Revelation 4 & Luke 8:22-25
May I speak, and may we all listen, in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Humans are very good at looking for, and finding, patterns in things. It is one of the ways that we find out about the world, by observation and comparisons. That’s how scientific knowledge advances. For example, we might know that if we prune a particular plant at a particular time of year, it will tend to react in a particular way because this is what happened before; reacting well at the right time or badly at the wrong one, by throwing out new shoots just at the time we want it to conserve its energy for next years’ flower buds. Or we know that putting a tin of cake mixture into the oven at a particular temperature for a particular number of minutes will result (usually) in a lovely, edible cake, because we observed this before. But if I leave it in for more minutes, or as sometimes happens on TV baking competitions, the oven has not been turned on at all, then the result will be very disappointing.
Not only the scientific, but also the imaginative mind can find patterns. Think of the stars we can see on clear nights. Think of all the shapes that we can make by joining them together, convincing ourselves that they look like a lion or a scorpion, or a hunter called Orion pointing his bow at a bull. Our creativity is a wonderful thing.
We like patterns, we like to try to make sense of things, give them meaning, to use them as symbols to connect things, and use them to predict what will happen this coming spring when the fruit trees will flower, or next year when the snows will come again, or tomorrow morning when the sun will rise above the Pentland Hills. If the patterns hold true then we can make our plans and make sure we are prepared for things to come.
It was the same for the people of Jesus’ time; they didn’t like chaos either, and for them the unpredictable nature of large bodies of water like the Lake, the Sea of Galilee, represented the terrors of chaos. Something 13 miles long and over 8 miles wide would be very chaotic, and from living on an island on the edge of the Atlantic and one in the Firth of Clyde, I can tell you that even with today’s high powered weather forecast computers, an island dweller always has to be reconciled to not being able to get on or off at short notice. Even now patterns are sometime hard to find.
Jesus slept in the boat, confident that the experienced crew of disciples would be able to navigate the chaotic waters. They must have done so before, many times, but they lost their nerve, lost their concentration and their awareness of each other, the almost unconscious awareness of the actions of those competently doing their part in the choreography of a team of sailors, and it must have been like a dance to be able to move and duck and haul and trim the sails in that small space inside the boat. But they gave way to fear and called to Jesus, ‘Master! Master! We are perishing!’
And Jesus awoke, and sent his words out onto the water, and it became calm and ordered, and their journey could go on. And he said to them, ‘where is your faith?’
Where is your faith? We can take these words in different ways, as they speak to us in our world, in which some of the patterns that we relied on, for instance the climate of the world, are no longer reliable. To look with God’s compassion on this situation would seem to be one of the examples of stilling the chaos that those who follow Jesus are called to copy, if Jesus’ priorities of justice and fulness of life for everyone are our pattern too.
Where is your faith? Was Jesus’ question to the disciples in the boat about trusting their own skills, their own experience on the water, and their own teamwork to make an effective crew from a group of individuals? We have been given gifts and talents, our experience of life, and we have been given the people around us. In different combinations we live out the life and love of Jesus where we live and work and study – and shop and rest and share food together. The pattern of Jesus’ priorities for his followers was that of welcoming the outcast and building a community that showed his care.
Where is your faith? Was Jesus’ question to the disciples about how well they were getting to know him? Having been his companions, how could they think that Jesus would not be there for them? The journey together was not yet finished, and there was more to teach them before they turned towards Jerusalem. Was the question not only about the disciples’ faith in Jesus, but also about accepting Jesus’ faithfulness to them, if you like Jesus’ faith in them? Was this because, like all of creation, these people had purpose and meaning and value, part of God’s pattern for wholeness, recreating the world.
In our reading from Revelation, John of Patmos recounts an awesome vision of the One who sits on the Throne of Heaven, who is worshipped by all who John sees there, the One who is worthy of glory, honour and thanks. And to anyone hearing the record of his experience in his own time there are patterns and symbols that connect to other scriptures, other stories from the history of the people of God. This vision reminded them that the same God who was with them from the time of Noah and Abraham and Sarah, up to John the baptiser, was still with them, not only in the heights of heaven but in the man Jesus and in the same Holy Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation. In our illustration the Holy Spirit is in the form of a dove, with Jesus, as it hovers over the waters of chaos carrying an olive branch in its mouth, just like the dove which flew back to Noah after the flood had started to recede, letting him know that the destruction had ended.
Visions such as John’s are hidden from most of us, most of the time, our worship is not quite as described there, although it is good to be reminded that we join with the heavenly host when we offer ours to God. In the 14thcentury Mother Julian of Norwich was, as John of Patmos, living through chaotic and unsettling times, with plague and war and disruption all around. When she fell ill and it was thought she would die she had visions that she later wrote down, Revelations of Divine Love, the earliest surviving writing of a woman in English. One verse recalls:
‘He did not say, you shall not be troubled, you shall not be tormented, you shall not be grieved. He did say, ‘you shall not be overcome.’
Jesus is not only Lord in heaven above, at the right hand of the throne of God but hidden from us. Jesus is Lord of the calm sea andthe choppy waters, and travelling with him we have strength for the journey. Jesus invites us to offer our faith as it is, knowing that we are accepted and loved. We offer our fellowship together as a community with all our gifts, willing to grow closer as part of God’s family. And when our faith and our effort and our gifts don’t feel like they’re enough, as Ross pointed out last week, we are not alone in this, it is the presence of Jesus that we can rely on, in us and in those around. We can rely on the nearness of Jesus, always with us, always ready when we call. His answers may not fit the pattern that we expect, the gifts that we receive may not be what we thought we wanted, but his purpose is for our good and he is with us in the boat and on the road, for all time and for eternity. Amen.