Sermon 24th June 2018

St Columba’s Church, Pont Street

Revd Andrea Price

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-24-june-2018

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our Lord and Saviour. Amen

Some of you may know that I have lived many years in Orkney, which is surrounded by the sea. It is beautiful and formidable. On a sunny day the sea sparkles and the Orkney world is blue and green. But on a stormy day the world is grey and the sea looks cold and dangerous.

One year I had the honour to conduct the ceremony of blessing of a new lifeboat in Stromness. Afterwards I was invited to have a trip on the boat, which was truly impressive. The power of the engines, the safety features of the lifeboat were stunning and are very necessary on a wild day.

Orkney folk remember well the former lifeboat from Longhope on Hoy, which capsized on a rescue mission with all hands lost.

There are other stories of wild sea journeys like the time when a ferry was driven miles off course in a storm or the times when passengers have to wait for hours on the ferry sheltering in a bay from a storm.

The sea is beautiful and formidable.

Our second hymn today drew on words from the Psalm 107, verses 1-8: Give thanks unto the Lord our God….

In this part of the psalm we praised God for helping those who wandered in the desert hungry and thirsty (v4-9). The next section thanks God for helping those who sat in darkness and bondage (v 10-16), followed by thanks from those who were sick in their sinful ways (v17-22).

Then follows a section about people at sea in a storm:

 

Psalm 107: 23-32

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the mighty waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

Does this passage remind you of something? Did you recognise our gospel story today?

Jesus took his friends late in the day across Lake Galilee or the Sea of Galilee. A sudden storm threatens to drown them all and Jesus’ friends are terrified for their life, while Jesus, maybe exhausted, sleeps through it until they wake him. And Jesus stills the storm!

Psalm 107 concludes:

31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

 

Another story like this is told by Mark later, in chapter 6, 47-52, where the disciples are also in trouble in a boat. There Jesus is not with them but joins them later, walking on water.

Modern readers struggle with the miracle stories in the Bible, asking can this happen? Could anyone calm a storm or walk on water? Could anyone tell demons to leave or cure mental illness by command? Could anyone heal physical deformity or disease by word or touch alone?

God, who created heaven and earth and all the universe surely has power over his creation, some argue, while others more cautiously might say that the creator has bound himself to the laws of his creation and (at least usually) does not override them.

Thus we have to be careful how to understand the biblical miracle stories. Miracle stories were a common feature of story telling in the past. Having no photography, newspaper or other modern media news and knowledge were passed on through story telling – and that could become florid.

The importance of a person was often emphasised by telling of unusual events connected with them. They were not told as items of proof. And Jesus often forbade his friends to tell of these events to prevent sheer sensationalism. Jesus was wanting people to change from within, not become crazed hero worshippers.

So are we asking the right questions of the miracle stories when we labour them as power displays or are we missing the point of Mark telling them?

 

Jesus and his friends are at Lake Galilee, a fresh water lake, which can suddenly develop furious storms, endangering the life of fishermen in their boats.

However Mark is not telling of a small lake but has in mind the sea and possibly Psalm 107.

In Jewish thinking the sea was not a nice holiday resort, but threatening life and the abode of chaos. God orders it at the beginning of creation. In it live sea-monsters like Leviathan. God is repeatedly praised in the Old Testament for restraining the sea, restraining chaos and saving his people to pass through the sea as in Exodus.

When Mark tells us of Jesus’ and the disciples’ night time journey across the Sea of Galilee he does not just mean to give us a show of Jesus’ power over the world’s natural forces.

Mark wants to assure and remind listeners of Jesus’ power to restrain fear and disorder.

Mark tells a night time journey of real danger and terror. Jesus prompted this journey and, while his friends work in worsening conditions, falls himself blissfully asleep.

Mark makes the point that Jesus, full of faith, full of trust in God, has no fear and ample courage.

However his friends, worn down with the struggle, wake him with the challenge: Do you not care? You can hear the anger and fear in this challenge!

But Jesus rises, rebukes and silences the waves – they reach their desired haven, as the psalm put it.

But they reach it puzzled: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

You will probably all know times, night times when you felt as if on a stormy sea, your boat of life threatened to be swamped.

You will possibly remember the terror, the fear, the draining courage at the outcome of your journey.

You will likely have asked God or Jesus the same question as the disciples: Where is Jesus? Is he asleep and does he not care what becomes of me?

 

A young dutch woman, Etty Hillesum, wrote on 28 July 1942 into her diary:

“7.30am I shall allow the chain of this day to unwind link by link. I shall not intervene but shall simply have faith. ‘I shall let you make your own decisions, o God.’ This morning I found a buff envelope in my letter box. I could see there was a white paper inside. I was quite calm and thought, ‘My call-up notice, what a pity, now I won’t have time to try repacking my rucksack.’ Later I noticed that my knees were shaking. It was simply a form to be filled in by staff of the Jewish Council. They haven’t even issued me with an identity number yet. I shall take the few steps I have to. My turn may not come for a long time. Jung and Rilke will go with me in any case. And if my mind should be unable to retain very much later on, nevertheless these last two years will shine at the edge of my memory like a glorious landscape in which I was once at home and which will always remain part of me. I feel that I am still tied by a thousand threads to everything I treasure here. I will have to tear myself away bit by bit and store everything inside me, so that when I have to leave I shall not abandon anything but carry it all with me.” (Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life; The Diaries 1941-43; New York, Henry Holt 1986)

Later she also wrote in her diary: “Everywhere things are both very good and very bad at the same time. The two are in balance, everywhere and always. I never have the feeling that I have got to make the best of things; everything is fine just as it is. Every situation, however miserable, is complete in itself and contains the good as well as the bad.” In touch with the equilibrium of a bigger picture she is aware of, Etty continuously drew from her faith to find meaning in her current reality.

On October 7th 1943, several days before her murder in Auschwitz concentration camp, Etty threw a postcard out of a train: “Opening the Bible at random I find this: ‘The Lord is my high tower’. I am sitting on my rucksack in the middle of a full freight car. Father, Mother, and Mischa are a few cars away. In the end, the departure came without warning… We left the camp singing… Thank you for all your kindness and care.” 

 

When Jesus awoke, he stilled the storm with the words: Peace! Be still!

And there was a dead calm.

 

We cannot run for help to a sleeping Jesus in our boat.

But we can stop our wavering, rushing and crashing about to stop and listen to his words: Peace! Be still!

 

We are not in a small boat on a foreign lake.

But we are on a modern complicated sea which rises against us and others many a times and there still learn from Jesus’ faith and trust in God:

Whatever happens you are loved and treasured.

Whatever may come to pass take courage and use your gifts to help others as yourself.

 

And Remember Jesus saying: “I am with you always, to the end of the age!” (Mt 28,20)

Amen