Tag Archives: storm at sea

FEAR and FAITH (Proper 7B)

Richard Trench was the Archbishop of Dublin at the end of the 19th Century.  In the last two years of his life he fought with great courage a progressive illness that left him increasingly paralysed.

 

kw266354

 

As a guest of honour at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London, he was seen to be growing increasingly disquieted until someone asked if he felt well enough to continue.  ‘It has come at last’ he sighed, ‘complete paralysis of my lower left-hand side. I have been pinching my leg and cannot feel a thing.  And yet with Christ as my companion, I shall endure it with courage’

At this point, the lady sitting next to him leaned across and said ‘Your Grace, would it help you to know that it has been my leg you have been pinching for the last quarter of an hour?’

–ooOOoo–

Many people have been helped by the prayer of serenity:

 

 

SerenityPrayer22

 

 

However, the prayer does not go far enough in realising that the Lord is with us in our situation.

Our Bible story today tells of a storm at sea.  The disciples were panic stricken, but Jesus slept through it all.

The first point to note is that Jesus was with them in the storm – he was with them in the same boat, as the strong winds buffeted the sail and the waves were crashing over the side. And he is with us in the storms of life.  He never abandons us.  He cares about us and our situation.

What a terrible thing it was that the disciples said to him ‘Don’t you care that we are about to die?’  And Jesus replied, ‘Why are you frightened?  Have you still no faith?’

 

Rembrandt_Christ_in_the_Storm_on_the_Lake_of_Galilee

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, 1632.

 

We think of doubt and unbelief keeping people from faith.  Perhaps, more often than we realise, it is fear.

The fear of the disciples in the storm was an unbelieving fear – Jesus didn’t care about us, they thought

–ooOOoo–

When St. Paul was being taken prisoner to Rome, he was caught in a violent storm which was so bad that Luke recorded ‘We finally gave up all hope of being saved’ (Acts 27, v. 20b)

Then one bleak morning Paul came out and said, “Take heart!  Not one of you will lose your life; only the ship will be lost.  For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship came to me and said ‘Do not be afraid, Paul!  You must stand before the Emperor.  And God in his goodness to you has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you’ So take heart, men!  For I trust in God that it will be just as I was told”  (vv. 22-25)

Paul was trusting in ‘the God to whom I belong and whom I worship’ All of us can take heart – all of us will be safe.

 

paulbay

 

But we too have to have the courage of our convictions.

A family was on holiday in a remote cottage.  There was no electricity and no running water.  The only gas was from a camping stove.

At bedtime, the young daughter was extremely brave about going upstairs with her mother by the light of a candle.

But a puff of wind blew the candle out, leaving them in total darkness.  The little girl was afraid.

“I’ll go back downstairs to get the matches” said her Mum, “but don’t be afraid, Jesus is here with you” “But Mum” replied the daughter, “Can’t you stay here and we’ll send Jesus for the matches?”

It doesn’t quite work like that!

We are called to live by faith and not by fear.  Living by faith means that, while we may not know the details of life, we can be sure of the outcome.

We can live by faith – for we know that God has promised to be with us.  His grace is going to be sufficient for us.  His Word will guide us.  His Spirit will be within us with enabling power.  Let us live, then, not in fear, but in faith in him

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Sermon preached on 18 August 2013

http://www.dumfriesnorthwest.org.uk/index.php/sermon-18-august-2013/

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Power

Into_The_Storm

 

 

Sleeping Through Storms: Rethinking Theodicy, Natural Disasters and God’s Omnipotence

May 28, 2013
by: David R. Henson

Creative Commons Copyright Mike McCune
God is not all-powerful.
At least, not in the ways we tend to define power.
For us, power means that we get our way, that we can impose our will upon the world around us, that we can conform others into our images in order to achieve unity and security. In our minds, we equate power with control, sovereignty.

So, when the world spins out of control as it did in Oklahoma this week, and at the Boston marathon a month ago, and at Sandy Hook Elementary six months ago, we begin to wonder what happened to this all-powerful God to whom the skies and seas and nations are supposed to bow.
Are the heavens really declaring the majesty of God when an E-5 tornado destroys an entire town?
Only the most deranged and pathological of leaders suggested in the tornado’s wake that God was in control of the situation or was somehow, ultimately, responsible for the deadly twister. That includes, apparently, folk like John Piper and our own president, who seemed to imply that the tornado was a part of God’s plan. I’m sorry, but tornadoes are not part of God’s plan. Most of us can admit that without losing our faith, just like we can admit that God isn’t really calling the shots when it comes to jet streams, weather patterns and 200-mile-per-hour winds.
Instead of attributing the destruction to God, we tend to reassure ourselves that, in spite of it all, God is with us in the destruction, with us in the suffering, weeping with us. What we imply in this, but don’t often say, is that, deep down, we know God is not in control. And secretly, we give thanks for that. Naturally, we then ask where exactly is God in the midst of tragedy and suffering. This existential question doubles as an unconscious and fragile prayer of thanksgiving and relief. While we may feel desolation and alienation from God in the midst of great natural disasters, we also feel grateful — hopeful, even — that God isn’t orchestrating all the pain and destruction in the world. It is a relief not to be worshipping a God who sends tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, disease, and pestilence. It is a relief not to pray to a God who indiscriminately kills children with the same heavens which declare God’s glory.
God is not in control of the weather. Thanks be to God, God is not in the business of controlling anything.
But if God isn’t in control in the midst of such destruction, then who is? Something more sinister? Maybe something more dangerous than a sinister being. Perhaps no one — and nothing — is in control. It is a scary and disorienting thought to begin to consider God isn’t our bodyguard protecting us like the divine Secret Service from the suffering and tragedy in our world.
We find this idea jarring because I think we misunderstand what divine power is. God doesn’t control the weather, because that isn’t the nature of God’s power. God’s power is something stranger, more paradoxical.
God’s power is in the giving up of power, in the act of disarming divine omnipotence in favor of covenant and relationship with creation.
God’s power is in the act of becoming empty (kenosis), in becoming one of us.
God’s power is in incarnation and immanence, not omnipotence and distant transcendence.
In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us that when we see him, we see God. There’s a popular aphorism based on that notion, suggesting the radical nature of the Christian faith is not that Jesus is like God, but that God is like Jesus. And Jesus is in the business of emptying himself of power to the point of utter alienation and forsakenness by God. So what if God is indeed like that, like Jesus?
But, you might argue, there is a story in the gospels about Jesus and his power to control the weather. And it’s true. In the gospel of Mark, a terrible storm rises on the sea, threatening to swamp the disciples and the boat they are in. They are terrified, undone at the prospect of capsizing and drowning. They are baling water from the boat, struggling with wind-whipped sails, hanging on for their lives.
Jesus, meanwhile, is sleeping.
“Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they finally shout at him to wake him.
Jesus rebukes the wind and commands it to quiet down. “Peace! Be still,” he says, and it is a rebuke directed as much at the disciples as it is at the wind.
The disciples marvel at his power, asking, “Who is this, then, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
We are like the disciples. We want God to calm the wind and seas. We want to shout at God, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you see we are perishing? Don’t you see so many of us — children, even! — have already perished? Wake up, God! Stop sleeping when we need you most!”
Like the disciples, we believe the power — the divine — is in the ability to control things. We assume, like the disciples, that the miracle is in Jesus rebuking and calming the storm.
But if you notice, Jesus only reluctantly uses his power. He doesn’t seem to want to do anything. He wants to keep sleeping! He goes so far as to rebuke his disciples for even asking for his help. He calls them faithless. This storm-calming power isn’t the kind of power Jesus came to demonstrate. Rather, it is the exact kind of power Jesus came in order to give up, to empty himself of. It is the same power he rejects when he refuses to throw himself from the pinnacle when he is tempted in the desert, the same power he turns down when he refuses to kneel before the Adversary, that same superficial power that controls earthly things.
As much as we might like, this isn’t a story, I don’t think, about Jesus’ ability to control the weather. He is bothered to do it and is bothered that his disciples even asked. This is a story, rather, about how little we believe God to be with us in the midst of an overwhelming storm. It’s about how, deep down, maybe we don’t really believe that a God-with-us is actually enough. It’s about how what we really want is a God who is in control. And it is an indictment of the disciples and of us.
I don’t really think the miracle in this story is about Jesus calming the storm and taking control. The miracle in this story is that Jesus with the disciples in the water-logged and weatherbeaten boat, experiencing the same terrible storm, the same terrible waves, the same terrible danger.
And that alone should have been enough.
God’s power isn’t in the control of creation or of people, but in being in covenant and relationship with them. It isn’t in imposing the divine will or insisting on its own way but in sojourning with us as we fumble around and make our way in the world. God’s power is not in miraculous interventions, pre-emptive strikes in the cosmic war against suffering and evil, but in inviting us to build a kingdom out of love, peace and justice with God. God’s power is not in the obliterating of what is bad in the world, but in empowering us to build something good in this world — even if that is something as small and life-changing as constructing storm shelters at every public school on the tornado-strewn plains.
And isn’t this true power? Instead of enforcing control and solutions onto the world, God’s power is revealed in coming alongside us, journeying with us, suffering with us, and even staying with us in the boat when the storms come.
The omnipotence of God isn’t about having all the power. That’s would turn God into an insecure narcissist. Rather, the omnipotence of God is in the sharing power.

 

storm at sea

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Sermon preached at Glasgow University Chapel – “Medical Sunday” 3/12/2000

  • Psalm 27, v. 1, vv 7 – 11, v. 13
  • Mark 4, vv 35-41

CHAOS, FEAR & FAITH

Richard Trench was the Archbishop of Dublin at the end of the 19th Century.  In the last two years of his life he fought with great courage a progressive illness that left him increasingly paralysed.

As a guest of honour at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London, he was seen to be growing increasingly disquieted until someone asked if he felt well enough to continue.  ‘It has come at last’ he sighed, ‘complete paralysis of my lower left-hand side. I have been pinching my leg and cannot feel a thing.  And yet with Christ as my companion, I shall endure it with courage’

At this point, the lady sitting next to him leaned across and said ‘Your Grace, would it help you to know that it has been my leg you have been pinching for the last quarter of an hour?’

Many people have been helped by the prayer of serenity:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference

But many people who find themselves in hospital are less philosophical.

For many, illness is a corrosive wretched traumatic time of inner turmoil and confusion.

On a summer’s day sometime in the past, I fist came across Jenny, though that’s not her real name.  In the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries there are beautifully kept grounds – lawns and flowerbeds with shrubs, plants, and flowers which are a delight to the eye.

Standing in the veranda of a particular ward I was talking to someone who had come to visit a relative who had been admitted there.  He mentioned the grounds and how attractive they were, and I responded by saying something along the lines of how the planners had designed them to be therapeutic.  They are calm and tranquil, and were created to have a beneficial effect upon patients.

Behind me there was a mocking voice – Jenny’s.  Jenny who I learned later was far from home, her child taken from her, her family only occasional visitors.  She was a troubled, confused, anxious, frustrated and unhappy young woman.

‘What the **** would you know about it?’,  she shouted.  ‘What’s the point of peaceful lawns, when you’re feel like this, when you’re not peaceful inside.’

And with that, got up and went back into the ward, slamming the door to the veranda.

So many people are not, to use her words, ‘peaceful inside’

It doesn’t have to be those who are in the mental health care sector.

‘I’ve just had bad news’ the elderly man in the striped pyjamas in the medical ward told me one morning.  He wouldn’t articulate what the bad news was, and even as subtly as I could I could get him to talk in specifics.  He was probably too frightened even to mention the words ‘tumour’ or ‘carcinoma’, though I guessed that was what we were talking, or rather trying desperately hard not to talk about.

And he was frightened, worried, anxious and more than a bit confused.  He was thinking not just of himself, but also of his frail wife – how would she take it, how would she cope?  He looked after her, he was the breadwinner – what a mess.  What a terrible and terrifying situation.

Let me take you to one of the surgical wards in Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary.  Here is a middle-aged patient, a woman, lying in bed the late afternoon before her operation.  She was admitted at ten in the morning, has had umpteen tests, has been talked to – perhaps talked AT would be more appropriate – by nursing staff and clinicians, and has basically had a whole day to get even more anxious and worked up about her surgery.

‘How are you feeling?’ I ask.  ‘Terrible’  ‘In what way?,  ‘I don’t know – just terrible’

We talked through it – we talked about her fear which was a reflection of her need, her powerlessness, her very identity.

This was a lady suffering not just physically, but emotionally, and spiritually.  Hers was a spiritual pain.

And lastly, come with me to the Alexandra Unit in the infirmary where I work.  This is our palliative care ward.  And here is Joe who up until a few weeks before had a good job and a wide circle of friends.  Joe was very much the social animal.  He was popular and carefree – although there had been some kind of fall-out with one of his grown-up sons a year or so ago.

Here is Joe who has now apparently lost everything and has abandoned hope.  All the old signposts have gone.  He is disorientated and directionless.  His feeling of wholeness, of personhood has been fractured.  He has become isolated from his known worlds – from his past which he will never regain; from his present (he has little or no control over his bodily functions; he has lost his power and control, his security, his dignity, his identity, his purpose).  His yet-to be-created future lies threateningly before him.  On top of all this – probably because of all this, he starts thinking about his estrangement from his son.  And it pains him.  It pains him even more because he feels nobody cares.  It pains him because his perception is that nobody will really take the time to listen.

Patients are, if you will, captives.  Prisoners of their illness, prisoners of their fears and anxieties.

Someone once said that being ill is like being in a state of chaos.  In a maelstrom of emotions.

The Gospel story from Mark which we listened to earlier tells of a storm at sea.  It’s perhaps interesting to note that the author or editor has placed this story of an actual literal storm immediately before three other events which involve people in chaos and confusion: the stories of a demon-possessed man, a young girl who is terminally ill, and a confused and despairing woman who has been haemorrhaging for some twelve years without relief.

In the boat the disciples were panic stricken, confused, frightened men who were at the mercy of elements beyond their control.  They were being tossed hither and thither on a turbulent sea, facing an uncertain future.  And no one seemed to care.  Christ was even asleep in the stern of the boat.

Yet Jesus was with them in the storm – he was with them in the same boat, as the strong winds buffeted the sail and the waves were crashing over the side. And he is with us in the storms of life.  He never abandons us.  He cares about us and our situation whatever that may be.

He enters into the chaos.  He is present with us in the chaos.  He journeys with us through the maelstrom.

As should the spiritual caregiver.  He or she involves himself, herself in the patient’s predicament, accepting them for what they are, with all their resentments, anxieties, anger, self-pity, unspoken needs.  Our aim is to instil faith for fear and hope for despair, demonstrating in the process God’s love and interest in his children, and responding always to the fundamental human need to be heard and understood.

We think of doubt and unbelief keeping people from faith.  Perhaps, more often than we realise, it is fear.

The fear of the disciples in the storm was an unbelieving fear – Jesus didn’t care about us, they thought

When St. Paul was being taken prisoner to Rome, he was caught in a violent storm which was so bad that Luke recorded ‘We finally gave up all hope of being saved’ (Acts 27, v. 20b)

Then one bleak morning Paul came out and said, “Take heart!  Not one of you will lose your life; only the ship will be lost.  For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship came to me and said ‘Do not be afraid, Paul!  You must stand before the Emperor.  And God in his goodness to you has spared the lives of all those who are sailing with you’ So take heart, men!  For I trust in God that it will be just as I was told”  (vv. 22-25)

Paul was trusting in ‘the God to whom I belong and whom I worship’ All of us can take heart – all of us will be safe.

But we too have to have the courage of our convictions.

A family was on holiday in a remote cottage.  There was no electricity and no running water.  The only gas was from a camping stove.

At bedtime, the young daughter was extremely brave about going upstairs with her mother by the light of a candle.

But a puff of wind blew the candle out, leaving them in total darkness.  The little girl was afraid.

“I’ll go back downstairs to get the matches” said her Mum, “but don’t be afraid, Jesus is here with you” “But Mum” replied the daughter, “Can’t you stay here and we’ll send Jesus for the matches?”

It doesn’t quite work like that!

We are called to live by faith and not by fear.  Living by faith means that, while we may not know the details of life, we can be sure of the outcome.

We can live by faith – for we know that God has promised to be with us.  His grace is going to be sufficient for us.  His Word will guide us.  His Spirit will be within us with enabling power.

‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear.  The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid…..Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord’

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