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Trinity 4: The Calming of the Storm

Around this time of the year the Mission to Seafarers has established Sea Sunday and provide a focus for the work of seafarers.

There have been a few boxes of books coming in to the Rectory for the fete and I noticed one about the Battle of the Atlantic.

Years ago I read “The Cruel Sea” and decided that being middle of the Atlantic Ocean in a winter storm being followed by a submarine must be one of the most frightening experiences.

Even today the sea is a potentially dangerous place: according to google there are an estimated 24 large ships that sink of go missing every year and 2,000 seafarers die each year.

This is not meant to warn about anyone thinking of booking a cruise but more a reflection on how potentially powerful the sea can be.

This weekend the European Council of Churches have asked that congregations remember those who have lost their lives seeking to find a new home in Europe.

It is estimated that in the last eighteen years 30.000 refuges have lost their lives and many of these have died at sea.

Quite a few years ago Rachel and I went by ferry across the Irish Sea and I think that is the nearest we have been to a stormy crossing.

Last year on holiday we were on the Isle of Wight and Hazel suggested we got up early and went into the sea at Compton Beach.

I’m really glad we did as there something quite exhilarating about being bashed by powerful waves and feeling the cold.

The sea has always had a special affinity to spirituality. I think that I once mentioned St Cuthbert who as a spiritual discipline went into the cold North Sea and let the water reached his shoulders and then spent the night in prayer.

As he left the waters hours later we are told by Bede that otters ran up to him and rubbed themselves on his feet to keep him warm.

The Celtic Missionaries 1700 years ago were quite prepared to cross the ocean on their boats to spread the Christian message and the writings of the time describe how particular saints were able to calm storms or send ones onto people who annoyed them.

Biblically the sea provides a source of imagery. In the story of creation the spirit of God hovers over the waters and there is a separation between land and sea.

God is the artist who brings order and is able to push back chaos and nothingness, providing shape and conditions by which life can thrive.

Yet, the waters are still a dangerous backdrop, and although separated from the land, in the story of the flood the waters return and cover the land and what is left is protected in the ark.

A storm as experienced in the Caribbean or the devastation of a tidal wave provide reminders of the devastation that the sea can still bring and although we can provide warnings of storms and earthquakes, it is beyond human power to control the forces nature can generate.

For the first disciples of Jesus the sea provided a livelihood as they were fishermen.

It was not unusual for Jesus to get into a boat and teach the crowds who would listen on the shore.

The story this morning is well known but even when you have had heard it over the years new things can strike you.

Jesus is in the boat with his disciples but “other boats were with him.”

It is possibly meant as a reference to the small Christian communities that Mark was writing for and reminding them that they were not alone.

The Christian symbol of the World Council of Churches is a storm tossed boat with a cross for a mast.

The stilling of the storm is a way of showing that in the world’s struggles and persecutions Jesus is present with them.

There is also in the story a description of two types of fear. The disciples are afraid during the storm and they are afraid after the storm has passed.

The first is very understandable. They are in a boat and it is sinking and they are powerless.

In one sense it is facing up very quickly to your own mortality, but it can also be a fear that can follow you in the day to day.

It is the fear that everything is going wrong and no-one really cares. God doesn’t care. Everything is wrong and there is no light in the tunnel.

There is then a second type of fear that takes hold when the disciples realise that something extraordinary has taken place.

Who is this they ask that “even the wind and the sea obey him?”

It is the fear that can take hold when you realise that you have come across something that is life changing and transformative.

It is a fear that can come when you think what might be the consequences of changing something and living life in a new way.

Stormy waters being calmed provide images that are rich in symbolism. It is a reading that is sometimes used in funeral services. The experience of bereavement can leave you feeling battered and unsure if there is a way through.

It is the reassurance that God’s faithfulness is not based on how we feel or how we see the world, but is rather something given and with us, no matter what we face.

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