on the verge of giving up, because life was getting too tough. Like when the people rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, or like Elijah, ready to accept death out in the desert, or Jeremiah on numerous occasions. And many more besides. There’s a hymn I used to enjoy singing as a child that includes the great lines “Mocked, imprisoned, stoned, tormented, torn asunder, slain with sword” - a setting of the list in Hebrews of those who in times past had been tested for their faith in God.

Faith provides a rock on which to stand, in which our faltering faith is built into the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is, as Paul and Peter both tell us, the chief corner stone. Our faith will be tested through the trials of life, but as Peter wrote, our faith is tested by fire so that God may be glorified. And he was writing to people who knew direct and outright persecution.

“Why me?” we ask when things go wrong. But do we also ask “Why me?” when things go well. Why have I received this blessing? How can I use it and share it? How can God use me? Whatever faces us in our lives, good or bad, if our eyes and hearts are fixed on God we can make use of what we have, and can continue in faith and hope. We may be earthbound, but Christ makes us citizens of heaven.

And faith isn’t static, it’s not an intellectual belief in God. In scripture faith always leads to action, faith causes things to happen. Jesus said, “Where is your faith?” to his disciples. That’s not just whether they believe enough - it’s are they committed to him, to service and action and witness and work in his name.

Do you remember the man who asked Jesus to heal his son? His disciples had had a go at doing it, but without success, while Jesus was away praying on the mountain. “Do you believe?” Jesus asked the man when he took over. In some translations he says, “Do you have faith?” “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief!” replies the man, in the King James version. A more modern translation has him saying “I have faith; help me where faith falls short.” That’s a prayer we all can and should be praying.

And there’s a message for us in the fact that the disciples, full of panic as they were, came and woke Jesus. They at least had enough faith to do that. Jesus rebuked them for the weakness of their faith, but nonetheless he stilled the storm. We don’t have to be superheroes of the faith in order to pray and know our prayers will be heard. We just have to do it. We don’t need special words, probably we don’t need much in the way of words at all, just to honestly present ourselves to the Lord. My faith may be something of a flickering candle, but when I come to God in prayer the bit of faith I have still finds a faithful response in him.

I say that with some feeling, because many of us as Christians feel vulnerable today. Our churches are small, much smaller than they used to be. Most of us are getting on a bit. It can maybe feel a bit too much like that boat, as the disciples desperately tried to bail the water out, only to find it flooding in faster than they could get rid of it. “Help us, Lord, we’re sinking!” we might well find ourselves praying. It’s easier to have a confident faith when we’re surrounded by people who think the same way; but it’s a lot harder when we’re only a few.

But if we’re in a position of trials and testing, it isn’t anywhere the Church hasn’t been before. We should neither panic or despair. What matters is not the strength of the storm around us, but the presence of our Lord with us. However small we are, however weak we may feel, have faith: the man whose teachings we follow is not just one teacher among many. He is the Word by whom all things were made. He stilled the storm on that lake, and he’ll see us through the storms of life. And though we will be tested and it will from time to time be tough, every time of testing is an opportunity to proclaim our faith and to bring glory to God’s name.

When our strength is weak and our nerve falters, help us, Lord, not to be controlled by the worldly forces around us but to have faith in you. Receive us and bless us, call us again to your service, and may we know the peace and calm of your unfailing love. Amen.

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