As a sea-faring nation, we have a history that is full of great stories about expeditions and military victories out at sea. It’s in the very life blood of the British to instinctively celebrate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805 and, a little more close to home, Jellicoe’s triumph over the German Fleet in 1916 (though both sides claimed victory in that particular campaign). Equally Cook’s voyages in the Endeavour and Darwin’s expeditions aboard HMS Beagle instil in us a sense of pride in our nation’s great sea-faring achievements.
But we also know that with the opportunities that travel by sea offers us come great risks – not only in times of war, but sometimes as a result of human error. Most of you will be familiar with the infamous Meikle Ferry tragedy of 1809, when the Ferry crossing the Dornoch Firth was overloaded and capsized with a loss of 111 lives.
But even when we get everything right, we know that ultimately those at sea are at the mercy of the weather (even in our day of modern navigational technology).
Take the HMS Prince for example, which, in 1854, was torn from her anchorage by a hurricane force storm and dashed against the rocks – only six of 150 souls aboard were saved.
In 1980 the largest British Ship ever to be lost at sea (MV Derbyshire – 91,655 tons) sank in a Typhoon in the South China Sea – all 44 crew were lost.
And as late as 2009 the Bulgaria went down in a storm in Russia with the loss of 112 souls although not British – this disaster still serves as a warning to us.
In our annual commemorations and remembrances we are reminded of the dangers seafarers face and you yourself may have endured stormy conditions or sadly endured the loss of someone at the mercy of the sea.
We know something of the fear, the terror that being caught in a storm at sea can bring.
In our gospel reading today Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee and the disciples are experiencing that same terror that harsh weather out at sea brings. But of course, as always, there is a deeper meaning to what we have been hearing about. They are moving from the Jewish side to the Gentile side. From the side where they are at home to the side where they are strangers- the side where life is familiar to the side where it is new, different and unfamiliar. Now we may have never crossed the Sea of Galilee, but I’m pretty sure that most of us have at some point been in that boat.
Of course, this is not just a story about the weather and a boat trip. It is a story about life, a story about faith and it’s a story about fear. Wherever you find one of those – life, faith, fear – you will usually find the other two. They cannot be separated.
Sometimes the sea of life is rough. The wind is strong. The waves are high. The boat is taking on water and sinking. We all know what that is like. I’m sure each one of us could tell a story about a stormy time in our lives.
Some of our stories will begin with a telephone call, a doctor’s visit or news we did not want to hear. Some of them will start with the choices we have made, our mistakes and our sins. Other stories will tell about the difficulty of relationships, hopes and plans that fell apart. Some storms seem to arise out of nowhere and take us by surprise. Other storms build and gather as we sit by and watch.
Storms happen. Storms of loss and sorrow. Storms of suffering and confusion, of failure or disappointment. Storms of loneliness and uncertainty.
Regardless of when or how they arise, storms are about changing conditions. Life can feel overwhelming and out of control when things don’t go our way. Order can give way to chaos and we can feel like we are sinking. The water is deep and the new shore is a distant horizon.
In our gospel story, the disciples are quick to make the storm about Jesus. “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
We’ve probably all echoed their words in the storms of our lives. Praying, calling out to Him “Do something. Fix it. Make it better.” In the midst of the storm Jesus seems absent – passive and uncaring. How can he sleep at a time like this? Sleeping Jesus is not what the disciples or what we want.
But Sleeping Jesus is in the same boat and the same storm as the disciples. He is surrounded by the same water as the disciples, blown by the same wind, beaten by the same waves. What is different is how he responds. While the disciples fret and worry, he sleeps. The disciples want action. Jesus sleeps in peace and stillness.
His sleep reveals that the greater storm and the real threat is not the wind, waves and water around us – the circumstances in which we find ourselves – no, the greater threat lies within us. The real storm, the more threatening storm is always the one that churns and rages within our minds and souls.
That inward storm is the one that blows us off course, rages against our faith and threatens to drown us. Fear, vulnerability, and powerlessness blow within us. A sense of abandonment, the unknown, judgment and criticism of ourselves and others are the waves that pound us. And too often anger, isolation, cynicism or denial become our shelter from the storm.
“Peace! Be still!” Jesus speaks to the wind and the sea. Jesus isn’t changing the weather as much as inviting the disciples to change. He’s speaking to the wind and the waves within them. The disciples have been pointing to what is going on outside of them. Jesus now points to what is going on inside them. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Jesus’ words are more about us than the circumstances of our lives – the storms we meet. Storms happen. Faith does not eliminate the storms in our lives. Faith does not change the storm. But it can change us. Faith does not take us around the storm, but it can steer us through. Faith allows us to see and know that Jesus is there with us. Faith is what allows us to be still, to be peaceful, even in the midst of the storm.
In faith, the Spirit of God blows through and within us more mightily than the winds of any storm. The power of God is stronger than any wave that lashes us. The love of God is deeper than any water that threatens to drown us and each one of us has a duty to share that love with each other at all times, in every storm, through the practical and prayerful support we must offer to each other.
In every storm that comes your way, remember, Jesus is present and his response is always the same.
“Peace! Be still!”
May God Bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.