Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies

2015

Sunday 21st June

It was on again recently – but you might remember the phrase from the 1994 movie Forrest Gump – where his mother tells him  “Life is a box of chocolates Forrest, you never know what you’re going to get.” And instinctively we all know that that phrase is true…that life is anything but predictable. Circumstances can change with a blink of an eye; and can “throw you a curve ball as the Americans would say” – the one the pitcher throws at the batter in baseball that seems to be coming straight at him – and he thinks he can give it a good wallop – maybe over the fence for a home run, and then it suddenly curves, dips – and he ‘swings and misses’. (I do miss my old Philadelphia Phillies team!) Anyway when ‘stuff’ happens (although that’s not the word the character uses in the movie, not the message on tee shirts and bumper stickers!), your whole world can turn upside down. Life isn’t always pleasant; it‘s not always what we want it to be…we never know which way the wind will blow and what storms it’ll bring with it.

So before we have a quick look at this amazing gospel event let’s be absolutely clear that the Bible teaches that God really cares about every aspect of our lives – and fully intends our often ‘troubled’ Christianity to be lived out in the context of a loving relationship with God our Father through Jesus his Son – in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. You can turn off now if you want – but just before you do – know that he loves you to bits – and cares about everything you’re going through.

But in life, then as now, no matter what the forecast there is always a chance of a storm. As it says in Job (5:6-7) “...hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet people are born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” It’s how we react to the unpredictable disturbances that will either make or break us in our Christian life. And this dramatic incident on the Sea of Galilee teaches us some valuable lessons about that life; some basic promises about God’s protection in the midst of life’s storms; and most of all it says something amazing about Jesus.

So here’s a practical lesson to begin: every person experiences storms, - even if they have Jesus in their boat (so to speak). As we know from horrific world events storms, tsunamis aren’t partial are they? Having Jesus there didn’t exempt the disciples from being battered by a serious squall. And just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean that you’re somehow exempt from difficulties. When we experience downpours we wonder how’re we’re going to keep afloat. Of course, sometimes storms come into our lives because of our own misdoings, Like Jonah who disobeyed God and set off in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to travel - so he sent a mighty storm after him and he ended up being thrown overboard by the other sailors. And yes, sometimes storms can come from our own bad choices – and we suffer the consequences, (I’ve been in places like that). But this isn’t always the case…(and we need to get our theology – our thinking about God - right)...at times storms can come even when we are doing the right things. Matthew 5:45 says that “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Like those weeks we tend to have in this country when the driving rain & gloom just doesn’t seem to let up (& here’s hoping for a decent warm and sunny period this summer, because it’s hardly flaming June!). Even the apostle Paul experienced chronic difficulties – which he referred to as having a ‘thorn in his flesh that he’d implored God to take away - alas to no avail’. And wasn’t it Jesus himself who said in John 16, “…In this world you will have trouble (or tribulation). But take heart (or ‘be of good cheer’) I have overcome the world."

So if everyone experiences storms here’s another lesson we’ve all had to learn:these things can often come on us completely unexpectedly. These disciples were expert fisherman and yet even they were caught off guard– and Jesus’ response when they woke him up suggested that they should have realized it might happen. Just a footnote here: Actually, apart from fishermen, the Jews weren’t a particularly seafaring people – they left that to the Phoenicians north of Israel. In fact (as we saw in the psalm) the sea came to symbolize, for them, the dark power of evil, threatening to destroy God’s good creation. In books like Daniel the sea is where the monsters come from – - so there are lots of levels at which this event would be speaking to those reading about it.

And having read it again myself in preparation for today, I’ve now experienced it. Storms in the Sea of Galilee are especially rough – and today they can swamp the cars parked on what looks like a safe beach – (there are signs warning drivers of what happens in high winds). The Sea (or Lake) is 600 feet below sea level and as you climb up from Tiberias there’s a sign by the side of the main road telling you when you reach sea level! The hot sun bakes the waters keeping them nice and warm. But surrounded by steep mountains with valleys in between they can act like funnels for the wind to blow. So there I was quietly sunning myself in the early evening after a busy day reading my book and within minutes a wind blew up that started rearranging the hotel’s tables and chairs – out of nowhere came violent weather.

So Galilee’s a picture for us: storms can come upon us when we least expect it. When life is going well all of a sudden a bomb is dropped..

And for many, when those storms come, the first instinct will be one of panic and fear. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was being swamped, and they were in danger. They went to Jesus and shouted to wake him "Master, Teacher, we’re going to drown – (& Mark’s account adds) don’t you care?!” They thought they had plenty of legitimate reasons to be afraid – but Jesus’ reaction seems to be saying that they should have realized something: that even if he was asleep – (again don’t you love Mark’s touches) – “asleep on a cushion” – I love that – completely unperturbed (after a hard days’ teaching on a hot day) we didn’t need to have  been so afraid. And I think this is trying to teach us something important about the nature of faith – of trusting God - in spite of circumstances; and in spite of our feelings or even the consequences. (Like we saw last week: “we walk by faith, not by sight”).  This concrete event is also a word picture, like many of Jesus’ parables. God’s sovereign power is being unleashed. The forces of evil are roused, angry and threatening, but Jesus is so confident of God’s presence – and his relationship with his Abba – that he can fall asleep on a pillow. He isn’t a Jonah running away from God’s command, so the disciples don’t have to throw him overboard. He’s doing exactly what God wants. Yet all the disciples see when looking around them is the danger, and they were afraid. Yep – it’s a natural human reaction. But what they could have made sure they kept doing was to keep looking in Jesus’ direction. All they saw were the circumstances. This is such a challenge to our perception – where do we look? – in which direction – and how do we interpret what we do see?  (Remember Peter happily walking on the water and then realizing where he was and sinking). Like the disciples, we’re so slow to get this one. They’d already seen Jesus’ power demonstrated in his miracles, so you would have thought they’d have confidence that he could handle this situation too? But not a bit of it – am I yet so slow to learn...?

But what does all this tell us about Jesus? Well he was perfectly at peace, even in the middle of all the stuff going on around him. It’s such an amazing picture that’s being painted. This fact alone should have encouraged them. Oh boy - to know something of this in our lives eh?! Jesus, confident in the knowledge of God’s will, knew that the Father was caring for him, secure in that relationship - so... he took a nap.

Practical lessons for us this morning: yes we’re going to go through storms, and yes they can come unexpectedly - but Jesus is going to be there - accompanying us, even though at times it may seem like he’s unconcerned. The disciples fighting for their lives, huge waves crashing over the sides, and then over in the corner the picture of Jesus fast asleep.  “Is anybody there?” “God are You listening?” “Don’t you care?”

Jesus wasn’t asleep due to lack of concern (he’d had a tough day – he was bushed). And maybe the disciples had waited till it had got too much to handle before they approached him. Perhaps they’d been relying on their own skill, experience and ingenuity as long as they possibly could. After all they were the experienced seamen. Maybe if they’d only asked sooner? -  rather than prayer being used like an SOS signal – which is often when we do get around to praying.

I’ve read somewhere that on a wall in a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jews hid from the Nazis during World War II, an inscription was found by an anonymous author who obviously perished with his fellow victims and left behind these words, "I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when not feeling it. I believe in God even when he is silent." And maybe this is the main lesson: sometimes the Lord won’t/doesn’t calm the storm, but what he promises to do is calm us - so we can be confident, and rest in the assurance that we aren’t going to have to go through the dark valley alone. I’m sure like me you love Psalm 23 (the Lord is my shepherd) – but I also recommend that you quietly read for yourself the first few verses of Isaiah 43 when you’re in the middle of “stuff”.
Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed (or saved) you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.

Now I don’t know exactly what it is that you are going through right now. What I do know from this story is that Jesus did get up – and addressed the wind and the sea as though he was their master. And this ‘parable in action’ led the disciples (& Job if you remember) to ask the right kind of question: “Who is this?” The answer is that it is God who laid the foundation of the earth, who rules the sea, and whose power was/is at work in Jesus – but the disciples were only beginning to realize this.

And we would do well to begin doing the same, don’t you think? Amen.