Hearing two better sermons than my own called for a complete rewrite this morning. With credit to Mother Margaret and Mother Kathryn, who set me on a new direction for this homily
In the name of the +Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
The Sea of Galilee is, I understand, like Scotland, and the weather can change in an instant from benign to frightening. There are many ravines to the north and east of the lake which create wind tunnels. These can whip up the waves on the lake at a moment’s notice and strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned sailors, as these fishermen disciples undoubtedly are.
The fishing boats are about 24 feet long, with a little cushioned seat in the raised part at the stern. At most they might accommodate a dozen men, but it would be very open to the elements.
In their fear for their lives the disciples go in faith to the one person who can help them. Jesus, we are told, is sleeping. Jesus the divine yet oh so human is sleeping because He is exhausted from the day’s preaching.
But, in an instant He is awake and meets them in their fear. With one sharp word, nature has obeyed its Creator, but the disciples do not get away scot free. They are told off for letting their fear rule
They forgot for a moment that He is their anchor.
Is Jesus your anchor?
Will your anchor hold in the storms of your life?
For yes, there will be storms in this life. Becoming a Christian does not shelter you from the challenges of life, in many cases it accentuates those challenges.
I’m hearing it more at the moment, as redundancies bite, as funds run out, as political and environmental upheavals dominate the news. Many people feel as if they are teetering on the edge of chaos, and so they ask “Where is God? Doesn’t he care? What’s going on?”
At the end of time, billions of people were seated on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame – but with belligerence.
“Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?”, snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror … beatings … torture … death!”
In another group a African lad lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched, for no crime but being black !”
In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: “Why should I suffer?” she murmured. “It wasn’t my fault.” Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.
How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light. Where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.
So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, an African, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.
Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man.
Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind.
Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.
At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.
For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.
We all react differently to the crises in our lives. They can bring out the best [and the worst in us. We can allow them to overwhelm us or we can take hold of them and, trusting God, the God who has experienced all of life in its joys and pains, to make the best of things. One thing is for sure, none of can expect to get through life without being tested and it all too easy to turn in on ourselves and say ‘Why me?’
In the presence of Jesus, the disciples see a storm turn into a calm. So, too, can we find His presence in a crisis if WE LET HIM.
His presence transforms even the darkness of death into the light of eternity.
His presence in our suffering CAN bring us peace because He has been there before us.
His broken, bleeding body on the cross and the empty tomb are witness to Him breaking the power of evil once and for all.
But it takes courage and faith to trust Jesus in our worst crises, and to recognise that he travels through the storm with us, through the teibulations with us. As we meet Him in the Mass, as we share the bread and wine that is His body and His blood, freely shed on the cross for us, so He reaches out to us with the assurance that no matter what the future holds, we can face it better with Him than without Him.
Julian of Norwich had her visions of God as she came close to death. She was almost overwhelmed by her own trials, but instead of sinking, she learned to float again, and offered her experiences as a gift to the church, a gift of faith and love still valued centuries on.
Listen to her
“He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”
May it be so.