Jesus stills a storm
The boat is keeling over. The sails are flapping furiously. The waves are crashing over the deck. The water is pouring in. And the fishermen (experienced men of that stretch of water) are certain that they are going to drown….
Everyone on board is bailing furiously pulling down the sail and doing everything that they can do to stay afloat…everyone that is except for one person….Jesus is asleep (according to Mark’s version of the story) in the stern…
The disciples wake him up and they say to him ‘Master, master, we are perishing’.
Jesus wakes up, rebukes the wind and the raging waves and they cease….and there is a calm….
Then Jesus turns to the disciples and tells them off ‘where is your faith?’ he says.
This has always struck me as a rather harsh response. Almost unreasonable.
Here are the disciples, who are experienced sea farers (not exactly novices on their first sea outing) who know that they are in serious difficulty and are likely to drown and Jesus tells them to get a grip. Not just to stop panicking…he challenges them on their faith….
It seems a bit tough. ‘What has their faith got to do with it?’ we might ask.
There are two points to make:
Firstly, this story tells us who Jesus is.
Secondly, this story tells us the approach to take to the crises in our lives, however serious…..
Firstly, who Jesus is.
Perhaps the disciples still didn’t get it. They thought, perhaps (like many people think today), that Jesus was a great religious teacher and a wonderful healer.
But they hadn’t actually understood who they had with them; in the boat.
I suppose its not entirely surprising that they should not get it. Even though they had seen the healing miracles; they had not yet seen the Resurrection.
But even great Christian leaders, people upon whose leadership the faith of thousands has rested, even they sometimes haven’t understood this in the past.
John Wesley, who was once an Anglican vicar of a fairly traditional bent, was in 1736 on a journey by sea to Georgia, then one of the British colonies in the Americas. H was travelling with some German Christians, called Moravians.
He was astonished by the behaviour of these Germans, during a storm at sea. The Moravians were holding a service on deck….Here is Wesley’s account (in his own words) of what happened next:
‘In the midst of the psalm …the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English.
The Germans calmly sung on.
I asked one of them afterwards, “Was you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.”
I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”’
Wesley was very taken by this Moravian example. He described his own faith, in comparison, as a ‘summer religion’ a fair weather thing…..
After his return from America, it was at a meeting of the Moravians in Aldersgate Street in the City, that the penny dropped about his forgiveness of sins and his relationship with Jesus and he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’.
As a result, a Christian movement was born disparagingly called ‘the methodists’ (known as ‘enthusiasts’). A movement which had such an effect on the whole of early industrial England that some historians claim it stopped a French style revolution happening in Britain.
The penny had dropped, from seeing the reaction of the Moravians, even their children, in a storm at sea.
Wesley had seen that the Moravias knew who was in the boat with them.
And the disciples, in our story from Luke, also see who is with them in the boat: that the creator of the universe, the person who made the stars and planets; the person who set the seas and clouds in their place and at whose word, they would just cease their raging….that person was with them in the boat.
In many respects, the disciples journey of faith is like our own. We can hear again and again that Jesus is ‘one of the trinity’ which makes up God, the creator of the universe. And it can be just words: ’blah blah blah blah blah blah’ and we switch off and think about lunch….
And then something happens in our lives. A penny drops and we realise that God is in the room; that God is with us in the boat; the person who made you, the person who made me, the person who brought life to this hulk of rock hurtling through space that we call our home; the person who set the universal rules of the way that the world operates, of how the weather works of how the seas rage, and can, if he chooses at any time, suspend those rules.
We get a sense of the awe which the disciples felt when they saw this when they say (verse 25) ‘who is this that He commands even the winds and the seas and they obey him!’
So, firstly, we can learn that Jesus is GOD.
Secondly, we can be assured that God, that Jesus is with us throughout the most stormy times of our lives. Jesus is in the Boat with us. God is in the Boat with us. And that he has plenty of power to change our situation, if it is his will that it changes….
Surely there cannot be anything more frightening than the prospect of our own death. It puts all other worries in the shade. That must be the ultimate of the stresses that we face, whether we are in a sinking ship or if we receive a challenging diagnosis which puts all our other worries in the shade.
Like the English on the boat going to America, the disciples are terrified that they are going to drown.
We might be frightened of any type of death that might be coming round the corner for each of us, whether its sudden or slow impending death, is a scary thing.
We fear the moment of death, we fear the pain that may come with it and we fear the loss of those that we love.
But for Christians, like the Moravians, there should be a confidence in a future beyond death which will be so wonderful that some have been beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of it!
Apparently when Henry Venn, who was a leader of the Clapham Sect (which in the 18th century organised the abolition of slavery) , when he was told that he would die within a fortnight that fact transported him into such joy and excitement, that he lived an extra three months!
You see I think that Jesus is entirely capable of changing our situation whatever storm we are facing, even the worst of all storms, the prospect of imminent death. Even if we are facing death, he still has things that he needs us to do for him. We can use our final years, months and weeks to make a difference in what ever circumstances we face.
Next month, in Itchen Valley News, I am writing an article on ‘Dying Well’. It is inspired by the work of John Wyatt who is Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at UCL.
He sees the way that we face death as providing opportunities, including opportunities for spiritual growth unlike any other time of our lives.
Now I know this is difficult to hear, and you will need to read the article to form a view on whether you agree, but, as we face catastrophe, the story of the disciples on the Lake of Galilee that we have just read and the story of Wesley aboard the boat with the Moravians shows us that if we can see that God, the creator of the universe, is with us, with us in the boat, if we can see that God is with us in the catastrophe we face (even though we may feel as we call out to him that he is sleeping), we can know that whatever the result we have a wonderful future ahead for us with him.
And then we will be able to face even the worst storms of life, even those leading to death with an entirely different attitude
And calm will be restored.
Jesus Calms a Storm
22 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, 23 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. 24 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. 25 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?”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 8:22–25). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.