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21th June 2009 Bishop Dušan’s Sermon

The following sermon was help by the Right Rev. Dušan Hejbal from the Old Catholic in the Czech Republic during his episcopal visit to St. Clements on Sunday, 21th June 2009.

When misfortunes started to heap upon Job in the Old Testament story, he was in a sorry plight. He was not only the victim of every possible disaster and illness, he was also the focus of attention of his neighbours, with all their foregone conclusions and misapprehensions, and in the end he was prey to his own doubts too. He took painfully to heart the  questions they posed him: “Where is that God you believe in? Why doesn’t he help you?”

Now God speaks. He doesn’t take his cue from Job and he doesn’t speak like one questioned, but instead he asks the questions. What do you know, my man, about the grandiose achievement of God’s creation? Where were you when the earth was created? Stop and listen. Don’t just look at yourself, be aware of the expressions of God’s power. Let yourself be drawn into the miracles of God’s creation. Are you capable of grasping God’s logic in the scheme of things? How could you imagine that God has forgotten about you, that He sleeps without sparing you a thought – that He is silent, that He is dead, that he no longer exists?

Life gives rise to questions. Even people who believe in God can’t avoid them. When we pray we entrust Him with our difficulties, our unresolved problems, our concerns, our fears and our anxieties. And sometimes we reproach Him. Then our prayer becomes a snivelling monologue full of reproaches

But our journey to God starts where prayer is a dialogue: when He starts to speak and we are attentive enough to listen. All of a sudden it is as if a spotlight has suddenly lit up our entire space, whereas previously we could only see a small fraction of reality with our flashlights and everything else was hidden in darkness and filled us with dread. Now we suddenly see the context that eluded us. And in that light our problems look different too.

That is something we are all too familiar with, aren’t we? There is not too much justice in the world we live in. Good isn’t always rewarded and often evil goes unpunished. The innocent die and absurd wars are waged…

And then there are ourselves and our own problems: not enough understanding, love, caressing – it’s impossible to breathe…

Where’s God? He is sleeping?

Jesus’ disciples experienced something of the kind during that storm. The sea is a synonym of chaos, the site of evil forces. Deep waters represent mortal peril, even when it is only the waters of the Lake of Gennesaret. This region of evil has risen in revolt against the power of God. The disciples were imperilled, they were close to death and He was sleeping.

They wake Him up impatiently and almost indignantly, reminding him petulantly of the danger they are in. You HAVE to do something! It’s your duty!

I expect it took him a moment to come round. And I expect it was with a certain reluctance and as if under duress that He stood up in that boat and yelled into the tumult of that storm: Peace! Be still! And it was as if the sea swallowed its waves. The wind ceased and there was a dead calm.

And that calm was broken by His voice and the question he asked almost certainly reflected his exhaustion but it was above all a rebuke: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And then suddenly they started to be filled with a fear of quite a different kind. Here among them there stood someone whom the storms obeyed. Someone powerful. The Son of God.

I expect we have all experienced that story in the course of our lives. From A to Z. How many times have we mentally tugged at Christ’s sleeve and called out in terror: Do something. You can’t let evil triumph. How can You bear to look at it? Do something. Just look at the state I’m in: I’m drowning, help me – I’m one of yours, after all. And this story is the one that gave us hope and the strength to persevere.

He intervened. He always intervenes in the end one way or another,  but sometimes differently from what we imagine. And Jesus’ question that applies to each and every one of us is: Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith yet?

But we didn’t wake him so that he should help us bail water out of our sinking craft, did we? That’s something we can do ourselves. We wanted him to show his power. He has to show his power, doesn’t He? We woke Him because we believe in Him. What does He want then? What is the sort of faith He expects of us? What does believing mean?

The disciples on the Sea of Galilee BELIEVED IN GOD. They believed there was a God and that He took care of his people and also took care of them. We also believe that there is a God and that everything He has revealed about Himself is true. But that is so very little, isn’t it? We are afraid… We are afraid, but Jesus is the enemy of fear. Jesus reproaches his disciples for their fear, because fear is a sign of little faith.

We sense from Christ’s words that He wants us to BELIEVE GOD. He wants us to trust Him. That’s what the disciples were lacking – and that’s why they were afraid. That’s why they woke Him up. There is a great difference between belief in God and believing God. I need only my intellect to believe in God, but to believe God needs my entire self. God only likes faith that implies the risk of trust.

The church always saw in the story of the calming of the storm an image of its own status in history. That’s why the boat on the waves became its symbol. The truth is that in the eyes of the world it sometimes looks more like a race between vehicles of varying tonnages and types, and a sort of ecumenical council of small craft, and the captains of those giant Titanics defend their privileged status and regard with resentment the small craft competing with them, and the truth is that it is because of our lack of faith and lack of love. Nevertheless we are all in one boat together with our Lord and there is nothing to fear.

He is the Lord of History, he is also the Lord of the storms and tempests that we encounter in our lives and He is capable of calming them. And He is also Lord of the calm that follows the storm…