Storm on the Lake
Luke 8.22-25 & Matthew 8:23
The Atlantic crossing was extremely rough, gales blew. The ship rolled and was in real danger of sinking. A man clung to a mast to keep from being flung into the sea. Waves soaked his clothing and he trembled and feared for his life. That man was John Wesley, going to serve as a missionary in America. As well as experiencing great fear, he felt ashamed. He was an ordained minister, an Oxford don, on a mission to bring the Gospel to the Indians of South Carolina. But he was filled with fear in the face of death.
Looking across the deck, he saw a group of German Christians, members of the Moravian Church, singing hymns of faith and praise to God. In his journal for January 1736, John Wesley wrote: "A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterwards, “Were you not afraid?' He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not the woman and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No, our women and children are not afraid to die.” In that moment, John Wesley realised that up until then, his had been a dry-land, fair-weather faith. In his panic, Wesley had only focused on his current danger and the nearness of death. He lost sight of God's promises, he had forgotten that Jesus should be at the centre of the life of faith.
In our Gospel reading we heard how the disciples cried out to Jesus. He was asleep, he didn't seem to be attending to their situation. But the cry was not only about their fear of drowning. There was faith that Jesus cared about their plight, and that, though he was no sailor, he was their salvation from the dangerous situation they faced. Jesus quietened the storm and the panic of his disciples - but they were also very, very shaken by his authority over the storm. Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?
Anyone who sails is aware of the power of wind and water, and has a well-founded fear of storms. Storms feature in several psalms especially in psalm107 (verse 29) which says "When in distress I cried to the Lord, the storm sank to a murmur and the waves of the sea were stilled". Jesus had stilled the storm. He had the power of the Lord God.
As we read through the Gospels, the authority and power of Jesus becomes more clear. His hearers remark that "he speaks with authority and not as the scribes", and often Jesus said "You have heard it said, but I say to you" challenging the old-time rules and beliefs. Jesus demonstrated his authority over the storm, and over disease and evil and death.
Now, I am not trying to tell you that Christians can go through life in a comforting bubble of protection because they trust in Jesus. But the meaning of the story is not that Jesus stopped a storm in Galilee two thousand years ago, the meaning is this, that wherever Jesus is, the storms of life lessen. When the cold wind of sorrow blows, there is calm and comfort in the presence of Jesus. When there is fierce anger or war, there is peace and security with Jesus, when the storms of doubt seek to uproot our faith, there is steady safety with Jesus.
There is a story of a small northern village, where a teacher had been telling the children the story of the stilling of the storm at sea. Shortly afterwards there came a terrible blizzard and snowstorm. When the school closed for the day, the teacher had to drag the little children through the storm to their homes. They were in very real danger. At one point she heard a little boy say, as if to himself; "We could do with that chap Jesus here now". She must have been a wonderful teacher to have made the Galilean story so real to the children. And Jesus was with them, in the form of the teacher and her strength and commitment, as she got all the children safely home.
The great Evangelist John Stott once said, “When you are tempted, treat it as an opportunity to do something good.” Of course, I don’t mean something good for ourselves, like eating a bar of chocolate! When the storms of life, whether great or small, rage around us, and we are tempted to feel fearful and that God is far off, look around for something good we can do. For example, when we are tempted to put someone down with a cutting remark, we have the opportunity to think for an extra second and say something kind instead, which may surprise everyone. When we are tempted to feel lonely and fearful, remember there are always people who need our prayers, or a visit or phone call, and do something about it.
Jesus, who had authority over the storm, and over evil, and disease, and death in his life time, is still with us. Not to banish all problems, but to be with us, strengthen and comfort us, and sometimes to redirect our thoughts, so that, in the storms of life, when we are tempted to be discouraged, we may treat it as an opportunity to do something good.
Maureen Lampard, Licensed Lay Minister
From the Heart
Suppliers of greetings cards, chocolates and red roses will be celebrating this weekend. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and for weeks the tills have been ringing joyfully. Although St Valentine is officially on the Church calendar of saints (He’s down as St Valentine, bishop and martyr) Churches rarely celebrate St Valentine these days partly because, among so many different stories about him, it’s difficult to distinguish fact from fable. There are actually at least half a dozen saints with this name, the stories varying from a priest who secretly married couples, a soldier, a bishop who really impressed Emperor Claudius but fell from favour when he tried to convert the Emperor. One tradition has Valentine, imprisoned for his Christian faith, falling in love with his Roman gaoler’s blind daughter. He sent her a letter, which miraculously restored her sight and signalled the conversion of the gaoler and his family to Christianity. The letter was signed, “From your Valentine”. Whatever the facts, a Christian saint is now firmly associated with love. How appropriate, since that’s what the good news of Jesus Christ is all about!
The Heart’s role in Jesus’ teaching:
Today’s extract of Jesus’ teaching is sometimes referred to as ‘The Beatitudes’ i.e. the blessed attitudes, and they are about giving hope to his disciples who had left everything to follow him; so they were poor, needy and grieving over what they had left behind. But this passage may be an extract from the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s Gospel known also known as the Beatitudes. And they are all about what’s in one’s heart and what ensues from love in one’s heart. For God is love and his love is for all of us; and through us for others… “significant others” or not!
Perhaps those Valentine hearts should remind us that the core of Jesus’ teaching is about the heart. He stresses the importance of what goes on inside us: our thoughts, our feelings and not just our outward appearance and actions. Our attitudes to God and to other people are what define us as Christians.
What we may not appreciate is that this concept would have been seen as scandalous, as it was believed that one was blessed by being obedient to the Laws given through Moses: blessed with long life, health and wealth. But when legalism replaces love in religion it becomes dark. When there is no compassion or mercy or forgiveness or kindness in religious practice then evil takes over. Such instances as the Inquisition, the burning of those accused of witchcraft, the burning of Catholics, the expulsion of Jews from this nation and antisemitism in the church are all such examples. And, of course, the torture and crucifixion of Jesus is the most poignant reminder of the awful consequences when love is missing from religious practice.
As Jesus put it, ‘Love, is the fulfilling of the law.’ Of course, the Mosaic Law was meant to be an expression of God’s love for his Covenant people in which justice, fairness, hospitality towards the stranger and respect of one’s neighbour are foundational principles. And the two great commandments to love God and one’s neighbour as oneself are enshrined in that law (in Deuteronomy). Sadly somehow, a heartless application of that law came into being and was systemic amongst the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. We have to be so careful not to become slaves to the law – legalistic in religious application, rather servants of its loving purpose.
It is, perhaps, wise then that the Church of England has given us guidance rather than rules during the pandemic restrictions, so that each church could interpret that guidance locally through the application of the law of loving one’s neighbour. In fact, it is this law of love that has guided our decision-making throughout these recent challenging times, and I pray, will continue to guide us always as we go forward.
Back to Valentine’s Day. If we turn our attention away from the cardboard hearts to the ones that beat inside us, we have a better chance of developing good relationships with one another as human beings. Each of our hearts was created by a loving God who values us all and gave us the capacity to love our neighbours and thus to become more like God. The whole of the Bible is a love letter from God. Its entire message can be summed up in those three little words: I love you. Jesus lived, died and was raised to new life for us, because God loves us. The Spirit breathes God’s love into our lives today.
Some of us may not send or receive a Valentine card, but every one of us can be sure of a love that will never falter: the love of God. How we respond to that is a matter of individual choice, but God shows his love for us in reaching out to us through His son, Jesus. Are you willing to respond to that love? Here? Now?
The Rev’d Hugh Ellis, Vicar & Team Rector
“Master, we have worked all night long, but have caught nothing”
It sounds like Simon Peter and his friends had been struggling to keep their business afloat (sorry!). Making a living from fishing, then as now, was a difficult thing to do.
And there were times when no matter what they did, or how hard they worked, no fish came. And when that happened there wasn’t enough to sell and there wasn’t enough for their families to eat. So sometimes they had to borrow money to make ends meet, but then they had to pay it back out of the proceeds of the fishing over the next few months, so they had even less money to live on.
So when the boats came in that morning to find Jesus there on the beach, perhaps they might be forgiven for a bit of hesitancy. They knew him, of course – he’d been around the village of Capernaum for a while. He’d spoken in the synagogue and healed a man with a mental illness. He’d even healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. So that was good…
So when Jesus told him to put out into the lake again and let down the nets they’d just cleaned, it’s not surprising Simon Peter protested – “Master, we have worked all night long, but have caught nothing”.
After two years of Covid, when we’ve had to suspend much of our activity as a parish and haven’t had a lot of energy to start new things in case they just got cancelled when the rules changed, perhaps some of you feel the same about All Saints. We’ve worked to keep our parish going, but it’s hard, and last year we couldn’t make ends meet. We know we need to address the concerns and needs of our town community too. We need to do some fund-raising, and we need to attend to our building maintenance, and we need to have time together to build each other up.
Yet, actually, some of us are finding it harder to get to church these days, and the demands of family and our day-jobs take up all our head-space so that we perhaps feel a bit like Simon Peter. I confess there are times I feel like that at the moment, too.
So what’s the Good News in the gospel this morning for us, then?
Well, look what happens next in the story. Simon Peter sees the look in Jesus’ eye. He sees, perhaps, confidence, hope, faith. And so he says, ‘Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets’. He makes the decision, and of course, when he does, the nets fill up to bursting with all sorts of fish. Enough fish to pay off all their debts. Enough fish to sell at the market. Enough to preserve for winter. Enough to feast on.
And he realises that his protest and his doubt were stupid. He realises that, knowing Jesus, he should have trusted. But his first instinct is to shy away. And of course that’s not the last time he would do that over the next three years he was with Jesus.
But rather than tease him, Jesus accepts him just as he is. Jesus calls him away from the nets to follow him. Jesus calls him by name, along with James and John. And they would become the core leadership team in the new ministry that was beginning and would be with Jesus to the end and beyond the end to a new Way that would become the church. And the people for whom they fished ended up not trapped in a net, but freed unto new life.
The nets full of all kinds of fish were a sign of that abundant life we lead when we follow Jesus, when we trust.
So now, in 2022, we are called once more to put down our nets as a parish and as individuals. And as we’re signed up to promote the full breadth of inclusivity, we want to welcome all to that abundant life.
So here’s a sign to remember that call of Jesus to us:
It’s a fish – and it’s a very ancient way that Christians used to recognise one another. One person would draw a curve on the ground, and if the other person drew the other curve they’d know they were Christians.
And those odd symbols in the middle? Well, that’s a word in the common Greek language spoken in the time of Jesus – Icthys. It means fish. So it’s a picture of a fish with the word fish on it. But there’s more…
Each letter of the word stands for another Greek word – “Iēsoûs Khrīstós, Theoû Huiós, Sōtḗr” – or Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. So you see, the fish was a sign about Jesus, and about what he has done for us – saved us. Saved us from ourselves like he did Simon Peter. Saved us into abundant life for our community.
The good news this morning, then, is that we can trust that call of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour as he calls each of us by name to follow him.
We may have been through a long night of fishing and catching nothing in our lives over the last couple of years. But now’s the time to push back out into the deep water and let down our nets once more.
As we do that, and do it more and more, I believe we will receive all that we need. We will grow more inclusive. We will see a surplus in our funds that we can share. We will see our community service work flourish. We will see our buildings mended and developed. We will feast together with our brothers and sisters in our town.
Derek Lancaster, LLM