Sermons from St
Sunday, February 24th, 2019
To calm the storm – the raging wind and sea, to have authority and power over the very forces of nature. This is what Jesus does, as revealed in today's Gospel passage. The power of God at work.
We look around at the world, at our country and see so much that needs healing and curing, so many storms which need to be quelled. It may be ongoing family quarrels, bitter disputes in the workplace. In the House of Parliament there is no agreement at this time on Brexit, will there be a deal between the UK and the EU? What happens if there is not? What will it mean for the lives of ordinary people? At the heart of this - is the polarisation of points of view, entrenched positions and people who will not compromise on their beliefs. Essentially figurative battle lines have been drawn. These are extraordinary times and certainly not good. There is a breakdown in the normal parliamentary business and routine, the relative peace of proceedings – business as usual – are gone, at least for the moment. There is a sense that whatever happens, after 29 March (the scheduled date for Brexit) things will never be the same again.
The Bible sets out the ongoing struggles of man. In books of the Old Testament such as Exodas, Isaiah, Samuel, Kings and Nehemiah, the leaders of nations are in a perennial struggle for power against each other. Judah and Israel are often on the losing end of the power struggle, but they keep trying to defend themselves in the face of attack, building a wall around the city of Jerusalem, to fortify their territory, and deploying armies. For the Jewish people, their covenant with God underpins everything. It is their framework for life itself, though they often lose sight of what this means in practice. The prophets often scold the Jewish people for disobedience to God and his laws, blaming their own bad faith for worldly misfortunes such as loss of land to hostile neighbouring powers. The prophets aim is to bring the people back in good relationship with God, reminding them when they have forgotten about God. The battles, struggles and worldly matters suck people away from God. The storm of life overwhelms their minds and actions. It is essential that they return to their faith, to restore peace and harmony – or shalom.
The recurring narrative of disobedience in the people, resulting in their worldly misfortunes is not the only one in the Old Testament. In contrast and indeed in contradiction – is in the book of Job. Here the suffering of one man is not caused by his bad faith or acts against the teachings of the Jewish faith. Even though his supposed friends give him the familiar narrative of scripture – where they insist that he must somehow have brought misfortune upon himself, he is clear in his own mind that he has not done wrong. Despite this, Job does not give up on his faith in God. Through every misfortune, though it tests him, yet he clings both to his faith in God, but in his own certainty of following God's laws and of not having done any wrong. In the end, Job's life is transformed – his suffering ends and he is blessed again with good fortune. It is a difficult story to reconcile with, but it challenges assumptions, beliefs and inspires faith in God.
The New Testament narrative is transforming for faith. Jesus goes beyond the expectations of the people he meets. He is divine in nature, and his life is given as a ransom for mankind. Jesus courts danger – in challenging the power of the received wisdom and authority, as most men would not dare to do. How he acts as if he has no fear for his own life. In Mark Chapter 10 he boldly tells the pharisees that Moses only gave the law to Jewish men, allowing them to divorce their wives because of their 'hardness of heart'. These and other actions of Jesus are used as reasons to accuse him of blasphemy and to have him sentenced to death.
For us today, with faith in God, we have hope and strength. Through prayer, reading of scripture and studying, we can become wiser and more thoughtful. Our actions can be more fruitful for growth of God's kingdom. We can see a way forward to be bringers of peace, love and hope. As Lent approaches, this gives us time and space to realise the vision of God's kingdom. Where we can in some way restore the harmony lost in the garden of Eden – putting us in better relationship with God. The bitter knowledge of good and evil, obtained by disobedience cannot be forgotten. The bitterness of pain, suffering, hatred, division cannot be removed entirely – for we do not have the power of the almighty.
There is though, the power of the Holy Spirit, which strengthens. Each of us can enter more deeply into relationship with God, to act on his commands – to make a difference in the world. As disciples who do not seek power, except to give glory to the power of God. As Jesus says in Luke, chapter 10
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest .
The warning next from Jesus to the disciples reminds us of the cost of discipleship and the hostility of the world to the Gospel message:
Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
Faith in God – our foundation stone, our hope and our reason. Let us be faithful together.