The Fourth Sunday after Trinity | Choral Eucharist

The Sermon preached by the Sub Dean on the fourth Sunday after Trinity.

When I was a parish priest in Yorkshire there was a wonderfully vibrant window in the church. Whenever I showed children around the church this was the window they loved best.  It was given in memory of Lady Ada Firth who drowned at the age of 26 in 1869.  Down in the bottom corner is Bolton Abbey - a beautiful place in the Yorkshire Dales which has a river close by where the accident took place. It’s not the cheeriest of connections.  But neither were the two panels on each side of the window. On one side there was a triumphant Moses leading the people of Israel to safety through the chaotic waters of the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army being drowned in the background. They weren’t quite so fortunate as the Israelites. On the right hand side was the episode we’ve just heard about in the gospel reading.  It showed the panic-stricken disciples fearing their boat would sink as it was being lashed by the waves and the wind. In the middle of the boat lies a gently snoozing Jesus, seemingly oblivious to the chaos around him.   The link between those three biblical stories is the powerful, and at times, destructive nature of water. There are many illustrations of this throughout the bible. In the book of Genesis we hear of the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos, as creation is drawn out of this dark sea.  Then there’s the story of Jonah.  He was running away from God in the opposite direction.  A great storm blew up which only ceased when the sailors threw Jonah into the sea.  The sea came to symbolise the dark power of evil, threatening to destroy God’s creation, God’s people and God’s purposes.

The central panel of the stained glass window showed Jesus calmly walking on water. Jesus rescuing his disciples from the storm is a parable of God’s sovereign power being unleashed on our world: God’s kingdom is breaking in.  So here, the sea is more like a mill pond with not a ripple or wave in sight and it conjures up very different images of water.  Jesus is seen as the one who accompanies us on our journey through life; calming our fears and being alongside us in our trials and tribulations, the storms which threaten us.  Although surrounded by images of chaos, destruction and violence, this depiction of Jesus subduing the elements and being Lord of all creation is what your eye is predominantly drawn towards.  Even the rather unfortunate Lady Ada Firth is given hope as a result of her untimely death as she is depicted as an angel in the top panel.

Just like those first disciples, each one of us can be caught up in a sense of fear - fear of disapproval, rejection, failure, of being found out, succumbing to illness and ultimately death. And fear is not necessarily just a personal anxiety. It can grip our neighbourhoods, our church, our cities and nation. The church feels anxious with talk of division and groups retreating behind dogma and stands on who is orthodox and who isn’t. Those who are in and those are are not. The continuing violence and hatred in the Holy Lands, in Israel and Gaza continues, together with the situation in Ukraine and the threats emanating from President Putin. In our own neighbourhoods we can feel threatened and be fearful when we hear about muggings and stabbings. Like those first disciples in the boat, we can feel utterly debilitated by fear and not know where to turn or what to do next. Those first disciples knew their vulnerability in a fragile boat upon a violent and tumultuous sea. Much like we have seen so recently on the television news of those fleeing violence and persecution across the globe, risking everything in fragile boats crossing the Mediterranean and Channel. The tragedy is compounded by the language of hatred and bigotry spoken by some of our politicians standing for public office.

In today's gospel reading the disciples don't suddenly find courage to sort themselves out, some sort of inner strength which allows them to solve their own situation. They don't have the resources to be able to do that. And so they turn to Christ, as their only hope.

Jesus doesn't say to them, 'Hush, there's nothing to be afraid of.' He meets them where they are, for they are out of their minds with fear and terror. He doesn't pretend there's nothing to fear, for there is everything to fear.

And for us too, some of our fear is very real indeed - a lack of hope and direction, paying bills, difficulties at work or in our relationships, illness, the threat of terror or war or whatever it might be. When we are in the midst of these things, it feels like we are at the bottom of a dark hole, and the darkness and fear threatens to overwhelm us. But even then, our situation and our fears do not have the last word in our lives, not even death. Inspite of all the signs to the contrary, Christ has indeed conquered the world.

Jesus calls us, as he did his first disciples, not to an easy life; not to a life without its fair share of disappointments, crises and sorrows, but a life with him at the centre. Jesus calls us as we are and where we are, in the midst of the storms which often threaten to completely overwhelm us.  He invites us to walk with him from death to new life.

The disciples in that window I described at the beginning are full of fear and foreboding for they are clearly not in control of the situation and the sea and wind threaten to destroy them.  They call upon Jesus in their utter need, putting all their trust in him.  Like the first disciples we often don’t feel to be in control of our lives and we need to reach out to God in faith and trust.  When we feel that we are going to go under, that the chaos around us is going to pull us down and finish us off, then Christ comes to us and speaks the same words, ‘Peace, be still’.  Christ brings to our troubled hearts his gift of hope, of peace and the possibility of a new future.

 But maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised if he turns round to us, when the storm has subsided, and asks us, ‘Have you still no faith?’ I wonder what our answer will be?