Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 20 June 2021.
• First Reading: Job 38: 1-11 (The Lord answers Job: Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?)
• Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13 (Paul’s ministry: put no stumbling block in anyone’s path – a life of self-offering paradox)
• Gospel: Mark 4: 35-41 (Jesus calms the storm: ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’)
I think that as teenagers we all took arguments and pressed them to see just how far they would go. Pacifism – fine, but disband the police? International aid – yes, but how far would we go for others when our own poor were suffering? And where does aid turn into control? The redistribution of wealth – OK, but does that mean disbanding all our pension schemes?
For every possible position and opinion there was always going to be an extreme from which we would then row back. In some ways it was a game, partly to exercise our own reasoning abilities and partly to wind up our parents and those of their generation.
We all relied on the infrastructure of society – the water that came from the taps in our homes, the electrical lights that came on when switched on, and so we all relied on the water reservoirs and power stations that made it possible.
So then we have the story of Job, an innocent in a contest between God and Satan. God was backing Job but Satan doubted it, and so Job was afflicted with loss of just about everything he had and only his life was protected.
In his innocence he cried out for justice and God was silent. Finally God relented and answered Job. Perhaps we may imagine His voice as something like Brian Blessed: booming and commanding. Possibly it was more like Anthony Hopkins: quieter, nuanced, reasoning.
But God took Job seriously and in answering him, at least offered Job a hearing, even if He was playing with him as a father might humour a tired but arguing child.
“So Job, are you going to beat me up verbally and astonish Me with your powers of observation, reasoning and deduction. Maybe you can answer these questions then?”
And so the holiness and glory of God incarnated itself sufficiently to speak to Job, even if he never got a direct answer to his questions. Job was left with his questions and never understood the test between God and Satan in which he had been central. But he had heard the voice of the Lord and trusted it even when he never got a clear reply to his questions.
But the revelation of God in this way was still a source of comfort and inspiration to Job who found peace and healing in the voice of the Lord.
Then we have Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. There had been some harsh words between Paul and the church and this letter followed a possibly difficult and acrimonious visit. But Paul was still asserting the ministry that had been entrusted to him.
Paul made the point that he had authority to speak forth but that it was an authority to serve. It was never about bossing people about or standing on his own dignity. It was all about self-giving.
Indeed, not long before his execution Paul had described his life as being ‘poured out’. It comes in his letters to the church in Philippi (Philippians 2: 17) and to Timothy (2 Timothy 4: 6). That might have been the climax to which his life and ministry were building, but meanwhile Paul’s service was all about self-giving. It was never about being self-assertive or projecting his own ego.
Whereas in Job, the offering was something he could only make from within his sense of personal loss as he offered all the suffering to God, for Paul the sense of self-giving was a daily process and it took place in his everyday encounters and hazards.
Paul’s work was in expending himself as he committed himself to proclaiming the gospel and the life of the resurrection to the communities to which he was sent.
And so he entered a world of paradox: dying, yet he lived; being genuine but treated as an impostor; beaten but not killed, meeting sorrow but finding joy. Having practically nothing but having access to all that he needed.
His security was in his self-giving, rather than in hoarding, in offering himself rather than protecting himself.
And then there was Jesus, asleep in the stern of a boat during a squall. Even His disciples who were seasoned sailors could not handle it.
As one who enjoys sailing myself, I cannot imagine Peter giving the helm of the boat to a landsman during this squall. More likely he would have offered Jesus a bucket to bail the boat or an oar to help row and keep her head to the wind. Certainly to avoid going sideways and risking a capsize.
What Jesus did do was wholly unpredictable to the disciples. St Mark describes it simply and directly: Jesus already had all authority and so He exercised it over the wind and the waves.
Far from being out of His element by being a passenger with the disciples, Jesus was very definitely in it by identifying the source of the squall and rebuking it directly and personally. Instead of being powerless and reacting, Jesus was in control at the point of need.
He was happy to leave the navigation and the safe landfall to the disciples, but as they cried out in their distress Jesus was there to hear and to act.
In all of these lessons there is that aspect of faith in action. Even Job, in all his misery, did not abandon his faith in God as many have done in the presence of personal trial and sorrow. For all his complaint Job was still going to honour the Lord.
Paul understood how his life had been turned around on the road to Damascus and was willing to accept a far more adventurous life without status or comfort, but in the service of His Lord.
And Jesus – asleep on a pillow – was at the centre of the action, especially when the disciples had done all they could and turned to Him in their hour of need.