“Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”
For a time in the 1970’s the British public were subjected to a great deal of industrial unrest. Some of you will remember those times well. Our daily news programmes on TV showed images of streets which were not cleaned, rubbish which was not collected, power-cuts, trains and buses which didn’t run. I worked in a bank during the seventies and I vividly remember during the three-day week of 1974 cashing people’s cheques by candlelight, and desperately trying to get the banks emergency generator running so that we had at least one computer running with which to process the day’s transactions.
The worst industrial action of that period became known as the Winter of Discontent over the winter of 1978 to 1979. There seemed to be trouble everywhere and everybody seemed to be on strike. The then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, returning from a trip abroad, was met at the airport by dozens of journalists who asked him what he was going to do about the crisis, about the mounting chaos the country was facing.
Trying his best to play down the situation, the Prime Minister responded in words that were subsequently paraphrased by The Sun Newspaper as: “Crisis? What crisis?” This underestimation of the gravity of the situation very soon afterwards cost Mr Callaghan his job – he lost a confidence vote in 1979 and then lost the subsequent election. Apparently he thought that by saying there was no crisis he would help people to feel better.
Of course, as I’m sure everyone here knows, Crisis? What crisis? is also the title of the rock band Supertramp’s fourth album released in 1975 – but that’s actually completely irrelevant to my sermon this morning! But I thought I’d mention it.
Today’s gospel reading could well carry the headline: Crisis? What crisis? Because that was Jesus’ response to the question asked by the disciples.
We heard Saint Mark’s wonderfully atmospheric account the storm at sea. It had been Jesus’ suggestion to take the boat across the sea that evening. He then seems totally unconcerned when the gale gets up and the waves start getting bigger – and he remains fast asleep on the cushion.
How do you sleep during a storm at sea? I’ve twice been at sea during particularly severe storms, and let me tell you: You can’t sleep during a storm at sea, certainly not in a boat the size of the one Jesus and his disciples were in.
And yet, that’s what Jesus manages to do. At first sight it looks as though Jesus, like the politician, has a similarly apparently irresponsible attitude to the danger he and the disciples face. While the disciples struggle to save their very lives, Jesus sleeps, either unaware or unconcerned at the situation.
You can imagine how the disciples must have felt. What was Jesus going to do? Was he going to do anything? Here they are risking their lives, desperately trying to save themselves and Jesus does nothing! He apparently does not care what happens. The disciples, not surprisingly, are singularly unimpressed and ask: “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”
His attitude really does seem to be rather like that of James Callagahan, and that of many politicians when refusing to face up to the reality of a difficult situation: “Crisis? What crisis?”
However, there is a big difference between the kind of complacency and indifference which we can often exhibit in the face of other people’s suffering and Jesus’ attitude here. Jesus’ apparent lack of concern comes not from indifference but from an absolute trust and confidence in the power of God to save. He knew that in this particular situation there really was absolutely no reason to worry. Such was his deep relationship with God that he never once doubted his Father’s love for him.
This is the faith which the disciples lacked – a real, deep and personal knowledge and experience of God’s total, unconditional love for them. It was this love which Jesus himself came to manifest, to make present to his disciples. And Jesus is the one who makes this saving relationship with God a real possibility for us, his present day disciples.
As a Church and as individuals, we face many storms, many things seem to threaten to overwhelm us. As a Church, we face problems over falling numbers, a lack of people committing themselves to ordained ministry, the lack of consensus on many moral and doctrinal issues, the lack of charity expressed still by many Christians towards others of a different viewpoint.
As individuals, we can understandably feel swamped by depression, anger, hurts, resentments, failed relationships, hostility from others, powerlessness and a sense of hopelessness. We can each add to this list.
The message of today’s gospel is not that we should meet these problems with a naive complacency or indifference, as the disciples felt that Jesus was doing. We should not let them overwhelm us and react with anger as the disciples did towards Jesus because we think he doesn’t care: ‘Teacher,’ the disciples cried out, ‘do you not care that we are perishing?’
Rather, as followers of Jesus, we are called to develop such a deep and intimate relationship with God that we are never truly threatened by any outside force or interior emotion. Our faith – our total trust in the power of God to save – is that we need.
This does not, of course, protect us against pain and loss. Trusting in Jesus is not a vaccine against the storms of life. They will still come. The cross is an ever-present reality in every Christian’s life.
However, as St Paul says, it is the love of Christ which overwhelms us, and only that – not the storms of everyday living which we cannot avoid. Once we belong to Jesus, nothing can come between us and his love. We are a new creation – not immune to the sufferings of this world (our own or other people’s) – but secure in the knowledge that we have as our Father a God who is able to calm every evil which threatens to destroy us.
Crisis? What crisis? Jesus doesn’t play down the crisis of the storm because he doesn’t take it seriously, but because he knows that the disciples have no need to fear if they will simply have faith. He knows that though the storm may feel bad, the disciples are safe.
Of course, we all know that saying all this doesn’t alter the fact that sometimes the storms that come our way can still feel overwhelming. But Jesus reassures us. We do not need to fear. And one way of calming our fears is to trust, to have faith, to offer our fears to Jesus. He will reassure us with his presence as he did the disciples.
But a key element of this is that we really do need to take our fears and our troubles to Jesus. We do need to actually pray – to ask Jesus for his help. In our gospel reading Jesus may have responded to the disciples with those words: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? But note that he only woke up and calmed the storm after the disciples woke him up and cried out: Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?
So, when life seems hard, or things are getting you down, or you don’t know which way to turn … when life’s storms seem overwhelming … turn to Jesus, cry out to him, have faith that he will protect you and can take away your fear.
And then listen. And hear in your own life the words that Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves: Peace! Be still!