June 24, 2012
What were you doing on the day of the Great Sheffield Flood? As we’ve seen the rain fall almost continuously this week, people have been reminiscing about the terrible flooding that hit the city five years ago in June 2007. Homes and businesses were devastated, office workers in the Don Valley had be airlifted to safety, rail services to the city were cut off, and the Wicker became for a while a raging torrent in which one man lost his life. Sheffield grew up around its rivers and for the most part we ignore them, but extreme weather reminds us that even in a city environment we’re not insulated from the surging energies of the natural world.
We’ve had some really awful weather this week and there’s more bad weather for us in our passage from Mark. Jesus and his friends are moving around Galilee, proclaiming the good news, teaching, healing, bringing God to where the ordinary people are. Often, they’re on foot, but travelling by boat is their other main way of getting around. Mark gives us an account of a boat trip that threatens to go badly wrong. A sudden storm blows up , and Jesus sleeps calmly through it as the disciples become frantic with waves threatening to overwhelm the small craft. When his friends rouse him Jesus is able to calm the storm, and then goes on to tell his disciples off for their lack of faith.
It’s a well-known story, and as I re-read it this week it struck me afresh how this passage shows us Jesus in all his humanity and all his divinity. For Jesus to exercise power over the natural world is surely a mark of his divine authority. It leaves the disciples awe-struck. “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” For the disciples, and indeed for the first hearers of Mark’s Gospel this wind and waves story would immediately remind them of another wind and waves story: every Jew could tell the story of the Exodus, of how God freed his people Israel from slavery in Egypt by sending a wind to drive back the waters of the Red Sea and give the Israelites safe passage through. Their journey from oppression to freedom was made possible by the action of God upon the wind and the waves. And the God of Exodus is the same God who is the driving force behind all created life. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand! Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?” The poetry of the Book of Job gives us this assertion of the total authority, the absolute power of the God who created heaven and earth. So the disciples question: “Who is this that the wind and waves obey….? really only has one possible answer.
At the heart of the Christian faith there is this incredible wonderful truth of Jesus who is both fully God and fully a man. How do we get our heads around that? I’m no physicist, but my dabblings in popular science tell me that quantum physics – that is the laws that govern tiny things at the sub-atomic level – throws up similar paradoxes. For example: light sometimes appears to behave like a wave, and sometimes like a particle. Waves and particles are different kinds of things. And yet light appears to achieve the impossibility of being both wave and particle. So OK: our passage want us to reckon with a Jesus who is completely God, the creating God of Genesis, the liberating God of Exodus, that selfsame God, empowered to bring peace to the raging elements.
And at the same time, our passage shows us a recognisably human Jesus. As I read the passage the image that strikes me most of all is that of the sleeping Jesus. It’s evening, we’re told as they get into the boat and after a full day of teaching and being with the crowds, Jesus is tired out. He falls asleep in the boat and leaves his friends to it. Feeling tired, knowing the need to rest and sleep is such a very human thing. When we watch someone else sleeping, I think, we see their vulnerable humanity. For me the picture of Jesus sleeping in the boat shows me a vulnerable Jesus, prone to the same feelings of weariness and exhaustion that you and I know all too well.
And this really matters! It matters that Jesus is completely human because that means that God in Jesus can fully empathise and identify with all the highs and lows of life that go to make up our human experience. And it matters that Jesus is completely divine because that means he is the bringer of peace. And not only to the wind and waves of Lake Galilee. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus is the peace of God for us: that the suffering, saving life and death and rising again of Jesus enable us to know the peace of God in our hearts and to live from the depths of that each day of our lives.
Listen to what Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians. He says:
But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace………
What does peace mean to you? It’s easy to think about peace in a negative way. We say, “I just want to enjoy some peace and quiet!” We can think about peace as the absence of noise, or the absence of war. But the Bible understands peace in a much more positive way. In the Bible, peace is basically all about relationships, and relationships being right. Peace is about relationships between people and God, and relationships between people and people. Where relationships go wrong and out of joint, then there’s no peace. When relationships are put right – and that’s what the cross is about – then peace is again possible. The Bible’s got a special word it uses for the putting right of relationships, so that peace and harmony come to be. That word is reconciliation. If you’ve ever had to look after a set of account, you’ll know that you have reconcile accounts, make them balance. Reconciliation means the re-balancing of relationships. The big story of the Bible is of relationships going wrong – remember that Adam and Eve story? – of the human race choosing to go its own way rather than God’s way, and of the relationships being restored, or reconciled through the healing, liberating love of God in Jesus. God was in reconciling the world to himself in Christ, Paul tells us. We can be at peace with God, not because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus has done.
Put there’s still more to it than that. Paul goes on to say (2 Cor 5:19). “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them, and he has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation. The work of peace-making, the message of reconciliation has been entrusted to us. God places it in our hands. It’s over to us to be the people who do the patient work of building up relationships; forgiving, conciliating, going the extra mile. That’s for us to do. This week the Queen will shake hands with Martin McGuiness, the former IRA leader. That’s real risky peace-making, and we should thank God for it.
Someone I know experienced a stormy time in their life a few years ago when one of their children became mentally ill. It was an awful time when she was quite unable to pray, and dependent upon other people to pray for her. She recalls another friend who was not a Christian challenging her: “How on earth can you believe in God when all this is happening?”
Her answer was: “All I know is that right in the awfulness of it all, God is with me.” She kept faith, and with love and prayer and patience and expert help, a healing process took place. They weathered the storm, and the boat of their family life is still intact.
“Who is this, that the wind and waves obey him?” This is Jesus Christ, God’s very being made real for us. This is Jesus, who comes to show us God’s way of reconciling love. This is Jesus who by his death and rising again deals with the problem of a world that has turned away from God. Jesus through whom God makes peace possible. Jesus who calls us to be reconcilers, taking the risk of faith, becoming peace-builders alongside him. He is our peace, even while the storm still rages.
Frances Eccleston June 2012