The Second Sunday Before Lent
Sermon by By Christopher Ward
May I speak in the name of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, the forces that drive our weather must have had one eye on the Lectionary this week, I think! Not once, but twice, with Storm Dudley followed by Storm Eunice, ferocious gales have swept down upon us just as they did on Jesus and his disciples as they sought to cross the sea of Galilee. I understand that sudden squalls of the type described by Luke in our reading today are not unusual in the Sea of Galilee because the steep sided valleys of the area can channel and intensify the winds. In fact, I had a similar experience in the wake of Storm Dudley on Thursday as I walked along New Oxford Street towards Tottenham Court Road Underground station. As I approached Centre Point, I was suddenly hit by great gusts of wind as it funnelled round that building. It was certainly a bit of a shock, and I can easily imagine how much more frightening it must have been when the squall hit that small boat that day in the open water.
I will come back to the events of our Gospel reading, and some lessons they might have for us, but before I do so, I would like to reflect briefly on one theme which I think runs through each of our readings today, and that is the power of God. We didn’t hear the passage from Genesis, but it refers to part of the Creation story, including the creation of Man and Woman. The psalmist highlights several facets of God’s power, including his power to blot out sin; making fast the mountains; stilling the roaring seas; and creating the conditions in which crops will flourish. In our passage from Revelations, we hear of John’s inaugural vision of heaven, the magnificence and grandeur of which is an implicit recognition of the power of God. The passage is rich in symbolism, with the throne symbolising God’s authority over all things in heaven; and the precious stones – jasper, cornelian and emerald – symbols of God’s splendour, a facet of his power. And the twenty four elders and the four living creatures – the six-winged seraphs of the hymn Let all mortal flesh keep silence – continually acknowledge the power of the Lord. And in our Gospel reading, after the storm is stilled, the disciples’ question to one another, “Who is this, that he commands even the waves and the water, and they obey him?” points to one with miraculous powers, far beyond the powers of any human.
The story of how Jesus calmed the storm and challenged the disciples over their apparent lack of faith that they would be kept safe, told in our Gospel reading today, appears also in each of the other synoptic Gospels, albeit with subtle differences between the three versions. The core features, however, are the same. Jesus and his disciples cast off in a boat; Jesus goes to sleep; a substantial storm blows up; and the disciples, fearing for their lives, wake Jesus in a state of some panic, who then calms the waves. In Luke’s version, after he has calmed the sea, Jesus then poses to them a deceptively simple question, “Where is your faith?” and they “afraid and amazed” then ask each other, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey him?”
Jesus’ stilling of the waves will have had a profound impact on the disciples. It was a sign of Jesus’ power over ‘the deep’, for people at that time very much the ultimate symbol of chaos, and the home of the mythological sea-monster creature Rahab, and thus of forces alien to God. Psalm 89 describes this in these terms, “Lord God of Hosts, who is like you? Your strength and faithfulness are all around you. You rule the raging of the sea, calming the turmoil of its waves. You crushed and slew the monster Rahab, and scattered your enemies with your strong arm.” And it is worth bearing in mind that, earlier in the same chapter of Luke, Jesus had told his disciples, when they sought an explanation of the parable of the sower that he had preached to them and a large crowd of others, “it has been granted to you to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God; but the others have only parables, so that they may look but see nothing, and hear but understand nothing.” I am not surprised that they were both afraid and amazed – here was God revealed to them in Jesus!
But what might this passage be saying to us today? Perhaps we see it as an allegorical battle of our God over the forces of evil, in which our God triumphs. But what of the question Jesus posed to his disciples in the aftermath of the storm, “Where is your faith?”. In this case, the disciples’ lives were clearly in imminent danger from the waves swamping the boat, and their actions were those of the desperate. But I find it significant that Jesus did not pose a question relating to the specific circumstances, such as, “Did you think I would let you drown?”: he actually posed a question couched in general terms, “Where is your faith?”
I think Jesus was intending to send to his disciples a much wider message than one relating to the perilous situation in which they found themselves. God is not there for us just in times of physical or spiritual danger, a sort of celestial emergency service who helps us out when we are in a tight corner. No, God’s guidance, support and thus power is just as invaluable in guiding our day to day lives as it is for us when we face a crisis, as the disciples did on that storm-tossed boat. In fact, Jesus’ question goes to the heart of our relationship with him – as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “It is through faith that you are all sons of God in union with Christ Jesus” And we have heard today of the power within which this brings us.
So today, with Lent nearly upon us, as Fr Matt reminded it in this week’s message, I would like to invite you to ask yourself the question that Jesus posed to his disciples after he had stilled the storm, “Where is your faith?” and to join me in reflecting on it, as part of your Lenten devotions. Why? Because the answer lies at the very heart of our relationship with our God of power and might, the restoration, strengthening and renewal of which is central to our Lenten observance.
 Based on the Liturgy of St James