Psalm 65, Genesis 2:4b-9, Revelation 4, Luke 8:22-25
Many of us will have had an occasion when we have been out on the water and wondered whether we would make it back in one piece. I can think of three off the top of my head. When I was canoeing in Canada one Spring, a sudden squall came up and my canoeing buddy and I had to cross a large ice-cold lake to get back to our camp site on an island through very impressive waves. Then there was the time in Panama when I went off in an open fishing boat for a visit to an island. We stayed too late in the day and came back as the wind and huge waves came up in the early evening. That was probably the scariest. The other one was crossing the several miles wide mouth of the River Gambia on a very decrepit and heavily overladen ferry late one afternoon. It was getting dark and suddenly the engines stopped, every light went out and we started drifting out to sea. I could see the lights of our destination, Banjul, passing away into the distance. This vessel was not made for the ocean and the life rafts looked decidedly unseaworthy. I was very worried, but in the nick of time the engines started again and we got into port safely.
What did I do in each of these instances? I prayed and Jesus clearly heard me, because I am still here and he was always there.
My father was a Ship’s Captain and he used to joke that when there was a storm along the Sussex coast, my grandmother would sit at her piano playing “Eternal Father strong to save” and pray enthusiastically for him. He on the other hand was probably sailing along on a calm sea in the tropics somewhere at the time. But when he was battling a fierce gale, it was probably sunny in Sussex and she was not giving him a second thought. My father was perhaps not the most devout Christian on the planet. But he believed firmly in God – he told me that nobody could do the job that he did, see the sights he saw and witness the amazing power of the natural world and not believe in God. He prayed and he trusted in the Lord and his point about my grandma was that the important thing was that she prayed and God always listens and takes note, whenever that prayer is made.
While I was thinking about this sermon. I realised quite how like us the disciples were in many ways. They were just ordinary folk really, with very human fears and concerns. The boat was sinking and Jesus was asleep. Oh, for goodness’ sake, why is he not paying attention and dealing with it? Jesus was clearly tired – he had been preaching and teaching and looking after family matters. He, showing his humanity, needed a little rest before he arrived at the land of the Gadarenes and no doubt a busy schedule there. Jesus knew that the Sea of Galilee, like many other bodies of water, can get rapid changes of weather. Jesus would have known that when he went to sleep on the boat. But he was not worried as he knew he could deal with it. His surprise was that the disciples still did not realise this. They did not realise that Jesus is always in control, can always deal with anything.
We need to try to have the faith that the disciples did not have at that point – though we know that the experience of the risen Christ later sparked and cultivated their faith to the point that they devoted and gave up their lives to found and encourage the Christian church which we are members of two thousand years later. To tell people about Jesus far and wide.
If we show faith, then he is faithful to us. Prayer is not always answered in the way we might hope and I am not going to blithely stand here and say if you pray, you will get out of every tricky situation you may find yourself in. We know of many tragic disasters – we hear of crashing planes and sinking overloaded ferries, often with massive loss of life. The point is that despite it all we need to trust in him.
We need to be aware that God is there, in the background loving us and looking after us all the time. He is in control. This does not mean that we will all have easy, secure lives or that everything will be plain sailing, so to speak, all the time. God gave the disciples challenges as he gives us all challenges. Unexpected and difficult things, which test, frustrate, even anger us. Why on earth did he do this or that, we might ask ourselves. He did not promise an easy ride, but he did promise to be there and even when it might appear that he isn’t paying attention, be sure that he is. As we read in the Genesis passage today, He created us and made provision for us. It is not always easy, but we just need to have faith, to trust in him and we need to pray. That’s all that counts. Always was, always will be.
Praise the Lord!