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Even in the storms of life it is well with my soul

I’ve always rather liked the story in our gospel this morning, Jesus in a boat on a lake. Although if I’m being honest that is probably more because I grew up by the sea and spent a lot of time in a boat,  more than for any deep theological reason. Many of the local villages were fishing villages and overheard adult conversation often revolved around the fate of fishermen due to the ever reducing EU quotas rather than tragedies through storms. But even now fishermen are lost to storms at sea.

The lake in question in our gospel reading, the Sea of Galilee, is about 13miles across and 7 miles wide. It’s about 700ft below sea level and the gaps in the surrounding hills make it prone to sharp squalls developing. Lots of Jesus disciples had been fishermen before they had started following Jesus. They were at home on the lake and seem only too happy to get into the boat when Jesus suggests that they should cross to the other side. As they set off, the gentle lapping of the waves against the boat lull Jesus to sleep. Here we see Jesus total humanity, the man who gets tired, exhausted, by the hustle and bustle of the crowds.

But whilst he is asleep a violent squall arises from nowhere. The rain lashes down, the waves are starting to come over the edge of the boat and it is starting to fill with water. Even the hardened fishermen are starting to get scared. Jesus however, appears to be totally oblivious and continues to sleep. The disciples have tried everything they can think of, but they can’t bail the water out the boat fast enough. When eventually the penny seems to drop that Jesus isn’t helping them out. In fact he is still fast asleep without a care in the world. What does he think he is up to? It’s all hands on deck.

“Master” they shout over the wind and the rain. No response. Maybe the storm is too loud and he can’t hear them. They struggle their way down the boat, clinging onto the sides for dear life, for fear of being thrown overboard. And shake him awake “Master! Master! We are going to drown!”

We were discussing in the Christianity Explored Course last week whether all prayer needs to start with confession, or if it is ok sometimes to come straight to the point. Here the disciples needed to come straight to the point. If they didn’t they were almost certainly going to die. Turning to Jesus had already been a bit of a last resort and time was running out. I don’t think from their words “We are going to drown” that they were particularly expecting him to do anything miraculous about it, but the least that he could do was help them out with the bailing.

Now whilst we have already seen Jesus humanity in this reading, we now get to see that he is also fully God. He could just have thought to himself “Waves be still, Winds Shhh”, but for the sake of the disciples he stands up in the boat, with an air of authority, and audibly rebukes the storm and raging waters.  And immediately the storm subsides and the water is calm. Normally a storm slowly dies away and it takes a while for the water to return to normal, but Jesus has spoken and the wind and waves obey him.

Then once all is still and they can hear him easily, they are starting to relax as the warming sun dries their sodden garments, Jesus turns to the disciples and gently asks them “Where is your faith?” He doesn’t accuse them by saying “You have no faith”, or, What a fine lot of disciples you all are, not to realise that I could have helped you out a little earlier”, but a question, “Where is your faith?”. A question to let them pause and think. Why didn’t they ask for help earlier? Did they not think that he would be capable of helping them out? Did they really think that he wasn’t concerned about them? Did they really think that God would let his own son perish in a shipwreck without intervening? Did they not remember that he had helped them catch a boat load of fish before, and has some form of hold over nature? Or more personally, do they not believe that God cares for them just as he cares for the sparrows and the lilies of the field?

Would they start to remember scriptures like Psalm 104 v7 “At God’s rebuke the water’s fled” or in Psalm 107 where a storm has come from nowhere but Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea[b] were hushed.

It was God who parted the Red Sea so they could be led to freedom from the oppression of the Egyptians.

Would they start to realise and believe that this man stood before them is indeed also God?

And as the question Jesus asks them “Where is your faith?” reverberates around the boat the disciples are filled with a complete awe and amazement at what they have just witnessed and respond “Who then is this? Even the winds and waves obey him”.

The disciples faith might have been weak, but their faith didn’t fail them completely. They did the right thing in turning to Jesus in their time of need. Their only error was to assume they were perishing and forget that actually God cared for each of them deeply. He was always aware of their situation and watching out for them.

I imagine most of you know the hymn

When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll –

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul.

But I wonder how many of you are aware that when Horatio Spafford wrote it he was writing in response to losing his four daughters when their ocean liner sank in the Atlantic during a storm, only his wife survived. Here was a storm that was about to completely overwhelm his life and yet his instinct was to cling to his faith that God was there with him “It is well, it is well with my soul”

The disciples had sat at the feet of Jesus, sat at the feet of God, listening to his teaching, having first hand experience of his miracles for over a year when they found themselves in danger in the storm, and still they only had a little faith. They still hadn’t quite had the penny drop that the man stood in front of them, who ate with them and laughed with them was the all powerful, ever loving God. It can take many years of patiently sitting at Jesus feet for us to come to the same depth of faith as Horatio Spafford, but it is my prayer for each of you that you continue to come into a deeper faith and knowledge of Christ, so that whatever storms life brings your way, you will be able to believe “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Rev'd Rebecca

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