This belonged with last week's readings ... this week's later. Life got in the way. But for my stuttered thoughts on Charlottesville see my alternative blog
This was delivered in 2011 - had I pictured the storms of Charlottesville and the rise of hate six years hence I might have emphasized the stilling of the storm a little more: Because I was not prescient I will inject this link a long six years later: "hate will not win" but silence is not the answer
SERMON PREACHED AT St. FRANCIS, BATCHELOR
SUNDAY, AUGUST 7th 2011
(PENTECOST 8 / ORDINARY SUNDAY 19)
Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28
Ps 105.1-6, 16-22
If ever there were events in the stories of the life of Jesus – and in a sense that is what the gospels are not, but more of that perhaps another time – that captures a visual imagination it is the nature miracles, the stilling of storms and walking on water. Popular images in stained glass and other art, it became popular in and since the nineteenth century to dismiss or disparage (either way to ‘diss’!) these events as elaborate and naïve fabrications.
I don’t particularly want to weigh into the argument. It is important as we read the first century scriptures to remember that the world of the original audiences was not so different to our own, and that then as now language of stilling storms or walking on water would have been heard as metaphorical, or literal, or fabricated. Those who first told the stories were aware of this, and told them still: the risk of conveying the gospel on the back of utter fabrication was too great to undertake.
We can therefore be assured either that the events occurred as described or that there was an understanding between speaker and audience that these stories conveyed truth about a divine yet human figure who could, as one utterly conjoined with the creator of the universe, command creation to obey his will. If this is the case we can also be assured that the early Christians knew the risen Christ as one who, present to them by the Spirit, could calm the tragic storms of their individual and corporate lives.
This did not, then or now, indicate that, as the saying goes, bad things don’t happen to good people. The story of Joseph in any case should warn us that while God may journey ahead of us and with us in times of trial, we are not by any means protected from the vicissitudes of life. Bad things happen to people, full stop! The challenge though is for us as a people of God to be so immersed in the rhythms of a life directed towards God, so immersed in the rhythms of a life that is lived on the premise that it belongs to God, that we can know ourselves to be treading in the footsteps that God has already trodden, treading in the footsteps that God has created for us.
The challenge then, to borrow the words of one great saint, is to ‘practice the presence of God’. The fate of the pre-Easter Peter, characteristically relying on his own bravado to attempt the miraculous task to which Jesus calls him, is highly symbolic in application for our own lives. I emphasize again, it does not matter whether we take a literal approach to the events described, or whether we see them as a metaphor, there is no doubt that the earliest Christians believed, against all odds, that faith in and obedience to Christ was utterly trial-transforming.
They knew from tough experience that a life lived to Christ, lived in such a way that it becomes a constant confession of Christ and witness to Christ, becomes a life that transcends trials of any magnitude, even trials of persecution and death. It was this that was the main evangelistic tool of the first Christians – martyrs by death or simply by lifestyle, they demonstrated a resilience and an authenticity far greater than that of the world around them, and gradually their numbers grew against all odds.
For us in twenty-first century western Christianity cultures there is, thank God, little chance of martyrdom for our faith. I for one am not necessarily sure that I would be so brave in Christ that I could be a Stephen, stoned for his faith, or a Peter, who once he stopped attempting to bravado his way into God’s plan, once he surrendered to the leading of God’s Christ-presenting Spirit, became one of the greatest witnesses of all our history.
But a life lived to Christ is simply a life lived in the shadow of the Cross, the shadow of God’s call to prioritize Christlike, self-sacrificing justice and compassion and love in whatever context God calls us to dwell in. It is to that we are called across the waters – no matter how strong the winds (including the winds of change that blow around us and which may be our gentle form of persecution) – and it is in Christ, not in ourselves, that we are called to put our trust.