I have just preached my sermon for the second time today having set. 6am alarm in order to write it. Although I did my reading and preparation on Tuesday, on Thursday when I was due to write it I was ill. Friday was my day off, and I was still feeling unwell. Saturday was a very full day with a training event followed by a pre-funeral visit and online night prayer. I was in no mood to write a sermon on Saturday night. However I did read through my notes etc before going to bed in the hope that it would all fall into place in the morning.
I kept waking up in the night thinking of how I might preach. It didn’t take much writing up as I already had a fair idea of what I would say.
The first preach was at All Saints communion where the congregation is elderly (except for a granddaughter (about 20yrs old) who attended too) and all with several years of church attendance under their belts. This afternoon I preached at St Giles’ Evensong, where there was a bit more of variety of age including a family who had come to hear their banns being read. Some may not have been attending church for many years. So I approached that preach by taking a more relaxed informal delivery, and may have skimmed over a few bits – but not many.
The choice of first reading varied too because of the hymns the organists had chosen. The first had gone with the themes of the Revelation reading whereas the other had gone with creation. I had prepared without reference to Revelation but when we got to church I asked for that one to be read and inserted a reference to the sea, which represents chaos and evil, not being present in the new heaven and earth in Revelation 21.
Second Sundaybefore Lent
Genesis 2.4b-9, 15-25 and Luke 8:22-25
We have had some stormy weather the last couple of days. I hope you haven’t suffered any damage to fences, trees or roofs. A reminder of the forces of creation. We can’t control the wind. We may be able to capture it and turn it into electricity, but we can’t tame it. Creation is powerful. More powerful than we are.
Today’s gospel story is the well-known account of Jesus calming the storm. It is told slightly differently by Matthew, Mark and Luke, with Mark’s being probably the most well known as it has the most detail. But I want to stick with Luke’s because the way he tells it reflects how it fits in with the flow of his gospel and the emphasis he makes. This morning I want to think about faith. Jesus asks his disciples, Where is your faith? That’s a challenge for us too – where is our faith, or put another way, what is our faith?
Let’s go back to the miraculous catch of fish and the calling of the first disciples that we had a few weeks ago (Luke chapter 5). Luke records them fishing all night and catching nothing. Then Jesus joins them and after following his instructions they catch a huge number of fish. This miracle, understandably, fills them with awe and Peter’s reaction is also one of fear. He exclaims, Lord, get away from me I am a sinful man. Jesus tells them not to be afraid but to follow him. So they do. Just like that! What a trusting response! What faith! No ifs and buts, they get up and go, leaving livelihoods and family behind.
Most of us do not have such a dramatic start to our journey of faith as a Christian. Can you remember when you decided to follow Jesus? Or is it lost in the mists of time? Looking back I am sure you can see that, like the disciples in the bible, you had lots to discover.
Luke tells us what they saw Jesus do.
Healing a lepper, who when he saw Jesus, begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ 13 Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him.
Next some people brought their paralysed friend on a mat, lowered him through the roof to Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend,[i] your sins are forgiven you.’ 21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? Jesus then told the man to get up and walk. He did. The people were amazed.
There are some encounters with the pharisees and questions about the sabbath. Some more healings, the 12 are chosen, teaching about putting into action Jesus’ words.
Then a Centurion recognises Jesus’ authority to heal without even being present. And Jesus commends him saying “not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Jesus raises a dead man, to the astonishment and fear of the crowd who presume a great prophet has arisen among them.
When John the Baptist sends messengers to check out Jesus, we are told that Jesus is the one Israel’s been waiting for.
A sinful woman anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. His reaction is to forgive her sins, which again causes consternation among the observers. He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
Next comes the parable of the sower and being told that Jesus’ family are those who hear the word of God and do it.
What can we surmise about faith from all this?
What would the disciples have learnt?
- acknowledging our sin
- not being afraid
- asking or even begging Jesus to act
- acknowledging Jesus’ authority over sickness
- worshipping Jesus
- hearing God’s words and putting them into practice.
After all that, one day, they are in a boat on the lake. Jesus falls asleep. Luke doesn’t waste any words on describing the storm. He gets straight to the point:
A gale 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!’
The double use of Master is used by Luke whenever there is an encounter with Jesus involving power. He instantly woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.
Only God could do what he did. In the beginning when God created the world he set the boundaries for the sea and the mountains. We have Psalm 65 today with those themes of God’s power over the sea. It is also in psalm 89, which I am sure the disciples and the first readers of Luke would have recognised:
O Lord God of hosts,
who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
Your faithfulness surrounds you.
9 You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
Jesus has the same power over creation as God. It’s no surprise then that the disciples 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?’
This is even more amazing than the catch of fish. For the Jews, the sea symbolised danger and evil. And Luke strengthens the point by telling us what happens when they arrive at the other side of the lake. Jesus casts out a legion of demons from a man. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’
Luke leaves his readers in no doubt. Jesus has the same power as God. I wonder sometimes if we forget Jesus’ power. Have we tried to tame him? Have we made Jesus like a friendly big brother and God a doting grand-dad?
In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the children ask about Aslan. For those who don’t know, Aslan represents Jesus in this allegorical story. They are unsure what to think. Should they be afraid?
“Is he—quite safe?” asks Susan.
“If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” says Mrs. Beaver
“Then he isn’t safe?” asks Lucy
“Safe? . . . Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.” Mr. Beaveradds.
Like the disciples, we have all had a journey of faith, of discovering who Jesus is: his power, his love and his challenges to our comfortable lives.
After he has calmed the storm he asks ‘Where is your faith?’ I wonder where he put the emphasis. I wonder if he was thinking of all the others, those who had not decided to follow him, and their faith, and making a comparison with the disciples.
Faith is like a muscle – use it or lose it – the more you exercise faith the stronger it gets. When we live with faith in Jesus we can trust in his care. We may get tossed about in the storms of life, the events that threaten our peace and equilibrium, but if we are like the seed planted in the good soil rather than the rocks or the weeds, then we will continue to grow and produce fruit. We will survive the storms.
James writes in his letter to the church:
2 My brothers and sisters,[b] whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
The future we face is uncertain. The planet is threatened by climate change. Perhaps we should call out, Master, master we are perishing. Perhaps we should take the authority Jesus has given us to pray for change.
The future of the church is uncertain. Covid – another force of nature we have had difficulty controlling, has impacted us probably more than we realise.
We are an elderly congregation doing our best to reach out to younger people, encouraging others to come and know Jesus, to follow him. It isn’t easy, there may be storms and difficulties ahead, things that some of us don’t particularly like or enjoy.
But we need to trust in Jesus, maybe not fully understanding, but desiring to do his will.
Christian faith isn’t just about certainty of who Jesus is – God’s son. Christian faith is about putting it into action in our lives, asking him to guide us, trusting in him, obeying him each step of the way through good times and bad.
I am grateful to Ian Paul’s blog which added to my understanding of this passage. In particular showing the differences between Luke and the others. Apologies for not inserting all the bible references – I just copied across from my document.