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Sermon – Jesus Stills a Storm

Stilling The Storm

Sermon Preached by The Right Reverend Denise Ferguson on Sunday, 23 June 2024.

1 Sam 17:32-49
2 Cor 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41 – Jesus Stills a Storm

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Holy God, gift us wide eyes, inquiring minds, and open hearts, receptive to your Way of love, mercy, grace, and redemption. Amen.
Good morning, everyone. It is a delight to be with you today as we worship God together. Apologies form my husband, mark. He is unable to join me today. Mark is Anglican Chaplain at Modbury and Lyell McEwin hospitals and is on call this weekend.

Today’s Gospel stirs wonderful memories for me. Many years ago, while I was attending theological college, Mark and I had the privilege of joining a clergy tour of the Holy Land. The tour began in Cairo. We followed Moses footsteps from Egypt into the ‘Promised Land’ and from there we followed Jesus’ footsteps. It was a profound experience to walk where Jesus had walked, and to experience the land of our Holy Scriptures.

Having crossed the Sinai Peninsula, we headed north, where we visited many of the places we hear about in the New Testament writings. One of those places was Gennesaret. We worked our way around the Sea of Galilee visiting various sites, and one day we sailed onto the lake in a replica fishing boat, built to the same specifications as a recently discovered boat dating back to the time of Jesus.

In the middle of the Sea of Galilee we stopped, and I was asked to read the same Gospel passage we have heard today. The Sea of Galilee was like glass. It was so still I had trouble comprehending the image of a stormy lake in the passage. The next morning, when I opened the curtains in our hotel I looked out across the lake. A storm as recoded in today’s Gospel, had blown in. Large waves were breaking, and I was very glad I wasn’t still floating in that replica fishing boat. It was only then that I understood how profound the experience we have heard in this morning’s Gospel must have been for Jesus and his disciples.

Today’s Gospel is the recounting of this experience from Mark’s Gospel. While Mark’s Gospel may be short, that doesn’t diminish its significance. Mark’s Gospel carries us on a condensed journey of Jesus life, death and resurrection in such a way that Jesus ‘real’ or ‘true’ identity of Jesus is gradually revealed.

In today’s passage Jesus tells his disciples to cross over in a boat to the opposite shore of the Lake Gennesaret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. To contextualize this passage, the account in John’s Gospel follows immediately on from the feeding of the 5,000 when the crowd got very excited and wanted to make Jesus their king. In case the disciples might have similar ideas themselves, Jesus packs them off in their boat where they soon come face to face with real life.

In today’s passage, they get into the boat and, we are told, there were some other boats accompanying them. This has some significance for the second part of the teaching. The Gospel also says they left the crowd behind them.
The crowds frequently gather around Jesus, but at this stage these people are more interested bystanders rather than followers. They listen to him, they marvel at his miracles, but they are at only inquisitive, and possibly suspicious.

As Jesus and the disciples made their way across the lake, a storm suddenly blew up. Naturally, the disciples were very afraid and thought their boat was going to sink. But, through it all, Jesus was fast asleep at the back of the boat, apparently either oblivious or totally uncaring about their situation. In a panic, they wake him up: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus wakes, rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea: ““Peace! Be still!” The wind dropped and all was perfectly calm again. Then it was the disciples turn to be scolded. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And now they were even more afraid.

In awe they were faced with the question “Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him?” Who was this man? As far as they were concerned only God could control the wind, the sea and the other elements. Yet here is Jesus exercising exactly that power before their eyes.

As faithful jews, the disciples would have been familiar with a similar experience recoded in the Book of Job (Ch 38)

I quote:
‘For he spoke; he summoned the gale,
tossing the waves of the sea
up to heaven and back into the deep;
their soul melted away in their distress.’

You can imagine the thoughts racing through their heads. Was this storm that the disciples had just experienced a mere accident? Was it both started and stopped by the same person so that the disciples could learn an important lesson about Jesus?

Job continues
‘Then they cried to the Lord in their need and he rescued them from their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; all the waves of the sea were hushed.

The Job passage concludes,
They rejoiced because of the calmand he led them to the haven they desired.’

While todays reading is specifically about Jesus, no doubt, somewhere in the depth of their being this current experience would have resonated with what they already knew.

Now, it is Jesus who is doing all this! There can only be one possible explanation. Jesus has the power of God; Jesus has the nature of God. No wonder they are filled with awe and fear of the man in front of them. The mystery of Jesus’ identity is gradually being unfolded before their eyes.

Today’s Gospel also holds a second meaning for us. The message lies in the symbolism underlying the whole story. It is the story of the early church. The boat can and has been interpreted as a symbol of the Church and especially of the early Church, but equally relevant for the church we are a part of today.

You may have heard the saying we – the Christian Church – are all in the same boat, however more accurately, it should say that with the diversity of the Christian Church – we are all in different boats, but we sail on the same sea. The Sea being the world in which God has placed us. Using this image, I would like to share with you an experience closer to home.

During the height of Covid, which isn’t that long ago, the Church, we found ourselves tossed around on an unimaginably frightening sea. Every aspect of our being was destabilised – because we had no idea where we were going.
At that time, as the Diocesan Council tried to grapple with what we now call liminal space – defined a standing on the threshold of something new, but having no idea what the future might look like – we spent every second DC meeting for a year focused don this reading – of Jesus stilling the storm. It was a profound time and it helped us to stayed anchored in the truth that despite our fears God was in control.

I suspect as a parish you are feeling a little like that at the moment as you seek to call a new Parish Priest, yet it feels like nothing is happening. I thought it might be helpful if I talk a little about this big ocean of uncertainty that you find yourselves floating in.

Over the past forty or so years we have seen a shift in wider society from a ‘we’ mentality to an ‘I’ mentality. The individual has taken precedence over the communal. Covid, and its isolation has made this worse. As a result, what we are experiencing is a massive decline on people responding to what we would call vocations. This isn’t only in the church. Community groups are suffering, teaching, nursing and medical professions are struggling to recruit staff.
This is particularly a Western World phenomenon.

When we look at this through our lens – Adelaide Anglicans – we are also experiencing an aging and declining church, and in many areas a substantial loss of income to support ministry and mission. You only have to look at the clergy vacancies to see we have more part time positions vacant than full time.

When we bring all these factors together we have a very real problem. What we are experiencing is, as one US Church called it – is a vocations train wreck. Every religious denomination is struggling to find clergy and to sustain ministry and mission. I had lunch with the Rabbi earlier this week, and the Jewish Tradition is in the exact same situation – one of those many boats floating on the sea.

I want to reassure you that your Patronage Committee is doing everything they can to find the right person to respond to a call to St Andrew’s, and the right person will be out there. However it is taking time – and God’s time which is what we must be open to, isn’t necessarily our time.

As you wait and watch and pray, I encourage you to hear Jesus’ words today. Take comfort in knowing that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, is there for all of us. And it is a peace which no person, no situation, nothing can take away.

In the meantime keep praying that the right person will be stirred by God to fill this vacancy, and in the waiting pray for peace, reassurance and patience.

As an aside – this Diocese has the largest cohort of people in the Ministry Discernment process than it has had for decades. So, while we are experiencing scarcity at the moment, there is abundance yet to come.

Thanks be to God. Amen.