Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God our saviour, look on this wounded world in pity and in power; hold us fast to your promises of peace won for us by your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say this,
those he redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
3 And gathered out of the lands from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
23 Those who go down to the sea in ships
and ply their trade in great waters,
24 These have seen the works of the Lord
and his wonders in the deep.
25 For at his word the stormy wind arose
and lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They were carried up to the heavens and down again to the deep;
their soul melted away in their peril.
27 They reeled and staggered like a drunkard
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He made the storm be still
and the waves of the sea were calmed.
30 Then were they glad because they were at rest,
and he brought them to the haven they desired.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders he does for his children.
32 Let them exalt him in the congregation of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return – I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
2 Corinthians 6.1–13
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 4
“Rebuke” – how often do you hear that word? I wonder if you have ever used it. Or – Have you ever rebuked anyone? It is something you never hear of nowadays, unless you are reading the bible, that is.
My online thesaurus gave me some alternatives to the word, “rebuke” – to berate, to chide, to lambaste, to reprimand, to scold, to have words with, to remonstrate, to reproach, to upbraid, to criticise, to castigate, to chasten and to chastise. All of those meanings are part of “rebuke” and I think we should understand the range of meaning in that word.
I am sure we have all “had words with” someone who upset us in some way. We may have scolded a child. Undoubtedly, we have berated a sporting villain who had fouled someone badly. Many of our contemporaries remonstrate others on social media one way or another. Why we may even reproach ourselves for our own bad behaviour! All of these experiences feed into the meaning of “rebuke”. – This venerable word, however, does not make it into our contemporary vocabulary, but its meaning is a real part of our own experience.
A “rebuke” is the stock in trade of the prophets. How many times do we hear of God reprimanding his people through the word of a prophet? How often does God upbraid Israel? How great is the chastisement when the Hebrews have fallen by the wayside on that path to the promised land!
Jesus took on this prophetic persona himself, when he called the priests in the temple, “Hypocrites”. He “rebukes” the Jews of his time, and with good reason. His contemporaries have polluted the streams and rivers of righteousness and justice. They had forsaken that high path to the mountain of God and fallen into the mire of a dissolute life, one which has forgotten to dwell on the final cause of all creation, their God. Jesus rebukes them all in so many places. And here in this short passage we hear Jesus criticising his own disciples for their fear. “Don’t you have any faith?” he asks. Then he turns to the storm and commands peace and stillness with his rebuke. The winds abate and the sea calms.
We have all heard this story so many times, but I think it deserves further consideration about its significance for our lives. – Jesus was asleep at the back of the boat, comfortable in the stern on a cushion in the midst of this raging storm. His disciples feared for their lives and criticised Jesus for his casual attitude in the midst of the heavy seas and high winds. They woke him with the plaintive, “Don’t you care about us?” They wondered about this man’s feelings toward them, these men who had left everything to follow him. Had they hitched their wagons to the right star? – Here they were at risk on the water in the midst of a storm and that man was asleep!
Don’t we all feel this when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune come down so hard upon our heads that we despair? Aren’t we like the disciples when we begin to wonder, “Why?” We are in our own storms, aren’t we? Collectively, we are now in the midst of this never-ending pandemic. Personally, we are in our own dark places. And what do we do? We rebuke others – the prime minister and his cabinet for not dealing with things so that we can carry on with our affairs as if nothing has changed in the world. We revile our contemporaries for their callous disregard of health and safety. And so on … but whatever we say nothing changes.
We do not stand in our own boats to rebuke the wind, do we? We do not say, “Peace, be still!” to the seas of troubles in which we sail individually and collectively. For we do not have the faith to do so, but Jesus did. Jesus rebuked the elements and they obeyed him – “they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” That puts us in our place, doesn’t it? Our faith is so measly that we don’t dare to act. Instead we chide our saviour into a miracle, something that shows how worthy he is for our respect and honour, how worthy he is of our worship.
Each of us understands the delicacy of life when we stand there alone in the silence of the whirlwind like Job, don’t we? That moment of clarity when we see our lives as that maelstrom of experience good and bad, those storms which surround us normally, which embrace us in a way that can crush us, if we do not have resilience, if we do not embrace our being thrown into life just as it is, just as Jesus was.
That storm into which we are cast can overwhelm us, just as the covid crisis has done in this past year. It is a storm which is not abating. This storm seems to extend beyond our capacity to cope, doesn’t it? With lockdown being extended so that we cannot do what we want to for another four weeks, we are assaulted yet again by an outrageous fortune which we must conquer for ourselves. We ask, when will this storm cease?
We panic on the seas of our troubles, don’t we? We have no faith in ourselves or our neighbours for help in our situation. We despair. This is the point of no return. We stand at a point where there is an abyss all around us and we must choose – we must choose to live.
I just mentioned Job. He is in precisely this situation of the maelstrom of troubles. – His life is in tatters, his family has all been killed off, his riches have been stripped away, even his health is being crushed with boils and pain. He is, we imagine, at that same point at which we stand in the midst of all our sufferings and anxiety. He stands in innocence and faith and chooses to live. Even his comforters cannot diminish his belief in his own innocence because they can not see how such suffering can come down on the pure and righteous.
The reading from Job talks of the whirlwind, that great maelstrom surrounding him – all of Shakespeare’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune assaulting him in his faithful innocence. This turmoil is completely beyond the power of any individual to control. The psalm speaks of the storms on the sea. At the behest of God, they arise and the waves rise to heaven and dip so low into the earth. Only those who travel on the great waters know the real power of the storms which God calls into being. All of our readings today speak to the human condition, that thrown-ness of the individual into a world which is capricious – we are thrown into the environment of chance and change that has no intention of making anything normal for any of us.
“The wind goes where it will.” That is what we think. There is no human control over the stormy wind, is there? The wind comes and goes without any by your leave. Storms rage and quell of their own accord, how can we think we can do anything with the whirlwind?
We can make things less extreme. By moderating our behaviour, we may make the climate, our environment, less dangerous. If we were to live by the rule of Christ’s law, the winds of change will be a “gentle breeze” as Seals and Croft once sang. Perhaps the jasmine sweet will be in our lives as the Spirit enters our hearts, when we respond to the call of God, when we hear the rebuke in the silence at the centre of the whirlwind and finally act our love of our Lord God and neighbour.