June 20: Are you storm struck?

Rev Neil Whitehouse-croppedRev Neil Whitehouse Sermon
June 20: Are you storm struck?

Readings Job 38:1-11, Mark 4:35-41

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
But they’re really saying I love you.

What a wonderful world.

As we heard last week, it is common and natural to find God in the good things of nature. Today we find how God is also met in the storm.  But not just met. Being storm struck, for the gospel, is more than survival, it is to find life and death are One: a Love, beyond being itself.

How did you hear the Gospel story? (What for you are the key points)

What questions does it raise for you? The gospel story is much more than a miraculous event revealing the identity of Jesus Christ. Its important to listen to this: when people say ‘I don’t believe all that Bible talk in church’ they think of stories like this.   And if you want to keep understanding this story as just a miracle that may or may not have happened, I would agree with them, but this is to miss the point. Listen.

It is not a one layered story of a miracle. (I urge you to give up this reading. So what – what value can it have?) Listen afresh: first thing, is that it draws on earlier ancient stories: did you notice the words of the Psalm we took, resonating as Mark’s Gospel was read today.   And what of the strangeness of Jesus being asleep in the boat, not so strange if its reminding us of Jonah, another prophet who announced God’s forgiveness, Jonah 1:4f Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and was fast asleep when God brought a storm.   And why does Mark tell us Jesus said said be Calm to the sea, while Lukes version has lake?   In Mark, he presupposes the connotation of the sea as chaos, threat, danger.

This makes the resonance with the passage we heard from Job, all the more obvious. God replies to Job, the man whose faith is tested by one calamity after another, who has finally broken ‘when I looked for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness…(30:26) that is Job’s despair, only to have God reply without addressing his questions, God takes Job to the Big Bang scale of creation, including the sea:

‘This far shall you come and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’

So we acknowledge more is going on in this story. Now if I point out to you that this is one of four journeys across the sea Jesus makes, that the journeys were between west and east shores and the two going east, were always stormy, while the return journeys were not. That going east was going from Jewish to Gentile territory, what does that suggest to you? The story tells us about the early church as well as Jesus.   Mark knows the storms of going as followers, ‘other boats were with them’ into Gentile lands, for this is the time and place he is writing in.   He knows that Jesus appears to be sleeping, because in fact dying for Jesus continues, from Stephen the first martyr on, including almost all the disciples.

There is also a surprising sharpness in the words of Jesus to his disciples, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? (This is either to imagine the disciples who were fishermen were cowardly, or to make us realise, no they had not yet faith, not the faith that was going to come when they finally grasped who Jesus was, as if it were not already in their heads, ‘who is this that even wind and sea obey him’, so were they stupid or is Mark telling us in pointing to the moment, this slowness, or even hardness of heart, falls away) When was this moment?

Look to Jesus’ dying and death, not to his miracle working, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son’ says the Centurian and his being raised, ‘they fled the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them’.

In this stormy miracle story we are being drawn into the power and purpose of Mark’s gospel. or as Amos Wilder put it, we are witnesses, to the ‘massive reality of cosmic transformation evoked by Jesus’ The Storm strikes!   I like the conclusion of Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man) who claims you cannot know Marks gospel unless you commit yourself to follow; it is empty to undecided readers, but a radical manifesto for a new world for those who trust and act upon it.

Get in the boat!

Someone aquainted with storms was Julian of Norwich (1342-1430?), who was a spiritual counselor then solitary nun in Norwich, England a mystic who experienced at least 16 unforgetable ‘shewings’ or revelations. Here’s one of her most famous passages, from Revelations of Divine Love. It was at that time that our Lord showed me spiritually how intimately he loves, us. I saw that he is everything that we know to be good and helpful. In his love he clothes us, enfolds and embraces us, that tender love completely surrounds us never to leave us. As I saw it he is everything that is good. And he showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, ‘ what is this?’ And the answer came, ‘ It is all that is made I marveled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate: it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, ‘It exists, both now and forever, because God loves it’ In short , everything owes its existence to the love of God.

Julian goes on to see deep meaning: God is Maker, Keeper and Sustainer but to truly find rest we have to be detached from what is created, to know God who is true rest. She even calls us to see how little this creation is, as she saw it as small as a hazlenut! When I tell you that Julian was born in the time of the black death, hitting her city in 42,62 and 69 when up to 1/3 of the population perished, whole communities including monasteries would disappear, this sense of the love of God is extraordinary.   This is no complaint of Job, something new has come. Julian is not alone.

A great theologian of the 60 and 70’s Paul Tillich, re-expressed the nature of faith, as the Courage to Be, and he wrote this about being the Church. A church can mediate a courage which takes doubt and meaninglessness into itself. It is the Church under the Cross which alone can do this, the Church which preaches the Crucified who cried to God who remained his God after the God of confidence has left him in the darkness of doubt and meaninglessness.   To be..in such a church is to receive a courage to be in which one cannot lose one’s self and in which one receives one’s world.’ (final chapter).

Storm struck, yes, to cry out, in natural fear of death and loss, but fear not, Peace be Still, is the power over chaos, power to take in doubt and meaninglessness. It is being and beyond all being. Julian names it as Love. It is our inclusion in the realm of God, the greater reality beyond death, that lets us make courageous choices today, to follow Christ, to bring God closer in this daily life. All this from Mark’s story, not a one layered miracle story with a silver lining to the storm clouds, but a sign to where our real treasure lies.

All this is felt too in the magic of Louis Armstrong singing, aquainted as he was with slavery, racism, 2 World Wars, broken marriages, organized crime, illness and loss, he still sang:
I hear baby’s crying and I watched them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world.

We wonder at beauty and are amazed at life, the ordinary is extraordinary when we open our eyes and hearts to know it. Equally in the storm, we find chaos has its limits: evil is defeated, because our being is already in God. Are you storm struck? It is a wonderful world.