Someone stops you in the street and asks you `You`re a Christian, aren`t you? What does that mean?`
How do you answer? How do you begin to describe what your faith is about?
Jesus` words in the first few chapters of Mark give us some pointers, sometimes through parables, as we saw last week. Sometimes there are clear words of teaching. There are also moments of drama which Jesus uses to begin to explain what being his follower means.
In our Gospel today, there is one of those moments of drama. Jesus has been teaching both the crowds and the apostles close to Lake Galilee. But in a moment of drama the apostles alone learn something new. Jesus deliberately calls them to the other side of the Lake. Galilee is a large lake: around 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. It is in a deep valley, 700 feet below sea level and surrounded by steep hills. It is up to 200 feet deep. There are often sudden storms, as the apostles knew only too well.
A sudden storm comes. A strong wind, overwhelming water. Death is possible.
They are panicking and come to Jesus, asleep in the boat: `Don`t you care if we drown?`
What can we learn from this about being Jesus` follower?
Christians aren`t exempt from suffering and pain
We are human beings. There will be storms, whether we are Christians or not. We have encountered storms as never before in these last months. We have felt great anxiety, confusion, doubt. We have feared that our very lives were in danger.
In the Epistle reading set for today St Paul mentions some of the storms the first Christian church encountered:-
`in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger ..` (2 Cor 6:4f)
Julian of Norwich encourages us:
`He said not `thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted` but He did say `Thou shalt not be overcome.`
The storms can enable us to come closer to God.
We know God is there at the deepest point of our suffering
We may feel that God doesn`t understand the depth of the pain we are encountering. But here is a reminder of who Jesus is: in this account he was weary, asleep in the boat. He is fully God and fully Man. He understands. So we can be honest with him, as the apostles were. The Cross reminds us of the depths of his love.
We worship the God of Resurrection
How amazed the disciples were as Jesus responded to their call for help. Just as God called creation into being through his voice in Genesis, so Jesus` words here bring peace and order to the storm: `Quiet! Be still!` The One we follow is almighty God, the God of Resurrection and new life. There is nothing he cannot do. There is a reminder of God`s transforming power in the words of our Old Testament reading for today, Job chapter 38: `Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. .. `Where were you when I laid the earth`s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.`
Being a Christian isn`t about having a list of things to do but about celebrating a way of being
The disciples longed for Jesus to do something in their situation: they were not sure what! But Jesus calls them to be his followers in their faith and to daily trust, abide, in him. He calls us to the same path. It is not easy. But as we begin to take those first steps, as we begin to live our lives acknowledging God`s presence, in the way we lead our lives and not least in the ways in which we pray, we shall find ourselves held safe in his care through all the storms.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his `Letters and Papers from Prison` wrote: `It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe. This is what I mean by worldliness – taking life in one`s stride, with all its duties and problems, its successes and failures, its experiences and helplessness. It is in such a life that we throw ourselves utterly into the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world and watch with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, that is metanoia, and that is what makes a person and a Christian.`
The Revd Pat Hopkins