STORM AT SEA: MARK 4: 35-41

Some years ago I crossed the Channel in a really bad storm. It was very exciting! Even though the ferry was pretty big it rolled from side to side, went up and down and the waves towered over it on each side. People were being sick everywhere. I went on deck and looked at those amazing waves and wondered what would happen to me if I fell overboard. I donít think I would have lasted long. What would happen to a small boat out there? I know small boats do survive big storms but it would be pretty scary. Thatís what the disciples experienced on Galilee. It must have been bad. They were fishermen after all. They were used to this Lake. They would not have been scared of nothing. If they were scared enough to wake Jesus and say ďTeacher, do you not care if we perish?Ē it must have been really bad.

Itís a story which has been given many different meanings. One of the commonest sees the boat as the Church. Itís like Noahís ark. It may be small and the waves outside may be really big but it will survive and it will keep us safe. Thereís some truth in that. The Church is a place of safety in a world which sometimes feels very hostile indeed. The Church is a safe, secure structure grounded in God so it cannot fail. Within it are the sacraments which give us life and the people who accompany us on the way. They also give us support and a lot of fun too.

Itís a good image but not a sufficient one; it ignores the fact that it was not the boat that saved the disciples. It was Jesus. The boat was nothing without Jesus. The church is nothing without Christ. It may seem a strange thing to say but people often do forget that the Church is Christ; without Christ it is just a building, a hierarchy, even a tyranny. People in the Church often do forget Christ and their behaviour becomes quite un-Christlike. That is a sad fact of life. People in authority in the Church sometimes forget they are supposed to be shepherds caring for lost and hungry sheep and become instead Governors like Pilate or Priests like Caiaphas. It is not only the clergy who do this. Anyone who has served on church councils knows how we can all do it. Not here, maybe, at St Georgeís but often elsewhere.

It is Christ who makes the difference. It is Christ whom we follow. When we look at the world around us and see disaster looming - disaster in the civil wars in Syria and Iraq; disaster in the ecological scene with global warming or climate change; disaster maybe as our financial systems seem about to unravel - it is easy to despair, to think those things are just too big for me to handle. Iíll just keep my head down and hope it doesnít happen. Or weíll just cut England off from the rest of the world and stay safe.

Is this what Jesus wants us to do? Cut ourselves off from Europe and ignore the refugees from that terrible fighting in Syria, or the ordinary Greek people suffering the collapse of their economy? Jesus tells us to love our neighbour. When asked who our neighbour is he told the story of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbour is anyone in trouble. It might be the person living next door to me who has cancer. It might be the young homeless person who asks me for help. It might be a refugee, or it might even be some children in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is 5,000 miles away and you donít even know the children but you have helped them. That was wonderful. Zimbabwe has no social security to speak of. When children lose their parents they are at the mercy of relations. Most relations struggle to support themselves and their families. They canít take on more. Children who lose their parents lose their life, because they canít go to school; they canít get educated so they canít get jobs, or find ways of making their own jobs. They are condemned to be beggars, or thieves, or earn money through sex which means they probably will also die of AIDS as their parents did. We have to break that cycle of despair.

Tariro gives hope. In Shona, Tariro means hope. Without hope we despair. With hope we can survive all sorts of hard situations. Your generosity has given those children hope and life and a future. Thatís a good thing to do and it is also what Jesus wants us to do.

The disciples asked Jesus ďDo you not care if we perishĒ. He did care and he stopped the storm. Our children in Zimbabwe ask us ďDo you not care if we perish?Ē We do care. We care because they are children. We care because we see them as our neighbours. We know that God created them and he loves them so when we help them we are growing in the same love that God has for them.

In the past five years raising money for Tariro I have learned a lot of surprising things. One is that people actually like to give. They hesitate, rightly, wanting to know where the money is going, how it will get there, what will be done with it. Once they know that they are happy to give. For us Christians it is one way we express our devotion to Christ. It also deepens our relationship with Christ because we know we are doing what he would like us to do. It also means we are moving outside the concern for ourselves which is natural to all human beings. We are all naturally selfish and self centred. That is an inbuilt condition for human survival. Unfortunately, most of us have too much of it. Sin deepens and strengthens this concern for ourselves. That actually narrows our lives, deadens our human instincts, makes us reluctant to love. When we give to others we move in the other direction. We begin to open out, to care for others, to let their lives into our lives. In this way we allow God into our lives; we become more alive. Giving to the poor is good for the poor. It is also good for us. If we want to grow in the Christian life we simply need to do more of it and let love expand our hearts so that God can come into them too.

We live in the midst of storms. Some are external ones - the ones I have mentioned, the refugees in the Mediterranean, the crisis with our banking, the wars in the middle East, the politics of Zimbabwe. Some are much closer to home: families coming apart, horrible illnesses in people we love, schools or businesses in trouble. We need to see Jesus in each of these saying ďPeace! be still!Ē That doesnít immediately solve the problem but it makes us think; what would Jesus do about this? What would be his priority? What would he say? We remember this is not just imagination. Jesus is here. If we listen to him in the Gospels, listen to him in our prayers, we can learn to hear him in the storms of daily life. When we act we find it works. Thatís how we started Tariro: it seemed Jesus wanted it in that terrible situation in Zimbabwe five years ago and it has worked.

What is Jesus saying to you now as you look outside your own little area and ask what he wants you to do? We can calm the storms, you know. We can change the world we live in, if we let Jesus into it.

            Nicolas Stebbing CR