Stilling of the Storm

Stilling of the Storm (Luke 8:22-25)

Bishop Dominic Walker, St Mary’s Monmouth 24.02.19

1. Every time I have visited the Holy Land I have seen new places – or familiar places but in a new way. Until last December, I had never seen the Sea of Galilee as anything but sunny and calm surrounded by beautiful mountains. Last time however, I saw it with the wind blowing, the rain pouring down and the waves looking angry. I had to remember that in spite of its name the Sea of Galilee is a lake and known for its sudden violent storms. Cold air rushes down from the surrounding mountains, hitting the warm air above the lake and as a result storms erupt. Those who came with me will remember that we sailed in a boat on the lake one day but a day later we had to battle the wind and the rain to get to the lakeside where we found a shelter to celebrate an outdoor Eucharist and where we remembered today’s gospel account.

2. There is a wonderful painting by the Dutch master Rembrandt entitled A Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Sadly, it was stolen in 1990 from an art gallery in Boston, Mass. and as far as I know it is still missing although I am not sure that it is the kind of painting you would want on your living room wall. It depicts a dark, frightening scene of a life and death situation with high waves pushing one end of the small fishing boat into the air at a sharp angle, with water pouring into the boat, black clouds overhead and a broken sail and men clinging on to the edge of the boat for their lives.

3. But what is significant about this painting is that there are fourteen men in the boat. Rembrandt had painted an extra disciple and many believe that the extra disciple is a self-portrait, so why had he painted himself into the scene? Perhaps, it was to show that this story is not just an account from history but a reminder that every disciple needs faith to survive the storms of life.

4. The boat has often been used as a symbol of the church in which there are no passengers because all are crew. The ark in the story of Noah was the vessel that saved the people from drowning. In John’s gospel there is an account of the miraculous draught of fishes where we are told they caught 153 fish and the net did not break and 153 is believed to be the number of known species of fish at that time thus symbolising the missionary task of the church where the whole world is to be drawn into the boat. The Church and those within it have always faced stormy waters but it has not sunk.

5. Thinking of ourselves and the gospel reading – if we had been in the boat would we have reacted any differently? In Mark’s account (which may well be the original account) the disciples ask Jesus, ‘Teacher , do you not care that we are perishing?’ They were clearly in fear of their lives so no wonder they were scared. Would Jesus have chastised us for our lack of faith? You can’t simply summon up more faith by trying harder to believe – especially if you are in a state of panic. Faith is not the same as wishful thinking! Faith is something that is gradually built up through our experiences of life and through our relationship with God. We all face storms in life and may cry out for Christ’s help even asking him if he doesn’t care about us. The problem is that our faith will always be imperfect but Jesus will respond to our cries and strengthen us to enable the seed of faith to grow even stronger.

6. There is another lesson in the account of the stilling of the storm and that is that Jesus is asleep in the boat because no doubt he was tired. Mark’s account even says that he was asleep in the back on a cushion – a very human scene. But we believe that Jesus was not only fully human but also fully divine. In those days, people believed that evil forces of nature could only be overcome by divine powers so by stilling the wind and the waves, Jesus also demonstrates his divine nature.

7. The gospel writers make it clear that Jesus was a human being but they also recognised that he was much more than that because he gives us access to the Father and so in the year 451 the Council of Chalcedon declared Jesus to be of two natures – human and divine or as he says in the fourth Gospel Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.

8. Holding this balance of being both human and divine has always been a challenge for Christians because Jesus is our friend and brother but he is also our God and Saviour. The good news is that as our friend and brother he is in the boat with us though the storms and rough seas of life – even if sometimes we think he is asleep – and as our God and Saviour he is also the one who rescues us from perishing and brings us safely to our eternal home. Amen.