Reading(s): Job 38.1-11 and Mark 4.35-41. This sermon was given by Sally at All Saints, North Baddesley.
I love to visit the beach and hear the sound of the sea as the waves gently crash on the shore, feel the sand on my feet and dip my toes in the water, but that is where it ends. Sea journeys are definitely not my favourite way of travelling. Probably my worst experience was as a young mum boarding a small Chinese fishing boat with my son and crossing from Kowloon in Hong Kong to Stonecutters island for a fun day out away from the heat and crowds. The boat was small and the waves came over the side at times and I turned green, the return journey was no better but at least there was not a storm as in this morning’s gospel reading, then I certainly would have been afraid as well as very sick.
Most of us if not all of us have had some experience with fear in our life. Some of us have a fear of heights or perhaps a fear of confined spaces and not being able to breathe. Whilst others a fear of the dentist, doctor, spiders, snakes and the list goes on. These are fairly common kinds of fears. Many of us have other fears which we actually may not like to voice as they seem wimpish or out of character with our nature. Then there is a fear (certainly as we get older) of losing our health and being dependent on others to take care of us. Some of us fear being unable to support ourselves financially, especially in these changing economic times. Some of us fear for our loved ones or fear losing a loved one, and the loneliness that would entail for us. Some of us fear change, the possible loss of what is familiar and comfortable, to be replaced by the unknown. And some of us, of course, fear the ultimate unknown which is death.
Today we hear how Jesus confronts the fear of his disciples when they end up on a small boat in a storm although, at first, it seems rather odd that Jesus asked the question “Why are you afraid?” We know from their first calling that a few of his disciples were seasoned fishermen, who knew how to handle a fishing boat and aware of the dangers encountered in a storm. Despite their best efforts at keeping the boat afloat, it was beginning to sink and Jesus was asleep. Experience told them that their chances of surviving in open water under those conditions were not good. They were afraid for what they thought was a very good reason. Jesus was no doubt tired, it was evening, he had got in the boat to get away from the crowds and recuperate, but the disciples wake him up with words “Do you not care that we are perishing”.
At that moment they lost any trust they ever had in him. Jesus’s strong words “Have you no faith” before he calms the storm, are words we often must repeat to ourselves when we doubt God’s love and care. The reading ends with the disciples standing in absolute awe, they have come through the storm changed.
I wonder if any of us have had such a life changing experience when perhaps facing death or the death of those who are close to us. At that precise moment did we put our complete faith and trust in God?
There is no doubt that we offer prayers to our heavenly Father in times of trouble and he has answered them but, often we have been too blind to see, we have come through many storms of life, not completely unscarred, but God has been with us throughout the journey of fear, loss and sadness and brought us to safety. As the Body of Christ, we are asked to have the faith not to ignore the storms around us, but to walk into a storm if we can and support one another. In so doing, we offer, if only as a reminder, the stillness of Christ.
And talking about ignoring, we often ignore the Book of Job in the bible, because it is dismal and there is not much joy for poor Job who has lost everything. By the sudden actions of enemy armies and fire from heaven and violent winds, everything he had is gone. Property, gone. Flocks and herds, gone. Even his ten children, gone. And Job spends the next thirty or so chapters of the book that bears his name trying to figure out what on earth has happened, and defending his moral character to “friends” who are sure he must have done something to deserve all this calamity. Throughout those chapters Job questions God. Job asks that classic question. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did these bad things happen to me? Why did I lose nearly everything I hold dear - property, flocks, herds, even my children? Why? Job asks God to explain. So this mornings passage starts with these words “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind or storm” and then goes on to basically tell him to pull himself together. Of course Job is not the only one who feels sorry for himself, we all want answers to why so many bad things happen in life. It seems a part of our human nature to ask why? We would like to know why bad things happen to good people, why the cancer strikes or a job is lost. We would like to know why homes burn to the ground or are flooded beyond repair, why someone comes to feel that their only option is to commit an act of violence or why has this current pandemic we are living through killed so many people? We too would like God to explain. This passage from Job therefore is a small part of God’s response, although I don’t think we can call it an explanation in any sense. Rather than explaining the problem of suffering, God directs Job’s attention elsewhere.
The works of my hands, God says. Look at all my hands have done. Look around you at the wonders of creation. Who did you think did all this? The passage ends with “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped?” That may not be a satisfactory answer for most of us and probably not for Job. In both of these storm stories (Job and St. Marks gospel) human beings were so busy looking at creation and what it had done to them, that they forget the creator. The disciples were with Jesus because they had seen him work miracles, yet during the storm they didn’t think to look to him until the end, when they thought they were about to die. They didn’t wake him up first, they woke him up last out of desperation. But that is how many people call out to God, often as the last resort, in desperation, they may have an uncertain faith in God, perhaps no faith but it is worth asking all the same for help.
Job was convinced that his righteousness should mean that nothing bad could happen to him. But storms will come. People will die, people will get sick there will be pandemics, accidents will happen. Other people will let us down, business will close, bad things will happen and most of the time our individual actions cannot stop these disasters. We are not all powerful, and we don’t understand the mysteries of God. Instead of railing against it, which accomplishes little, at some point we are better off if we accept the reality of our human limitations, and trust in God. Job’s deeper need, the disciples' deeper need, and our deeper need, when we are in that dark chaotic place is to know that God has not abandoned us, that God still cares for us. What we need when we suffer is a visit from God. A voice out of the storm that says ‘I am here, I am in control. Don’t cling to your own understanding, because you don’t have the whole picture. Hold onto me, as I am already holding onto you. I will never let you go, so have peace.’
Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down, it is how we handle them. And I suppose that is a lesson we learn as we go through life, it is sometimes a hard lesson to come to terms with though and some people as we know seem to have more than their fair share of suffering.
We need the storms outside and the Christ within to understand ourselves to understand each other and to understand the world. But above all we need to learn, if we have not already, to walk humbly with God trusting him at all times especially when we are anxious and afraid.