Jesus with us

A Sermon by Revd Katherine Hedderly

Readings for this service: Genesis 2. 4b-9, 15-end; Revelation 4; Luke 8. 22-25

We are living in turbulent times. Jean-Claude Junckner, President of the European Commission said this week. ‘When it comes to Brexit, it is like being before the courts or the high seas; we are in God’s hands. And we can never quite be sure when God will take the matter in hand.”  Whether it is in our uncertain and turbulent political times or in the floods, earthquakes, storms and droughts of our natural world, that seem at times to be chaotic, indiscriminate and beyond our control we often feel we do not have the power to say ‘Be Still.

Contrast this with some of the images we have in our readings today.  The peaceful order from Genesis, a garden planted by God, trees pleasant to look at and good for food, animals and birds created so that humankind should not be alone.   People made from the earth and one another, living in mutual regard; unselfconscious and at ease with each another and with God.  The story of creation here emphasising a need for a home, freedom, food, harmonious relationships and a stable natural environment and above all, a closeness with God and a partnership in creation.

A creator God who trusts humankind and in spite of the risks involved, chooses to allow a share in the creative process that shapes the future.   An environment that seems to be inviting us to know God and his creation intimately.

In our passage from Luke, again God in relationship.  The disciples sail on the lake, Jesus sleeps in the boat – a blissful picture, a very human Jesus exhausted, wiped out, at peace.  God incarnate, laying down his power, risking, trusting and placing himself in his disciples’ hands.

Both speak of intimacy, peace and trust, not chaos or devastation; the intimacy of the garden, a metaphor for the relationship with God that we long to come home to; the peace of the scene before the storm – a picture of trust, of Jesus who lays down everything to be with us.

But that element of chaos and devastation are not far away and are woven into both.  A storm rocks the peaceful boat trip, threatening their lives and revealing the chaos of deep doubt and lack of faith of the disciples.  Whilst in the garden the tree of good and evil suggests temptation, which will bring separation, storms and eventually a rift between God and his people.   Our relationship with God and with the natural order is shot through with doubt and chaos. These echoes of turbulence and uncertainty are felt in our current life together in our society – in an awareness of rising nationalism that unsettles us.

When they get into the boat, Jesus suggests to his disciples that they go across to the other side. Perhaps he knew that there would be a storm, but even so he sleeps, not unconcerned, but trusting completely in the Father, who he knows is with him in all that will come.  It resonates with his command to Peter when he first gets into his boat, earlier in chapter 5 of the Gospel; ‘Put out into the deep water…’ We journey with Jesus from somewhere that is safe and known to somewhere other that is outside our experience.   Each of us is in that boat.  And each of us will have some experience of the deep water and storms that life has led us into.

This week I listened as others spoke about God as a Higher Power in the context of the 12-step programme and the deep water and storms that addiction presents.  What seemed to be at the heart of what they were saying was the humble admission that they were not alone in their struggle.  Friendship and mutual support was at the centre, the source of their strength and courage and love.  The desire to help one another along, acknowledging weakness and fear, was a lifeline that sometimes literally meant hauling each other back into the boat when things were rough.

How do we deal with this rift and place of doubt, and experience of chaos?  What are we doing when we literally get on our knees in the middle of storms and earthquakes, devastation and doubt, the uncertainties of our national life together just now, in our boat, and pray?  We are seeking a way to come back into relationship with God and to know him – even in this.  What our Gospel encourages us to do is to look at our own faith and how we are with God when we are in the rough, chaotic, uncertain, even dangerous place, not just when things are simple, life is going well and there is calm.

As we prepare for Lent this week and next this might be a good place for us to reflect – on our own faith as it is uncovered in testing times. Like the disciples we might well find it wanting and Lent could be for us a time of strengthening and reengaging with Jesus, who is with us in all things, even in Brexit.

As he stills the storm Jesus brings order out of chaos. He embodies the power that in the Old Testament only God could have.  We hear that power described in psalm 107: ‘He brought them out of their distress, he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.’  Jesus’s action in the Gospel embody the saving act of God in the Exodus as he liberates, preserves and protects his people.  What God had done through Moses, God is continuing to do through Jesus.  Jesus bridges that gap of chaos and fear – and he finds the disciples huddled in the corner of the boat.

The disciples fear because they do not truly know who they have with them.

Perhaps they recognise Jesus’ vulnerability but they do not know the extent of the power and strength that he also holds and his capacity to bring peace and order and hope, and something endlessly new out of brokenness and suffering and the disorder of our natural world. He is intimately bound up with creation but he is also Lord of creation.  Who is this?  It is the only one who has the power in the midst of it all to say ‘Be Still’.

We can think that we can cope on our own, and wonder too where on earth Jesus is.

Like the disciples in Mark’s version of this story we might want to shout out Don’t you care, and find it hard to recognise this Jesus who comes with power. Until we realise that, as we kneel and pray we find him, in his humanity and his strength, kneeling alongside us.

When we let go and allow Jesus to find us in the storm, often through the care and friendship of others, through the coming together of those who are prepared to hold fast to all that is good, and allow ourselves, in that place of doubt and chaos to be know by him… then we find stillness.  The storm is still there – perhaps for quite some time ahead.  But at the centre there is something that is steady and life giving.  The calm and peace and authority of the one who literally sleeps in our boat.  Who offers us an invitation to ‘be still and know God – in storm and flood and temptation and rocky patches, and the loss of loved ones, or in the difficulties of our work, or in the turbulence of our own mental health perhaps, or the uncertainty about our future together in Europe…and all the many frustrations that threaten to drown and overwhelm us.

Jesus comes to us, completely vulnerable, alongside us, suffering with us and in doing that holds open the place for us to know God and find ourselves in relationship with him in the stillness of his love and authority.

Many of you know I am soon to move house and start a new ministry. That brings in quite a few of the stress factors, moving, leaving friends and this beloved community, the challenge of being in a new environment, all at the same time. I went on a few days retreat a couple of weeks ago. The best part of that retreat was the silence and companionship of others.  Eating in silence, sharing space, taking time to reflect on scripture, to notice the change of light, to watch the snow falling and then to go out and walk in it, to go to the Eucharist each day, to wait on God in stillness. It was a stilling of the turbulence around me, and a way to know Christ alongside me in the boat.

In the turbulence of these weeks of Brexit negotiations and uncertainty about what the future will hold, we look for God’s abiding presence, and Jesus with us. And we will each have situations in our own lives where we are seeking peace.

In the centre of the storm, Jesus offers himself into his Father’s hands, sleeping in the boat.  Completely trusting and loving his Father, offering us the gift of his humanity, the Son of God, tired and exhausted.  Creator and created.  Stiller of storm and flood and earthquake – in amongst the waves and storm, here to bring new life.

We do not have the power to still storms and earthquakes, in the natural world, in political life and in our own confusions, but we can have faith to know that God meets us in them, suffers with us, and bridges the chaos and the doubt, holding in his life beside us a relationship that is endlessly creative, endlessly loving, endlessly abundant.

What does that tell us about the identity of the one alongside us. He is the one who is truly at the centre of our lives, the heart of all creation, the one who holds it all and brings us life and peace.

Be still my soul, the Lord is at your side.