2 before Lent: Luke 8, The stilling of the storm

Published on Mon, 25 Feb 2019 17:28
Sermons

Luke 8.24:  And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.

 

Today’s unusually warm February day seems like an inappropriate day to have this reading:  the wind sweeping across the Sea of Galilee, the waves riding high, the boat tossing on the waters, the disciples terrified… and Jesus, calmly, asleep in the stern of the boat.  On a day like this, we have to use our imaginations. The story is told in Matthew and Mark and Luke – they have slightly different details, for example in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is asleep on  a cushion – but the intention in all three retellings is the same.

 

This is a rich story with, literally, many layers. It refers back to the Hebrew scriptures:  for example, Psalm 89:

 

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.

You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.

 

The deep is where monsters live. Krakens, and giant squid, and Leviathan of the great waters: the deep is where evil lurks, in Jewish cosmology. The deep is where scary things come from.

 

There’s more: this is a freak weather event. You would have thought that the fishermen would have known how to deal with it- that’s fishermen’s job, after all – but it’s such a great and sudden storm that they are terrified.

 

And yet Jesus is asleep, in the stern. Until he is awoken: he rebukes the wind and the waves: and they obey him. And then, in Mark’s Gospel, he rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith: whereas here, the disciples are amazed. Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?

 

So it’s a story about the power of God to overcome evil, to put down the mighty, to vanquish the things which terrify. 

 

It is s story with many resonances for the here and now. The sea is still a place of fear. Now, perhaps, the fear is different. Ships are (relatively) rarely wrecked at sea: human beings have built powerful devices to overcome the threats of wind and wave.

But now the sea brings different threats. It is full of plastic. It is being overfished. It is dying, because of human abuse of the environment. And it is rising: potentially, by many metres, enough to drown this church and this whole parish. The sea is a source of fear, still.

 

And if we take the story less literally, there is still great evil, great fear in the world. You don’t need me to list all the ways in which we are confronted by things which are scary. A no-deal Brexit is only the beginning. The unravelling of politics, the rise in racial attacks, global terror threats… don’t let’s pretend we  are not confronted by storms at sea and storms on land.

 

So what are we to take from this story, for the here and now? What relevance has it?

I mine also the Gospel of John, and find this, at the end of the long section known as the Farewell Discourses: Jesus speaking to the disciples before his arrest:

 

But take courage, I have conquered the world!

 

Take courage, I have conquered the world!

 

Surely, this is what we take from the story, is it not? That Jesus has overcome evil and darkness and fear: that the disciples, who were terrified, have no need to be terrified: that, to put it in classical theological terms, Christ has redeemed the world. He has brought about the transformation of darkness to light, hate to love, fear to hope. Take courage, for I have conquered the world!

 

From the sublime to the very earthly. I have spent the last few days at the General Synod of the Church of England, the church’s parliament. As ever, it was better than I had expected. We covered a lot of ground. In fact we touched on many of the areas that St John’s is especially interested in.

 

There was, for example, a strong and powerful debate on climate change and caring for creation. A process which started in this very church, St John’s Waterloo – when we put forward a motion on climate change back in 2014 – has built and grown, so that now there were two motions from the Dioceses of Truro and London again asking all the parishes of the Church of England to raise their game on climate change. Many people spoke passionately and well about our responsibility to care for creation, for the good of humanity, creatures and the future.

 

I was part of a panel on the Living In Love and Faith resource – this teaching and learning resource on identity, sexuality and gender which the House of Bishops hopes will help the C of E to move forward, to become more fully inclusive. I sat in the seat the Archbishop of York usually sits in, and told Synod about our work here at St John’s, about my partnership with Shanon, and about my hopes for the work we are doing. It felt good, despite some pushback from those who are afraid of any movement in the church.

 

And, overall, there were many debates on our mission, on evangelism, on how we can communicate the Gospel to those around us.  We have a good story to tell – a good story here, a good story nationally. The things we do, the communities we are part of, the ways we try to live. It’s not perfect, my goodness it’s not perfect, but at least we try.  I was very chuffed that so many members of General Synod come into Waterloo Station and walk across to Church House in Westminster, because they pass that photo of me on York Way-  a Pillar of the Community – which of course is not about me but about all the work we are doing, here at St John’s.

 

Take courage, for I have conquered the world.

 

And Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.

 

So. What does that all mean for us, here?  

 

The next big thing is Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday on March 6th.  The theme, for St John’s, for Lent is –

 

How to change the world.

 

I thought we’d go for something nice and simple!

 

Why have we chosen that theme? How to change the world?  It’s about the connection between contemplation and action. Lent is a time of preparation: it is also a time of action.

 

I am very sure that, against the background of really challenging world events, despair is not an option! We each have the potential to change the world: it starts with where we are, just as every journey starts with a single step. But I am also sure that without a deep grounding in love and prayer, things can go badly awry. 

 

Drawing on the connections Richard Rohr makes between contemplation and action, the Lent course, on Tuesday evenings at 7pm, will be a chance for you to investigate and think about and pray about the world-changing faith of which we are part.  If you wish to come to Vespers at 6 you will be very welcome, and there will be a light supper available between Vespers and the Lent Group. 

 

I cam across a great quote recently:

God has a vision for the world. It’s up to us to make it happen.

 

It’s a challenge! But every journey starts with a single step. My friends, we can change the world. We do change the world. Sometimes in tiny, unnoticed ways and sometimes in big, dramatic ways. We change the world because we believe in love; because we have courage; because we will not give in to counsels of despair.

 

Jesus loves you: God loves you: Jesus loves us: God loves us: and because we can have confidence in that love, we can love the world. And we can change it. We do change it.  We will change it. God has a vision for the world, and it is up to us to make it happen. Let’s do it.

 

 

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