Last week's sermon

Here is last week's sermon – I've got myself behind in uploading things.

Here is the text:
The gospel reading can be read in two ways. Well, at least two ways, I dare say that there are more. I'm going to describe them to you and I want you to think about which comes most naturally to you. Once we have thought about that, we may be able to face some of the big questions, that I have just described.

This morning seems to be a morning for boating stories – so here is one of mine. I remember a June evening some ago – I was away on holiday, sailing with my friends who have a boat. And I remember hearing the forecast come on the radio. Winds force six to seven, eight for a time. And even as I stand here now, I can remember what it felt like to hear those words. Force six to seven, eight for a time.

Those words meant that we had to run for the relative safety of a loch. Put down the anchor and wait for the night to pass. And I can remember the wind. Force six, force seven, maybe force eight for a time. And I can remember the boat hurling around its anchor. And I can remember feeling sick even though we were not going anywhere. And I can remember looking out increasingly often as the night went on, to check how close we were to the nearby rocks.

And I remember trying to sleep in the midst of the storm. And I remember this story coming to mind, of Jesus in the boat. And I can remember myself, desperate for it to be over. Praying for peace.

And that is the first way of reading the story – to take it at face value. The disciples were in a boat. They got into trouble on the water. They were frightened. They were anxious. They turned to Jesus who said – peace be still and even the wind and wave obeyed him.

But what about another way of reading the story? On a calm June evening this week I saw the sea, and I was thinking about this text for Sunday. And there was a gentle breeze and the sun was shining. And as I thought, I thought, "how could I ever believe that God could calm a storm? Storms are a part of the life God has given us – he couldn't stop a storm just because I asked him to."

And as I turned this over, I thought to myself, perhaps it was a story that the disciples told years later to remind themselves of what life was like when Jesus walked with them. Whenever life was hard. Whenever there was a struggle, whenever they felt blown about, they only had to turn to him and everything seemed calm. When I was safe, I was able to see this story as an allegory of life. Whenever we need calm and peace, all we have to do is call on God.

So there we are – two different was in which I have thought about this story. Which one was right?

Which one comes most naturally to you this morning?

I wouldn't like to say which one was right. Each interpretation is possible. Perhaps it just emphasises that we have to build up our repertoire of bible stories and call on them when we need them.

In our first bible story this morning, we read of someone for whom the storms of life were raging within. Saul had what we might call in our euphemistic age an anger management problem. His rage was violent. His emotions knew no calm. He is a reminder that sometimes those whom God knows themselves know no peace. Religion guarantees no immunity from torment. And it felt as though God had departed from Saul and he was jealous of David.

The mental illness that Saul suffers makes him unbearable. The strife and torment, the raging storm inside him is something all of us will know either in ourselves or someone we know.

What clues are there as to what to do about it?

For Christians, turning to God is a part of our response to trouble. But I think we need to wise up and get real about what that means. For that can seem all too pious.

Turning to God sometimes means turning to God’s presence in other people. Turning to God in the stability of friends and letting them shield us from the storm. Turning to God sometimes in looking for help from a therapist or someone to accompany us through trouble as a pilot nudges a ship into safe harbour. Turning to God when the storms of life rage inside us sometimes means turning to modern medicines created by people in whom God’s creative spark was active as they have studied and developed things that can sometimes be what we need to put us on an even keel once again.

For Christians turning to God is a part of our response to trouble, but we should not limit that to simply sitting on our own beseeching God to help us. Sometimes that is a part of our experience and sometimes peace and meditation and prayer can help. But God is alive and in the world in people other than ourselves and that is sometimes where we need to look for help.

Turning to God to search for peace is a part of the answer to storm force emotions. For peace is part of the promise. Peace is what we bid one another at the beginning and the middle and the end of our liturgy. And peace is the hope in the beginning, the middle and the end of all our emotions.

Turning to God was what the disciples did in the boat. And Jesus said "Peace be still!"

And I find it easy to imagine Jesus saying that "Peace, be still!" but I find it harder to work out whether he was speaking to the sea as Mark suggests, or to the disciple who was fearful.

And as we turn to God, we do draw closer to the one in the boat who was able to sleep through the storm unafraid.

There is someone to speak to. There is someone to cry to. There is someone who knew what it was like to walk this earth. To live, to weep, to hurt, to suffer, to mourn, to die.

And as we draw nearer to Jesus – the sleeper in the boat we may discover the quiet power of God. Calm in the midst of the storm, a voice coming from the whirlwinds of life saying over and over again – Peace,… be still.


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