Posts tagged ‘Gospel’

May 13, 2016

Meditation: Jesus calms the storm

 

 

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Glendalough, Co. Wicklow (April 2016)

As part of our school’s “Mental Health Week”, I did a meditation in the morning Chapel Service. It’s based on the wonderful account written in Mark 4:35-41.

 

It’s been a really long and tiring day, a day where so many thousands of people were surrounding Jesus. It was wonderful to see Him heal so many of them, and in between to teach such beautiful parables. But everyone is really tired. Jesus knows this and he calls out: “Come on let’s go down to the beach, let’s get into the boat and cross over to the other side of the Lake”. As he leads, you walk along with the group behind him … he walks down the hill towards the shore, the dustiness of the bare earth turns to sandy gravel, which crunches beneath your feet. You notice the sun getting low in the sky, casting an orange glow across the water. As you walk along the shoreline, the cool water washes against your sore feet. Peter is there by the boat, holding onto the rope, as one by one, the disciples get in … and now you get in. As you put a hand down on the side of the boat you notice the smoothness of the well-worn wood under your palm. Jesus climbs in just behind you. Peter casts off the rope and the boat drifts away from the shore. Peter skillfully spins the boat around and you head out into the deeper water. In the gathering gloom you can just about make out a few dim lights and some smoke from fires far away along the shore. But ahead is just too dark to see.

Everyone is settled into the boat, there’s not much conversation as you and the others are just so tired. As night falls, you notice the breeze getting stronger and the boat starting to rock a little as you continue to head towards the centre of the lake… You drift into a daydream remembering the faces of all the people who came to Jesus today. There’s just something about Him…

Suddenly, shockingly, things become scary. The waves are huge and the boat is being swamped. Peter, James and John are desperately trying to tie up the sail as it flaps about uncontrollably. Before anyone has realised what is happening you are suddenly in the middle of a violent, lethal storm. The water is filling the boat and you join in with the others trying to bail, but it’s no use. The wind is so loud but you just about hear Peter shouting to hold on tight to the ropes around the edge of the boat. But even as he shouts you see the fear in the eyes of this experienced fisherman. But it’s not just Peter, everyone is terrified. No one has ever seen a storm like this before, there is something primeval, something supernatural about its ferocity. Suddenly you remember Jesus, you don’t know why you didn’t think of Him before. You look about and you can’t believe what you are seeing. Everyone is terrified and thinks they are about to be thrown into the chaos of the deep and there is Jesus, asleep! His head resting on a cushion with a serenity that seems totally misplaced. Stunned, you shout out from the depths of your being, “Jesus, Jesus, wake up, don’t you care about us, we’re going to drown!” The others look at you and then at Jesus, you think maybe You said too much, but this is serious. Jesus slowly wakes up and looks around him and he seems surprised by our fear. He stands up in a way that he seems to hardly notice the boat rocking violently about. He looks at you and says in a voice that although quiet, can be heard easily and says “Why are you afraid, when are you going to get some faith?” Then he looks about at the others too, none of us can look Him in the eye, we all know that we doubted Him. Then in a way that seems so normal, so natural he shouts out, his voice has a power, a resonance that is at once the most beautiful and most terrifying voice you have ever heard. “Peace, … Be still!”… Like someone closing a door the wind immediately stops. The waves take a few moments longer, but soon you notice a peace and tranquility that would have seemed impossible just a few moments before.

You become aware that this is more than just a physical stillness, it is a peace that is beyond the natural. It is not just the water and the air that are now still. You feel a deep-down stillness within yourself also… As Jesus looks at you, you know that His peace will remain, so that no matter what will ever happen in your life, no matter what storms lie ahead, you will always be able to remember that peace you feel inside right now, the day that Jesus calmed the storm. In the very depth of your being, you know that His peace will carry you through anything because you now know that Jesus will always, always be there … Amen.

 

August 13, 2014

Getting out of the boat

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(Photo: Inishbofin Ferry, July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 10th August, 2014.

Text: Matthew 14:22-33

As we look at the gospel reading this morning, many of us (if we are honest) will find ourselves identifying with the disciples in the boat. If you think about it, it is a picture of much of the church in our part of the world today. As we look beyond the confines of the boat, we are intimidated by the height of the waves and the strength of the wind. The world is in such a mess, with seemingly endless numbers of spiritually starving people all around us, and the world beyond appears to be nothing but war and rumours of war, disease and disaster, with countless numbers of innocent men, women and children caught up in it all. “It’s much better to say in the boat”, we say to ourselves, “where it is safe, where it is dry and where we can hide from the oceans of need all around us”.  

I have a memory from when I was about five or six years old of watching an episode of Dr. Who on TV – there I was, eyes glued to the old black-and-white television when all of a sudden a scary screaming monster type thing came on to the screen and I was terrified. I got up and ran around to the back of the sofa, occasionally peering over the top to see if it had gone away and then ducking for cover once more. My mother then came in to the room and told me not to be afraid, it was just a man dressed up in a silly costume and it was nothing to be frightened of. I didn’t need to hide behind the sofa any more after that.  

But staying in the boat, or hiding behind the sofa or just keeping ourselves busy with church activity is not where the Lord wants us to be. He does not want us to live in fear, He wants us to trust Him, He even wants us to get out of the boat…  

The reading starts off with the Lord Jesus telling the disciples to head out in the boat and go over to the other side of the lake whilst he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. Did the disciples know that their master and friend was going to pray? I’m not sure, but if they did, then perhaps they didn’t need to fear what was going to happen next. The same is of course true for us. In Hebrews 7:25, the Bible gives us the wonderful promise that Jesus prays for those who come to God through Him. Isn’t it a very special thing, to know that Jesus prays for us?  

So whilst Jesus is alone on the mountain, the disciples are making their way across the lake, but a storm has arisen, the boat is being battered by the wind and the waves and they are far from the shore. It’s quite a contrast don’t you think? Picture the serenity of Jesus in the place of prayer up on the mountain and then in the distance out on the water are the disciples, being lashed, buffeted and bashed by the waves and the wind which are coming hard against them. Remember that a number of the disciples are experienced professional fishermen, they have encountered many storms before, but this is a bad one. The disciples are in a state of panic and in fear of losing their lives and yet they were in fact perfectly safe, Jesus was praying not only for Himself but also for them and He very soon would come to them. How many times have we been in a state of anxiety and fear only to realise later that God was with us all along, looking after us, holding and protecting us?  

In verse 25 it says “In the early morning he came walking towards them on the lake”. In the original it says “In the fourth watch of the night”, which is between 3 am to 6 am. So the disciples had been battling the storm most of the night, and they were no doubt by this time not only frightened, but exhausted. The waves were still large and the wind still strong and there had been no let up. But Jesus comes to them ‘actually walking on the rising and falling waves’ (Hendriksen). ‘The disciples must discover that they have a Saviour who is able not only to still the storm but even to use it as His pathway’ (Ibid.) Initially they don’t realise that it is Jesus coming to them across the water, in the dim light and overcome with fear they cry out ‘It is a ghost!’ But now close to them Jesus says:  

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Beautiful words, words that give us strength and comfort to this day. If we look at the literal translation of what Jesus says, it is even more powerful, He says: “Take heart, I AM”. When Jesus says ‘I AM’, it is very significant, because this is the name for God in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14). Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that He is the great ‘I AM’, so there is no need to fear. In whatever situations you are in today, this is a huge reassurance to your heart that Jesus is in control.[1]   DSC_0801_wp

(Photo: “Jesus walking on the Water”, Stained-glass window, Church of the Ascension, Timoleague)

I think Peter is just such a great, larger-than-life character. He sometimes gets criticised for being a loud mouth who always seems to put his foot in it, but what we learn from him is that it is much better to do something and fail whilst trying, than to do nothing at all. It is much better to get out of the boat and sink and be saved than to never take the step of faith at all. Peter wants to be wherever Jesus is, even if that means doing something that is impossible, something that contradicts the laws of physics, such as walking on water. Of course it was Jesus who created water in the first place, it was He who determined the laws of physics and nature, He is Lord over all He has created and it is subject to Him in every way.  

Peter has enough faith and enough courage to step out of the boat, which at this time is still being buffeted about. To begin with it all goes well, he is actually walking on the water towards Jesus. But the initial wonder of what he is doing evaporates as Peter takes his eyes of Jesus and notices the strong wind. In so doing his faith is replaced by fear and he begins to sink. Turning back to Jesus he cries out “Lord, save me!” Jesus’ response is immediate, He reaches out and catches hold of him. Perhaps it is then as the two of them are walking back to the boat that Jesus says: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ In other words, Peter should have taken to heart that He was in Christ’s presence, and he should not therefore have been afraid.  

Perhaps some of us can relate to Peter, yes we have faith, but mixed in with that faith is fear and doubt (Wright). It can seem that what Jesus has asked us to do is impossible, whether that is being a witness for Him in the home, in school or in the workplace; whether that is being involved in ministry of some kind to those in the church or to those outside; whether it is in helping those around us or helping those in far away places. It can all seem, at times, overwhelming. If like Peter we look at the wind and the waves we will conclude that what God has asked us to do is impossible. All we have to do though is keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, in prayer, in His Word, in worship and praise and as we go out into the world. Spending time with Him is key so that not only will we know what He wants us to do, but we will have the power, energy, strength and faith to do that which He asks of us.  

As Peter and Jesus get back into the boat all is calm, the wind stops and the disciples cry out now not in fear, but in worship, saying to Jesus ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’  Worship is of utmost importance.  

One of my favourite books of recent years is John Ortberg’s “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.” He writes:   “When human beings get out of the boat, they are never quite the same. Their worship is never quite the same. Their world is never quite the same. Whatever the results, whether they sink or swim, something will have changed… Jesus is not finished yet. He is still looking for people who will dare to trust Him. He is still looking for people who will refuse to allow fear to have the final word. He is still looking for people who refuse to be deterred by failure … Just remember one thing: If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”[2]  

Let’s pray: Lord, we ask that You would give us courage to get up and to step out and to follow You and Your will and plan for our lives, now and always … Amen.  

Further Reading:

  • William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Matthew, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1989
  • John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001
  • Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, SPCK, London, 2004

[1] http://acs.alpha.org/bioy/commentary/765

[2] John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, p.202

October 18, 2010

Into another’s shoes

Little shoes

It was Atticus in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird who said:

“… you never really understand a man unless you step inside his shoes and walk around in them.” 

Last week at the Cork, Cloyne & Ross Clergy Conference I learnt a lot.  The speaker was Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon and he spoke to us on “Old message, new media: communicating the Gospel in the digital age”.  Key points included understanding what it was like for the person who has no experience of church or theological language coming into a church service and how alien an experience it can be for them.   How do we present and share the gospel with a 16 year old and / or someone from a completely different background or cultural environment than our own?  What language do we use, does it make sense?


Another point Bishop Nick made was the importance of engaging with people through blogging, Twitter, Facebook etc.  It was like the penny finally dropped for me; yes I have been blogging for a while but now I see a greater purpose in it.  Likewise I have been on Facebook and Twitter for some time, but have never really got going with either.  Now even in the past few days I have found myself joining in a debate with some Atheists on Facebook – what an opportunity this is, to share the gospel with people who are never going to go anywhere near a church!  Compared to many I do not get huge numbers of visitors to my blog, but the numbers reading my sermons on line would fill all the church pews several times over – this is exciting stuff but it will only work if I am able to communicate in a way that those who I am trying to engage with understand what I am trying to say.  That of course is a huge challenge…

February 1, 2009

But deliver us from evil

Sunrise in Glounthaune, Co Cork, October 2007
Nikon D70s, 1/100 sec, f5, ISO 200, 105mm equivalent (click to enlarge)

Mark 1:21-28

So our Gospel reading picks up from last week. You may remember that Jesus had been walking by the Sea of Galilee and he had called four fishermen to be amongst His followers: Simon, Andrew, James and John. Our reading for today carries on with the five of them making their way around the lake to Capernaum, where Jesus had recently moved to from Nazareth, about 20 miles to the south (Matthew 4:12,13). When Saturday, the Sabbath day arrives, Jesus (and presumably the small group of his disciples) attends the Synagogue. Because the temple in Jerusalem was too far for many of the Jewish people to travel to regularly for worship, many towns had Synagogues to serve as both places of worship and as schools. Each Sabbath day the Jewish men would gather to listen to a Rabbi teach from the Scriptures. Because there was no permanent Rabbi or teacher, it was customary for the Synagogue leader to ask visiting teachers to speak. So on this particular Saturday Jesus indicates His desire to speak and gets permission to do so.

Once Jesus begins teaching, the people are amazed – you can imagine their jaws dropping open as this carpenter from Nazareth teaches from the Scriptures so clearly and with so much power and authority. They were used to dusty, dry and boring sermons, they had never heard anything like this before.

Satan clearly is not pleased. A man enters the Synagogue, who is possessed by an evil spirit. He cries out:

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are – you are God’s holy messenger!” (v.24)

Perhaps it all too easy with our 21st Century way of looking at things to dismiss this as a bit of primitive superstition – that demon possession is what the writers of the New Testament understood was happening whereas it was in fact some kind of physical or mental illness that was being manifest. But if you actually read the New Testament, you will see that the writers are quite clearly able to distinguish between someone who is demon possessed and someone who had a physical or mental illness. Even later on in this chapter in Mark we read:

Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons…(v.34)

I’m sure you remember that the Lord Jesus had already defeated Satan in the wilderness, but now it seems that the devil is trying a different tactic, he sends out his servants, the demons to take control of unwitting hearts.(1)

This horrible creature, this demon that has taken over a man’s heart knows that it has met its match in the Lord Jesus. The Lord is its Master, he knows that his time is up, he recognises the Holiness and Deity of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus’ complete authority is emphasised in what happens next, He issues a short, firm command:

“Be quiet and get out of him” (v.25)

The demon obeys at once, for it is all he could do, albeit unwillingly. He shakes the poor victim violently and with a shriek comes out of him.

Clearly, the people were dumbfounded, amazed and in awe of what they had just witnessed. Here is Someone who not only spoke with such great authority but who acted with great authority too, a rare combination indeed.

I think that the very clear message from our gospel reading is the fact that Jesus is very much in charge and that He has complete authority over evil, in its many guises. But there’s that nagging question knocking away at the back of our minds, the question that takes many forms and the question that longs for a satisfactory answer: Why then is there so much evil and suffering in this world, if Jesus has complete authority over it? Why do children die? Why is justice not forthcoming for innocent victims? Why is there so much suffering in this world? Why does the Devil seem to be on the rampage causing seemingly limitless destruction and pain?

Of course with just a couple of hundred words and a few minutes of time it is not possible to give a full answer to this most pertinent of questions. Some time ago I visited a person in hospital who was in a lot of pain. Although they could talk and even walk around, it was not possible for them to describe or articulate the level of suffering they were going through except perhaps in the lines of pain that were deeply etched in their face. I struggled with what words to say and conversation was difficult. The person then looked up to high on the wall opposite their bed and we both looked and stared for some time at this object. It was of course a crucifix. The pain of Christ suffering on the cross somehow seemed to mirror that of the person I was with and there was for an unspoken moment a sense of peace and release. Like a bit of light shining from the end of a very long dark and difficult tunnel came the realisation that everything here is only for a time. The pain people feel now is only for a time. The suffering and misery of so many is only for a time and there is the fact that God is not remote aloof and aloft from our suffering, He is right there in the very midst of that suffering and has indeed gone through the grave and gate of death Himself. Why? To make all things new. To make us new:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

For that is the One Thing above all that conquers evil – Love and the love of God in Christ is greater than anything that can come against us…

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)

All our questions about God and suffering should, in fact be filtered through what we know about Jesus. Dorothy Sayers wrote:

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death – He had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.(2)

We want Jesus to banish evil now, we want an end to suffering today, but in so doing we are wanting an end to this world in all its fallenness and brokenness. We know that this world will end. We know that the Lord will return and that all things will be made new and I suppose it is a measure of comfort for us to remember that suffering, evil, death, pain and the whole repertoire of misery that are the Satan’s calling cards, will like him be destroyed and put firmly into past, into the history of a world and a people that went very wrong and yet were utterly rescued and saved by the God whose love and whose power was more than a match for that which would come against it.

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(1) William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Mark, Banner of Truth 1999 p.62
(2) Philip Yancey, “Where is God when it hurts?” Zondervan 1977, p.225