Sunday 7 February 2010   Luke 8: 25-28

Stilling of the storm

Two figures stand juxtaposed: in our Revelation reading there is a King on a throne; elders are bowing down before him crying 'Holy, Holy, Holy....you are worthy to receive Glory, honour and power, for you created all things'; in the second story there is a man asleep in a boat. What is the meaning of this juxtaposition? Well, it is the same person. This is the extraordinary truth at the heart of the Christian religion, that the God who created the whole universe became a man who could get so tired he fell asleep in a boat. There are fascinating aspects to be found in contemplating this truth and endless questions; just as one can contemplate the structure of atoms, or the way the human digestion works, or the complexity of forces which govern the movement of planets and think "Wow! this is amazing"! Yet, in a sense, so what? Most of us find our digestion system works whether we think about it or not; none of us has much cause to do anything with the structure of atoms and no one yet has managed to influence the movement of planets however much the astrophysicists can understand it. So what is the significance of this God become man?

The Gospel story answers that question on a number of different levels. At one level it is quite simple. The disciples are frightened. They turn to Jesus and he stops the storm. Let's not be ashamed to admit that we too are often frightened. Perhaps we shouldn't be, just as Jesus told the disciples they shouldn't have been. Yet we are. We wake up at three in the morning and if we do not now worry about burglars, or the house burning down (that was my great childhood fear), we worry about the state of the Community's finances, or what the church of England is going to do next, or whether our flight will take off through the snow, or whether our children are going to become drug addicts, or a host of other things. God understands. Jesus understood the disciples' fear and stopped the storm. If we tell him of our fears he may stop them too.

You may think that is to trivialise the activity of God. I have doubts about asking God to find lost pens, or parking places but there are plenty of other things we can ask for. There is a danger for all of us of thinking we can manage our own lives perfectly well and we don't need God, except in emergencies. We may find ourselves saying "Don't worry, God; I'm doing OK; you go off and heal all those people with cancer, or pour some rain on the millions who are suffering from drought." That is arrogance. We need God in every little detail of our lives, from the way we talk to each other, to the care of those we love, to the understanding we seek of the daily events of life. Sometimes we may feel we are being a bit childish. But Jesus said that was OK. I remember being greatly encouraged when one of our most scholarly brethren , Fr Benedict, told me "I always put up a prayer when the plane is taking off." So do I. It can't do any harm and it's good to remember God is there. Even if he is asleep in the boat and doesn't really need us to wake him, it makes a difference to remember he is there.

Of course the story is much more than that. For one thing there is the sea. Traditionally, English people like the sea. From Ratty in Wind in the Willows 'messing around in boats' to those crazy individuals who sail single handed round the world, the English like being on water. The Jews hated it. Even a relatively small lake like Galilee concealed dangerous forces, turbulence, powers that could break out and destroy them. The sea itself was a place of monstrous demons and fishes that swallowed prophets like Jonah. In the new creation, Revelation tells us, there would be no more sea. One feels the Jews breathe a sigh of relief. Yet God created the sea and all that is in it. That is an indication of his amazing power. And God can, when he wants to, stop the storms. He can rein in that power. The question we want to ask is, why doesn't he?

I am sure that countless preachers, especially of an evangelical bent, have preached on this story and said that God will always stop the storms, rescue us from danger, prevent us getting hurt, if only we ask him. I don't believe it. Good people do drown in waters, just as good people die in plane crashes or get cancer. We live in a world which thinks we can control everything and make it safe. If only we can get the right mix of laws, economic measures and climate control regulations we can take all the unpleasantness out of life and create an ideal world. I am sure it is right for us to try and do a better job with laws, economic measures and the climate itself than we have done up to now but we need a healthy kind of realism. Tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and cancer will go on happening. God won't always take the danger away. What matters is that he is there with us in the boat. The storm goes on; the sea goes on being a dangerous place but we are not alone.

Perhaps the most important thing about this story is that Jesus was there. It doesn't mean that the storm will always stop. It doesn't even mean that the disciples would not drown though in this case it would have made a real mess of the Gospel story as we know it. Whether we are thinking of our fears at three in the morning, or the fact of  getting cancer, it is the presence of God with us that makes all the difference.

I thought of this last week in Zimbabwe. If we had been told ten years ago what would happen - with hyper inflation beyond anything the world has ever known, with farm destructions, starvation, Anglicans driven out of their churches with whips and tear gas we would not have believed it. Yet it has all happened and the church is stronger, the people are joyful, the congregations have an amazing sense of life. Losing their churches showed them they couldn't lose Christ.

We are wedded to buildings. We want security. We want sound finances. We want a dependable church. Every one of us has something at least which we think we cannot live without. There is a bridge too far. Sadly it may be true. Sadly, because it means we have made a false idol, or a host of false idols. We have effectively told God we cannot worship him unless he keeps our health intact, or our finances secure, or the doctrines of the church the same as they have always been.  Until we have let go of that last security we will not know the joy of really knowing God. Sometimes God has to drag it out of our hands.

Let's not end on such a grim note. Mark Twain once said "I've lived a long life and it has been filled with disasters, most of which never happened." We scare ourselves with fears of what might happen and don't pay attention to what is happening; that Jesus is there, that things have so far turned out right and that God can be trusted to give us good things. He's done it often in the past. Why should he stop now?

Nicolas CR