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...
Jesus was constantly telling his disciples not to worry, not to be afraid. 'Have no thought for tomorrow' he says in the Sermon on the Mount. Pray for your 'daily bread' - not for bread for the next year or decade or two! It is not a teaching we find particularly easy, and yet it is foundational to a peaceful and faithful attitude to life. So instead of looking at state of the ship, or the rising seas, let's see what happens when those first disciples turn their attention to Jesus. The first thing they notice is that he is asleep – quite comfortably asleep too, on a cushion in the stern of the boat. It is the most wonderful image of faith and trust- a bit like a small child being carried in the arms of their parent, fast asleep, and totally oblivious to whatever tumult may be going on around them. Jesus trusts His loving Heavenly Father so completely that He can sleep anywhere. His relaxation is total. We have much to learn from His example and the measure of the depth of our prayer is probably exactly our ability to switch off our worrying mind and sleep deeply regardless of the tumults that surround us.
However the disciples in frustration and anger as well as fear cry out to Him and wake Him up- not very respectfully either in Mark's version. The later Gospel writers tidy things up and turn their words into a plea for their Master to save them, but Mark gives us the unedited version, 'teacher do you not care that we are perishing?'. It sounds much more real to me. Is this not how we sometimes appeal to God – “don't you care God? Have you forgotten us or what?” Now Jesus responds and in fact fixes up the storm- rather to the alarm of the disciples who had not quite expected that- but from our point of view it is his words after that which are most relevant to our current situation. 'Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?'. His disciples then had only the evidence of a few months of Jesus ministry to go by. As the church today we have over two thousand years of experience; of finding that again and again God in Christ comes to our aid, calms our storms, protects the ship. Yet Jesus question is just as fresh as ever 'have you still no faith?'
In our age, as in every age, the call to the church is the same - trust and do not be afraid. Do not spend your time worrying about the ship and the storms. Keep your eyes on Jesus and follow his example of trust and relaxation. Open yourselves to the possibilities of a life without fear, not just as individuals, but as a community of faith. Such a life encourages in us generosity - the kind of generosity that does not attend so much to its own perceived needs for safety and security as to the potential it can see to bring change and transformation to those around. So in these coming weeks as we approach our Thanksgiving Festival in August, I urge you to look outward; to consider the things that we can do as a parish both locally and overseas if we are generous with our money, our time and our talent. Let's not give in to the fears that might deter us from giving more generously. Rather let us remember that Jesus speaks a word of calm to every storm, and encourages us constantly to let go of fear and embrace faith. In the name of Christ. Amen
by Penny Jones, for Pentecost 4, Year B