Second before Lent – Jesus calms the storm

Sunday 24 February 2019

Rev 4, Luke 8:22-25

May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, having literally just returned from a week on a boat, I always love to hear stories about Jesus going sailing.

As we know, Jesus was not a fisherman.  By trade he was a carpenter or builder which meant that he must have spent most of his time on land.  Some of his disciples, however, were fishermen, presumably used to sailing their boats around the lake or the sea of Galilee.  The water, you would think, is their element.

As soon as they got onto the boat to sail across to the other side of the lake Jesus went for a sleep.  It is a big body of water and little sailing boats don’t go very fast so it could easily have been a two or three hour trip.  Jesus took the opportunity for some R&R.  If you think that being a Christian means constant activity then this, in itself, is worth remembering.

And he obviously needed it, because he slept soundly.  So soundly, in fact, that he continued to sleep even when the weather turned nasty and they were hit by a sudden squall.  Remember that it is quite unlikely there was an inside cabin on this boat, Jesus was probably sleeping in the open.  But despite the wind and the rain lashing down he continued to sleep.  I was going to say he continued to snore away, but that is not actually in the text and it may be a serious sin to accuse Jesus of snoring, so let’s just stick with him sleeping in the wind and the rain and the boat being thrown around.

In fact the boat wasn’t just being thrown around, it seems the waves were sloshing in over the sides, filling up the boat from the inside so that they were in danger of sinking.

And those who are sailing the boat, who I can only presume were the professional fishermen, appear to have no idea what to do.  They don’t take down their sail to stop it getting destroyed, we don’t hear about them trying to bail the boat out or keep the bow into the wind to stop the boat being knocked down.  These fishermen seem to be fair weather sailors indeed.  They are panicked and overwhelmed by this storm.

Can anyone recall an Old Testament story involving a storm at sea and someone in a deep sleep?

Jonah – when Jonah ran away from the call of God he boarded a ship heading in the opposite direction and a storm blew up which threatened to break up the ship.  Whilst the storm was raging it seemed that Jonah was downstairs asleep, this was a much bigger boat built for crossing the Mediterranean.  The captain of that ship woke up Jonah and said: “How can you sleep?  Get up and call on your God!  Maybe he will take notice of us so that we do not perish!”

There is a similar hint of panic in the voice of the disciples as they wake Jesus up:

Master, master, we’re going to drown.”

It is interesting to note what Jesus didn’t do.  He didn’t pray, he didn’t do as Jonah was asked to do and call on God.  Instead he took direct action and we’re told that Jesus rebuked the wind and the raging waters.  Jesus sometimes rebuked demons, he sometimes rebuked his followers but now he is rebuking the very elements themselves – he is telling off the wind and the water for being so silly and to calm down.

And calm down they do.  At the rebuke of Jesus, peace is restored, they are out of danger.

But Jesus poses them a challenging question: “Where is your faith?”

Perhaps this brings to mind another story of Jesus and a boat in a storm – when Peter started to walk the water, emulating Jesus, but he started to sink when he took more notice of the wind than of Jesus and he reached out and said: “Lord, save me!” Jesus did save him, but also rebuked him for doubting and not having enough faith. 

What did Jesus mean – if Peter had had more faith that he could have done the same as Jesus?  If the disciples in the boat had had more faith then they could have stilled the storm themselves?  That is certainly the implication.  Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to simply be reliant on him, he wants to give them the agency to do the works he was doing, but that could only be done through their faith.

So the faith of the disciples wasn’t perfect, as our faith is often not perfect.  But on both occasions they had sufficient faith to call on Jesus to save them, and he does so. 

When Peter was saved from the waves the reaction of the disciples was , “Truly you are the son of God.”.   Today’s reaction is perhaps slightly more muted and directed at each other, rather than at Jesus:

Who is this?  He commands even the winds and the water and they obey him.”

Of course, the answer is the same – the one who rebukes the elements is the same as the one who created them.  Although we are not strictly in the season of Epiphany, this is an epiphany moment for the disciples.  Jesus is not merely a sleepy carpenter who is good at preaching love and healing people.  The disciples are coming to a realisation that this person whom they follow has something of the very essence or substance of God about him.

As the disciples’ minds are lifted up to God by this epiphany moment, so our minds are also lifted beyond the elements of wind and water in these sea-going stories into the very worship-life of heaven in our reading from Revelation. 

Although much of Revelation can be a challenging read, this particular chapter is something of a joy as we encounter something of the worship life of heaven and, if you were listening carefully, you will have heard phrases from our own liturgy which, although a pale shadow of the worship in heaven, is at least a shadow of something timeless and awesome. 

If the disciples in the boat were overwhelmed first by the storm and then by the enormity of who Jesus really is, then it should be no surprise that we should also be rather overwhelmed by the descriptions of this heavenly worship. 

The one sitting on the throne of heaven is as brilliant as gemstones and the glow of an emerald surrounded his throne like a rainbow. 

If we are ever tempted to dumb God down and make him fit into a box of our own making then we would do well to remember this image of glowing magnificence. 

The reaction of all those gathered around the glowing throne is pure worship –the 24 elders lay their crowns, those symbols of worldly wealth and office, before the throne and they worship God saying that he is worthy of worship because he created all things – which reminds us why Jesus could rebuke the elements because he created the elements.

And then we have the mysterious living beings, also seen in the prophecies of Daniel, who may be seraphim and whose faces are often represented as the four different gospel writers, who sing the Sanctus, the eternal song of heaven:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty – who was and is and is to come.”

We are reminded today that we are not followers of a carpenter who simply wanted us to be nice to one another.  When we seek to follow Jesus we are actually seeking to follow God himself, who is able to rebuke and calm the severest of storms.  Yes, he wants us to call on him when we feel overwhelmed and distracted by the storms of this life but he also wants us to do more than that – to have sufficient faith that we can be lifted up into his life and do what he would do.  And finally we are reminded that this story is not merely an earth-bound story, that we are part of something much bigger, more eternal and more heavenly than we can possibly imagine. 

Today we participate in the song of heaven, but one day we get to take part in the real thing.