Christ in the eye of the storm Pentecost 3 21-06-09
When I was a young child, our family would go on camping holidays to the Flinders Rangers. One of my fondest memories was the time we spent together climbing mountain peaks within the park. Well, to tell the truth, it wasn’t so much that we climbed together as a family, it was really a competition between my brother and me, to be the first to the top of the mountain. It was all about getting to the goal, the destination, getting to the top before my brother. The journey was of little interest to us, reaching our goal was. This was not the case with my parents, they often lagged behind.
It wasn’t until years later that I realised my parent’s goal was not just ‘to get to the top’. For them, it was also about the journey. It made the whole experience worthwhile. Sure, their final goal was to be exhilarated by reaching the summit and to enjoy the view, but just as important to them was to experience the journey; to grow in knowledge by reading the plaques; to take in the beauty of the little wildflowers and to draw inspiration from the rock wallabies as they clambered and hopped from one rock ledge to another. The journey to the top for them was filled with experiences and growth; mine was filled with exhaustion from running.
We are goal driven people, or as Rick Warren put it ‘purpose driven’. When someone gives us a job to do or a goal to achieve, we go straight to work finding and developing a strategy to reach our goal. In our technological world, its all about achieving the goal in the quickest time. Why go and speak with a friend when you can just text them or email them. Why workout family differences in TV viewing preferences, just buy another TV. Why focus on unity in congregations, have a variety of services, build another congregation. After all, its all about achieving the goal of reaching people for Jesus. Humanity is very good at getting a job done, but not very good at getting there. Often the ambition to reach goal destroys the journey and destroys what the goal actually intended to give.
Jesus had a vision and set a goal for his disciples, ‘Let us go to the other side of the lake’. And you can imagine what happened next. Peter and other disciples were expert fishermen, knew boats, knew the sea, and knew exactly how to get to the other side. By the way Mark depicts the story, they waisted very little time setting out to achieve their goal, so much so, it seems Jesus had very little time to prepare ‘Leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus along, just as he was, in the boat.’ No time to waste Jesus, just get in the boat as you are…we’ll get you there. Reminds me of the bumper sticker you see on ‘P’ plater’s cars ‘Sit down, shut up, and hang on’.
For Jesus’ disciples, the goal was to get to the other side of the lake as quick and as direct as possible. They didn’t even let Jesus rest after a hard day’s ministry; he had to sleep in the boat. They had Godly reason to achieve their goal. They were Godly purpose driven, and on a Godly mission to get to their goal; Jesus said ‘let’s go to the other side of the lake’, a journey they had probably done hundreds of times.
This time however, it was going to be different. Mark records ‘A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.’ Suddenly, as the storm set in, their goal was no longer achievable. Suddenly ‘the other side’ seemed too far. In the midst of a furious storm it no longer mattered how quickly they got there. This time ‘getting to the other side’ was not going to be about achieving the goal, it was going to be about the journey. The storm was the journey and the storm would make getting to their destination a whole lot more fulfilling. In the eye of a storm, the disciples realized that they were not in control of their destiny; the storm could take their life and goals in an instant.
Turning to Jesus, perhaps as a last resort, they cry out ‘don’t you care that we are going to drown’? Expert sailors, who knew how to sail, who knew how to handle a boat in a storm turn to Jesus who had never handled a boat in his life…he was a carpenter. The terror of the storm made them realize no human effort could change destiny, death was always going to have the final say. That is why they turn to Jesus. Not because he was an expert sailor, but because they had to trust that he was the Son of God; that he had the authority and willingness to change their destiny.
Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves ‘quiet…be still’ and immediately there is calm. The disciple’s hope did not disappoint. Jesus did indeed have the power over destiny and most importantly he had the willingness, the desire, to change destiny…from death to life. Jesus set a goal ‘getting to the other side’, but he used it as a catalyst to change. He used the journey, the storm, to change the vision of his disciples from looking to them selves to looking to him. From being goal focused to Christ focused. The goal was the impetus, but the journey redefined the goal.
On the cross Jesus won for us a new destiny. We are no longer condemned to die for our sin, as Paul says ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ This new destiny is the work of Jesus for us; his life, death, resurrection and ascension redeemed us from the grip of sin and death. He has the authority and the will to say ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ This gift, the goal and vision of heaven has been guaranteed to us through baptism, where he poured out his Spirit upon us as a down payment of things to come.
This is the goal, yet like the disciples, we still have a journey…a journey with Jesus…a Christian journey of life. Yes, it is tempting to just race through life trying to reach the goal of heaven by our own effort, taking our focus off Jesus by striving to take hold of the goal with all spiritual wisdom and strength, emotion and passion, focused only on our effort, all in the name of God. But this is not how Jesus intended us to live. It is the journey with him, with all the highs and lows that form and define how we reach the goal, like my parents knew as they slowly climbed the mountain taking in all the experiences of the journey.
Robert Pirsig, an American writer and philosopher said this ‘To live for only some future goal is shallow. It is the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not at the top. Here’s where things grow. But of course, without the top you can’t have the sides. It’s the top that defines the sides.’
Life eternal is the top, but the sides, our journey, our life here on earth, is where we learn that only in Christ Jesus is our destiny changed. Our whole journey along the ‘side of the mountain’, the storms we encounter, the fear, suffering and trouble make us realize we are not in charge of our destiny. In the eye of the storm, that is sometimes our life, is Jesus. He uses the storm to change our perspective, change our vision from looking to ourselves to looking to him as the one and only saviour ‘for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.’
In the storm, let go of the goal, let go of trying to gaze into the sleet and fog of despair, hoping to see a glimpse of heaven, turn your eyes to Jesus, who is right beside you, he will not let your hope down, as the writer of Hebrews encourages us ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ I love this quote from St Cathrine and I want to finish with it ‘All the way to heaven is heaven because Jesus said ‘I am the way.’ Amen