Sermon: Jesus the storm bringer.
The Revd Kate Bruce, Chaplain, University College, Durham University
Preached on 12th February 2012
by The Revd Kate Bruce
Luke 8.22-39 – stormy stuff.
Initially, as I reflected on our Gospel passage a sermon began to take shape which linked the calming of the storm on the lake and the calming of the storm tossed soul of Legion, with a nod to verses in psalm 65 which speak of God ‘silencing the roaring of the seas and answering us with deliverance’. The application would then have been something along the lines of trusting Jesus – the one who brings calm into chaos. Sermon written, job done. Onto the next thing.
But…as this sermon was born another sermon emerged, gripping its heel, and usurping it. An uncomfortable sermon. A sermon which kept asking me to shift the focus – away from the theme of calm, to the storm that Jesus himself creates. Result; a less comfortable address …
Jesus the storm bringer.
First let’s zoom in on the disciples after the storm has been stilled. There they are, hair plastered down by lake water, crouching in a half submerged boat, its hull caressed by gentle wavelets. For all the calm around them, in their hearts and minds they are buffeted by questions, fear, awe, wonder. Perhaps a tempest of recrimination blasts at them? They have woken up to their spiritual amnesia. Peter – have you forgotten so soon? You saw the nets breaking as the fish slapped into the boat. You recognised Jesus as Holy, as Lord. Guys, you saw Him heal people. You heard him teach. You were there at Nain when He told the dead man to get up, and he did. No, I don’t think the calm on the lake is matched by calm in their hearts. “How could we have been so stupid? How could we have forgotten? Where is our faith?” He stands before us – He has power over the elements. Here is God with us.
Jesus the storm bringer.
And what of us? Are we immune from this spiritual amnesia.
- Have you had those moments of an intense sense of God, times when you have prayed and seen God at work – powerful, fearful, wonderful.
- That retreat when you were overwhelmed by the love of God.
- That time in the garden when the wonder of creation moved you so deeply you wept.
- The sublime beauty of the quiet of the Cathedral, infused with His presence.
- A moment with a mentor or spiritual director when you see that what looked like death is a gateway to life.
- The consoling presence of God filling you up and you tell yourself that you have moved on in your faith to a new place.
Perhaps you write this in a journal and come across it some time later and you are surprised by the memory. You’d forgotten it. The tensions, trivialities and traumas of life had robbed you. The banality of life numbs you in its routine. Spiritual amnesia.
It shrinks Jesus down until he is dashboard sized. We forget - the Lord of heaven and earth, God almighty, is only a heartbeat away. Where is our faith?
Sometimes we need a storm to wake us up.
Jesus is a storm bringer.
He brings a tempest of realisation that tears up our self-reliance, uproots our pint sized idols. ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’ Who is this and what will following him mean? All our old ways of living and being are re-arranged, re-ordered around him. What will this mean? What will it cost? Where will this take us? ‘They were afraid and amazed.’ What of us?
Let’s look now at that second story. Legion the storm tossed man who has roared and raged in the place of death, disturbed and disturbing. The locals must have known all about him; he was once a man of the city. But now… A frightening case. The tomb man. Outcast. Unmanageable.
Some family’s shame. ‘Oh we don’t speak about uncle Enoch.’…
Jesus encounters him and when the people come to see what’s happened there he is ‘sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.’ The tempests of rage that blasted him out into the wilds are no more. The waves of madness that robbed him of dignity are stilled. The Legion of demons has gone. So we might think all is well –storm stilled, all calm. Job done.
But no … Jesus is a bringer of storms.
A tempest is gathering in the wake of His actions. The Geresene people are in turmoil. The tip of their tornado points down, not at the man, but at the pigs. Mark’s Gospel tells us there are 2,000 of them.
That’s a massive herd.
That’s maybe 400,000lbs of meat.
That’s a major business investment.
That’s primary income.
That’s financial well being.
And that’s just gone over a cliff.
And for what?
For some insane guy who hangs out at the local cemetery.
Jesus is a bringer of storms.
Luke tells us that the people were ‘seized with great fear’.
Jesus has comes into their territory. A Jew – but he is not perturbed by being on Gentile turf, with pigs around, facing a demonic man who is naked and in the place of death. Jesus comes into the place of uncleanliness, because that man matters. The people push Jesus away because he implicitly asks them to re-think what is important. They are left with a choice. Will they engage with Jesus, embrace the once mad man into their community, work together to survive the damage to their local industry, hear what this powerful healer has to teach them,find out who he is, re-orientate their lives around him? No chance. It’s all too much. Too frightening. This man Jesus is powerful and dangerous. He brings change. The set ways are challenged. Our calm existence is disturbed. Deeply disturbed. Understandably, they ask him to leave – and he respects this. But graciously, Jesus leaves a bit of storm behind, to disturb their calm. He commands the man to go back to his home and declare how much God has done for him. This man will be the one to create waves in their cosy world – his very existence a living sign that their horizons are limited; he is a storm cloud in the blue azure of their deluded outlook. An outlook that says the pigs mattered more than the man. An outlook that brooked not one word of celebration. Not a hint of thanksgiving. Not a suggestion of welcome. Not an iota of joy. Not a whiff of excitement.
Jesus is a storm bringer.
His power uproots expectations and challenges convictions. But it seems to me that if we are in that storm we have a choice. We can either push him off far from our shores, or we can ask him to dwell with us, helping us to endure the storm that demands a change of heart, mind, perspective. Perhaps we have coseyed up to a comfortable outlook, with a pint sized Jesus we can manipulate at will? Perhaps we have allowed spiritual amnesia to rob us of the awe that once filled our experience of God? Perhaps we ended up in a place where our calm and well being matters more than the white lightning drinker in the cemetery. Perhaps we have settled for a superficial calm which allows us to bury our meanness, lack of love, lack of forgiveness, our addictions and peccadilos.
Jesus is a storm bringer – bringing healing to our amnesia, bringing challenge to our perspective, to who and what we value.
Have we the wisdom to pray for a storm and for the faith to ride it out with Christ? Perhaps we lack courage – but it’s worth remembering that a calm life can be boring, dull, predictable, and empty, and storms can be exciting, wild, energising, invigorating and transforming.
Jesus – cook up a storm and lead us on. Amen