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