Sermon St Peter’s 3pm 20 June 2021 Year B Third Sunday after Trinity
(Job 38v1-11) Ps107 vs23-32 Mark 4vs35-end 2Cor 6vs1-13
Let us pray:
I wonder how much you know about the Sea of Galilee, lake Tiberius or ‘the Kinneret’? Have you ever been blessed with a visit there? It is of course the region where our Lord spent most of his life and ministry, and according to St Matthew, that time was predominantly in what we now call the ‘evangelical triangle’, a triangle formed by three towns, Jesus adopted home town of Capernaum, and also by Bethsaida and Chorazin.
The Sea, is the lowest freshwater lake on earth at 200m below sea level. It is 13 mile long by 7 mile wide and only between 150 to 200 feet deep, yet it is the major source of fresh water for both Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Rabbis have said “God created 7 seas, yet he has chosen this one as His special delight”, but its character, as we have read in our Gospel just now, is subject to rapid change.
This lake is bounded by hills, especially on the east side opposite to Capernaum, where they rise to some 2000 feet and so it is a source of cool dry air. The lake and the western shore however, are a source of warm moist air. It is these differences in temperature and resulting pressure, that can give rise to sudden storms where the air masses collide, mixed with cool winds arising from the summit of mount Hermon to the north, and from the Golan heights.
As most of the disciples were either fisherman on the lake, or residents from around the lake, they would have been very familiar with its sudden changes of mood.
Along the western shore line, between Tiberias and Capernaum, there are a number of semi-circular bays, with sloping embankments, forming natural amphitheatres, a good place for the crowds to gather to hear Jesus’ parables. His physics is better than mine, and so he used the natural reflection of his voice off the water to amplify his words as he taught the crowds from a boat. This area is often called today ‘the bay of parables’.
When Joy and I went up to Galilee one weekend when I was teaching in Jerusalem, we visited the Yigal Alon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar, just north of Tiberius. It houses a fishing boat dating from the first century and now called the Jesus boat. Discovered in 1986 on the north east shore of the lake during a particularly dry spell, when the waters at the edge of the lake had receded, its fragile structure has been stabilised and restored.
It measures some 26.5 feet long by 7.5 feet wide and could easily have held 15 men. It reminded me of the 27 foot motor whaler that we used to have at Kelly in my previous existence.
Some of you who have served in the Royal Navy may have, like me, tried to row such a boat. Bad enough in calm waters, yet alone amidst a storm!
So now I hope that will have given you some idea of the sort of boat the disciples would have used to go across to the other side of the lake. We associate the words ‘the other side’ as that part of the lake opposite to Capernaum, and called the ‘Decapolis, the ten Hellenised cities where the demoniac lived, but there is also another meaning to that phrase. A north-south line drawn from Bethsaida divided the region into two political divisions, the rule of Herod Antipas to the west, and that of his brother Herod Philip to the east. We can then see the reason for having tax collectors like Mathew based near the border.
But that small boat containing Jesus and the disciples would have been very vulnerable in a sudden storm, easily swamped with water. No wonder the disciples thought that they were going to perish, while Jesus was contentedly sleeping in the boat, exhausted after a long day’s preaching.
The disciples seemed to have failed to recognize just who it was that they had in the boat with them. His power, majesty, authority and might, that had been constantly seen by them, still seemed to elude them.
But as they had seen the Lord previously do many miraculous signs, they now realized that they needed one right then and pleaded with Jesus “Teacher don’t you care if we drown”. Another miracle was needed for them at that very moment, and that miracle was to reveal just who it was that they had with them in the boat, and they responded, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him”.
Our psalm truly describes how the disciples must have been feeling, and an experience of many others when in peril on the sea, “their soul melted away in their peril”. I wonder if those words flashed through their minds as they cried out to the Lord in their trouble? But Jesus delivered them from their distress, rebuking the storm with the words “Peace! Be still”.
Similar words to what we read in the psalm, “He-speaking of God-made the storm be still and the waves of the sea were hushed”. And that was just what the disciples observed as Jesus spoke to the waters. Would that not make the disciples think and understand?
Who indeed was it then that they had in the boat with them. The conclusion was obvious, it was none other than God himself in the person of his beloved Son.
Sometimes God has to break into our lives in dramatic ways to get our attention and speak to us, just as he did with those disciples in the boat.
But sometimes, if you are anything like me, we are slow to learn and hard of hearing, and we may not at first understand the message God has for us.
Do we realize who it is that walks with us along our pilgrim path in this life, and who it is that indwells us by His life giving Holy Spirit.
Maybe we need to stop and ask ourselves what the power of God could achieve in and through our lives if we let God’s Holy Spirit fully work out His purpose in us. Or is our God so small; are our prayer requests too limited and of no avail? Is our faith constrained by doctrinal margins, denominational restraints and maybe our limited previous experiences?
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he made it quite clear that despite all the hardships he had endured for the sake of the gospel, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights and hunger, he could say that he was ‘always rejoicing’. And how could he make that seemingly impossible comment? It was he tells us because he had learned to ‘work together with him’, to work together with God. Paul had learned to work with God whatever came his way; may we also learn such a lesson as we recognize just who is in the boat, and travelling with us day by day.
Our prayer should be to seek God for a greater understanding not only of His ways and purpose for each one of us, but also of God’s Majesty, His Holiness and His Power, for that is the God who holds us by the hand, and who is able to calm any storm that may arise.
Francis Havergal, the American hymn writer, after visiting friends in England in 1874 and leading ten people to the Lord, felt too happy to sleep that night and penned the words of the lovely hymn “Take my life and let it be’.
Let us use the words of one verse as a prayer:
Let us pray:
Take my love, my God, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store;
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee. Amen