FAITH IN THE STORMS
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY JUNE 14th 2009
Mark 4: 40 “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Last Thursday I went to a nursing home that I visit every month. I visit five ladies there and have a Holy Communion Service at 1pm. When I got a residents meeting was happening in the main area of the home, called “Food for thought”.
The chef was having this session with the residents in which they could complain about the food or make suggestions. As I passed the room one of my five ladies was on her way there, and she looked both embarrassed and puzzled – she had forgotten that I was coming for my monthly communion visit.
I proceeded along the passage and down to the room for my Service. There were just two of my ladies present. The other three, of course, were at the meeting about the menu. However, within a few minutes the word had got out to other ladies that I had arrived, and they came rushing down the passage, with their frames, arriving very breathless and apologetic – it was quite a sight!
These five ladies really appreciate the monthly visit of the Rector of All Saints’ with Communion. In their senior years this Communion Service has become a tangible link, not only with our Church, but with their faith of many years. Not all of them are Episcopalian, but in their youth all of them were involved in their churches. Now they are in their senior years, and unable to get to Church, the visit becomes so important because the Sacrament is a great comfort, and strengthens their faith.
In today’s Gospel Jesus talks about faith. “Have you no faith?”, he said to the apostles. This story of the stilling of the storm suggests that in the storms of life, our faith gets us through.
That perhaps is a very simplistic version of this very simple story, but isn’t that true that our faith gets us through the storms of this life? That’s why we come to Church – not just to strengthen our faith, but because our faith does get us through. And in times of trouble we do lean on that faith, don’t we?
In providing this analogy with the stilling of the storm, I’m aware that the story is a little quaint and perhaps we might even have questions. Was Jesus really asleep on a cushion when the storm came? Did the apostles suggest that he didn’t care if the boat sank? Did Jesus really rebuke the storm, perhaps even in anger? And did he reprove the apostles because they were afraid of the storm and didn’t have faith?
Or was this just a natural event that years later was coloured by Saint Mark as he heard Saint Peter tell the story, so that it becomes a miracle that we can hang our hat on? Some scholars do suggest that it’s just the early Church’s attempt to add a dimension of faith to a story about Jesus.
There are those who have a problem with miracles. They say we shouldn’t have to believe them, that the purpose of this event is not a miracle but points to the final question: “Who then is this that even the winds and the sea obey him?” And that of course is always the question.
One commentator said this in answer to the question: He is eschatological epiphany of God’s purpose and mission in the world! A pity he couldn’t have just said this is the Divine Son, who is Lord over all creation.
When we look at the story there are too many personal things, too many little details not to take the story seriously. For a start, the cushion. The Greek word used is a very significant word, and tells us that even the little details were remembered. Because the story was so significant – it was vividly remembered.
It was remembered because the Gospel’s always point us to who Jesus is. And they do it by recounting personal stories that are both quaint and mysterious, and sometimes miraculous – but always with a hint that Jesus is the Divine Son of God walking amongst us.
In this case the Divine Son is able to still the storm. As Psalm 107 says, “for he maketh the storm to cease so the waves thereof are still”. Possibly the apostles remembered this psalm when they saw Jesus do this, and realised that he was more than just a Teacher – that he was perhaps the Lord of Creation.
As Saint John says: “Through him all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made”. Saint John actually supplies the answer to the question: “Who then is this…?” in the very next line: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men”. Or, as Jesus himself said on another occasion: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”.
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the Way through the storms of life. Most of us know about the storms of this life. We have them from time to time – some people more than others. Some of them – like the one on the Sea of Galilee – spring up on us unawares and we are caught. They catch us out and we get moody or even angry – especially when we didn’t expect them, didn’t see what was coming.
From my own experience in such storms it’s very easy to respond like the apostles today: “Lord, do you not care?” Often we think that when things get to us – “Lord, don’t you care?”
Turning to God with trust and hope is not easy when the storm just won’t go away. For some people the storm can cover years after the event so that it seems to hang on. We seem to be going down, and we wonder if the Lord does care.
Atheists suggest that the Christian Faith is just an insurance policy to stop us from sinking – to keep us feeling okay when everything around us is not okay. I ask you – what sort of insurance policy is that? It surely is just a stop gap, even an excuse for avoiding reality.
And did they not say to Jesus on the Cross: “He saved others, he cannot save himself, let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the Cross, and then we will believe him”. No insurance policy for the Christ on the Cross.
Faith in Jesus, the Son of God, is not an insurance policy against the troubles and woes of this life, for that is part of life and part of living.
The Early Christians who heard this story and who read it, knew that. They were persecuted by Nero, they were thrown to the lions or burnt alive, and there was no insurance policy for them. Rather to be a Christian in those days was to invite persecution, suffering and death. How soft we are 2,000 years later!
Maybe 2,000 years later people do see the Christian religion as an insurance policy. If they think that, when the storms come they rightly say: “Lord, do you not care that we are sinking?”
All of us want to have our problems and woes solved and healed by the Lord in whom we believe. Yet we believe in a Lord who hung on the Cross and said: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”.
There is but one answer to this dilemma of living the Christian life, and it is in the question at the end: “And who then is this?”
This is the man who is with us when we sink, and who will not let us perish, even when we think that the Lord does not care he does care. To believe he does care even where it seems he does not – that is faith!
The last word comes from our Epistle today, 2 Corinthians 5: “Who for their sake died and was raised……..so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God”.
Now that’s the sort of insurance policy that I want – to become the righteousness of God!