Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth and made us in your own image:
teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.
Prayer after communion
God our creator, by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart of the earthly paradise, and the bread of life at the heart of your Church: may we who have been nourished at your table on earth be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s cross and enjoy the delights of eternity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens – and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground – the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
1 Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
to you that answer prayer shall vows be paid.
2 To you shall all flesh come to confess their sins;
when our misdeeds prevail against us,
you will purge them away.
3 Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there.
We shall be satisfied with the blessings of your house, even of your holy temple.
4 With wonders you will answer us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation,
O hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
5 In your strength you set fast the mountains
and are girded about with might.
6 You still the raging of the seas,
the roaring of their waves
and the clamour of the peoples.
7 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
tremble at your marvels;
the gates of the morning and evening sing your praise.
8 You visit the earth and water it;
you make it very plenteous.
9 The river of God is full of water;
you prepare grain for your people,
for so you provide for the earth.
10 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;
you soften the ground with showers and bless its increase.
11 You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty.
12 May the pastures of the wilderness flow with goodness
and the hills be girded with joy.
13 May the meadows be clothed with flocks of sheep
and the valleys stand so thick with corn
that they shall laugh and sing.
I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and behind. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Sermon on the Second Sunday before Lent
In our Collect we pray, “teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children”. Why? Why do we need this reminder that we ought to see God everywhere? After all, ‘Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”’ Along with all these angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, we ourselves will acclaim the thrice holy Lord later as we approach our sacrament.
In a meeting about computing last week, we were addressed by someone who works with people who have forgotten so much of who they are, as they have forgotten to discern what is round about them, they suffer from isolation, depression and sometimes jump into suicide to end it all.
Too many have not been empathetic to those who have suffered in this way. They thunder, “Snap out of it,” or something else equally hurtful and turn away from the problem which has just been recognised. You might even say Jesus was just as bad when he was woken from his sleep to find his disciples distraught with the storm raging around their small boat. “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” they cried in their fear and trembling at the force of nature railing against them. He turned to his disciples after rebuking the wind to a gentle breeze and the raging sea to a millpond, with these words, “Where is your faith?”
“Where is your faith?” What does Jesus mean by that? Why does he ask that? If you had been scared witless, what would you make of Jesus asking you that question? I suppose we should begin this story again and place ourselves in it, but this time with our own real experience of life.
We often fear as if our ship is sinking, don’t we? We are lost in the midst of bills and calls on our time, or the demands of our work, or those of family and friends arrayed around us. We often cry out so loud that we lose our voices and we remain silenced in cocoons of our own isolation and depression. We can be absolutely confused and at the point of despair. We are on the edge of the abyss which glares directly into our souls with its utter blackness. Winston Churchill’s “black dog” viciously growls and circles us. Standing in terror before that void, we cannot call out because we have been silenced in the world we inhabit. No longer do we sing out with others, “Holy, holy, holy…” This, I think, is the picture of where we stand in the pitch blackness of our worlds. We feel isolated, don’t we? We complain that no one listens, that no one understands. We withdraw ourselves from that uncomprehending world and things get impossibly darker. And – in the midst of these raging storms of life, we are supposed to have faith! How? How can I be faithful in the midst of the vortex of emptiness around me?
Yet the words of Jesus still accuse “Where is your faith?” What can I answer? This question attacks everyone at the brink of the abyss, just as they did the philosopher Kierkegaard when he stood looking at the blackness surrounding him. He considered
the literary, philosophical, and ecclesiastical establishments of his day [were] misrepresenting the highest task of human existence — namely, becoming oneself in an ethical and religious sense — as something so easy that it could seem already accomplished even when it had not even been undertaken. …[T]he heart of his work lay in the infinite requirement and strenuous difficulty of religious existence in general.
It could be said two hundred years after him we feel betrayed by everything around us. In this country many are confronted by a system which misrepresents what life is all about. In the online world, for instance, life is supposed to be so easy and yet there are so many disillusioned because that life does not deliver itself in all its fullness even though they are pursuing the promised haven electronically. They teeter on the edge of the pit of cyberspace where hope just disappears into a mass of zeros and ones.
Those words Jesus asked the terrified disciples, “Where is your faith?” should confront us all still. Faith, however, is imponderable – there is no one experience which encapsulates it. Everyone’s conscience should be pricked so that light should shine, it may the brightness of the sun or only be the tiny LED from a miniature fairy light, but in the darkness of our present despair it should shine like a beacon. When we open our eyes to see, that light will guide.
When that light shines, the darkness has been cleaved apart. We then can see what is before us, that perceived pit is paved over. The light opens up what life really is – hope and charity. This enlightenment is unexpected when it comes, especially in our dark despair, when we are isolated and alone, buried in complications. That light guides us away from the confusion of the everyday, and we do see that life is not the lottery win or the any one thing, but life is the world we create through meaning and engagement. The storm passes at that moment. ‘In fear and amazement [the disciples in the boat and we ourselves] ask one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”’
Everything has been turned upside down yet again. Life may not make any sense, but we can see our way through the tapestry of the life we are weaving. How did the winds and water which swirled around us to overcome us now dissipate?
I think we would all accept that when we begin to see things clearly we would say the miraculous has come, or when we can battle with equanimity against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to end them, when that blackness has become multi-coloured because of the light. At that moment we have the discernment for which we prayed in our Collect to see what is important, what the fullness of life really is. When Jesus asked that question, I think he wanted to wake up the disciples as to where they were and what really constituted their world.
I think Jesus wanted the disciples to see where they were, that they had each other’s strength to struggle through the storm. He may have rebuked the storm, but those fishermen should have realised they had each other to get through the winds and waves. Perhaps not surprisingly, that was the conclusion of that speaker on Wednesday night – the community is all around, if only we would look and see, as hard as that might be. We here are saved with one another in the body and blood of the lamb of God, the gift we must perceive and receive.