When the boat sinks ~ or does it?
2nd Sunday before Lent Luke 8 22-25 Clippesby
Storms aren’t fun, either at sea or in real life, but we learn lessons through storms that we never would learn if life were always calm. The Christian faith is not just to get us to heaven when we die. It teaches us how to live in the here and now, especially when life gets stormy. In the Gospel reading we have the miracle of Jesus calming the storm at sea as the first of a series of miracles . This miracle shows us that Jesus is Lord over all, and we need to trust Him in the storms of life.
At the end of this brief story, the disciples remark with awe, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” That is the question Luke wants us to consider: “Who then is this?” The answer is, found in the psalm chosen for today, verse 7 is addressed to God and it says:
You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.
In the Bible, the sea is often thought of as a place of chaos and disorder, threatening God's good purposes. The people of Israel spoke of God stilling the raging of the waves and saving those in danger on the sea. Here the disciples see Jesus doing the same things: terrifying natural powers are tamed; life can go on in peace. And in his wider ministry Jesus will continue to calm storms not only at sea but in the lives of those he heals and delivers. But of course there is a lot more for us to learn from this short account.
We have to remember the disciples were fishermen who knew this lake, they probably didn’t anticipate the storm. The Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and 7 miles wide. It sits in a depression that is almost 700 feet below sea level, surrounded by mountains that rise to about 2,000 feet above sea level on the eastern side. When winds funnel down those hills, it can create sudden, violent storms. It was one of those unexpected storms that hit that evening. It must have been quite a storm, because even these seasoned fishermen feared for their lives.
When serious trials hit, I have heard people say, “The Lord didn’t cause this trial; He only allowed it.” Somehow they think that they are getting God off the hook. Sometimes people will even say, “Satan, not God, caused this tragedy.”
The first thing we need to acknowledge is that storms can hit anyone. This storm hit the disciples with Jesus in their boat as well as those without Him in their boat. Mark’s account says that other boats were with them. If this were a fairy tale, we might read that when the storm arose, the other boats were swamped, but the boat with Jesus in it sailed off into the sunset. But the reality is, Christians are not exempt from the storms of life. Just because you’re in Jesus’ boat doesn’t mean that it’s going to be plain sailing.
What is perhaps the most amazing thing is this story is that Jesus is asleep. This is the only incident in the Bible that mentions Jesus sleeping, and what a time to fall asleep! It would be one thing if Jesus had said, “a storm is coming. Peter, you stay on the helm, John, make sure that sail is secure, James, get the nets tied down. If Jesus had been actively involved, giving orders, telling them to hang in chaps we’re going to make it, but just when they needed Jesus’ calm leadership and assurance, where was He? Fast asleep anf seemingly oblivious to their dire need.
Have you ever felt like that in the midst of a difficult time? It feels like a storm and it seems as if God has left you all alone! You’re bailing water like crazy, but it feels like the waves are winning. Jesus was with them in the storm and He is always in our storm even though sometimes it seems as if He’s not.
It was important for the disciples and for us to realise that Jesus is God and not just a miracle-worker. As God, Jesus is able to control the chaotic elements of this world and to help us survive amid the chaos and dangers that life sends to us. Jesus reveals to us that in him light conquers darkness, order conquers chaos, love conquers hatred and life is stronger than death. In the power of Jesus we are able to survive whatever this world throws at us. We are given strength by having him as our constant companion. There is of course a condition – we need to have faith, that is a relationship with him and not just to have a sleeping Jesus in our lives. One that we prod awake only when the storm comes.
If we have a daily trust in God then we will be able to say with St Paul, 'I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
But of course we know that sometimes the boat does sink, even if we’re trusting in Jesus. John the Baptist wasn’t delivered from prison; he lost his head. We live in a broken world and the bad things that happen are random. So why isn't the God who stilled the storm more obviously at work in the world today? Although that question is notoriously hard to answer, our faith does offer us ways forward.
Storms in our own lives can all too easily undermine our trust in God and make us panic, like the disciples. But the disciples are rebuked for their lack of faith, not for calling out in their genuine need. So when our lives are in danger of being swamped by chaos or suffering it is far worse to turn away from God in bitter silence than it is to cry out in faith. We may know some lessening of the storm or it may be that as the storm continues we are drawn into a deeper relationship with God, which we see in Jesus, who in the storm lies asleep like in the boat. We do have some examples of people who had amazing responses to being in a boat that sinks. For them the miracle didn’t come.
Bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake together in 1550. As the fires were lit, Latimer cried out, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out!”
Don’t wait until the storm hits. Trust Jesus daily in the small problems you face. Then, whether He calms the storm or your boat sinks, you will know peace that the world cannot give, the peace that comes from trusting in Jesus, the Lord over all of life’s storms. Only then can we sing with any conviction ‘Make me a channel of your peace’ – for life is not just about us, but every-one in our boat.