BE STILL, MY SOUL
preached at S.LUKE’S QUEEN’S PARK BRIGHTON on 24th February 2019. Text: Luke 8.22-25
My father had a very eventful 2nd World War. He served in the Navy and saw a lot of action in the Mediterranean and on the Arctic convoys.
Whether in big ships or small, in sweltering or freezing temperatures, in calm or rough seas, he developed – and later instilled in me – a fascination for the beauty and also the terrifying power of the ocean.
He was a man of quiet, simple and strong faith and he also had a fascination for the vagaries of human nature. Several times the ship he was on appeared to be in danger of sinking and he would often tell me how he had seen macho men who had always scoffed at the idea of religion sinking to their knees and remembering the words of the Lord’s Prayer from their childhood.
Fear of drowning is clearly a frightening experience and the prospect certainly terrified the disciples aboard their little boat on the lake or sea of Galilee.
On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land some 20 years ago, Ellie and I were in the party who bought tickets for a short voyage across this large lake in what was touted as a “Jesus boat” i.e. one which resembled as closely as possible the size and shape of the one He might have used.
It was a most enjoyable trip. I remember a bit of wind and an appreciable spray coming over the bow but it was a pretty calm crossing. The crew obviously knew what they were about and would have cancelled the sailing if their radar told them a storm was suddenly going to brew.
But it was not uncommon in biblical times for such sudden storms to arise without the sailors of those days being able to anticipate them. So it is not difficult to imagine the panic which gripped the disciples, even when we remember that at least four of them had been professional fishermen!
This little episode recounted in today’s gospel appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke in virtually identical form and must therefore have been a strong strand in the tradition handed down about the life of the crucified Lord.
Perhaps I should say the tradition handed down about the crucified saviour because in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection, the calming of the storm can be looked on as a sort of cameo victory over the forces of nature foreshadowing Christ’s ultimate victory over death and all the forces of evil in the world.
Let’s go back for a moment to the Creation Story in the book of Genesis. As the writer imagines how God created the world, God is depicted as making order out of the dark chaos of the waters by setting boundaries to the unruly sea with the lands He places in its way.
The ancient Israelites had always looked on, and been suspicious of, the sea as associated with evil, with monstruous forces or even creatures which lurked as a threat in the deep. So they believed that the all-powerful Yahweh, Jehovah, the God of creation had been strong enough to subdue the sea and its terrors.
Listen to this from Psalm 89:
O Lord God of hosts, who is like you? Your power and your faithfulness are all about you.
You rule the raging of the sea, When its waves surge, you still them.
This sort of stuff is found all over the Psalms and the books of the Prophets, written when Israel was experiencing the metaphorical “storms” of war, invasion, exile and persecution. It’s a kind of plea for the God of old who calmed the sea to come to their present aid. They even used to say sometimes: COME ON, ALMIGHTY GOD, WAKE UP. DON’T JUST LIE THERE. COME AND HELP US!
Which obviously has an echo, a parallel, in this morning’s story about Jesus. Luke is showing us that Jesus is the living incarnation of the mighty God the Father who tamed the raging waters at creation.
COME ON, JESUS, WAKE UP! DON’T JUST LIE THERE. WE’RE SINKING.
And so indeed He does. He gets up and “rebukes” the wind and the waves. That’s a lovely word: rebuke. It implies that the wind and the waves are like things you can address as persons. And that shows that even the gospel writers saw this incident as a sort of exorcism of evil spirits just like his exorcisms of human beings.
And the real point of the story becomes clear. God, now God-made-man, having shown He can stop the storm, must come to the aid of his disciples and the Israelites in general in their other struggles, not just against Roman oppression but against their own sickness and sinfulness.
But one thing is required if He is to help them.
Faith. “Where is your faith?” He asks. Or in the more familiar phrase “O ye of little faith”. This is the other side of the coin from “Your faith has made you whole” the thing Jesus famously says to those who do trust in His power and His love.
One thing is required of US if He is to help us in 2019. To help save us not only from war, terrorism, and politics gone hideously wrong, but to help save us from ourselves, from selfishness, from pride, from greed, from envy, from all sorts of sins and, YES, from fear. Fear of failure, fear of loneliness, fear of sickness, fear of accident, pain and death.
We must have FAITH in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Not a childish faith that assumes we can leave it to Him to wave a magic wand and shield us from suffering, but a mature faith that, yes, we know things will go wrong but He will not let us down, that He will suffer with us and give us the strength to endure, even if necessary to face death.
Not a brittle faith which makes us shout in panic to wake Him up because we think He’s neglecting His duties but a strong faith that He always knows what He is about and what the answers to our prayers should be.
And so I give you some beautiful words of Katarina Von Schlegel:
Be still, my soul: Your God will undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake,
All now mysterious shall be clear at last.
Be still, my soul: The tempests still obey His voice
Who ruled them once in Galilee.