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Statue of Mary in boat Sermon for Ordinary 12 Year B 2015

Reverend Canon Charles Royden

Jesus stills the Storm

Isn’t it wonderful to be going into summer weather? We have had some brilliant days just recently ? Memories of the 100 day cold some of us endured over winter will soon be forgotten in the halcyon days of July and August.

Napoleon Bonaparte said
“If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.”

We had the commemoration service this week at St Paul’s to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. So sun worship never did much for poor old Napoleon.
However I do know something of what he was getting at - the sunshine is magnificent. The weather has been beautiful lately, I took a burial in the woodland burial ground at Keysoe this week and the sun was shining and warm late into the evening - in fact like me you might have even been grateful for a little rain yesterday for the garden.

If you are like me you looking forward to summer. There will be holidays, there will be no school, for pupils or teachers. We are in Ordinary Time in the church year - I love Ordinary Time, we wear green as the liturgical colour. This is the colour of nothing special happening, no Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, or trinity etc

I have to tell you that in the summer it is much nicer shaking hands at the door of the church as people go out because when people go out they are nearly always in a better mood when it is warm and sunny than when it is cold and dark and wet. This is a great time of the year and we can be optimistic with so much to look forward to. We must all enjoy it while we can.

Today the 21st of June is the longest day of the year, called the Summer Solstice. For those living in the northern hemisphere, the Summer Solstice is the day on which the earth, spinning on its axis, has its North Pole ‘tipped’ as far as it will go to face the sun. Because of this ‘tipping’ towards the sun, the northern hemisphere receives the longest hours of daylight of the year. Even the Swedish people dance around maypoles and enjoy themselves. Get the barbeque out, have garden parties, live and enjoy the sun !

But spare a thought for the opposite part of the world, those poor folks who live in the southern hemisphere because for them this is the darkest and coldest time.

God is not rewarding us, neither is he punishing them. God’s love is constant over the whole earth. In the warmest sunniest day in the northern hemisphere and in the coldest darkest days in the southern hemisphere, God’s love is just the same.
This geographical fact is just as true when we think about the contrast between the sunny and warm times of our lives and the cold and dark times of our lives. The fact is that in the depth of winter, in the midst of the darkest, coldest winters of our lives, no matter how hard the world might seem to be punishing us, we are in the company of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is stronger than anything that might be against us.

For the disciples in the story today there was a moment when clearly they thought that they were going to die. This was one of those times when you think that there is no return to safety. For them it was fear of drowning, but you will have had, or you will have times which hit your life like a wrecking ball.

It might be a death
It might be a divorce
Serious illness for you or a partner or a disability
Perhaps loss of a job

These are times when life appears to be tumbling down and the moorings which we thought to be secure are tested.

Now here is something a tiny bit unusual you may think for me to say, Our faith may enable us to avoid some of the disasters which might otherwise trouble our lives. By that I do not mean that God will cause the sun to shine on our little bit of garden in the middle of the winter solstice. In the same way that I believe it is nothing short of heretical to suggest that God actually finds you a parking place in the car park. I cannot believe that God is so manipulative that he causes cars to move out of parking spaces for our convenience but cannot place a morsel in the mouth of a child dying from hunger.

However, I do see every reason to expect that those who live according to the teachings of Jesus will by virtue of such godly living, avoid many of the pitfalls which trap those who pay no regard to living the kind of life which God calls us to live

Let me give you simple obvious examples

  • A good Christian is less likely to go to prison since they will seek to avoid stealing
  • A good Christian is less more likely to forgive and avoid the destructive cycles of retribution and violence
  • As Christians we are called to be mindful, thoughtful and caring towards those around us. We should live a life of compassion towards others and seek not to be selfish. Such a life has many blessings. We are not as tempted by the incredibly self centered, self absorbed aspects of our materialist and secular culture which causes so many people to be dysfunctional and empty. Hence Christians are less likely to be into drugs or gambling

Of course Christians will not be immune from depression, physical illness and all of that. However living your life following the teachings of Jesus is good for you, you should be more joyful and more fulfilled.

I might even suggest that as a Christian you may be less likely to made unemployed because you do not take time off sick on duvet days, because as a Christian you believe that you should be conscientious and hard working. Your employer may therefore want to hang on to you because you show respect and recognise that fair pay demands a corresponding fair days work, and so on.

Living the Christian life is good for you. However this is not prosperity theology, I am not saying that being a Christian means that God just rewards you with material blessings.
Neither does God place the Christian in a bubble. In some cultures, merely being a Christian will get you killed. Being a Christian does not mean that God will prevent harmful things from happening to you.

We Christians will still have car accidents
still get troubled by disease
still get cancer and all of the other things from having a body of frail flesh.
We will suffer loss of loved ones, and so many other things.

Being a Christian will do so much to help you keep your life on track, you will be better physically, mentally and spirituality because of your faith. I will argue that all day long, but there will still be stormy seas.

So how do we deal with these stormy seas?

I wonder if you saw the picture in Partnership News of Jesus and Mary in the boat ? It reproduced poorly in black and white but you can see it on the screen now in colour. This statue of our Lady was made in Lebanon from the model of a seal of the abbey Notre Dame, dating from 13th century. It is the work of a well known Lebanese wood carver Joseph Hoveck. It was carved out of a branch of (fallen under its own weight) from the thousand year old cedars which grow on Mount Lebanon. I saw it on display in the Cathedral in Boulogne.
So think why do we have this statue ? Did Jesus ever set sail in a boat with his mother? There is no evidence of it, so we don’t know. However the image of a boat in our faith is a familiar one. The boat is a symbol of safety, it keeps alive the people of God. When you enter a church, the main body of the building is called the 'nave' from a medieval Latin term, 'navis' which means ship. The image of a ship providing safety under the hand of God is long established from the days of Noah, when God saved souls from the coming flood.

Of course the image of a boat has been an important symbol to generations of Christians who have felt that as they pass through the stormy seas of life they are carried safely with Christ, in the same way that those in boats cross stormy seas. This theology has been captured in the architecture of the Nave with the roof of many churches and cathedrals looking like an upside down boat and if you look upwards whilst seated in the Nave you will often see the main central rib becomes the keel of a boat, the ribs form the bottom, the pillars the sides and the floor becomes the deck.

The boat in this picture is a reassurance and encouragement to visiting pilgrims to place their faith in God who made all that there is and who in the midst of the stormiest seas beckons us to a place of spiritual safety.

The point is that with Christ alongside us we can weather the storm. With our faith and trust in God we are empowered by the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

From the wreckage of a death, the destruction of broken relationships, from the pain of lost jobs or opportunities, from the trauma of illness, from all of these the Christian is empowered by God to rebuild and find renewal.

Christians who go through times of trial will speak of how through the experience of darkness God has made them to be even better people, more able to serve and minister to others.

Sometimes it is as we suffer that we come to realise what is most important in our lives and what is just stuff getting in the way of our faith growing and deepening. The evangelist Billy Graham said
‘comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has’

I was hearing this week about a young person who had not been accepted for ministry, it was obviously a devastating loss, but faith enabled them to accomplish a most wonderful work in the church. It was a matter of seeking God’s direction to find the other door which opened when one closed.

There is an old story about a farmer who scratched a living on the foothills of the mountains near desert lands. One day he found and captured a beautiful white stallion. All the neighbours gathered together and congratulated him: "You are fortunate, God has blessed you."
The next day his son jumped onto the horse, but he fell off and broke his leg. The neighbours the gathered together again to commiserate with the farmer:
"O dear this is bad news God must be displeased with you."
The next day solders came with orders to enter every home and take every able-bodied man into the army. Because the son has a broken leg, the soldiers were forced to leave him behind. The neighbours gathered again to congratulate the farmer: "How fortunate you are. God has blessed you."

We will encounter sunny days, we will encounter rainy days. God loves us equally in whatever weather we face and when we face stormy seas we must recognise that Jesus is with us in the boat.

Walking, or sailing with Jesus does not guarantee smooth waters, no immunity from grief, no assurance of or material comfort, or wealth or any other good fortune. However our Christian trust enables us to persevere so that the challenges which life throws at us do not break us, so that we become better people when life seems against us and not bitter people.

The disciples in the boat were failing to trust and for them the situation appeared to be hopeless. Their feelings of fear were overriding everything and they lashed out at Jesus accusing him of not caring. We cannot choose what the future holds, it will come and bring with it sunshine and clouds and into every life some rain must fall.

We can affect the future by godly living, but we cannot choose it, we have to face whatever comes. However we can choose to trust. Trust is not a feeling it is a choice, it is a decision that we must take. We choose to trust in Jesus.