Job 38 1-11 ; 2 Cor 6:1-11; St.Mark 4:35-41
For Lutherans as for the disciples the experience of a fierce storm has an abiding meaning in terms of their lives and history of the church.
We know that the storm that radically changed the course of Luther’s life took place near Stotterheim on July 2, 1505. The happy go lucky law student was altered into a humble monk searching for God’s grace.
Luther had recently completed a Master’s degree and started his law studies at the University of Erfurt. He was on his way back to Erfurt after having visited his parents when he was caught in a terrible thunder storm a few hours outside of Erfurt. Lightning struck near him and he was thrown to the ground by the air pressure it created. At this moment he called to Saint Anne for help and promised her: “I will become a monk!”
Luther commented on this event later in his life. For him it must have had a lasting significance as part of other events in his life that had played a role in his decision to become a monk; events happening even before the storm and its dramatic consequences.
To his father’s disgust and anger, Luther honoured his solemn promise to St Anne; he had one last party with university friends on July 16 and the next day he entered the Augustinian Friars Monastery in Erfurt to become a monk.
The incident recorded in today’s gospel of Jesus’ stilling of the storm follows his teaching the crowds from a boat by the lakeside. His teaching as recorded by Mark is in the form of a series of parables of the Kingdom. (The parables relate to the miraculous presence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus, the One who tells the parables. All of Jesus parables are about Jesus and who he is; the One in whom the Kingdom of God has come, the One, the only One in whom God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. The parable of the sower and the farmer who sows seed and then sleeps and unbeknown to him the seed germinates and grows despite all the odds stacked against it produces a miraculous harvest.) The teaching concludes with the statement that, “With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything”.
Then we are told by the gospel writer, rather optimistically, that Jesus explained privately the meaning of the parables to the disciples in terms of the Kingdom present in the One who tells them the parables. They are parables of the kingdom, come in Jesus.
But there then follows the miracle of the stilling of the storm, in which the disciples are the only witnesses, but it is now revealed how little they had learned from Jesus explanation about the presence of the Kingdom in in the world in Him.
In the miracle which follows of the stilling of the storm we are intended to see dramatically the meaning of the parables they had heard together with the crowd but obviously like the crowd didn’t understand the truth of the reality of the presence of the Kingdom in Jesus personal presence.
In this miracle the disciples are confronted with the threat of water which in the Bible is the ever-present sign in creation of the chaos (the tehom) in Hebrew, “the deep” from which God called forth the earth and the dry land as part of the created cosmos. It epitomises that element in creation which is inimical, that is implacably opposed, to God’s purposes for humankind in relationship to God’s self. God’s triumph over this element in his work of creation is signalled by the presence of the firmament which shields the earth from the waters above the earth, and thus makes life possible on the earth; further God’s triumph is signalled by the rainbow after the flood and the everlasting covenant with the earth.
There is then, in the very last book of the Bible, The Revelation of St John, the vision of the new creation, the realisation of the promised redemption from all that is opposed to God’s will. And in the seer’s vision of this reality he sees alongside the abolition of death and crying; there is no more no more night and no more sea.
It is amid this element the sea, in its most frightening form, a storm, that the disciples find themselves in the boat with Jesus. If you look at this early church icon on the screen you can see how the first Christians saw the church.
The apostolic band, representing the church, are preserved, as Noah was preserved in the Ark during the flood, so the Ark of the church remains afloat in the tempestuous sea of the world, and is preserved by the presence and the action of Jesus.
The disciples are given to experience this dramatic parable of the Kingdom which is present in Jesus. In this incident written in the holy gospel of St Mark, we see how in the church, where this gospel was read, they understood the cosmic implications of the presence in the world of Jesus Christ. The winds and the waves obey His word. They understood Him therefore as the One who created the winds and the waves, the Creator of the world. In another context the holy Gospel of St John tells us the same thing in very different language in a context and a church that was different to that of St Mark: St John speaks in the language of the philosophy familiar to the Greeks. He speaks of Jesus as The Word who was in the beginning with God and without whom nothing was made that was made and that he, the Gospel writer, with others, beheld the glory of Christ identified as the only Son of the Father in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In these seemingly quite different ways the gospel writers in fact speak to us today of an identical truth in the form of the person of Jesus Christ who accompanies the church in its earthly pilgrimage towards the final consummation of all things in Him.
What are the practical implications of this gospel reading from the gospel this morning. Firstly, that the church and its ministry are made possible by the mystery that the resurrection of the crucified Jesus Christ was an event which opened up a future in time of unspecified dimension indicating that God does not will to set to right the creation, and in particular God’s relationship to humankind, without a response of praise and thanksgiving – an echo of thanksgiving – which reflects the truth of God’s life lived as a reconciled and reconciling fellowship – the Body of Christ in the world.
Secondly, that the cross of this same Jesus sees to it that Christians are in no position to make easy and cheap both the speaking about and the hearing of what they must attest – the Lordship of the crucified Son of God. No self-evident friendliness with which the church or Christians turn to the world can mitigate the uncomfortable fact that the glorious divine Yes of God spoken to all in Jesus, in Charles Wesley’s memorable words, “Thy sovereign grace to all extends, Immense and unconfined”; this essentially ‘good news’ never the less appears to be a word of judgment and rejection of all that the world holds dear. This word of the cross on the lips and in the lives of Christians disturbs the equilibrium of our lives and the life of the world in which it is uttered. So, Christians cannot expect their word of witness to be seen as directly illuminating, pleasing, acceptable or welcome.
The constraint of God’s call to the ministry of witness for all Christians is still a present reality which touches us all. It is same promised presence of the same Christ, who stilled the fear of the Apostles, that the church needs to keep constantly before it, to hear and take to heart. The church too often becomes filled with neurotic doubt about its future as the church, as if the church was like some business enterprise that may fall by the wayside in the race where only the fittest survive. The future of the church is assured not by the church but for the church, by Christ’s promised presence in Word and Sacrament. The church becomes befogged and befuddled by all its efforts that appear to bear little fruit; with its ‘strategic planning’ and its interminable and tiresome rounds of ‘consultation’. One can imagine the morning after the final judgment every church committee, every Synod, would resume business with a renewed sense of opportunity quite uninstructed and in no serous sense different to what it was before. The reality of the church that we experience is that we would rather place our confidence in some other person or thing than placing our confidence in, and believing our Lord’s promise to us all, “Fear not” (Matt. 10:31) We would rather believe it’s our ability that ‘manages’ the church’s future. For this sad to change we will have to learn the somewhat painful lesson that the disciples had to learn in their fear of the storm; this lesson is it is only God’s word, in the life and on the lips of Jesus Christ on his way to the cross who is able to deliver us from that fear. The same word spoken to the disciples in the boat “fear not” is spoken to us today by the resurrected crucified One.
The truth that the church must learn, albeit by painful experience, is that it is sustained through the changes and chance of history by the presence in its midst, albeit in the seeming silence and absence of the sleep of Jesus. The One through whom the world came to be, and who alone preserves its life. The one who promises his presence, with and for His people, in Word and Sacrament as the beginning of a new creation within the old. This secret, this mystery, is hidden, as Jesus was hidden though present with his disciples as he slept in the boat during the storm. Jesus’ call to discipleship today, in a far different world nevertheless involves all of us recognising the hidden but real presence of Christ with His Church in the and through the means He has chosen His Word and Sacrament as the central fact and source of our life.