Sunday, 18 September 2011

Mark 4.35-41 [30/08/2009]

Mark 4.35-41 

Jesus Stills the Storm

4.35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But 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?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

When Sylvia asked me if I would like to give the talk during this beach service I said I would without really thinking.  Later that night I started to think what I should talk about.  After some time had passed I decided that it was not as easy as Sylvia and Richard often make it seem.

Eventually I wrote down the word ‘God’ and circled it.  A good starting point perhaps.  But with no divine inspiration forthcoming I circled it again.  Having repeated this a few times I found I had achieved a great deal, one word, and a few circles.  Circles rippling out from the word God like waves.  And so, I decided that I would talk to you about waves.  And at first glance this is a rather unreligious topic.

Being besides the sea we can see many waves.  The closest waves to us at the moment are those that form the tide.  The tide is often taken for granted; it comes in and goes out, the breakers gently overlapping.  If I asked most people where their milk came from I am sure they could tell me it came from a cow, or if I asked about paper I would be told it came from trees.  But what if I asked where the tide came from, what actually causes the tide.  It is likely some people would not know.  But I can tell you - the tide is actually caused by the moon. 

Both the earth and the moon are large and heavy, they have a lot of mass.  And mass causes gravity.  The gravity of the earth causes the moon to orbit.  But the moon also affects the earth, it pulls on us too, but all we really see of it is the tide which comes in and out.

We can thus see that the centre of gravity is something of immense importance.  The question to be addressed here though is where our own centre of gravity is to be found.  What I mean by this is best demonstrated in the Bible reading we just heard. 

Jesus and his disciples get on a boat, likely waiting for a good tide, and head out across the lake.  By the time they are halfway Jesus has fallen asleep on a cushion and a great storm roars.  The waves rise up and begin to fill the boat with water and the ferocious winds and rain make it so that the disciples can hardly see.  The boat is out of control. The disciples are no doubt trying to keep themselves alive, fighting the power of nature.  They will be trying to steady the boat, fill buckets with the gathering water and throw it overboard to avoid sinking.  All the time, Jesus sleeps.  As the disciples struggle for their lives, using all their strength and experience and resolve, Jesus sleeps.  He is not even awoken by the storm and the shouts and the rain.  Clearly He was not a person who got sea sick.

But Jesus is testing His disciples in the tempest.  He is waiting for them to open their eyes.  The disciples are struggling with all their might, doing all they humanly can, and Jesus does nothing.  Their centre of gravity at that time is themselves.  What can they do to stop the boat sinking?  What can they do to keep themselves from giving in to panic?  What can they do to save their own lives? It is a familiar story.  There may not be an 'I' in team, but if you mix up the letters there is a 'me'.

Me, me, me.  How often do we go around thinking about ourselves?  What shall I do today, what shall I spend this money on, what shall I spend my time doing?  But it seems God has little time for this way of thinking. Little time for this mindset that places the self as its centre of Gravity.  Indeed, it would appear that this bores God so much that He falls asleep. 

But then the disciples turn to Jesus, they find there is nothing they can do.  They shake Him awake and plea with the words ‘Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?’  And then Jesus awakens and stands and rebukes the wind and the waves, He forces them to be silent and still, He forces all the power of nature to cease and be still.  Light shines down through the clouds, and the disciples are astonished, they had been saved by Jesus.

Having exhausted their own efforts, their own selfish and small minded attempts, they approach Jesus - God.  And God awakens and takes them up in His hands, protecting them, and stilling the storm.  They move their focus from themselves to God.  They take the gravity of their lives which was themselves, and hand it to Jesus.  Now Jesus is their centre of gravity.  Jesus is the one about whom everything rotates. And for doing this, they are saved from drowning and death, saved from the darkness and the cold.

And this is what we must do in our lives.  When one looks at stories from the Bible it becomes apparent that God desires for people to place Him at the centre of their lives.  There is another word for doing this, and it is called Faith.  When God asked Abraham to leave his home and his family and follow Him Abraham put aside his life, its luxuries and comforts and his own wants, and followed his God.  Moses could have lived the life of a Prince of Egypt, but he did not, he chose God and led the Israelites from Slavery.  Moreover, the people who Jesus healed, they put faith in Him, put Him in the centre of their lives, and were healed. 

But how do we place Jesus at the centre of our lives?  Even the disciples seem to have struggled with this time and time again.  They had seen Jesus perform countless miracles, yet they were still afraid of Him when He calmed the storm, they asked themselves “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Their relationship with Jesus, with God, was only surface deep.  And when He died upon the cross for them, they even deserted him, placing themselves, once more, in the centre of their being.

What then is needed to shift our centre of gravity from ourselves to God?  The answer is a relationship with our God, and in Christian terms, that is prayer.  Prayer should be placed at the centre of all we do.  Prayer is not asking God for something that you want.  It is not even asking God for things to be given to others.  Prayer is being with God, walking with God.  You ask Him, He answers, you stand beside Him in prayer, but make sure you realise that He is stood beside you too.  Prayer is a relationship with God. 

Prayer is not an act of piety; prayer is a way of life, a shifting of focus from the selfish to the selfless.  St. Paul even goes so far as to exhort us to pray unceasingly.  By this he does not mean of course to say the Lord’s Prayer from now and forever more.  He means to live a life where God is the one in your heart, because that is what God wants.  God wants you to love Him as He loves you, God wants to share your joys, and hold you during your sorrows.  God is love, and love without other people is simply narcissism.

This is of course a difficult life to lead, perhaps even an impossible challenge.  But did not the Jews say it was impossible for Jesus to rise from the dead?  Impossible that the Messiah be the one who was crucified for us?  This life is surrounded by distractions, and no one, not myself, or Sylvia, or Richard, or even Archbishop Sentamu are faultless, everyone gets distracted, everyone sins, everyone is a sinner.  Part of being human is that our minds wander towards sin, even when we are speaking to others, even when we are speaking to God.  But God knows this, and He does not seem to care, He just wants to be in our lives, and for us to place Him first, that He might give us everything.  In fact God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to come and die in agony on a cross that we may be forgiven, redeemed, ransomed, and restored – that His anger at all of our sin and toxic ways of life that go against all He is may be satisfied and we brought into communion with Him.

Just as the waves erode the cliffs, forcing people to move their livelihood from one place to another, once we decide to listen to God, to Jesus, and place Him as our centre of gravity, like the waves God’s love erodes the hardness of our hearts, and so He leads us to pick up our lives and follow Him, follow Him to new life, because God is love, and God gives His love freely to us all.


[This sermon was the first sermon I ever gave.  It was given at a Beach Service at Mappleton in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  My Ministers, Richard and Sylvia, had invited me to give the short 'Word.'  I find it interesting to see what parts of my theology have changed, or rather how I over time have come to emphasise different things.] 

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