Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stilling the Storm...and Shouting at the TV.

Mark 4: 35-41 Jesus Calms a Storm

It’s been pretty stormy recently, hasn’t it? The weather has been pretty awful, all across the country. I know its been windy in my garden, because my bird table blew over! We warm southerners have had it pretty easy though, haven't we...compared to the blizzards and floods that other parts of the country have been having.

It’s been pretty stormy on the stock market too, hasn’t it. We’ve had banks that have gone into receivership, or public ownership. We’ve had billions of pounds wiped off the value of shares. And most importantly, we’ve seen a rise in unemployment, with no immediate prospect of any new jobs being created. I know that some of you have been affected by that too...either directly, or by knowing people close to you who have lost their jobs.

There’s a story in the Bible, that we will hear a little later, about the time that Jesus and his disciples went out in a storm. It was a proper ‘hoolie’ - battering waves, and gale force winds. Incredibly, Jesus was asleep in the front of the boat...snoring away through the chaos. His disciples woke him up, and said “Rabbi! Don’t you care if we drown?!” Jesus reaction was to stand up, and speak to the winds. “Quiet! Be Still!” And immediately the wind died down, and it was completely calm. Then comes the sting in the tale. Jesus turns to his disciples and says “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

This story, and so many others like it, are put in the Bible to challenge us. Sometimes we get a story of Jesus’ mastery over human stilling a storm, or healing the sick, or raising the dead, or feeding the hungry. Sometimes we just get a simple saying from Jesus - like “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden...and I will give you rest”. All of these stories and sayings are pointing to one great big challenge. It goes something like this... “Trust me. Put your faith in me. I can control the winds, walk on the water, and raise the dead. Don’t you think I’m up to coping with your problems too?”

Now, we have to be careful here. We mustn’t fall into the trap that some people do...the trap of believing that if we have enough faith, God will solve all our problems, and give us each a gold Rolls Royce into the bargain. God doesn’t work like that. If he did, the millions of starving Christians in Africa - who pray every day for God’s help - would have food on their table.

No. What God does is far deeper, far more subtle - and ultimately far more wise. God moves our respond to one another’s needs. A world in which God miraculously interfered with every human tragedy would be a strange world indeed. It would be a world in which human beings would stop growing and developing....we would stop learning to do things for ourselves...we would stop filling the God-given potential that is inside of each one of us. A world in which God miraculously interfered with every lost job, or tragic case of poverty, would be a world in which we would not need to look out for one another. Generosity, giving, sharing - would all be unnecessary. There would be no need to give to charity, no need to spread love, no need to look out for our neighbour.

And what would the result be? We would become people who had forgotten how to love; and who didn’t understand the sheer pleasure of giving. We would be people who would only need to look out for our own needs...we would be become takers, instead of givers. We would be grabbers, instead of sharers. I might even suggest that we would become the very kind of people, the ones who are paid millions of pounds by Barclays, or Lloyds, or the City of London...the ones who have caused the very economic crisis we now face. If God miraculously intervenec in all human tragedy, every man, woman and child would only be interested in what they could get for themselves...not how much they can give to others. Our growth into being all that we can be - releasing and discovering everything that it means to be made in the image of God - all of that would be gone. We would be stunted, unimaginative, self-centered, self-absorbed echoes of what it means to be fully and completely human.

So, when Jesus says “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden”, or when he says “Take my yoke upon you”, or when he says “Why are you so afraid; Do you still have no faith?” he is inviting us to discover, with him and through him, what it means to be fully developed, human beings... people who have discovered what it means to be made in the image of God.

The protection from the storm that Jesus offers is protection from the very worst of is protection from the sinful, selfishness that we are all capable of. By his transforming the very power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus offers us the chance to become more and more like him...and to still the storm of our own hearts.

One way in which he stills the storm is to offer us forgiveness...and the chance to start again. One of the joys of being a follower of Christ - a Christian - is the joy of knowing that however much we have failed, there is forgiveness, healing, and the promise of new life...

So let us turn to God together, in the words of this confession...and seek the forgiveness that is freely offered...

Lord Jesus, we confess to you that sometimes we forget to share your love with others.
There are many things we wish we had done for others - but somehow never got round to doing.
There are many things we wish we had not done - which have hurt others, and you.
Please forgive us and free us from our sins. Help us to lead a new life following in your footsteps. Amen

Absolution:Almighty God, who created you in his image, so that you might reflect his glory, and live out his divine life, forgive you and free you from all your sins. The Lord transform you, so that you may grow more and more, day by day, into the likeness of Christ. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

So...what have we established? We’ve established, I hope, that Jesus is willing, and able - by the power of his Spirit - to transform our lives, and the lives of the whole world....if we will only let him. If only, after 2000 years, the world had listened to Jesus’ simple call to love God, and love our neighbour. What kind of a world could this be.

Do you ever shout at the TV screen? You know what it’s like. You are watching a quiz...maybe that awful, soul destroying thing called the Weakest Link. Anne Robinson asks a question. A simple question...because any question that you know the answer to is simple...isn’t it? “Who was the captain of the first Starship Enterprise?”. You know the answer. It’s James Kirk. But then the stupid, ignorant peasant on the TV screen says something utterly incomprehensible. “It was Captain Spock, wasn’t it?”. “NO!” you scream at the TV. “How could you be so stupid? How could you not know that most basic piece of Sci-Fi history. It was Kirk!”

Sometimes I imagine Jesus as being a bit like that. After all, we know he lost his rag with stupid people, from time to time. He turned over the money-changers’ tables, accusing them turning his father’s house of prayer into a den of thieves. He turned on the Pharisees, many times...calling them a ‘brood of vipers’ and ‘whitewashed tombs’...clean on the outside, and full of death and decay on the inside. So its not too great a leap to imagine Jesus, right now, saying the world of high finance and international banking “NO! What do you think you are doing? How could you possibly imagine that you could sit there, grabbing all the world’s resources for yourself, without imagining there would be consequences.”

Just like me, watching the Weakest Link and saying “If only they had listened to me!”, I have a picture of Jesus watching the world with sadness and perhaps even anger. He sees people messing up their lives, or messing up the lives of others. He’s calling out to them, through their consciences, through the church, through the pages of scripture, through priests and prophets. He’s calling out and offering his help. But the world doesn’t take a blind bit of notice. The result? The world much. The world rejects God, and God’s ways, in the endless, ceaseless quest for more stuff. When all along, God just wants to make their lives SO much more fulfilling...SO much more meaningful...SO much more complete.

So, at the end of the day, it comes down to a choice. How are we going to choose to live. Do we choose the way of God, or the way of the world? Do we choose the way of sharing, of the way of getting more stuff? Do we choose to become more and more fully human...more and more like Jesus...or more and more like the shadowy echo of real humanity that the powerful men of the world seem to generate?

The choice is ours. The choice is yours. But if you will let him...Jesus offers calm in the storm.


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