I wonder if you think like my husband, who says that he could live anywhere in the world, as long as it’s near the sea... Living on the coast as we do, most of us here have a great love of the sea – it provides beauty, recreation, employment, and food. But as our local lifeboat crew will confirm, the sea can also be a very dangerous place. In a different part of the world, about 25 years ago, my husband was competing in the Tall Ships Race. On a beautiful evening, as his ship the Marques was sailing along nicely just north of Bermuda, a sudden squall came up and quick as a flash the ship corkscrewed bow first down into the sea, never to be seen again. There were eight survivors out of 24 people on board.
Rewind over 2000 years ago, in another place where strong winds and waves can suddenly gust up: Jesus and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. We know that many of the disciples were fishermen, so they were well acquainted with boats and the changeable sea. But in this case, they were also headed for new territory – they were headed for Gentile territory on the ‘other side’.
They meet with a squall, which must have been pretty big for them to be so frightened. But the story, like many others in the bible, has more to it than first meets the eye. In biblical times because of its turbulent nature, the ‘sea’ represented the chaos and evil of this world. It’s interesting that in Revelation 21, in the vision of the New Jerusalem, there is no more sea, because of the triumph of Christ and the goodness of the New Creation.
As our gospel story unfolds, Jesus overpowers chaos and confusion by calming the raging storm. This event is in a class by itself because Jesus is here with his disciples alone, away from the crowds, and he is ministering to them. It’s rare in the Gospels for the disciples to benefit from Jesus’ power; more often they are observers as he ministers to others, or they join with him in ministering to others. Translating this to the Church, our usual activity is to serve others in the name of Jesus... but just the same, the Church receives the ministry of Jesus - otherwise we just wouldn’t be able to sustain ourselves over the long run.
To minister Christ to each other as a church, we need to be real with each other in our struggles; to pray for each other and to share when God has helped us through turbulent times. To minister to others in terms of mission, we must sail over to ‘the other side’ into new territories, which can be dangerous and frightening. Whenever we venture out with the gospel we are likely to encounter some stormy weather, but Jesus is with us. And he wants us to trust him in this. “Where is your faith?” Jesus asks his disciples. Where do we place our faith? Do we place our faith in our own powers or in the power of Jesus? In another story, as Jesus walks towards his disciples on the water, he says to them, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid”.
Last week I was at the Cathedral with the other curates of the diocese for a seminar and a tour. We got to go up to the Choir School to see where the lessons happen, and the Canon Precentor led our motley crew in singing a few hymns. One of the hymns we sang that day is based on today’s gospel reading, so because it is so fitting, I would like to read just a couple of verses of it to you (it’s sung to the tune of ‘Stowey’ for those of you who know about that kind of thing):
Lord, my boat is so small and the ocean is wide
And I fear I’ll be swamped by the breakers and tide.
Your call is the reason I launched from the shore
Convince me again what this journey is for.
When the tempest is raging, the waves crashing down
And we hang on to faith tho’ it seems that we’ll drown
‘Be still’, says the Saviour, his voice ringing clear
No, he will not permit us to perish in fear.
Whatever the storm in our life today, Jesus has the power to calm it! Being a Christian isn’t always going to be smooth sailing. The boat rocks, and sometimes the storm threatens to overwhelm us. We might wonder whether Jesus has fallen asleep on the job; but perhaps our expectations are misplaced. We’re not exempt from the pain and sorrow of this life. But we have the Master of all Masters at the helm. And with him we need not be afraid, whatever the state of the sea.
A prayer: Lord God, we thank you for the beauty and the power of the sea. When we look upon the waves, remind us of your calming presence in our lives. Enable us to trust you are with us on our journey, and that we need not be afraid to take your gospel on board and to share it with those to whom you send us on the other side. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.