Sermon for Pentecost 4B – Sunday 20th June 2021

Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41

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.

Fr Simon

Sermon for 6th June 2021 (Ordinary Time)

Fr Simon

What is your greatest fear?

What a question to start us off today!

According to one survey the top three greatest fears are:

  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of heights

Maybe like hundreds of thousands of people around the world one of these three is your greatest fear!

Facing our fears can be really difficult, but some people do give it a really good go. Take Mr Cameron for example – he had the most irrational fear of the speed bump in his road – yes, fear of a speed bump – but he slowly got over it! Or Miss Fraser – she was terrified of lifts in tall buildings – so she took some steps to avoid them.

There are all sorts of irrational fears out there – take Dr Macdonald – she was afraid of German sausage – always fearing the wurst! And Mrs McInnes – she was afraid of giants – had a terrible case of FeeFiphobia!

In all seriousness, fear is something that can paralyse us and stop us from leading fruitful lives. I remember a man I knew telling me that his greatest fear was that someday he would be found out. “What do you mean?” I asked him. “That they will know I’m not who I say I am; that I’m not who I want them to think I am; that I’m not who I want to be,” he answered.

Beneath his fear he knew there were ‘cracks in his house’. He knew that a divided house cannot stand and a divided kingdom would most certainly crumble.

From the beginning of his ministry Jesus had been dealing with divided houses and kingdoms. He cast out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, cleansed a leper and caused a paralysed man to walk. The houses and kingdoms of these people were divided. Their lives were not their own. They lived with inner conflict and turmoil and been separated from their communities and all that gave them security and identity. Their outer conditions of illness, paralysis and possession pointed to an inner conflict – the battle between health and disease, not just physical health and disease but spiritual health and disease!

The battle within us, the conflict between good and evil has been raging ever since Adam and Eve separated themselves from God and hid amongst the trees of the garden. It was evident when the nation of Israel demanded a king so it could be like all the other nations; forgetting that it had a unique calling, that it was to be different from other nations, that it was through Israel, the people of God, that God would act for the benefit of all people.

Division and inner conflict is a reality of today’s world and of each of our lives. A relationship with another divided breaks down rapidly. A nation divided results in vitriolic politics and in the extreme – civil war. An economy divided yields poverty and injustice. A community divided becomes individualism and tribalism, prejudice and violence. Humanity divided is all these things on a global level. Faith divided is sin.

We all know what it is like to live divided lives. Think about those times in your life when your outside and your inside simply don’t match up? That’s what it means to be a house divided. You’re one person at work,  another at home. You act one way with certain people and a different way with other people. Life gets divided into pieces. Behaviour, beliefs, and ethics become situational. There is the work life, the family life, the prayer life, the personal life, the social life and pretty soon we’re left with a life in pieces.

It can seem that we are forever trying to put the pieces of our lives back  together. That’s why, in our gospel reading this morning, the crowd has gathered around Jesus. That’s why the religious authorities oppose him. That’s why his family tries to restrain him. In their own way each is trying to put the pieces of their lives together, but it’s not working. They won’t fit. They have been found out. Their lives and their world are neither what they thought they were, nor what Jesus knows they could be. One reality has fallen and a new one is ready to rise!

Jesus always stands before us as the image of unity and wholeness. He is the stronger one. If we will allow Him, He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He will put our lives and our houses back in order. Jesus offers a different image of what life might look like. He does so by revealing the division in our lives, the houses that cannot stand and the crumbling of our kingdoms.

It’s hard to look at the division and inner conflict within our lives. But the beginning of wholeness comes in acknowledging our brokenness.

Where is your own house divided? How and to what extent have you created conflict and division within your relationships? In what ways do you live a fragmented life? What is it that shatters your life? Anger and resentment? Greed? Insecurity, perfectionism, sorrow or loss? Maybe it’s fear, envy, guilt or loneliness.

There are all sorts of forces, things, events, sometimes even people by which our lives are broken and through which we are separated from God, others, and our self. But be assured that Jesus Christ is stronger than anything that fragments our lives. He binds the forces that divide, heals the wounds that separate, and refashions pieces into a new whole. There is nothing about your life or my life that cannot be put back together by the love of God in Christ. Come to Him, offer every part of who you are and He will make you whole.

Amen

May God Bless you and those you hold dear in this coming week.

Fr Simon

Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter 2021

Acts 10:44-48  • Psalm 98  • 1 John 5:1-6  • John 15:9-17

For a variety of different reasons, this week has been one of those weeks when my family has constantly been on my mind.

Worries about things that are happening right now to family members on the other side of the world, exciting future hopes for my family as it continues to grow and comforting memories about family members from years gone by.

Last Thursday I was thinking about one of my grandmother’s – my mum’s mum – Nanny Ball we called her. She was the great matriarch of the family and I had lived with her for the first few years of my life so I was particularly close to her.

Nanny Ball always had a treat for her favourite grandson, and every time I visited she would bring out a glass jar that the treat had been put into. It wasn’t a special jar – very plain – I think it was an old sweet shop jar that she had found from somewhere – it had lost it’s label and was a very ordinary, everyday kind of thing. But on every visit, out it would come and some special sweetie or small gift would be wrapped up inside.

Some weeks after my Nan had died (I think when I was about 9 years old) my mum was sorting through Nan’s belongings – some treasured possessions were kept and other things were put in boxes for the charity shop. The glass jar was put in one of these boxes. I asked my mum if I could have it and she said I could. Of all the things from my Nan’s house, this very plain, unimpressive glass jar was all that I wanted. This object was the one that I associated with my dear Nan – I had to keep it. I believed that somehow it carried her presence. It reminded me of all the treats that she gave to me, one of the last things I remember her holding, and felt like my connection to her.

At a deeper level, holding on to that glass jar revealed my desire to be connected, to be remembered, to have and to know my place in life.

And don’t we all want that? Regardless of how old we are or the circumstances of our lives we want to know: Who am I? What are the connections that will sustain my life? Where is my place in this world?

Those are the questions Jesus is addressing as he speaks to his disciples in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Jesus is speaking his final words, one last sermon, to his disciples. He is preparing them for life without his physical presence, foreshadowing what resurrected life, Easter life, is to be like. He offers some direct answers to those questions:

You are my friends.

Abiding love –  laying down life kind of love – is the connection that will sustain you.

I am your place in this world.

Most of us spend a lifetime searching for those answers and trying to make them our own. They must, however, become more than intellectual answers. They must become lived answers. We learn to trust and live those answers in our relationships with one another. Life is a school for learning to love.

Our search for those answers is ultimately our search for Christ. That searching is always there, but it becomes more acute in times of change: the death of a loved one, children growing up and moving out, a new job, retirement, a debilitating illness, a move to a new town, a marriage or a breakdown in a relationship. In those moments we want something to hold on to, something to comfort, encourage, and reassure us; a glass jar that will guide us through life.

When I was about 18 and packing up my possessions to take to  university, I was talking to my mum, telling her about how important the now cracked jar with no lid was to me and wondering if I should take it with me. As I was talking to her I realised in a new way that the glass jar was not the important gift, the thing that carried my nan’s presence. I was. I was the last thing I remember her touching when she hugged and kissed me. I was the one who received her cuddles and gentle whispers “I love you.” My life, my actions, my very being somehow carried her presence and our shared love. The connection was and always had been within me – not in a glass jar.

Sadness, fear, and desperation often causes us to grasp for glass jars in one form or another. We put them away in the back of the cupboards,  hoping and trying to create a connection that actually already exists, maintain a presence that is already eternal, and hang on to a love that is already immortal.

We do this not only with one another but also with Christ. With each glass jar we collect we can forget that our lives embody the shared and mutual love of Christ and one another. In that love is the fullness of presence; a presence, the disciples will learn, that transcends time, distance and even death.

Treasured possessions can be important and remind us of those who have gone before us, but at some point we must throw away the glass jars we hold on to so that we can hear, experience, and live the deeper truth. Our lives, our actions, our love carry and reveal the presence of divine love. Jesus does not give us something, he says we are something. We are the gift. We are the connection. Think about what he tells the disciples:

  • I love you with the same love that the Father loves me – You have what I have.
  • I give to you the joy that my Father and I share – You are a part of us.
  • You are my joy, my life, and my purpose.
  • I want your joy to be full, complete, whole, and perfect.
  • You are my friends, my peers, my equals.
  • I have told you everything. Nothing is held back or kept secret.
  • I chose you. I picked you. I wanted you.
  • I appointed, ordained, commissioned, and sent you to bear fruit, to love another. I trust and believe you can do this.

It’s all about us – in the best sense of those words. We are the love of Christ. Our belief in Jesus’ words changes how we see ourselves, one another, the world, and the circumstances of our lives. That belief is what allows us to keep his commandment to love one another. When we know these things about ourselves our only response is love. We can do nothing else. We are free to live and more fully become the love of Christ.

The challenge of our search is not to find the answers, but to believe and live them.

Who are we? The love of Christ.

What are the connections that will sustain our lives? The love of Christ.

Where is my place in this world? The love of Christ.

As St Julian of Norwich puts it – In, by, with, and through the love of Christ “all shall be well, all shall be well, every manner of thing shall be well.

Amen

May God bless you and those you hold dear in this coming week.

Fr Simon