|Pen and Ink Reflections||
We have a pretty tough parable today. For it can seem to be one of those uncomfortable passages about God’s end of time judgement and division. Is that all there is here though? We are so used to that conservative line that we easily pass over this passage for something more wholesome. Perhaps it helps to look a little closer however. For note well - this parable in Matthew 13 is called the parable of the dragnet but it does not stand alone. This striking comparison of the kingdom of God to a fishing scene is but the closing end of a series of parables. And this wider group of parables is important to remember. and I’ll come back to that later. Firstly however some key points from key words...
Storms about sex and gender increasingly rage around, and, importantly, within us. In the face of this, what stories are we telling ourselves, and living into? How are we negotiating the tempests of faith, fact and false news? Where are we headed and what hope do we have? Let us take time to consider. For the sea of faith of which we are a part is in much turmoil because of sex and gender waves. It is likely to remain so, and even grow more turbulent. What options are among us then, and, most vitally of all, where is God in all of this?
On this Ocean Sunday in the Season of Creation, let me speak about three things: about how the Gospel calls us to ocean-like risks; about how Pacific Islanders are leading us to a deeper understanding of God as ocean; and, on this Fathers Day, about how one son remembers his father best when he is close to the ocean. First however, let me rework an old story.
The story goes that Prophet Mohammed, the Buddha, and Jesus all return together and go sailing on the ocean in a boat. A storm blows up and breaks the sail, sweeping the oars and other implements away. Marooned some distance from land, what are they to do? Well, Prophet Mohammed ponders for a moment and then takes action. Relying on his physical prowess and trust in God, he leaps into the still tumultuous waves and, at the cost of much exertion and constant vocal prayer, swims his way back to shore. The Buddha is next. Remaining typically calm in the face of all the changing circumstances, he sits attentively for some time and then, picking up a piece of driftwood, slides on to it. Catching the next great wave, with profound skill and attention, he also eventually surfs his way back to shore. So, what of Jesus? Well, Jesus seems to spend far less time and effort. He simply steps out of the boat and walks easily and comfortably back to shore. Immediately, social media goes mad, making sense of these startling events. So what is the main meme, or message, that is spread? It is obvious, really: Jesus, proclaims social media to the world, Jesus can neither swim nor surf – so what kind of a saviour is that?!...
For many centuries there has been a common understanding of the church as a ship - the later version of Noah's ark, carrying us to safety. I want to use this idea today as we look at the story of the stilling of the storm from the perspective of our current stewardship program.
It is very clear that these are difficult days for the Church in the western world. Changes in the patterns of family life and work, competing demands on a Sunday, arguments over matters theological, moral and scientific, developments in technology and social media, the scourge of sexual abuse and a host of other factors have all taken their toll on traditional congregations. In terms of today's story, they represent the 'storm' through which the ship of the church is presently making its way. It is not surprising in these circumstances that as disciples we sometimes feel not just buffeted but fearful for the well being of the ship and of ourselves. It is not surprising if we are inclined sometimes to question God and ask like those first disciples 'do you not care that we are perishing?'. Yet as the story makes very clear to do so is to miss the point...