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Church News Volume 8, Issue 1 (March 2007)

Dear friends,

He said to them, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:25)

Amid storms of bitter controversy threatening to overwhelm the Church and break it apart, a Christian leader was recently asked what was the one essential message that all its members needed to hear. You might have expected "Maintain the unity of the Spirit" or "Love one another", but his response was "Don't panic!" When we panic we stop trusting that God is present among us. But God is present in every storm and the way ahead for us always begins with trust. This is what the panic-stricken disciples of Jesus learnt when they were caught up in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.

In the Bible, the sea is often thought of as a place of chaos and disorder, threatening God's good purposes. The people of Israel spoke of God stilling the raging of the waves and saving those in danger on the sea. Here the disciples see Jesus doing the same things: terrifying natural powers are tamed; life can go on in peace. And in his wider ministry Jesus calms storms not only at sea but also in the lives of those he heals and delivers from evil.

Such authority prompts the disciples to ask who this man is; gradually they will come to understand the fullness of God's presence and action in Jesus. There's also a hint here that the authority exercised by Jesus stems from his perfect trust in God; as the disciples rush around in panic achieving nothing, Jesus at first sleeps peacefully and then acts in power. The childlike trust in God which Jesus taught and lived out may appear impractical and foolish, but it is this trust which enables him to be a channel of God's action in the world.

This story illustrates the slow and painful progress of the disciples. They have left everything to follow Jesus; for some time now they have listened to his teaching and witnessed his power to heal; they acknowledge him as their master. But the storm on the Sea of Galilee seems to blow away everything they have learnt. "Where is your faith?" asks Jesus: panic has driven trust from their hearts. This isn't the only time the disciples fail in faith and understanding. Often Jesus rebukes them, but he perseveres with them and continues to entrust his mission to them.

The God we see in Jesus is a stiller of storms; God wills harmony for the world and peace for all our hearts. But storms rage on, around us and within us. So why isn't the God who through Jesus stilled the storm more obviously at work in the world today? Although that question is notoriously hard to answer, our faith does offer us ways forward.

Storms in our own lives can all too easily undermine our trust in God and make us panic, like the disciples. But the disciples are rebuked for their lack of faith, not for calling out in their genuine need. So when our lives are in danger of being swamped by chaos or suffering of various kinds it's far worse to turn away from God in bitter silence than to cry out in faith (perhaps mingled with anger). We may then know some lessening of the storm about us or it may be that as the storm continues we are drawn deeper into the trusting relationship with the Father which we see in Jesus, who in this storm lies asleep like a child and trusts the Father through worse storms yet to come.

As we look beyond our own lives to the storms in God's world, it helps to remember that what we often call "miracles" are usually known in the New Testament as "signs". Signs point to something greater than themselves: when Jesus healed, fed hungry crowds, or calmed a storm, these were pointers to something greater, a foretaste of God's kingdom of lasting wellbeing, justice and peace. So in our daily praying for the coming of that kingdom there is both pain and confidence: pain because of the world's continuing storms; confidence because in Jesus God has stilled storms and the world is in the hands of this God. And sharing in the prayer of Jesus naturally leads to sharing in his work of stilling storms a link well made in the prayer that asks God to make us channels of his peace. So don't panic. Trust that God is present in every storm. And pray that we may be channels of God's peace.

Revd Ian M. Finn

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Last Modified Sunday 04 March 2018