The Gospel reading on February 24 was from Luke 8, 22-25. At St Mark’s that day, Lesley Shatwell preached.
The Gospel passage:
‘One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”’
Jesus said to them: “Where is your faith?”
That’s a good question. And what is faith anyway?
It’s easy to believe something if you can see it to be true. The disciples witnessed how Jesus was able to calm the storm, so they came to believe.
But is that the same as faith? I don’t think it is.
Faith is about knowing. But it’s about truly knowing something even though you can’t explain it to anyone else. It’s not something we can measure. “I wish I had your faith … etc”
It’s not something we can force in ourselves and it is something which we can lose just at that very moment when it could be useful.
Just at that moment when you are all at sea in a storm.
Loss of faith doesn’t have to be so dramatic though.
The theologian Thomas Merton talks eloquently about how people can lose faith very easily. In summary he says: ‘People seem to lose their faith as they grow more mature. To start with, it’s easy, believe this and you do. But then the comfortable reassurance you get stops working. And then, well well, God’s not looking after me, why should I have faith in him? What’s God ever done for me? I don’t believe he exists, he’s never around when I need him.’
Merton goes on to say: ‘Don’t put faith in “sunshine” Christians, who promise a quick fix. You may have to find God alone. Faith is personal, nobody else can do it for you.’
I think a lot of us are looking for a quick fix. Something which will make us feel safe and secure, loved and well cared for.
And perhaps it seems that God offers this. All will be well, if I just had a bit more faith in God … and perhaps it would, I’m certainly not going to dismiss people’s faith, but at the risk of being less than a “sunshine” Christian, I can’t offer it to you that today. That’s a quick fix.
It doesn’t take into account that plain fact that none of us can force ourselves to believe in God.
I can look with wonder and a fair dollop of jealousy at people whose faith can move mountains, and yes, I probably envy them, but it is not my experience of being Christian. There are some days when I wake up and I know, without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is my saviour. That wonderful aria from Messiah, “I know that my redeemer liveth …” is playing like a constant companion in my mind and the joy of the Holy Spirit runs right through me.
Then I catch a glimpse of the outrider clouds of a massive storm and all those wretched doubts creep in.
Life is tough. Lots of people have things far more tough in life than I do, but, dear Lord, this is me and there are times it feels as though I am totally alone and lost in a storm at sea. I long for Jesus to wake up and make everything better for me. But it hasn’t happened yet.
But before I wallow too much in the awfulness of everything, I must be honest: there are good times along with the bad times.
There are times when I love my life, I’m full of delight with everything and everyone around me. Times when life can get no better. And then it is tempting to think, “Oh, this is all down to me, to my careful planning, everything is working out well and I’m in charge.”
Wrong! God’s in charge.
It’s God’s doing, even though it may seem as though God is asleep and letting me get on with my life, I have to acknowledge that my joy is not entirely down to me.
God has given me a wonderful day and it is at times like that when I sometimes remember to give thanks and show my gratitude.
Often I don’t, because I’m human and I accept the good times which come to me as though I have a right to them.
It’s different though when things go wrong. Have you ever had days when you wake up with a feeling of dread as to what is going to happen now you have come out of the dreamland? Have you ever had days when everything hurts, everyone you meet seems to rub you up the wrong way so it would have been better if you had avoided people?
Yes, people, they are the problem; no, it’s my tummy, I shouldn’t have eaten that great big dinner last night; oh my back aches; no, it’s that awful meeting I’m going to have with my boss – yes, I knew it, everybody else is the problem. Always someone else’s fault.
Probably God’s fault. Everybody else is happy and well and I’m not.
God this isn’t fair, why have you forsaken me?
What have I done wrong? Wake up God!
It’s true, isn’t it?
We call on God a great deal more to sort out our problems than we do to give thanks and praise. It’s when disasters happen that we wonder where God is and why he has abandoned us.
Where was God during the tsunami? Where was God when evil people get into power? Why didn’t God stop that child from being hurt? Yes, God – where are you? Why are you asleep in the back of our boat as we are sailing head-on into a storm?
Wake up Jesus! We need you here now.
In our reading today, we hear about experienced fishermen who made their living going out in boats.
And they were terrified, they thought they were going to die. They were out of their depth as the gale swept down on them and the waters poured into their boat. All their own effort and skill couldn’t save them.
All the while, there is one person, their friend who sleeps through it all. He is with them though. He’s not left them. He’s in the boat with them.
At the point in the gospel where this passage occurs, they are just learning who Jesus is. They need more reassurance before their faith is strong enough to realise that because Jesus is with them in the boat, whatever happens, they are safe in the loving care of God.
The winds and waters obey Jesus, for God created all things. By calming the storm and saving their physical lives, Jesus is not forcing them to have faith, he is showing them again that he is with them.
In our lives there are plenty of storms when it seems that God is asleep and not aware of our troubles. Despite what it feels like, that’s not so, for God is always with us – as the final words Jesus says according to the Gospel of Matthew: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.
Perhaps he is asleep but I don’t happen to think so. And anyway, what I do know is that Jesus is most definitely in the boat with us.
Picture: Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee by Rembrandt.