Let us pause for a moment to give thanks to God in prayer:
Ever faithful God, by whose guidance
we walk by faith in a wondrous and mysterious universe,
increase now our trust in you,
that in the midst of the many things we cannot understand,
we may not doubt your love or miss your delight,
or fail to offer you our thanksgiving. Amen
This morning we have been blessed with the reminders that we are not alone in this ministry we share as members of the body of Christ, that each one of us has spiritual gifts to share, that we can be courageous in facing an unknown future and trust that Christ is with us to calm our fears and guide or way.
When the early Christian communities experienced persecution simply for being followers of Jesus, stories such as today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark reminded them that Christ would never abandon them and that he would always be with them in the turbulent challenges of life.
Followers of Jesus would have heard this story from those who’d been there on that frightful night. They knew that many of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fishermen who knew the Sea of Galilee well because their lives and livelihood depended on it. These were men who knew the risks of their profession and were accustomed to handling a small fishing boat in all types of weather.
It is helpful to know that the Sea of Galilee is a huge lake that is thirteen miles long, seven miles across and one hundred and fifty feet deep. Mountain ravines funnel cold air from the mountaintops and mix with the humid air at the water’s surface so that twenty foot waves can arise unexpectedly especially at sundown.
Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was teaching beside the sea and that such a large crowd had gathered that he got into a boat so that everyone could see and hear him.(Mark 4:1) When evening came, Jesus instructed his disciples to come with him and travel across the Sea of Galilee, away from the crowds, to rest for the night. As they travelled, a windstorm arose and their boat floundered. The experienced fishermen had trouble navigating the boat in the storm and became fearful for their lives.
Fear, I think, is a natural response to the conditions on the water that evening. The disciples’ experience had taught them many lessons about how to respond in crisis situations but they began to lose faith that they had the resources needed to ride out the storm. What they didn’t take into account was that Jesus was with them. They did not have to rely solely on their own resources to face the challenges of a storm-tossed sea. “Peace! Be still!”, Jesus said, and he calmed their fears as he calmed the turbulence that surrounded them. And then, Jesus asked them why they were afraid when he was with them all the time.
Christians throughout the centuries have remembered, with gratitude, the lessons from this story and the affirmation that Christ is with us in all the experiences of our lives. Through trials and tribulations, doubts and sorrows, anxious and exciting times we can turn to Christ who tells us not to fear for he is with us always.
This past week, has been a difficult time for me, and my family. I left in a hurry to travel to the Coast to be with my mother and although I had prepared the Order of Service for this Sunday I hadn’t yet had a chance to think much about the gospel story for today. I was surprised when I returned home to read the story and realize how much it related to my recent experience.
Facing an unknown future is challenging at the best of times but when an unforeseen personal storm arises it takes firm resolve and deep faith to face it. I wasn’t thinking particularly about today’s gospel story when I was sitting with my mother during her last days. But, when I arrived and I realized the seriousness of the situation, I remembered that God was present and Christ would guide us and that gave me strength and courage.
I reminded Mom that she was surrounded by love and that she didn’t need to be afraid; that she could rest and let go and trust that God would carry her safely home. In the midst of the turbulence of heightened emotions around us there was a sense of being sheltered with a deep and abiding peace.
I was as grateful as I’ve ever been, that I have a deep faith that was an anchor to hold onto. Bits of scripture wisdom and songs of faith came to mind that comforted and encouraged me. I shared these with Mom who was also a person of faith and I believe these, and the love of her family surrounding her, eased her journey.
The story of Jesus and his disciples on the storm-tossed sea, reveals Christ’s calming and faith-filled presence. This reminds me of some of the other ways that Christ’s presence is shown to us in ordinary yet extraordinary ways. We know that Christ is with us: when we feel the warm embrace of a loved one when bad news comes; when we hear the uplifting laughter of a small child when the world seems grey and lonely; when we sense a presence that comforts us that we cannot adequately explain but we know is real; when we experience the strengthening support of our community of faith in all the joys and sorrows of our lives.
It is no coincidence that early on in the formation of the Christian Church that a small boat with a cross-shaped mast was adopted as a symbol for the Church. This symbol, inspired by stories such as the one we heard today from Mark’s Gospel, reminded Christians that in all the storms of life that Christ is with us. Crucial to the church, then and now, is the conviction that Christ guides our way in good times and in challenging times.
Remembering Jesus and his disciples’ experience in rough waters reminds us that we are often called to leave the safety of the shore and venture into unknown waters. The gospel stories tell us that Jesus called his disciples to follow him and trust that he would never abandon them. Sometimes it is a strain to hear Jesus’ voice calming our troubled waters. Sometimes we get so caught up in the frenzy of the storm around us that we even forget that Jesus is in the boat with us.
One of my mother’s favourite hymns was, “Jesus, You Have Come to the Lakeshore” (Voices United # 563) I sang what I remembered of the words to her while I was keeping her company last week. Yesterday, when I was thinking about the gospel story for today and the challenges we face as people of faith, the first verse and chorus of this song came to mind. They seem to me to be particularly significant when we consider our continuing journey of faith and our commitment as followers of the Way of Christ. I offer these words as an affirmation of Christ’s call and our affirmative response as people of faith:
“Jesus, you have come to the lakeshore
looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;
you only asked me to follow humbly.
O Jesus, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas.”
(VU563, v1 and chorus)