This sermon was preached when the set readings were Mark 4:35-40 where Jesus calms the storm on the lake, and 1 Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath. Both of these are clearly mythical stories, where the hero triumphs over overwhelming odds. The task of the sermon was to see what they said about faith today.
Mark 4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
From the very beginning of Mark Jesus is a person of power. Already by chapter 3 he has attracted the ire of the Pharisees. And now, out on the lake, the evil side of the elements themselves rise up to try and destroy him. In the story we have heard , he shows he is even more powerful than them!
The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake. It is fed by the River Jordan, the sacred river of Israel, which is the way into the promised land. It is central in the gospels. Until Jesus goes up to Jerusalem everything seems centred around the lake. It is like the geographical centre of the gospel story.
Water is a symbol of life. We are attracted to water. In Australia the great majority of us live on the coast and along the rivers and lake shores. If we go into the desert and central Australia, where do we go but to the lakes and waterholes?
Water is life and the lake is a symbol of all that life is. Not only of goodness.... deep water is sometimes a symbol of evil things that erupt into life.
Life throws up great storms; things that rise up from nowhere in a fury, sometimes, and seem set to destroy us... Great Goliaths which gloat over us and threaten us with destruction. And we are small ordinary people, not even with the confidence of a David, too aware of how easily we can be crushed. Too aware of how easily we will fumble the small stones we maybe able to throw....
And well educated about the fragility of life by the TV news, and the wars that ceaselessly rage or threaten. We know we are in a small boat on a deep sea, vulnerable... leaking.... lost even on the calmest of days.... afraid of storms which may come.
The message of Mark is that Jesus ruled the storm. The Gospel itself--- capital "G" gospel--- is that Jesus came to give us fullness of life like he had. The message is that we, too, can rule the storms.
Now, here's where it gets interesting. How do we rule the storms of life?
Experience shows that it is not by adhering to some supernaturalist Christianity that says you have to believe the right things and have the right experiences. Experience shows that true power for living comes from living like Jesus did.
What we are talking about is the Christian virtues- honesty, truthfulness, patience, kindness, goodness.... In the reading from Corinthians Paul talks of " purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God"
Above all these virtues is the Christian virtue of compassion. Compassion is what the old translations called Mercy. It means to walk in the other person's shoes when we relate to them, when we seek to understand them, and before we act against them or judge them.
These virtues, lived out year after year, are what give us the power of Christ to overcome all the storms that life throws up at us. They are really rather ordinary, and don't have the flashiness some people look for, or preach. They are not about believing six impossible things before breakfast, or having some special knowledge that the other second class Christians don't understand.
They are the special yet ordinary human maturity that comes from the long practice of listening, and of caring, and making cups of tea and helping old people with their gardening and their banking...
...and letting little kids make noise in church, and encouraging teenagers to play in a band, even if we don't like all their music, and all those other little things... All those ordinary little things that build us up into a truly powerful person.
There is more to all of this... something the trendy gospels sometimes want to ignore. In the last storm of his life, Jesus was killed. The people who had been planning and plotting and waiting, got their chance.
Jesus was arrested and crucified... just like today, when the very best, and the most undeserving, and the completely innocent are crushed by life... When a great arbitrary brutal Goliath of a disaster bursts upon them and overwhelms them. When a bomb explodes at a holiday resort or a drunken driver runs the lights, or a silent sneaking disease corrupts the very cells of their existence.
The full truth of the gospel is that even Jesus cannot resist death in the end. We are so used to the idea of Jesus the Lord that we forget-he was destroyed. He died. And death comes to us all... timely or otherwise.
The claim of the church, however, is that this death is not the end. The claim is that living this Jesus life we have been talking about brings resurrection.
We know this from day to day. We know the lesser resurrections, where we were almost destroyed, and yet somehow rose again to go on... depression almost to the depths of suicide... unemployment and enforced uselessness... insidious illness... bereavement... we know people rise up again, or are raised up from all of these things.
We have perhaps felt this ourselves. To be so ill for so long that you wonder if you should kill yourself for the sake of your family, and then to get better and know joy and fun again... that is resurrection.. The story of Jesus says that there was something of him that could not be destroyed- not by these things, and not even by death itself. He rose again.
There is also a terror to the gospel. The terror is that we don't know what this resurrection is. Some people will make confident claims, but in the end, as Paul says, " you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed." We do not know what it will be like. And, more terror, we cannot prove that it will be! Preachers can shout louder, writers can be more eloquent, and theologians can theorise, but there is no proving of resurrection after that last death.
Some people work hard at living a good life to make sure they get into heaven. I think that's not living the Jesus life at all. That's often denying the reality of death, and trying to guarantee that un-guarantee-able thing we call resurrection. It's an idolatry which makes resurrection into the point of life, not God. In fact, I want to say that if we are not living the way of Jesus because of the goodness of his way and his life, we have missed the point of it, and lost the power of it. Live life for the good of it and the enjoyment of it... live life for the love of people and the love of Jesus.... that's where the power is.
Why am I bringing you this? It's because I sense in the church a kind of desperation. A fear of life and a loss of confidence in the reality of God.
There is a propagation of theologies that are trying to guarantee resurrection......
if only we will believe the right things, sing the right kinds of chorus, pray in the right kind of tongues, or connect with a congregation of a particular conviction.
And so people say, "If only our minister would do this, or didn't do that... or we had a youth ministry, or a something else," and they make idols of things.... they look for signs... ultimately because they are scared that resurrection might not be, and because so much of the world around us is apparently sure that resurrection is not so.
Don't be like this. An adulterous and faithless generation looks for a sign Jesus said. There is already a sign. The sign is his way of living and what it does to us, and how it empowers us, when we follow it, living with goodness and compassion. The final proof of the pudding is in the eating they say. The final proof, and the only real proof of the faith, in the end, is in the living.
In living the faith we will face down the Goliaths, and if we are crushed, there will be resurrection. And it will in the end be worth it. [Personally, I don't care if there is not resurrection. Life is good enough on its own terms. Resurrection is now. If it continues beyond death, well... that's a bonus. But for me life is now and to be taken for what it gives now.]
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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