Be still at Christ’s command!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 24 February 2019.
The stilling of the storm is a gem of a gospel story!
All three of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, give us this story and they tell it very similarly with few embellishments except for Mark’s gospel which adds the delightful touch that Jesus is asleep on a cushion!
And because it is such a gem, just about every spiritual writer you can think of has written something about it!
Quite a personal take on this story comes from the pen of Brother Lawrence writing in the 17th century. In his book ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ he writes:
‘If the ship of our soul is…beaten by the winds or the
storm, we must wake the Lord who is resting there, and
he will immediately calm the sea.’
And then there’s Thérèse of Lisieux writing at the end of the 19th century in her autobiography the ‘Story of a Soul’. She has an unusual approach to the story.
There she writes:
‘Jesus was sleeping as usual in my little boat; ah! I see
very well how rarely souls allow him to sleep peacefully
within them. Jesus is so fatigued with always having to
take the initiative and to attend to others that he hastens to
take advantage of the repose I offer to Him.’
So rather than following the example of the disciples and waking Christ up in order for him to restore calm to the troubles in her life, Thérèse allows Christ to rest in her, to sleep and find his peace in her. And his peace transforms the panic within her!
From just these two examples you can see how readily spiritual writers have been moved to say something about this gospel story! And in different ways both Brother Lawrence and Thérèse of Lisieux have each drawn spiritual fruit by entering into the story imaginatively and prayerfully.
The story lends itself to this approach – but there are other ways to approach this story too. We can pay attention to how the gospel writers themselves use the story and place this within the context of the Bible and the gospel as a whole.
What fruit might this approach offer us?
Firstly, it’s helpful to recognise that the people of God in the Old Testament were never a great seafaring nation! They didn’t much like the sea! So in the Old Testament the sea is often seen as a hostile place representing the forces of chaos and destruction.
Secondly, authority over the sea and its storms is an authority that the Old Testament attributes to God alone.
So in Psalm 65 (that we’ve just sung/read) the Psalmist praises God using these words:
‘You still the raging of the seas,
the roaring of their waves and the clamour of the peoples.
Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
tremble at your marvels;
the gates of the morning and evening sing your praise.’
This suggests that the gospel writers see in this story an example of Christ’s authority; and the context in which this story comes in the gospels confirms this.
The stilling of the storm is the first in a series of stories all of which emphasize the power of Christ to do mighty deeds. Here the storm is stilled not due to any faith on the part of the disciples but solely on the authority of Christ.
‘Who then is this,’ the story concludes by asking,
‘he commands even the winds and the water, and they
So in these stories, the gospel writers invite us to contemplate the Lordship of Christ.
It’s one of the early images of Christ that developed, Christ the Lord of all, portrayed in an apse behind the altar or in the dome above the Church, both positions of authority!
Our East Window doesn’t quite pack the same punch but it occupies the same space, speaking of Christ in Glory, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Christ of the Book of Revelation before whose throne, as we heard, the twenty-four elders cast their crowns and sing:
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.’
A commanding presence!
Saint Augustine holds these two approaches together when he preaches on this gospel story at the end of the 4thcentury. The first approach you’ll recall invites us to enter imaginatively and prayerfully into the stilling of the storm, the second focuses more on the historical context of the story. The fruits of the first approach are perhaps more personal, the second more majestic.
Both have their place!
So I leave you with Saint Augustine and his thoughts on the stilling of the storm:
‘Try, then,’ he urges his listeners, ‘to be more like the
wind and the sea; obey the God who made you. The sea
obeys Christ’s command, and are you going to turn a deaf
ear to it? The sea obeys him, the wind is still; will you
persist with your blustering? Words, actions, schemes,
what are all these but a constant huffing and puffing, a
refusal to be still at Christ’s command?’
Be still at Christ’s command!