Sermon preached on 20 February 2022
Luke 8: 22 – 25
Before anything else, I would like to point out that I did not choose today’s reading!! It is sheer coincidence that the Gospel reading set for the 2nd Sunday before Lent – Matthew’s account of Jesus calming the storm – happens to be making an appearance just days after storms Dudley and Eunice did their worst!
And I’m still not sure whether that coincidence is a gift or a challenge, for someone preaching in their wake.
As always, I suspect much depends on what we make of the various miracle stories of Jesus. If we take this account as literally true – and so as proof that Christ can simply control the elements at whim – we might be simultaneously impressed and relieved, but also rather dismayed that he doesn’t intervene a bit more often.
Whatever our take on miracles, this account is largely concerned with Jesus’ identity – as the punch-line makes clear: “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Who then is this?
And, given the more Jewish focus of Matthew’s gospel. the reader is surely intended to find echoes in the God who parted the waters of the Red Sea, so that the Israelites could escape their oppressors. Ant that, whether the disciples recognised it or not, in Jesus, Jahweh himself was walking this earth beside them.
And it is, perhaps, easy for us who’ve always been taught that as fact, to forget how radical that claim is; and how blasphemous it must have seemed, during his earthly life and in the decades that followed.
And yet that clearly is what the gospel writer wants us to acknowledge, and it is fundamental to our Christian faith.
There is more to this story, of course.
It’s also concerned with our nature, and the nature of our faith. Faced with mortal danger, the disciples are seized by debilitating fear – they don’t know what to do.
They can’t believe that Jesus is actually asleep,
and they must be starting to wonder why on earth they trusted this man?
And that’s probably something we can identify with.
There are times in all our lives, when we are hit by events we can’t control – or when there are so many things flying at us that we feel like we’re sinking under it all.
It’s easy then for fear to creep in and doubts to take over – why would God allow this to happen to me?
Is he asleep, doesn’t he care?
But that’s not the only response we might feel. Sometimes the opposite is true. A devastating blow of some kind, or a sea of problems, can lead us into a more INTENSE period of faith. Finding ourselves unable to control events, or unsure of what comes next, may simply make us more aware of our dependence on God.
And it’s that that I think Jesus is drawing out for his disciples when he asks them “Where is your faith?”
I don’t think he is dismissing their fear – or showing exasperation that they would lose their nerve.
He wants them to know that they will face dangers and hardship in life, but that ultimately they can trust him to bring them through.
We might imagine a small child, walking through a storm or wading through choppy waters, would easily lose control and be swept of their feet. But if they’re holding on to Mummy or Daddy’s hand, they will be carried forward I their strength. And even when they can’t hold on, the parent will can still take them by the wrist and guide them safely forwards.
That’s the kind of faith and trust that I think Jesus is calling from the disciples.
He wants them to know that they won’t always see him, or sense him with them, but that whenever they reach the point where they think all is lost, then he will act –
he will hold them, and not let go until they are safe again.
And for us, as for them, that message contains both an assurance and a challenge. This is not a promise that Christ will just take care of everything for us – we are not invited to fall asleep in the boat and leave him to it.
Learning to trust him does not mean that we no longer take responsibility for ourselves, or that we deliberately put ourselves in harm’s way.
And just as we take steps to ensure our physical safety, so we need also to guard our spiritual welfare.
We know that, for our personal safety,
there are places that it’s wise to avoid at certain times:
it’s probably best not to take a gentle stroll across the seafront during a heavy storm.
Similarly, there are situations that we need to extract ourselves from, either because they leave us emotionally drained and depressed, or because they are so tempting, so compelling that they lead us into some form of addiction, where something other than God takes hold of us, and won’t let go.
Jesus asked his disciples “Where is your faith?”
Perhaps we might re-pitch that question to ourselves as “where is your faith?” “Where is my faith?”
Do we place our trust in him, or in something else?
And do we need to start to refocus our attention on him and not on the waves around us.
People who live in parts of the world where wild storms are a regular occurrence are usually well-drilled, and well equipped for battening down the hatches – and they have effective systems to give them advance warning.
And I want to suggest that we need those same mechanisms in place for ourselves, in order to preserve our faith and our spiritual health.
Do we know ourselves well enough to recognise the warning signs when all is not well – when we’re not coping as well as we might?
Can we recognise the things that have become TOO important to us and get in the way of our faith?
Do we have any ways of reconnecting with God, when we can’t feel his hold on us any more?
Those ways may just be very simple:
perhaps lighting a candle or holding a Cross,
to focus our thoughts on God.
Depending on our sensibilities,
we might try using the Lord’s prayer;
using Rosary beads
and asking Blessed Mary to pray for us;
using the Orthodox Jesus prayer “Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner”;
using any simple prayer,
and just repeating the same words, over and over again, until we rediscover a sense of God’s presence with us – of present help and direction.
As we move towards and into Lent,
if we can spend some time thinking about, and building up our spiritual armoury – finding resources that we know will help us to focus in that way – then that will be a far better Lenten discipline than giving up chocolate again! (And, for some of us, at least, infinitely preferable!)
A prayer by Jeffrey John:
Give us Lord the grace to walk by faith,
through every storm of life to keep our eyes on you.
And when we fail to see, or start to sink,
stretch out your arm to raise us up.
So may we learn to hold to you through good and ill,
until we come to that haven where we would be,
in everlasting joy and peace.