Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity: Muzzling the raging storm: preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey on Sunday, 20 June 2021 by The Reverend Christopher Huitson. (2 Corinthians 6: 1 – 13; Mark 4: 35 – 41)
The skipper of a tramp steamer was a stickler for the facts. So when the first mate came aboard rather the worse for drink one evening, he duly entered in the log: “Mate drunk today”, explaining that it was true and that he had to record it. When it was the Mate’s turn to make the day’s entry in the log, the skipper was horrified to read: “Captain sober today.” “What does this mean?” he asked. “Well,” said the Mate, “it was true and I had to enter it.”
Well, the disciples in the boat which figured in today’s gospel reading were certainly sober and many of them were knowledgeable about the lake and its changing moods. Some of them were fishermen and knew about sudden squalls and how they, just as suddenly, quietened down. Their experience of this storm was of a different order since it was clearly a great tempest. But, in addition, the way in which the story has been developed shows that the storyteller had an eye on other themes as well. Especially we need to note the ending: “Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?” The difficulty about the story only arises if we just take it at face value for then its various parts rather jar and clash.
Today, as 2000 years ago, the lake is well known for its sudden storms and their equally sudden ending for the hills beside the lake have a funnelling effect on the weather. Local fishermen would certainly have known of such conditions. And why seek help from Jesus? Clearly, they were not expecting him to calm the storm and, as a carpenter, he was unlikely to have any more skill at sailing a boat than they did. Perhaps they were just peeved that he, like Jonah in the OT story, was sleeping calmly while all was chaos and disaster around him.
We need then to look at other levels of meaning in the story. St Mark ends his account with a question: “Who is this?” It is followed by the casting out of devils from the disturbed man known as Legion. Once healed Jesus tells him to go back home and tell everyone what God had done for him. Again, we are concerned with who Jesus was and what people were saying about him. A similar passage in St Luke’s gospel puts together a whole series of accounts, miracles and events all designed to reveal aspects of Jesus, describing who he was.
Our gospel today especially concerns Jesus’ power over the forces of disorder and more generally expresses the religious truth that Jesus is the saviour of those who are perishing. We are here in the world of nature and our attitudes today differ from those of the people of Jesus’ day. For some people today nature is almost divine or is reckoned to reveal the divine. New age ideas in particular stress this approach. A more scientific outlook may suppose that we can control and harness natural forces, though nature is more powerful and destructive at times than we would wish and can overwhelm feeble humans and their puny structures. And, of course, worries about global warming and the destruction of carbon absorbing trees and vegetation remind us that humanity can have an adverse effect on our world which may harm mankind and plants and animals.
But the people at the time of Jesus just regarded the natural world as unpredictable and capricious. The Jews were not a seafaring nation and so, in Genesis, the waters symbolised chaos before the creative power of God put the waters in their place. Even then they were constantly breaking through the barriers with storms and destructive floods. In our story significant words are used: Jesus rebukes the wind and the raging waters and tells them to be still (literally be muzzled, like an out-of-control rottweiler) almost as though the storm is a demon which needs to be exorcised by a binding spell. It needed divine power to control the elemental forces.
We draw two conclusions from all this which will support our faith and give us confidence. First, with Jesus as our saviour we cannot possibly perish. We shall all eventually leave this life through the gates of death, of course, but Jesus, as Saviour, brings us to the new life of his kingdom and the joy of resurrection and so saves us from perishing.
And, secondly, the answer to the question “Who is this” is that Jesus has divine power since it is God who controls the forces of the natural world with his creative authority. Jesus stilling the storm points us to Jesus as Son of God, Lord of all, and one whom even the winds and waves obey.