Saturday, February 06, 2010

Absolutely not my sermon...

but a tribute to the wonders of the internet!
This evening I was attempting to write something real while at the same time trying to hold a fairly intensive conversation with a twitter friend who was in a bad place.
This was playing havoc with my concentration, and though I had a fair idea of what I wanted to say in the sermon, it just wasn't happening.
Enter RevGalBlogPal Nik - who, it just so happened, had preached on the same passage last summer....and who headed in the same sort of direction that I had intended when I set out. She generously placed her words at my disposal, so I followed her structure, lifted some paragraphs entire, and ended up with what you see below - which I'll preach at 8.30 & 3.00 tomorrow.

I grew up with on the Sussex coast, with a father whose happiest time had been during his service in the Royal Navy.
It follows, then, that the sea figures largely in most of my favourite childhood memories, be they of long summer days hunting fragments of the sea-polished glass that we called mermaids' tears, or of dodging the waves as they crashed on the promenade during the winter storms.
Daddy told me wonderful bedtime stories - and my special heroine was Grace Darling, who, with her father, dared to launch a small rowing boat amid towering waves to rescue the shipwrecked passengers and crew of the Forfarshire.
I loved that story, specially when I was snuggled beneath the bedclothes while the wind howled outside, and even now I continue to love storms and to miss the thrill of watching the grey winter sea roil...

All of which makes it hard for me to grasp just how frightening the sea was to the landlocked peoples of Israel...At the beginning of the creation story of Genesis, it is the sea that represents chaos and disorder. In the final vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation, there is no more sea....
And in the middle – well, in the middle, Jesus calms the storm.

I'm told that lake Galilee, though landlocked, can stage a storm with the best of them...that the right conditions can produce a truly terrifying situation in a matter of minutes, especially if you find yourself in a small and traditional fishing boat.
Easy, then, to sympathise with the disciples, seasoned fishermen who knew the lake well enough to be fully aware of the danger...
Easy too to dismiss the story as deeply irrelevant to this landlocked county of Gloucestershire, where weather of any kind has to be pretty dramatic to have any impact at all.
So please, for a moment, imagine yourself in that small boat beside the disciples....Watch Jesus sleeping peacefully.
Isn't that amazing?
Mountainous waves. Strong men crying out in terror and there is Jesus, fast asleep! totally oblivious to what's going on. Though he may be physically present in the boat, there beside his friends, in every way that counts it seems that he's actually far far away.

Does that make you angry – or afraid? Quite probably both!
"Don't you care that we are perishing?"

Within the space of a few hours, the disciples' world had turned upside-down. They'd been caught up in the adventure of following Jesus, excited by the teaching and healings they had witnessed, looking forward to signs and wonders aplenty, to golden days, green pastures, still waters........
and then, suddenly everything changed... They felt literally swamped,all at sea, absolutely terrified
And so, they woke Jesus up...
Jesus whose deep sleep in the midst of the turmoil made the disciples feel even more afraid,abandoned,alone.
They woke him up, and you can almost hear them yelling at him in their fear:
'Teacher, don't you care? Don't you care that we're about to die?!'

They'd done everything within their power to weather the storm. They were at the end of the resources; at the end of their tether. They'd learned, as they had walked with Jesus, that he had extraordinary powers and abilities. They'd seen love and compassion. And here, on what felt like the worst night of their lives, they looked to the person they expected to help them...
and he was fast asleep.
'Don't you care that we're about to die?'

Now, you may never find yourself in a storm at sea – but you will be living a charmed life indeed if you never find yourself asking that question.
It may be an experience of illness or unemployment
It may be the death of someone special
It may be a natural disaster far away, or a train crash in the next town...
But one day, something will happen to shake your sense of security, something that makes you realise just how fragile this life can be, just how precarious the defences we build around ourselves.

At that point, as you are buffetted by the wind, drenched by the waves, you may look round and wonder where God has gone.
Was he ever really there?
Is he actually powerless?
Or does he, in fact, not give a tinker's cuss about what you are going through.
"Don't you care?...”
So many unexpected things come into our lives like storms creating chaos, and confusion... and like the disciples we feel scared, abandoned, and alone... as if Jesus is asleep at the back of the boat, while we're in turmoil.
And in the same way that the disciples did, we find ourselves almost yelling:
'don't you care Lord?'
and we might add:'are you so indifferent to all this mess, this stress, this pain, that you can sleep right through it?'

And yet, while the disciples felt - and while we might feel abandoned by God's seeming indifference...
we ... are... not.
Not for one moment.
And... it's absolutely in order to cry out to God - and even to shake a fist at him. In fact, God invites us to cry out: we're told to ask, to seek, to knock... to pound on the door of heaven.
Though Jesus rebukes the disciples for lack of faith, the very act of crying out demonstrates that somewhere, buried deep, there remains enough faith to know that they - that we - will be heard.
After all, there's no point in attempting a conversation if you don't believe that there is anyone around to listen.
So perhaps the underlying rebuke is more
'why didn't you ask me first?'..........Why do you turn to me when all else fails, when you're certain your own efforts are hopeless..
'why did you try to do everything you could under your own strength...
Did you really believe you could manage alone?

Because we do that, don't we?
We fool ourselves into believing that the even tenor of our lives reflects our own power...
We don't expect to need God.
Remember the Titanic – the unsinkable ship.
In so many ways our lives today resemble that masterpiece of marine engineering for we are insulated from many of the life and death immediacies of earlier times.
This makes it so easy for us to believe that we too are unsinkable...
WE don't need God...Faith is absolutely fine for those who like that sort of thing, for the simple, the inadequate...the disadvantaged....but we seem to be managing quite nicely thank you, - until the moment when we dont

Then we cry out...
And as we do, we find out that the God who we thought was absent, or asleep, has actually been there with us all along,
right in the midst of the storm,
right there in our boat
right there hearing our cries,
right there feeling our pain...
and even though he knows we're sometimes so very slow to understand just who he is, his love is both abundant and ever-present...

It won't always still the storm...but it will give us the security that we long for, the sure knowledge that come what may everything is held in love.
Mother Julian of Norwich had her own experiences of storm and terror.
She was close to death when she experienced her famous “Revelations on Divine Love” - and it that first hand knowledge of human frailty, of the precarious foundations of our worldly security, that gives authority to her words
He said not 'Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased'; but he said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome.'

1 comment:

Nik said...

Hope it went well mate - was thinking of you