The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills.
To the east are the Golan Heights, to the west the hills that lead on to Nazareth. To the north are the villages where Jesus ministered - Capernaum, Tabgha, Magdala and behind them the hill of the beatitudes, from where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered. To the south is the Jordan River, which cuts through the surrounding land as it descends towards the Dead Sea.
The situation of the sea is such that a storm can quickly arise - the wind suddenly picks up, coming down the valleys that lead into the sea and the deep water becomes wild. And on that sea a small fishing boat would be tossed about.
And that was the situation in which the disciples found themselves. As they set off from the shore the water was calm - Jesus was tired and lay down amongst the cushions in the stern till they reached the other shore. Then the storm began, came down from the hills as if from nowhere and the disciples were terrified.
It seemed as if the boat would be swamped by the waves and they’d all be drowned. And Jesus seemed unconcerned, Jesus slept where he’d laid his head.
You wonder why experienced fishermen would be so terrified. They must’ve faced this kind of situation before, many times - as they set out fishing in the deep waters of the lake. They must’ve known that as quickly as the storm began it would subside and all would be calm again. They must’ve known how to handle the boat in such conditions to bring it safely back to the shore.
We can understand why Matthew the civil servant would’ve been disturbed, we can understand why the others for whom their trade had been on the dry land would’ve been frightened. But for a good number of them - the members of the fishing families from those very shores - this should’ve been a regular occurrence.
But St Luke tells us that they were all terrified, they were panicking, that they thought they were in danger and so they wake Jesus. He rebukes the storm and all is peaceful again.
It’s a deeply moving story because it resonates so deeply with our own experience, mirrors our own experience. We have been there. We know what chaos and danger and fear are like, what they feel like. We know what it is to sense that we are out of control, heading for the rocks, drowning.
We know what it’s like to call out into the wind and for our voices to be too feeble to be heard above the noise of the storm of life. We know what it’s like to feel alone even in familiar circumstances.
We’ve been there when our confidence has failed us, when the cool head that we are normally noted for seems to desert us and we’re as frantic as the next person, as fearful as others.
Stevie Smith captured this so well in her poem ‘Not waving but drowning’
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Jesus gets up and rebukes the storm and all is still - and more importantly the disciples are calm.
It’s a wonderful image thinking of the turbulent waters suddenly becoming a mill pond, like the sea of glass in John’s vision of heaven, the gale force winds becoming a gentle breeze, Jesus presiding over creation, having power over creation, just as his Father had power over creation as all things began as we heard in the First Reading, the second account of creation. But the effect upon the disciples is even more wonderful.
Their fear has to put into context. The disciples have been with Jesus, accompanying him as he’s taught on the hills and in the villages around this lake. They’ve seen and heard things such as they could never have imagined. Walls have been broken down, miracles have been performed before their eyes, old priorities have been turned upside down as this radical man has proclaimed a new kingdom breaking in among them. It was shattering, transforming, disturbing.
And now they were crossing the lake to get to non-Jewish, Gentile territory, for Jesus was wanting to proclaim the Gospel to the gentiles to people who the disciples thought were beyond redemption, outside of God’s love.
Is it any wonder that the chaos in the creation that they experienced on the lake somehow mirrored the chaos that they felt within themselves?
Everything for them had been turned upside down – they’d left everything to follow Jesus and even the things that they felt would never be under threat were suddenly being questioned and challenged.
They were scared and naturally so - and in that greater fear they call out to Jesus and he calms their storm - he rebukes their storm - where is your faith? - and the waves in their hearts and minds were calmed.
However solid, or confident, or professional, or experienced we are, there are times when everything seems to crumble away and the chaos that is inside us is exposed. We seem to be drowning, our whole being appears to be threatened as the rug of life is pulled away from under our feet – but other people think we’re waving!
We look to ourselves like that person in Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’ - the whole world caught up in the chaos inside our heads, inside our lives.
The miracle of the calming of the storm points to a more significant miracle in which each of us can share - Jesus calms us and restores our equilibrium, Jesus comes to our help, Jesus is at our side.
Too often it can seem that God is asleep, absent, disinterested in what is happening. Too often it can feel as though we’ve been faithful to an absent God, a faithless God, who is not there just when we need him.
In their fear the disciples call the Lord and he’s there - rebuking the cause of their fear and challenging their lack of faith. And he does that for us - rescuing and challenging us - when we call.
Jesus is with us now in this Eucharist – he’s here in his Word proclaimed, here in his people gathered, here, above all in the bread and wine offered and received – he’s here for you - just as you are today - however you feel - calm or disturbed - whether the sailing is good or bad - the Lord is here for you.
And he is here for us, people in the midst of the chaos, the storm that has engulfed our once ordered country, and he will be with us and he will be with you as we leave this place and enter a new week in which the squalls of life may await, in which your world, to be honest, in the twinkling of an eye, may be turned upside down but in which Jesus will never leave you, never leave you alone to face the storm.