A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 21st June 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, Mark 4: 35-41 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13.
The bible story of Jesus stilling the storm is a familiar account of Jesus’ life in the gospels of Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8: 23-27 ; Luke 8:22-25.
In this story, Jesus went to the sea with the disciples on a boat. There was a life threatening storm attack against the boat. Jesus was sleeping while his disciples were so frightened that they woke him up for help. Jesus, without saying anything, woke up immediately and rebuked the wind and then the sea was restored to great calm. Jesus then lectured the disciples of why they were so frightened and challenge them of their little faith. The disciples responded in amazement of Jesus’ great power that even the wind and sea obeyed his words.
On the surface, it was another miracle Jesus performed to save his disciples and demonstrated his super power to even control nature so that his disciples around were saved.
When we read the story from another perspective, we will find out some other truth.
The sea that Jesus went with his disciples was the Sea of Galilee. A lot of Jesus’ ministries were taken place in here. In the sea of Galilee, due to its geographic location, storm comes often. Worse still, storm can come all of a sudden without any signal or sign. People going out to sea have to take this risk of weather changes that are very dangerous and life threatening.
The peaceful calm of the Sea of Galilee can quickly become transformed by a violent storm. Equally, a violent and deadly storm can be transformed or restored to peace.
If the sea of Galilee is taken as a symbol of our life situation, we must admit and be prepared that there could be ups and downs in our life. We have to prepare and admit there are risks at different levels in our life journey.
If you are in a state of storm in life, take it easy and have faith in God who will help you to remove your fear and transform you to a peaceful state
If you are in a state of peaceful calm, give thanks to God and enjoy it. Be prepared that the rainy and stormy days may come, without knowing when though. It is not words of threat, but if we bear this perspective, it helps us to prepare for all situations in life. The more we prepare, the more we can adjust and find it less hard to take.
Response of Jesus – his full presence and passing of peace
At a time of storm, what was Jesus doing? He was sleeping. In the gospel account, it said that Jesus was sleeping in the stern with a pillow/cushion. It sounded like he was sleeping comfortably. From the response of the disciples, Jesus seemed not disturbed by the storm.
The place where Jesus slept on the boat was an area reserved for special guest. This is located at the back of the ship where people on board can have a wider view.
Jesus was called to help by his disciples. Jesus got up at once and acted for his disciples.
In here, we are informed that Jesus sailed on the same boat with his disciples when they were struck by the storm. Therefore, the power of Jesus is not just his supernatural power to still the wave and calm the storm. The power of Jesus is his love through his full presence with those who are in life danger and those who are taking risk in everyday life. God’s power is demonstrated in his almighty power over nature. (As the disciples were amazed that even the wind and sea obeyed him.) The beauty of this story reminds us of God’s radical love in humanity is manifest in God’s incarnation to the world through Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ can lead a life comfortably, just like in the story that we read, he slept in a place where a cushion was provided. It indicated somehow the place was pretty comfortable. But Jesus did not choose an easy and comfortable life. Jesus Christ chose to serve according to the will of God. Jesus Christ is both God and human. Being a human, Jesus Christ who is God becomes vulnerable and shares the weakness and limitations of humanity. Jesus is willing to struggle and take risks in our everyday life. Jesus has also demonstrated his solidarity with people who live under threats and dangers. Jesus sails in the same boat with people always.
After Jesus rebuked the wind and brought a time of calmness and peace, he began to ask his disciples about their ‘faith’. He asked them, “why are you so frightened? Have you still no faith?” As human beings, it is so natural to be frightened when we are under threat and danger.
Jesus has demonstrated his transforming power to overcome fear in the life threatening moment. In this story of calming the wind, it was another example to remind us of Jesus’ power. Jesus as the son of God, he has demonstrated his power of transformation, from storm to calmness, from fear to peace. The climax of Jesus’ life transformation power of course is demonstrated in his death and resurrection.
Let’s go back to the scripture. When the disciples were threatened by the storm, Jesus gave them peace. Look at what Jesus said when he woke up and rebuke the wind. It is “Peace! Be still!” (NRSV) “Quiet now! Be Calm! (NJB) When we are under threat and danger, what we need most is peace and stillness. That is the very thing Jesus has given to his disciples. Only when we are in peace, stillness and calmness are we able to act properly with wisdom.
There is an old sage saying, “the enemy of wisdom is a lack of tranquility”. If we are in a stage of restlessness, we cannot think objectively and act wisely.
We encounter different kinds of ups and downs, dangerous and threatening situation nowadays. The outbreak of the H1N1 human swine flu in HK has shut down many secondary schools and caused all primary and kindergartens to close for two weeks. Many people have worried about that and have caused much anxiety for many students, teachers and parents.
The economic tsunami has affected virtually all of us and thousands of people losing job and facing salary cut. Wars and violence have forced many people to leave their countries involuntarily.
At both personal and societal level in our local community as well as in the global world, we human beings are facing different kinds of threat and dangers. We are just like a boat sailing in wind and storm.
Jesus’ full presence with his power of love and might are able to give us peace and hope. The peace given by Jesus is our source of strength that can encourage us to move on with faith and joy. Faith in God through Jesus Christ is all that matter.
How do we respond to Jesus’ power of love and grace?
Jesus sails on the same boat with his disciples. Jesus was their savior in his time and Jesus Christ is our savior today. Jesus taught his disciples to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Then how can we as Jesus Christ disciples sail the same boat with others who are under the threat of life’s storm?
Recently, the Christian Zheng Sheng Drug Rehabilitation College is under the spotlight in the mass media. The College has made a request to the government for using a vacant school in Mui Wo for their increasing number of students taking the drug rehabilitation program in their existing school. The local residents together with the local leaders in Mui Wo objected against the government for such a move. The school premise requested by the College has been vacant for 2 years. The objection reflected somehow the local community’s selfishness and discrimination against the young people who suffered from drug abuse. They don’t want the marginalized youth stay in their backyard.
A woman who is a local resident of Mui Wo called up Ming Pao, a local Chinese newspaper. She told the journalist that she is in support of the young people and the Christian Zheng Sheng Drug Rehabilitation College. Although she was frightened by the anger and overwhelming actions of the local residents, she tried her way to express her views. She has overcome her fear by her sense of justice. She has demonstrated her solidarity with the vulnerable and marginalized youth. There are also different voices from the community of HK supporting the College. The Zheng Sheng College is run by Christian groups. How does the Church respond when the College is facing such a storm in the community at this moment of time?
Last week, Jelita preached in this pulpit. She has fostered her vision to the congregation to take up the ministry of reconciliation as Church after receiving the gift of the holy spirit in the Pentecost. When we work out the calling of God, we may encounter different kinds of obstacles and difficulties during our course of service. The risks are right there and storms would come at any time. How well prepared are we to take it?
In today’s reading of Apostle Paul in his ministry serving the faith community of Corinthian, he has given us much encouragement.
First of all, Apostle Paul reminds us that we should not waste the God’s grace that we have received. That means we need to value and be serious to what we have been given by God. For all of us who have been saved and liberated by our Lord Jesus Christ, we should not just stay in the receiving end of God’s grace, but should serve our Lord.
Apostle Paul was a faithful servant to God. In his ministry for serving early churches and his hard work in evangelism, he suffered a lot. He had been jailed several times. In the midst of hardship, in his life of wind and storm, it is so amazing to see his resolute perseverance.
In 2 Corinthians 6:4; he has encouraged the fellow workers in this community of faith by saying, “in everything we do we show that we are God’s servants by patiently enduring troubles, hardships, and difficulties”. (GNB)
Paul further shared profound message in the scripture by saying, “By our purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness we have shown ourselves to be God’s servants---by the Holy Spirit, by our message of truth, by the power of God. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves. We are honored and disgraced; we are insulted and praised. We are treated as liars, yet we speak the truth; as unknown, yet we are known by all; as though we were dead, we live on. Although punished, we are not killed, although saddened, we are always glad; we seem poor, but we make many people rich; we seem to have nothing, yet we really possess everything.” These words are very impressive and carry weight. With the help of the Holy spirit the words strengthen our hearts and give us hope. They help us to endure difficult time and any attacks in life.
I would like to conclude my sermon by highlighting the followings:
1 To accept there are risks in lives. Faith in God helps to build up believers’ courage to face challenges.
2 God is right there to protect and help us when we are in trouble and tests. God’s incarnated love is revealed through Jesus.
3 Jesus was on the same boat with his disciples; Jesus was struggling with them and is struggling with us of today. Jesus does not take away the threats, risks and dangers in life. It is in danger we learnt to entrust in our God. In crisis, we are equipped and learnt, and grow.
4 Take Jesus as a model, let us struggle with those who are in danger, suffering from different kinds of threats in lives. To take the words of apostle Paul to be our encouragement and his endurance in facing hardship as our model too.
5 As a born again Christian and church filled by the holy spirit, we need to demonstrate a spiritual life from a personal and community of faith point of view, that reflect we are saved and transformed in the grace of God.
After Jesus left the world, he has given all believers the Holy Spirit and in the Pentecost the Church was given birth through the spirit. The Church has been empowered by the Holy Spirit. Given by power and divine presence of the Holy Spirit and the full solidarity of Jesus Christ with humanity, we as individuals and as community of faith should sail with faith, hope and love in our life journey ahead.
May God bless you all.