All will be well

Sermon delivered by Reverend Valerie Pearce
Matthew 14: 22-33 (9 after Trinity – 9 august 2020)

Most of us, most of the time probably like life to be ‘normal’. We like to know where we are and to have some sense of control over our lives. We may have a strong sense of God’s blessing when we are in control. But where does that leave us, and where is God in such times as we’ve been experiencing this year, where our lives have felt increasingly and bewilderingly out of our control.

It seems that the story in the Gospel today may have something to teach us in this regard.
Jesus had told his disciples to go off in their boat after the feeding of the five thousand, probably because the people were becoming worked up into a frenzy, thinking that Jesus was a wonder worker and the answer to all their problems. Perhaps the disciples did too. He wanted to go off and have some time of solitude and prayer.

So the disciples went off in their boat and then a storm had appeared from nowhere, just like Covid-19, as it so often does on the Sea of Galilee, and they had to work with all their skill to keep the boat afloat. They were desperate and fearing for their lives – and then they saw Jesus walking on the water; they were taken by surprise and at first thought it might be a ghost, but he called out to them. As soon as they realized who it was, they calmed down, they believed he could do something to help them in their plight.

But Peter, as impulsive as ever, got out of the boat, but realizing how rough it was, became afraid and began to sink. Jesus put out his hand and saved him, chiding him for having little faith. As soon as they both got into the boat, the storm ceased.

So, this story we’ve heard in the Gospel today surely has two main things to teach us about discipleship and faith.

First of all, we can expect that in the course of our life and our journey of faith all will not always go to plan, and we will meet with trials and difficulties.

St Theresa of Avila, a 16th Century Carmelite nun, who found herself stuck in mud on one of her journeys between her convents, is recorded as having shouted at God, ”If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies”!

The trouble is, that we can believe at one level that God is there and will help us, but at times this may not be evident, and the pain and difficulty may be very hard to bear.

Sometimes, like Jesus unexpectedly appearing in the gloom beside the lake, the answer or help for our problem may come from an unexpected place or person, and we may sometimes only realize with hindsight how we’d been helped. But strangely, those who have had most to bear in life can often teach us most about the love and strengthening that faith in God can bring.

I had a conversation with a woman at a church where I was helping.
She started the conversation by saying that it was sad that so many people, when the going got tough, gave up on God. She went on to say that she had been brought up in Care- which was tough- and she had been abused. She said that she was taken to church on Sundays, but it was very much ‘hell-fire and damnation’, with dire warnings of what would happen if the congregation misbehaved, although she did enjoy the Sunday school. But despite all the trials and traumas she had experienced in her life, somehow she had come to know and trust in the God of love. She felt supported and sustained by this through her life’s journey.

The second thing we can learn is from Peter’s response. We somehow believe we can put things right in our own strength – and then we sink or fall flat on our face. Peter was a failure over and over again. He wanted to do well and be strong, but he was always failing and getting it wrong. But ultimately, he was singled out – after what could perhaps be described as his greatest failure, when he denied that he knew Jesus three times – to be the head of the disciples. It didn’t matter that he had failed; what mattered was that he had truly loved and been prepared to ‘hang in there’. So God was able to use him for good. One of our wise Sisters once said to me, “If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t make anything’!

Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish diplomat who was the second Secretary General of the United Nations wrote in his spiritual book called Markings,
‘God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in Him
But we die on the day when our lives cease to be illuminated
by the steady radiance, renewed daily,
of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.’

And, in these times that we’re living through, we can surely take heart from these words of Julian of Norwich, the 14th Century mystic, writing in her Revelations of Divine Love:
He did not say
you shall not be tempted;
you shall not be troubled;
you shall not be distressed,
but He said,
you shall not be overcome.

God wills that we take heed to these words,
and that we be very strong in certain trust,
in well and in woe,
for He loves and delights in us,
so He wills that we love Him and delight in Him
and strongly trust in Him
and all shall be well. Amen