Collect for Trinity II
O GOD our defender, storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid.
Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Old Testament lesson:
1 Samuel 17, Vv 57 - 18, 5 & 10, 16
2 Corinthians 16, Vv 1 - 13
St Mark 4, Vv 35 - 41
‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ We heard these words of Jesus in our Gospel proclamation. They came at the end of a simple story in Mark when Jesus suggested to his close disciples that they should go across the lake to the other side. They were beside the Sea of Galilee where he had been teaching a large crowd. So large was this crowd, so Mark tells us in the preceding chapter, that it almost threatened to push Jesus off the beach into the sea. To solve this problem he sat in a boat at the water’s edge and taught the people from this makeshift pulpit. Those who been to this part of Galilee tell me that some sections of the land above the beach, in places, form natural amphitheatres. I am also told that some guides still get into small boats and talk to their groups, to show how easily it is for everyone to hear what is being said. So that day passed. Jesus’ parables were, that day, based on agricultural themes, for the most part. His listeners heard the parable of the sower and later used the analogy of the Kingdom of God being like someone who scatters seed on the ground. We also read that many of those who listened did not fully understand what they were being taught. In almost every case Jesus had to interpret the parables for his close associates. The words of chapter four from just before our reading said, ‘he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples’.
At last the day was over and, we may presume that the crowds went to their homes. This was neither of the occasions when, according to Mark, Jesus fed them, in numbers of five thousand and four thousand. So, they set off across the lake. Our reading said, ‘leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was’. This may have been the boat from which he had taught the crowds or it was more likely a fishing boat belonging to one of the disciples. We are told that other boats were with him. The Sea of Galilee sits in a large hollow basin surrounded on most sides by high hills. It is a not uncommon meteorological feature for high winds to sweep down from those hills and create storms on the lake. I am told that the house on Inch Kenneth, earlier home to the Mitford family, has a concrete roof firmly held on with steel bands because earlier roofs have been lifted off by winds sweeping down from the high hills at Gribun. Such winds can cause very serious problems. We may assume that the disciples, certainly those who had been fishermen, and that was at least four of the twelve, would have been familiar with the waters of the lake and its propensity to turn stormy. Was this occasion an excessive storm, beyond the normal? We don’t know. We are told that, after the exhaustion of a day spent teaching and explaining, Jesus had taken himself to the stern of the boat and was asleep on a cushion. The boat was suddenly tossed about by a savage storm. The others aboard were so concerned that they woke Jesus up, and said, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ Did they awaken him so that he could be better prepared to react to the trouble in which they found themselves? Or, did they need his help to haul in the sails and prepare what might have passed for life rafts? I suspect that they did not wake Jesus up to get the storm to abate. Yet, that is what happened. ‘He woke up and rebuked the wind.’ Mark does not tell us that Jesus slowly came to his senses, spent some time assessing the weather conditions and wondered what to do about it. No, he woke up and rebuked the wind. More than that, he rebuked the sea and said to it, ‘Peace! Be still’.
It can be argued that Jesus planned this all along. He had spent all day trying to explain the Kingdom of God to his band of simple men. An understanding of and belief in the Kingdom of God is all a matter of faith; there are no tangibles, no absolutes, no physical certainties, no unquestionable attestations and no conclusive proof. So, was Jesus putting his friends to the test? Did he conjure up the storm to test their reactions; to see if they would ignore it because he was with them? I don’t think so. While Jesus undoubtedly had faith sufficient to remove mountains, he did not use conjuring tricks to instil faith in those around him. Our gospeller, Saint Mark, only makes passing reference to the temptations that Jesus suffered at the hands of Satan immediately after his baptism, but both Matthew and Luke give us full details. Satan suggested to a hungry Jesus that he turn stones into bread, but Jesus refused. He proposed that Jesus should throw himself from the highest pinnacle of the Temple, just to prove that angels would save him from a violent death. Again, Jesus refused. He refused to have anything to do with such knavery. It was not his mission to put God to the test but to trust him implicitly. So, Jesus did not quieten the storm just to impress his followers. Still less did he conjure up the storm to that end. A quite natural freak of the local weather developed while Jesus was a guest, asleep on the cushion reserved for such travellers, at the rear of the ship. He was obviously exhausted physically from the exigencies of the day spent teaching. The roaring wind and the mounting waves did not disturb him. When he was rudely awakened by his friends he wasted no time in wondering what to do. He took immediate and decisive action. He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Be still!’ Later in his gospel, Saint Mark quotes Jesus saying, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain. “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you’. Jesus obviously believed what he taught. He understood that, as the saying goes, ‘faith can remove mountains’. His instructions to the wind and the waves were no idle suggestion. He was the Lord of sea and sky; he was the creator of all things. In the power of the Holy Spirit and at the will of God the Father, he, Jesus, had created all things, from the beginning of time itself. He had command over the elements and he saw no reason to let his friends, nor those in other boats, suffer from the ravages of the weather. Be still! The storm did not just abate, the waves did not just reduce. Saint Mark tells us that the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.
Jesus then asked the others in the boat why they were afraid of the storm. Had they no faith? In fact, he said to them, ‘had they still no faith?’ One gets the impression that the disciples had been passive observers of the wondrous works that Jesus had performed. Immediately after calling his followers to join him in his ministry he had exorcised a demon, cured Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever, cured a leper, made a paralysed man walk again and healed a man with a withered hand. Apart from this he had taught the multitudes that flocked to his side and had generally fallen out with the authorities, mostly, it seems, because he healed on the Sabbath. Just what the relationship was between Jesus and his disciples so early in his ministry cannot accurately be gauged. I have no doubt that they were overwhelmed by his miraculous powers and I am sure that they would have been much happier in the boat in the storm if Jesus had been awake and observing the changes of the weather with them. But, he was asleep. How could he have authority over anything if he was asleep? It comes as no surprise to us to find that, in Saint Mark’s words, ‘they were filled with great awe.’ ‘Who was this,’ they asked, ‘that even the wind and sea obey him?’ What can we learn from this pericope, this fragment of Holy Scripture? Sunday be Sunday we hear a few verses, albeit in some sort of structured sequence. Yet, how often our preachers only have time to concentrate their thoughts and those of their listeners on the verses for the day, thus totally missing the continuity of the narrative. Having safely reached their destination, on the other side of the lake, Jesus was met by a demoniac whose name, he said, was Legion. You will remember that Jesus caused his unclean spirits to enter into a herd of swine, which promptly ran down the hill into the sea and were drowned. Taken together these two stories tell of a powerful and commanding figure who at once can take on the forces of nature and the evils associated with his fellow man.
Why did Mark include this story of the storm and its abatement? To get an answer we must spend a moment looking at the origins of this gospel. It is thought to have been written by John Mark, a fellow traveller with Saint Paul. It was probably written in Rome in about the year 64 when Nero was emperor. Christians were being subjected to massive persecutions – you may remember that Nero blamed the Christians for the fires that destroyed much of the city in that very year. Both Saint Peter and Saint Paul are thought to have suffered martyrdom for the faith in the following year, both in Rome. Mark would have wanted to give his readers, fearful, frightened readers, some knowledge of the power and authority that was to be found in this Son of God whom they worshipped and for whom many were expected to die, often the most cruel, ruthless and inhumane deaths. What better way than to stress the power and authority that this Jesus that they worshipped had over everything. No only did he heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead to life, he had authority over the very elements of nature. He could, and did, control the weather; he calmed the raging of the storm. Surely such a Saviour had power and authority to receive their souls into his eternal and everlasting kingdom if they had to die for him.
We live in a part of the world where there seems little likelihood that we shall be called upon to die a martyr’s death. This is, of course, not so in other parts of our warring and hostile planet. But, however we die, whether peacefully in our beds, or by martyrdom for the faith, we will know, from our understanding of Mark’s words, that the creator of the universe, the Son of God who still holds power and authority over all aspects of that creation, will welcome us home, just as those terrified sailors on the lake, in their turn, arrived safely on the other side.
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