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You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

June 30, 2015

Matthew 8: 23-27                                          Tuesday 30th June 2015

Yesterday we heard how Jesus orders one of His rather unenthusiastic disciples (probably St Peter) to stay with Him on the boat across the Sea of Galilee for a missionary journey to the eastern gentile region of the Decapolis, in particular the land of the Gadarenes. Today we hear how en route they encounter almost immediately an unexpected, violent storm, so violent that the waves are breaking over the ship. Fishermen like St Peter would have understood the power of the sea and how treacherous and dangerous it can be. Poor old St Peter – he is not having a good day – on board against his wishes and now a violent storm.

And in the middle of it all, with everyone in fear of their lives, there is Jesus, fast asleep! Probably because he is exhausted – tired out by the strenuous day He had just had, ministering to the crowds.

So the terrified disciples are forced to wake Him up and ask for help. Jesus seems completely at ease, not at all troubled, saying, ‘Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?’ This is a hard lesson indeed. My goodness, they’re following Him into a pagan land, putting their trust in His leadership, but as soon as they ask for help, they seem to be scolded for lacking faith. Once again, this does seem a little harsh, because from their point of view they are showing great faith by turning to Our Lord for help.

So what is the faith that Jesus sees lacking in His disciples at that stage in His ministry? They need to recognise fully that God’s ways are not our ways. God is always in control, even if we think He is sleeping! Where exactly did the disciples lack faith then? Surely they literally turned to God in their distress, begging for help. The problem was what they prayed did indeed reveal a certain lack of faith: They said, “Save us, Lord, we are going down!” They were frightened they were going to die. If you were with Jesus, do you think you would be frightened of dying? Surely He is the absolutely best person to be with in a crisis. Surely, whatever happens, you’d be in good hands – they lacked the complete faith, the complete trust in God even in a crisis which would have told them it didn’t matter whether of not Jesus is sleeping – He is with them and that is enough to protect them. Goodness, that seems to me to be a tough call.

Another reason which is a regular feature of teaching, is that Jesus miracles are not to be seen as one-off events, to be called on just in a crisis – you know, the idea of ‘in an emergency, break glass and call for a miracle’. Before performing a miracle Jesus always makes reference to the need for faith. A miracle is not one-off magic, it is a product of complete faith in God, a faith that is aware of God’s power at all times, not just emergencies. Through all His teaching it is clear that Our Lord always takes the opportunity to reveal the tremendous power of faith and prayer, preparing His followers for the time when He will be no longer with them in the flesh but they will be entrusted with this divine power and authority over all things on earth. For example, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, you will remember the story of fig tree that withered and died when Jesus passed by and told it off for not bearing fruit. The disciples were astonished, but Jesus told them, in effect, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’. He said, “If you have faith, everything you ask for in prayer you will receive.” [1] And this was obviously a theme at the end of His ministry, because the evangelist St John records Jesus telling his disciples, just before His Passion, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works….” [2]

We need to think carefully about this, because there is always a risk that we might underestimate the power that has been entrusted to us Christians through our faith in Jesus. There’s a danger that prayer can become tidily packaged into liturgical services, separate from our ordinary, daily lives, limited to when we are in church rather than something that is heartfelt, personal and always on out lips.

There is a real problem in our wider society, amongst those who do not regularly worship in church, that prayer is seen as the last thing to try, the last throw of the dice, the last, desperate resort when all else has failed. We are the chosen few, the ones in St Peter’s boat with Jesus, the ones commanded by Jesus to remain with Him on our journey – even if sometimes we don’t want to be in that boat!. Jesus encourages to be people of prayer at all times, not just in the emergencies. unfortunately our modern society demands that faith is to be solely an individual, private choice, not to be shared with others. When we come together in church as faithful Christians we are a sign to the world that faith belongs in the public domain and is to be shared. When we do come together we often have bidding prayers – the ‘prayers of the people. Incidentally, the deacon traditionally leads these prayers as a reminder that it is the deacon’s role to be with the people and to be available for prayer requests. I am often very aware of the strength and depth of our shared faith when we are all praying together in that way in church.

When Jesus commanded the storm to be still, we are told that those with Him were astounded and said, ‘Whatever kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him.’ Once again, we are at an advantage. We know for sure who Jesus is. The disciples in that little boat were on the journey towards finding out and believing Jesus’ full identity. We know for sure that He is our Lord and Saviour – the person who rules over all His Creation, the person who saves us. We know that Jesus is God, we know that He is always with us, even though He may seem to be sleeping! Jesus taqught us through the Apostles that we should have the courage of our Christian convictions, to have a faith so strong that we are confident enough to always trust in God, whatever the situation, putting our faith in prayerful action.

And so let us show it now as we are gathered in our act of shared Christian worship, faithfully praying together in the presence of Jesus Christ before He comes to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. A sign to the world of Christ being always amongst us.

[1] Matthew 21:21

[2] John 14: 12

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