May I speak in the name of the God who loves us, Jesus who suffers with us and the spirit who gives us peace. Amen.
The irony of preaching Jesus calming the storm this particular weekend is not lost on me, as the wind, rain and snow cause destruction. When storms like the ones which have just hit us come, then there is a legitimate fear. It is undoubted that part of the Gospel narrative we read this morning takes us out of our comfort zone of human control. I wonder whether we often feel that we have some form of control over creation and when the physical storms rage they are a reminder that creation is bigger than us and we have little or no control at all.
The early Christians adopted as the symbol of the church a simple drawing of a boat with a cross for a mast. In an age of persecution of Christians from outside and controversy and conflict within, this new emerging church must have felt to those within it very much like a boat on a storm-tossed sea.
The church today still faces storms. There is still division and conflict over authority, gender, sexuality, the race issues which Rachel spoke about last week. It is not easy to flourish when there is conflict and division, when there is a lack of united commitment to serve the oppressed. I have been thinking a lot this week about acceptance. The conflict which emerges of acceptance of those within who hold polarized views is incredibly difficult, and makes it hard for us to share the Good News. With the internal storm raging about what that Good News looks like. We are in a context where generations of people have not heard the Good News and it is harder to reach them and share the love of God with them. ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’
It isn’t just the church which faces stormy weather, as coronavirus becomes endemic, the cost of living rises ever higher increasingly pushing people into poverty and fear, the overwhelming challenge of climate change seems to threaten the very existence of our planet: ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’
We face our own personal storms. I wonder what storms are going on in your life as we gather today? Life throws things at us which sometimes are overwhelmingly difficult or painful. Things happen to us which throw us into stormy waters and we get frightened. ’Master, Master, we are perishing.’
In Luke 8 we see Jesus calming the wind and the waves, he says to the frightened disciples: ‘where is your faith?’ I am sure that we have all experienced those dark and painful times where we have felt the waves overwhelm us and have felt afraid. I suspect that we are meant to pause here and be told that fear is the opposite of faith. I think I would like to challenge that idea this morning. Many disciples of Jesus, many of us sat here today, might be feeling legitimate fear, I know I have felt fear. Friends if we still seek Jesus in the boat in the midst of that fear, if we have come to encounter Jesus in the midst of our storm today then your faith in spite of and through the fear is amazing. You are to be honored in holding to faith through your fear.
As I was preparing this sermon there were a plethora of people I was going to talk about. Those who have expressed faith in the midst of their storm, who have held to faith as they have faced their fear. Perhaps I could have spoken about Corrie Ten Boom who lost much of her family to the Nazis and survived the brutality of Ravensbruck, or Terry Waite as he faced the fear of being held hostage and holding to faith in the midst or his terror, or maybe Doreen Lawrence who propelled herself through the depths of the storm to make a difference.
But. Then on Thursday morning I received a message from someone from our own congregation (I have his permission to share this). Our brother Omid, a committed regular in our community who was baptised and confirmed with us, who served our community and barely missed a Wednesday lunch time Eucharist and Bible Study. Omid a refugee/asylum seeker messaged to tell me that he had been transferred to Hartlepool on Wednesday. No time to prepare, no choice in the matter (he didn’t want to go), no time to say goodbye. It was a moment that he, and we, had been dreading. Omid’s first question to me was: can you tell me which church to go to in this city, he knows he has to seek Jesus and a faith community? We have connected him with a church and he is there this morning. Omid knows what the storm looks like. He became a Christian in Iran and was persecuted, fleeing as a refugee for fear of his life because of his faith, separated from his beloved wife and children hopeful that they will be able to come here but unable return to them. He arrives in this country, finds his bearings and is moved, he builds love, roots and friendship in Huddersfield, he is moved again not allowed to build a true sense of belonging in a country deemed to be safe. Omid’s words are better than mine. He writes this goodbye to you all:
In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Greetings to all the dear friends and loved ones of Huddersfield Parish Church. Friendship is the best relationship that all people can enjoy in their lives. I thank Jesus Christ for blessing me to spend part of my life together with you pure and kind friends. In this short time I have learned many things from you friends. Unfortunately in this earth there are countries where peoples opinions are insulted and disrespected but here in church my ideas were not insulted. I was accepted with kindness and respect and treated like a human being, my opinions were respected. And you people in Huddersfield Church are friendly people. You are loving and love that I have never seen in my life. How good you are. Hopefully one day I can come there again and see you up close and serve the church. I will miss you all. Each and every one of you. You will always remain in my heart, your love will never be forgotten. I wish Jesus Christ for each of you, health, wealth and life with love. I love you. I hope to see you again. Omid.
I think you will agree that if Omid has learned from us then we have also learned from him. In all of that storm Omid clings to Jesus, seeks him out through his fear, in his pain throughout the storm. His faith continues to bring storm, it has from the beginning, Jesus has not like Cinderella’s godmother made things different, this is not the testimony of a man whose faith has made things ok for him, who has been allowed to remain in Huddersfield, been reunited with his family although we continue to pray for those things for him. Omid holds to Jesus because he gives him a peace and confidence beyond rational explanation. In the midst of the storm outside his human control he holds to Jesus in the boat. Perhaps finding solidarity in suffering with the Christ who has suffered too. Maybe he also holds onto the message from Revelation that we hold to a hope beyond this world, a hope that we are promised and a faith in a kingdom where stories like Omid’s will be no more. God’s justice and kingdom will reign.
Our challenge then this week. I pray that you will find Omid’s letter as encouraging as I did, there is something special about receiving a message which feels just like an epistle from Paul. Note his words of love to you, to this community of disciples in this place. You got alongside Omid in the midst of his storm. As the hands and feet of Jesus we continue to seek those who are facing the pain, darkness, fear and overwhelming of the storm, welcome them, embrace them, sit with them through it and love them. Omid reassures us of the value of our ministry, being family together. You are a people of love and acceptance. As people seek Jesus through the storm we continue to seek and sit alongside them, love them too. So we don’t lose sight of that symbol of the early Christians and we hold the cross before us as a symbol of love and hope as we climb into the boat, cast into the deep waters and fish for the lost and broken.