June 22, 2021
Categorised in: Sermons
Calm within the storm
Sermon preached at Winchester Cathedral, Third Sunday in Trinity, Sunday 20 June 2021
2 Corinthians 6.1-13 and Mark 4.35-41
One of joys of coming to live in Hampshire, just one of them, is to be at last within striking distance of the sea, which is a source of wonder.
We are an island and a seafaring nation and the sea, and sailing, is woven into our daily language. Some days its plain sailing; some days we batten down the hatches; I may be left high and dry but today we’re worshipping in a flagship cathedral; and by the way we are sitting in the Nave, a word derived from the Latin word for boat.
And the changing drama of the sea is part of our emotional language as times become choppy and turbulent, and I feel all at sea; I’m swamped, overwhelmed, hey, I’m drowning here, I’m a wreck. Perhaps Turners seascapes are so popular because we see ourselves in them.
Over the past year the metaphor of the sea has been particularly apt. The world was facing the same storm of Covid and we were all at the mercy of forces beyond our control. His Holiness the Pope gave a powerful address about finding ourselves in an unexpected and turbulent storm, all of us fragile and disoriented. Perhaps like me you experienced fear and the need to pray for courage to face challenges and personal disappointments. I expect most of us have. Yet, as the months wore on, we realised that across the nation, across the world, we were not all in the same boat, some of us were in ocean liners, and some of us were in leaking and over-loaded rafts.
Our gospel reading today of Jesus and a storm at sea is a revelation, a kind of transfiguration in which we see the person of Jesus Christ for who he is. We can also see ourselves for who we are. It’s about fear and about faith.
Jesus had been teaching a great crowd of people beside Lake Galilee and in the evening he sought to leave the crowds behind, saying to the disciples, ‘Let’s go across to the other side’. So they got into the boat and the account says, ‘they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.’ So, what was that? Jesus was human. He was tired and in the stern of the boat, on a cushion, he fell asleep. In this icon, he is shown on the lower LHS, asleep. Jesus was like us. Just human.
And a great storm rose up, as they do on Lake Galilee. Here’s a powerful depiction by Rembrandt of the boat in the storm, Jesus woken, showing us disciples all responding differently, perhaps you can find yourself within it, those who respond by working desperately together, or respond in despair, or in being sick, or turning to Christ, in what appears to be a self-portrait Rembrandt himself stares out at us.
Now the Hebrew were not a seafaring nation, for them the sea was often a place of fear. In Psalm 104 God restrains the chaotic energy of the sea and rebukes the waves back into place1 and now we see Jesus, God’s Son, do just that, he rebukes the storm and the winds and waves obey him. They recognise the Word of God through whom all things came into being and without whom not one thing came into being. In him was life and the life was the light of all people.2 The disciples glimpse a revelation of the person of Jesus Christ, the light and life of the world.
Within this account you’ll have noticed that the disciples when they wake him they say, ‘don’t you care?’ They are afraid of death and afraid that Jesus doesn’t care. But there will be no ship wreck and he cares so much for them that he will die for them, to bring them life.
The early Christians living in a dangerous world, facing betrayal and persecution remembered this event. They would have drawn strength from this account and from the earliest days a symbol for the Christian church was a simple boat. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he talks about the hardships, calamities, beatings and hunger that he endured and the power of God he knew in patience, kindness, holiness and love. Paul was battered but moving forward, he lived through storms, but found strength from Christ within the storm.
We too know that the journey of life will be not always be plain sailing. Storms will come upon us. Sometimes, as the Coronavirus came upon us, a force beyond our control sweeping across the world. Sometimes as our own personal storms that come as accident, as a medical diagnosis that suddenly changes everything. Sometimes storms brew within our families and friends and at work. Human life pretty much guarantees it. We may cry out, ‘why doesn’t God stop this/ doesn’t he care?’ What faith gives us is not the assurance of a life free from storm, but the hope that with God’s presence we may have calm within the storm. He is with us, in our little boat, and he can give us the strength, inspiration, confidence and calm that we need. That’s been my lesson from Coronavirus. God knows our need. He knows we need to find peace in the storm, we need rest.
There’s a lovely hymn by Charlotte Elliott, with the recurring line ‘O lamb of God, I come’ It begins ‘Just as I am, without one plea…’ You’ll remember that Jesus got into the boat, just as he was, well we step into the boat of our life’s journey, just as we are. The second verse of the hymn says,
“Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God I come.”
It’s a wonderfully honest hymn, of trusting that I’m moving towards God, drawn by his love, but what a wretched thing I can be, full of conflict, doubt, fightings and fears within, without.
Yet Jesus loves us. Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation, that we are not self-sufficient.3 When we ask God into the little boat of our life. And God asks us to launch out, have courage and confidence and to care for one another and for our earthly home. To journey beyond simply calling on him when we need him, to steering our whole lives by his beckoning light bringing us home.