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He is with us in the storm

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 4B  20/6/21:  Mark 4.35-41

Ps 107.28 …they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress;

29 he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

30 Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.

This is a fascinating story – a story about going over to the other side with Jesus.

All day, Jesus has been teaching huge crowds – teaching in parables that have intrigued his listeners and bewildered his disciples. Now he sets off. The job seems incomplete, but there’s a sense of urgency; he must move on. Jesus has been exhausted by the effort of all his teaching, all those people, and in the boat, he falls into a very deep sleep.

Just how deep becomes apparent when a storm springs up so violent that the boat threatens to founder. His disciples panic and wake him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Jesus stills the storm. He is independent of their faith – sovereign over the great forces of nature. And the disciples, overcome with awe ask one another, “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” Who can this be? That is the great question Mark’s Gospel confronts us with. But for now, we’re on their way to the other side with Jesus.

When we read on from this point, we’ll find that the other side is a ‘liminal’ place; out on the fringe of civilization. On the other side, they are met by a man living in a graveyard and possessed by an unclean spirit named legion; nearby are pigs; pigs in their thousands. The other side is a place where no decent person should be. But Jesus has gone there, and we, his disciples have accompanied him.

To choose to belong with Jesus means to get up and go where he leads. And that is quite likely to mean a journey towards something that is other.

That’s something we think about in this Trinity season: we are shown that we reflect God the Trinity through our diversity. God isn’t content just to let us sit and get pot bound in our small corners. God wants us to be open to each other – to other ways of seeing – to various ways of being God’s children.

Last weekend, Vicky and I had the privilege of experiencing this when we went walking on Adnyamathanha Country with Auntie Rev Dr Denise Champion and her niece/daughter Rhanee. They took us to the places of dreamtime stories which they told us in situ – stories which Auntie Denise, Adnyamathanha elder and Christian minister, wove with Biblical stories and applied to our own lives. We were being welcomed to places where western Christianity would never have dreamt of going. We found Jesus to have been present in the Dreamtime. Who is this that even the barriers of culture and tens of millennia submit to?

God wants us to be a community with a hospitality that welcomes otherness; not with the sort that calls otherness in and tries to make it become like us. God wants us to let our hospitality change us.

To choose to belong with Jesus means to get up and go where he leads. And that is quite likely to mean a journey towards something that is other.

And today’s fascinating Gospel story is a picture for us of just how other it can get. All that was normal, pure, orderly and safe – that all lay back on the familiar shore. Come wind and high water, Jesus was going to see us on another one. The choice to belong with Jesus means to get up and go where he leads.

Each of us here has made that choice, or will make it. Why do we go with him on this journey? Curiosity? Attraction? Faith? To have a look? To be near?

When we were baptised, Jesus called us to go with him – to cross the water to the other side. Is there danger in this? Are there storms? Yes, there are; certainly in any Christian’s life, there will be. The sudden pain in the night; the shock loss of a job, the unexpected death of a partner or friend; on a mass scale, pandemic or war – or in the case of first Australians, worse still – ongoing cultural genocide.  Yet there is someone who will never let us face that alone; one who always accompanies us, who embarks on our every journey, absolutely with us even where others can be no more than onlookers and friends.

But we should pray for each other in all this, and today’s gospel story reminds us to do this, and gives us our prayer. “Who is this …”

The other point is make sure that whatever we do and wherever we go – whatever happens –  we are to make sure we’re with him…with Jesus…because then it will be alright.

It will be alright not because of any special faith we have – he’s independent of our faith; not because of any special favour any of us enjoys – he loves all. It will be alright because of who Jesus is, the one whom the sea and the wind obey. Danger, pain, even death may come. But he is the one who knows the way, and Jesus can come even from the other side of our death to be our companion on the way.

Jesus came to be with us in the storms of our lives, and he is with us still through the Spirit living within and among us. Know that, and look for him. Jesus knows these storms personally. Tell him how your storms affect you; he will hear and understand and never leave you to weather them alone.

Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes God lets the storm rage, and calms the child. Either way, Christ is with you; Christ is with us.    Amen

Prayer of the day

This is based on the Gospel reading from Mark where Jesus stilled the storm and the fears of his disciples . In awe they asked…
Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
Let us pray for all who are weathering storms in their lives

We pray for the world
For all trapped in poverty, famine, drought or the effects of natural disasters
For all battling Covid 19 in so many countries, with or without sufficient vaccine
For all living in areas of war or civil conflict where safety is never a ‘given’
We think particularly today of the peoples in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan
We pray for all for whom life is an endless struggle just to get through another day
May they sense your sustaining presence and power

God whom the wind and sea obey …. hear our prayer

We pray for the church worldwide
For those in peril of persecution because of their faith
For those suffering imprisonment because of their faith
For those faith is sorely tested by unexpected difficulties or troubles
Help them we pray, to sense your calming presence and power

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

We pray for ourselves, our families and friends, and the communities in which we live
For those whose jobs are threatened, and who struggle to pay the rent or the mortgage
For those swamped by the demands of work or the responsibilities of care, whether it be the care of grandchildren or elderly parents or sick friends
We can never forget those living in hidden abusive relationships
Nor those living lonely lives, without support or encouragement
When we feel overwhelmed by worries and fears
still our souls that we may sense your calming presence and power

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

We pray for all who are sick, especially those who are suffering or close to dying
For those living with chronic pain, mental torment or stress about medical results
We remember those who are grieving, wondering how to go on without their loved one
When we feel overwhelmed by pain or loss
Broken and tossed about in any direction
Calm our souls we pray that we may sense your calming presence and power.

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

As we begin Refugee Week, we give thanks that the Sri Lankan family have been reunited in Peth and we pray for the recovery of little Tharnicaa
May they be free to live wherever they choose in Australia, albeit on a temporary visa.

We pray for the thousands of others living on temporary visas with no secure future, often separated from their families, their lives in an endless limbo
We remember too the millions living in refugee camps who know they and their children may never leave the camps because the world is unable or unwilling to resettle them.
May they sense your sustaining power and strength

God whom the wind and sea obey hear our prayer

We pray for those who have died
Remembering especially those whose death has been violent or untimely
and those who have died unlamented or unloved
When we are overwhelmed by the storms of life
When we come to face our own death
Calm our terrors and still our souls
And by your power bring us into the joy of your eternal presence

Adapted from Let us Pray by Janet Nelson
Intercessions following the Revised Common Lectionary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The complexity and simplicity of Christian faith

Rev’d Dr Elizabeth McWhae

Pentecost + 3B  13-6-21: 1 Sam 15.34-16.13, Ps 2, 2 Cor 5.6-10, 14-17, Mk 4.26-34

INTRODUCTION:

As I get older I am more and more aware of the complexity and yet simplicity of our Christian faith. I hope to unpack this idea of complexity and simplicity by starting with these verses from Paul. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything else has become new!

POINT 1:

Understanding the death of Jesus is just as important as understanding his life and resurrection. His death is the pivotal connection between his life and resurrection and our lives. So what is Paul trying to say in these versus. Firstly, he is saying that the death of Jesus was a cosmic event. It was for all humanity, not just those who see themselves as Christians. ….we are convinced that one (Christ) has died for all. This means for all people of all generations and faiths and lack of faiths over all time. So salvation is not an individual event or experience, but something that is communal and universal.

Jesus did not die just for you and me but for everyone. For all people, over all time. I suspect our Western worldview has caused us to see his death through the lens of the individual, but that is not the way Paul saw things. And so he writes therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

This is where things become complex, because we all know that people in our world, and this includes us, often do not live as though they are no longer living for themselves. In fact our whole culture is pretty much averse to this sort of thinking. We are instead told to look after number one, to stand up for ourselves, to get what we deserve, or need, or  want, or what is ours. We should be aware that sometimes what we want is not about living for Christ but living for ourselves. It can be very difficult to discern what it means to live for Christ.

Paul is very clear that if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  Essentially he is saying that we are new creations, whether we realise it or not. And it was Jesus’ death that issued in this new life. It was not possible any other way. So death is the starting point for new life in Christ. The complexity here is that death may be physical or emotional, or relate to some loss. There are all sorts of deaths in our lives that are not literal.

POINT 2:

So how do we learn to live for Christ, instead of ourselves? And how do we remember that we and all people are new creations in Christ? Now do you understand why I mentioned complexity? These are really difficult concepts to apply to our lives. They sound good, but they are not easy to achieve. Just ask anyone who is suffering from depression or a catastrophic health problem or whose business is facing closure due to covid restrictions, and so on.

This is where our readings from Mark’s Gospel may be able to help. Both of the parables we heard this morning concern the kingdom of God, which I am going to call a new kingdom in Christ. Both of these parables have to do with growth of a seed. In the first parable it is a seed of grain. In the other it is a seed of mustard. Jesus says that the seed of grain mysteriously grows he does not know how. And when the grain is ripe it is harvested by God. So this parable of the grain is about the mysterious growth of the kingdom that happens because God makes it happen. Not the seed or the person, but God. And God is responsible for the harvest, nobody else. The kingdom of God grows mysteriously by the power of God and God is the harvester.

The second parable of the mustard seed, focuses upon a tiny seed which becomes a huge mustard tree. Or as Paul Kelly writes, from little things, big things grow. Jesus’ point is that the kingdom may start small but it ends up huge so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.The kingdom of God may look small, but it is far-reaching and always growing.

Both of these parables remind us that to live no longer for ourselves, but for Christ, we need to remember that this is a mysterious process that God is directing and it is a process that may appear small but is always growing and expanding.

POINT 3:

How do we practise being the new creations that Paul wants us to become and how do we see the kingdom of God at work in our world? Well, it is not always easy. But if we live by faith that we are a new creation in Christ, and so is everyone we come across, then it does deeply impact the way we see the world and our place in it and what God is up to.

How we view ourselves and how we view others determines how we live our lives, what we consider to be important, what our values are, and what sort of contribution we will make to our world.

CONCLUSION:

Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are new creations in Christ. In doing this he is also reminding us that we too are new creations in Christ. We live in a mysterious kingdom that is constantly growing and expanding by the power of God. Or as that annoying bird in the Bank SA add says: LET’S DO THIS. Let’s see ourselves as new creations in Christ, so that we can live the life God in Christ wants us to. Or as the Psalmist says Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses: but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.                   Amen.

Speaking out as sisters and brothers of Christ

Rev’d Peter Balabanski

Pentecost + 2B  6-6-21 : 1 Sam 8, Ps 138, 1 Cor 4, Mk 3.20-35

Today’s Bible readings get us to think about good leadership. They help us explore the way we receive God’s leadership, and to think about what sort of people should, be leaders among us. We get a strong hint from the Psalmist: 6though the Lord is exalted, he looks upon the lowly and he comprehends the proud from afar. In other words, God comes close to the little people, but keeps the proud at a distance.

Today’s Gospel specifically warns us about bad leaders. Jesus’ family know the sort of leaders they have, and they fear for Jesus’ safety. His ministry has directly defied the authority of these leaders. His family are hearing others say that Jesus must have gone mad; and you can understand why. Vested religious and political interests are very dangerous. These people bite; witness Jesus’ arrest and execution.

Jesus’ family come and try to call him away, but too late. The scribes have already arrived from Jerusalem and taken matters into their own hands. These religious leaders hear people saying he’s out of his mind, and choose to build on that. Their tactic is slander: they publicly announce that Jesus has an unclean spirit.

Slander is utterly forbidden among God’s people. The ninth commandment says, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. The religious leaders from Jerusalem abuse their position of authority to misrepresent Jesus’ care for the sick and needy as the devil’s work; it’s malicious, lying slander. That’s bad leadership. We know slander remains a tactic that leaders still use against people who threaten their power. And it poisons any who accept them as legitimate and follow their lead.

Jesus responds very effectively to their slander with his parables of the house divided and robbers binding the strong man. His parables deftly expose the falsity of their slander.

But then his next words are terrifying. 28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’30for [the scribes] had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

The scribes saw Jesus heal people and exorcise demons from them by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet they called this work of the Holy Spirit satanic. Jesus says what they have done is an eternal sin – the unforgiveable sin. I remember being terrified as a teenager that I might do this accidentally. [The story of the Methodist lay-preacher’s snowman.] But actually, committing the unforgiveable sin is not something you do by mistake. It means seeing a wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, and fully in your right mind, denouncing it as evil – calling it a work of Satan. Few people will sink so far.

But when a leader is known to resort to malicious, lying slander – particularly when they recast the work of the Spirit as the work of Satan, they can poison the spirit of their community. Then someone must warn their community: name the evil and warn them; protect them from following this lead.

And that’s where we come in. We are Jesus’ family – we are sisters and brothers and mothers of Jesus. We are called to name slander for the lie it is, and protect those whom it might harm. Jesus identifies his true family as those who do the will of God, like him. That’s a call to us to be leaders like him – servant leaders. And the calling of servant leaders – from what we’ve read in the Scriptures this morning – is to heal the sick, and to deliver the weakest and most vulnerable from whatever evil oppresses them, and to do this work without fear or favour, and without expecting anything in return.

Deliver the weakest and most vulnerable from whatever oppresses them. We know who they are – they are people often slandered by false leaders: disproportionately imprisoned Aboriginal people whom our justice systems fail; victims of abuse and violation – women and children who cry out for justice, yet are slandered by those who say they were asking for it, and find themselves disbelieved by the authorities.

Others habitually slandered are refugees; the unemployed; the homeless; even the mentally ill and abandoned victims of disaster; all of them so often falsely accused – just as Jesus was. And in this week of the Tiananmen Square anniversary, yesterday’s World Environment Day, and with Reconciliation Week so recent, we see clearly on just what scale slander and denial are prepared to operate.

By naming and resisting such evil, we serve the poor and the weak. We must always remember what Jesus said, and be strengthened and convicted to speak out and to act, … “Truly I tell you, just as you [cared for / stood up for] one of the least of these … you did it to me.” Mt 25.40

By speaking out as Jesus did, by serving those he served, the Church must offer the world the type of leadership which alone heals and makes whole. This is our calling as the royal priesthood of all the baptised.                                                 Amen.