Good morning and welcome to All Saints Totley this morning – whether you are joining us in our building, or online, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today – joining with us to share, to worship. To open up the bible, open up ourselves and be shaped by meeting with God today.
Our reading and reflection today is a deceptively simple one, that hopefully will give us pause for thought and reflection in our own lives.
It’s a reminder that we are imperfect, growing in our journey with God and in our faith. It is a reminder that we are all in different seasons and circumstances, and we can honour God, be faithful and be exactly what we should be simply by being in them. It is a reminder that in hardship and fear and difficulty God cares. It is a reminder that God is faithful, and hold us safe. It’s a reminder that life isn’t easy at times, and we fall. It’s a reminder that a life of faith is a process.
I hope you enjoy our time together this morning – let’s begin by opening with a word of prayer.
Lord, today we recall your faithfulness.
Thank you that you walk with us every day, that you are with us always.
We proclaim that your promises are true and your goodness and love never fail.
In this moment we come to you and lay our lives before you.
May we honour, worship and adore you with every fibre of our being.
Father, we proclaim that you are the Holy One, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. Your beauty and majesty are beyond compare.
On this day we join with all those who worship and confess you as Lord, from generations past and present, and with all the angels that sing in heaven of your greatness and splendour.
Lord we adore you.
Lord we love you.
Lord we bow down and worship you.
This prayer is inspired by the prophet Isaiah’s vision of worshiping angels recorded in Isaiah 6:3 and witnessed again by the writer of Revelation.
Our second worship song calls for everything to praise God in Jesus. The call is for people to join creation in praise – because of the power and might of God. Our reading today follows on from the reflections of nature in the parables we looked at last week, and shows the authority of Jesus over creation – that which he was involved with from the beginning. Our God is the one that deserves our praise as we recognize just who he is, from wherever we come in our week, whatever the situation we find ourselves – let us join in with the recognition that creation already has.
Psalm 100 (NLT)
Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth!
Worship the LORD with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the LORD is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
This section of the gospel of Mark is all about Jesus being authenticated. We saw last week part of his authoritative teaching. This week we we see Jesus authority over creation.
Last Week – Growth and Nature
We start the chapter with the parable of the sower – the words Jesus spoke are like seed scattered by a farmer. Those who hear Jesus are likened to various soils. When the word took root in “good soil” it produced much fruit. Some are like stony ground, on which the seed initially sprouts but cannot grow because there is no place for it to take root. Others allow concern for the affairs of the world to choke out spiritual concerns.
Following this are several enigmatic statements, including the ones Phil spoke to us about last week: Lamps are to be put on stands, not covered with a bowl. The kingdom of God grows gradually, like a planted seed. Taking in the crop awaits harvesttime. The tiniest of seeds can grow into a large garden plant.
From here we move into a series of miracles where the personal authority of Jesus is demonstrated.
It is interesting this that the parables and sayings of Jesus in Mark 4 flow into our narrative today, taking the examples of the natural world to allude to spiritual things, before the demonstration of Jesus authority over the created domain using the example of the wind and the sea.
We have seen in our recent creation series based around Ruth Valario’s book how the natural world speaks to us of God’s presence and nature. We have also seen how important it is for us to recognise our place in creation, in the realities and rhythms of nature. The fact of these connections in scripture, the use of this imagery, help to re-enforce this idea of the interconnectedness of the community of creation.
We need to pay attention to what the natural world teaches us about the nature of God, and our place in creation. When we are present to nature, God teaches us through its seasons, shapes and timing.
The reading last week described the place of trees in the cycle of being. From the tiniest of seeds a great mustard scrub can grow up and provide a home for birds. Some see this as alluding to Ezekiel 17:22-24 where the tree is given as a symbol of hope with similar language. Trees appear throughout Scripture and are a cosmic symbol of wholeness – exemplifying this is the tree of life that appears in the Genesis story reappearing in the last chapter of Scripture when its leaves will be for the healing of the nations.
Phil of course shared this vision of hope with us last week and reflected on what that means for us here at AST. The adventure of discipleship is how faith can grow from a small seed to a colossal plant with far-reaching branches, if the right environment is provided. The words of encouragement were to keep planting the seeds and be more confident that God will help them to grow – in his time and season.
This Week – Growth in Nature
Jesus Calms a Storm
With that in mind, after teaching and relating the parables Phil spoke on last week, Jesus tells the disciples they will go over to the west side of the lake and leave the crowd behind. It was more likely early afternoon than evening as the beginning of the next chapter continues on the same day, and there are still people about. This narrative is related in all of the Synoptic gospels (Mt 8:18-27, Luke 8:22-25).
Odd features of the text in this version. In v36 the twelve took Jesus “just as he was” – presumably meaning that Jesus was already ahead and sitting in the boat. Also in the same verse “other boats were with him”. And so either the apostolic group were in several small boats, or other boats followed them out and were caught in the storm. Neither of which really change the content of the narrative.
Every commentator on this narrative, in any of the Gospels relays the fact that the Sea of Galilee is prone to sudden squalls because of it’s geography. It is in a deep basin, skirted on the east by mountain ranges, while on the west the hills are criss-crossed by narrow gorges through which the wind sweeps across the lake. These can quicky whip up the waters and cause a storm. The other thing that mentioned is that we’re talking about seasoned fishermen – people who knew these waters and these storms and yet are clearly shaken by this one.
Jesus, however has got on the boat, and promptly fallen asleep at the stern. Tired from the day? Content even in the coming storm?
Does God Care?
This event is clearly intended to contrast Jesus’ calm in the face of the circumstances against the fear of the disciples. The question about Jesus care (v38) is a universal one – if God is loving and all powerful and cares – then why do believers face threatening trials in life?
This is a thorny question – and outside of the scope of this short meeting. See how I deftly avoided that? But seriously, there are no easy answers to that question. Scripture hints at some answers.
Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing, and so the practice of that faith is shown up in times of trial. Paul also agrees with Peter in Ephesians 2:2 and 1 Peter 5:8 that spiritual forces are at play and have power in the world. The narrative of Genesis 3 tells us that this has come about because of all creation is fallen – it is less than the perfection God wanted it to be and so, as Paul further comments in Romans 8:18-22 the whole of the world in all of its aspects is frustrated and groaning, waiting in expectant suffering for the coming of Gods kingdom.
One of the lectionary readings today is from Job 38, a favourite of mine – and for me is a one of the simultaneously most frustrating and illuminating passages of scripture on this topic of suffering, adversity and trial. Your mileage may vary!
The Lord Answers Job (NRSV)
38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
If you know the book of Job you will know this is when God enters into the conversation that previously was Job and his peers discussing the suffering he was undergoing – debating whether he was right or wrong, whether he deserved it or not and what the ultimate purpose was.
God steps in here – telling him to terrifyingly, “gird up his loins”, or perhaps in a more contemporary voice “buckle up, sweetheart”. In God’s answer from the storm though, nothing is said directly about Job’s suffering, about his trials or about divine justice and bad-things-happening-to-good-people.
There is neither indictment of Job, nor vindication, at least until an indirect reference after God’s discourse. Instead, there is an invitation to exercise faith in accepting what cannot be changed, and what cannot be understood. There are no direct answers. Like I say, frustrating and instructive in equal measure.
But practically, what can we take from this? In one sense the disciples, scared and adrenaline fuelled do the right thing. They turn to Jesus in a time of trial and crisis. Therein is an exercise of faith. Of course their first clue as to their safety should have come from the fact Jesus was asleep at the back of the boat and unconcerned. They had also seen miracles and heard his teaching so far. Even the private and explicit teaching away from the crowds that Phil commented on last week. If he was unconcerned, this one with power and authority like no other (Matt. 28 – Great Commission), then why should they be? He had also already (v35) said their destination was the other side.
As we see, the moment overtook them. Both the gospels of Luke and Mark then have this section of the narrative this same way around – and I confess I like it their way. In their narrative Jesus first responds to the situation with a demonstration of power, and then with the question for them to ponder this orchestrated teachable moment.
So then, we have this demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority, contrasted against his previously sleeping humanity – the inanimate forces of nature obey this teacher. Jesus. As part of the Godhead, there with agency in creation had, and has, power over it (Ps 33:7; 65:2; 147:18). The wind ceased and there was a great calm at the voice of the creator, who is now, for a time, part of the creation.
Jesus question of v40 is the rhetorical reflection of the question of the disciples’ question in v38. “Do you not care?” to which the answer is implied by the question of Jesus: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”. A good question for all believers. And yet we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. If even the disciples here are tossed about, quite literally, by life and caused to doubt – they who, as Phil pointed out last week, have had this special relationship with Jesus and benefitted from him explaining everything (v34) – then we shouldn’t be surprised or dismayed if the same happens to us.
In v41 this lack of understanding by the disciples is re-enforced. The disciples ask “who is this?”. They are, to put it unkindly, theological infants and don’t’ yet understand just who Jesus is. Or to put it more kindly – they are still growing spiritually, and are on the path of understanding, becoming more like Jesus – the process that Paul would later describe as the mortification of the old people they are, a process of sanctification that will be a life-long and never-completed process. A process of growth that again has echoes of the parables last week.
Through this narrative, and in asking that question the disciples show themselves to be exactly as Jesus has been describing in his prior parables, the sower, the seed growing and the mustard seed. As these images reflect the process of faith, of growth and small starts, so the reactions and questions of the disciples show that they are themselves growing in their faith and understanding. Starting to, in small faltering ways grow more Christ-like and to therefore grow the universal kingdom of God.
How often do we get caught up by that same question the disciples ask in v38. Does God care? if God is loving and all powerful and cares – then why do people face hardship and trials and heartache and pain in life?
Can we get too caught up in the “why” of trials, hardships and events? How much does, or would, the “why” of an event change our response?
If we turn back to the imagery of last week, of the mustard seed planted and the resulting growth. Once it was a small seed, a seed that trusted itself into the act of letting go into death, as it sank into the soil, its outer shell cracking open. It then provides a place for birds to nest, and at the end of it’s life, other creatures will make their home in its decaying wood. It is a part of the times and seasons of creation, honouring god be being as it was intended to be. In the same way as we entrust ourselves to God’s wisdom, allowing God’s life to unfold at its own pace within us, we give glory to God by being ourselves, by consenting to be who God created us to be. So then we can start to recognise what season of our lives are we living in at the moment, how we are growing, and what sort of weathers are enfolding us.
Please, please, please don’t misunderstand me here – in no way am I suggesting that this is easy to grasp and take hold of, to rest in. I personally really struggle with these ideas in adversity and hardship – but I share them here honestly and in hope.
In church at this point we are going to spend a few minutes just quietly listening to some music (track below if you wish to do the same). It is intended to be a moment to reflect and ponder the verses we’ve looked at today. Are there trials that you are facing at the moment, that need God’s peace in them? Are there things going on in your life that you need to submit to God’s timing? Are there situations in which you need to recognise the teachable moment, and submit to the authority of God? What part of this passage really warms your heart this morning, or worries at your thoughts? Can you learn to rest in the promised hope?
Prayers of Intercession
Lets pray. We are going to take a few moments in silence to remember whatever is on our hearts before I continue with our intercessions:
God of the rich and the poor, of the powerful and the vulnerable,
we pray for the leaders of the our nations,
for the people they govern,
for the people of other nations they can support,
and for the world they can protect through their decisions.
May wisdom be planted, generosity grow, and co-operation flourish.
We pray for a growth in resilience, awareness and togetherness
across all the nations of the world
as they continue to tackle the covid pandemic,
as they confront environmental issues.
and as they reach out to communities crippled by need, war and natural disasters.
May integrity be planted, urgency grow and healing flourish.
We pray for the church in this place and around the world
as we seek to serve those around us,
to reach out to those in trouble,
and to share the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
May faith be planted, compassion grow and hope flourish.
We pray for those in the charity sector
who seek to support those in crisis,
to feed the hungry,
to embrace those displaced by war,
to protect wildlife and the environment, and planet that we all call home.
May trust be planted, resources grow and lives flourish.
We pray for those in sport,
for those they inspire,
for the enjoyment they bring,
especially all the nations taking part in the Football Euros,
for those preparing for and hoping that the Olympic Games will take place,
for all those at grass roots level struggling to keep their clubs going.
May respect be planted, opportunities grow and talent flourish.
And we pray for those whose faces we have seen on our screens
and in our papers this week, as well as those whom we know personally.
For all who have enriched our world, for all those who are in need and for all who are at the mercy of others.
May justice be planted, goodness grow and peace flourish –
in Jesus name. Amen.
Blessing and dismissal
May our words and thoughts be always acceptable to you,
may our deeds and actions be always worthy of you,
and may our lives show forth your love in the world.
So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all this day and for evermore
The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.
The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.
“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”