SERMON: Calming Storms

SERMON: Calming Storms

A sermon preached at St. Mary’s (Iffley, Rose Hill and Donnington) by Clare Hayns on 23rd June 2024

Job 38. 1-11
Psalm 107 1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6. 1-13
Mark 4 35-end

The only time I’ve been on the sea in a storm was a ferry crossing to France as a child. I remember it being terrifying, the reeling of the boat, and the absolutely revolting sight and smell of a huge number of people being very unwell.

There are several storms raging throughout our readings today.

We have the Book of Job, where, by this point in the story he had been beset by illnesses, boils, sores all over his body, his friends had turned against him, his family had deserted him, he had been ridiculed by everyone, and he was overwhelmed with despair and was barely holding on to his faith.

A few chapters before this he accuses God:

‘you toss me about in the roar of the storm’ (Job 30.22) ‘I cry out to you and you do not answer me’ (Job 30.20).

In the passage we’ve just read God speaks to Job, and he speaks from in the middle of the storm.

‘The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind’.

And then in the psalm we have more storms. This time the focus is on sailors who find themselves tossed by wind and waves whilst they are going about their business.

They are ‘carried up to the heavens and down again to the deep’, ‘their soul melted away in their peril, and ‘they reeled and staggered like a drunkard’. It almost makes us seasick to read it.

And, like Job, they ‘cried out to the Lord in their trouble’.

And then of course we have our disciples on a little boat, heading over to the other side of Lake Kinneret when a huge storm blows up and their teacher, Jesus, fast asleep on a cushion in the stern, as if nothing in the world could bother him. It’s worth pointing out that this passage is almost mirror image of psalm 107.

And, like the sailors in the psalm, and like Job, they cried out to the Lord,

‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing’.

The sea is a commonly used metaphor in the bible for chaos of the world that only God has authority over. We see this in the stories of Noah, of Jonah, in the psalms. In bible times the sea was a place of threat, of uncertainty, of danger.

Of course it still is, and we can’t read these passages without reflecting on all those poor people who have died crossing the English channel and other seas whilst attempting to come to Europe or the UK.

We don’t have to look very far in our media or from our politicians, or elsewhere to get the feeling we are still today in the midst of great storms and that we have plenty to be afraid of.

During election periods it often feels like fear-mongering is raised to its greatest heights. It feels like we’re surrounded by storms of political instability, the fear of particular people and groups, the fear of climate disaster. And these fears are whipped up to create this state of anxiety and threat.

We might feel like we’re going to be overwhelmed at any time. The reality, of course, is very different. And in fact, if we zoom out and get a bigger picture, we’re living at a time of greatest global safety and prosperity of any time in history.

Over the last 20 years, the people living in poverty has been cut in half. 200 years ago, 85% of the world’s population was extreme poverty, 20 years ago, that was 29%, and today, that’s been reduced to just 9%. And the number of deaths from natural disasters is 25% of what it was 100 years ago. Early on in the 19th century, 12% of the world could read and write. And today, that is 83%. And every single country in the world today has a lower infant mortality rate than in 1950. [1]

It’s good to bear this in mind when we are feeling overwhelmed.

In the Gospel reading, there seems to be much to be afraid of. Firstly, the other side. Jesus says, let’s go to the other side. All his ministry so far had been in Galilee, a place where the disciples would have been familiar with amongst people they knew already. On the other side was Samaritan region, Gennesaret. It was full of unknowns in terms of the people and the places and the culture. And that’s where Jesus takes his disciples. And he does that at night time, a time also which would have been more threatening. A time that would have been unusual for them to have gone out particularly that far. And of course we have the huge storm that batters and swamps the boat.

And so where was God in all of this? Where was Jesus in this?

Jesus is asleep on a cushion. He’s not even helping. He’s unafraid. I imagine to this scene the disciples going to him with a bucket in hand, asking what on earth he’s doing as they wake him up. And it’s into this scene that Jesus speaks with authority. Be still, be calm. The translation is be quiet, shut up, and there’s immediate calm.

Readings like this one are better read with our imagination, imagining where we might be in the story.

We might be on the shore not certain whether we want to get into the boat with Jesus, fearing the water, the other side, the unknown, the other types of people we’ve learnt to be wary of.

Or perhaps we’re inside the boat, feeling battered by whatever storms we’re facing at the moment, external or internal, feeling swamped by waves. The storms, of course, hit us all. Times of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger come upon us whether we like it or not. Life is like that.

We can avoid some storms by watching the weather forecast and using some common sense. We can avoid some emotional, spiritual, financial, and social disasters by being wise and following God’s instructions. But sometimes, bad things just happen – even while we’re minding our own business, doing what’s right, living out our faith to the best of our ability.

Or we might feel we are rushing around with a bucket, trying to stop the water getting in. Or perhaps we’re with the disciples, frustrated, asking Jesus, “do you not care we are perishing?” Or lying down in the hull of the boat under a blanket hoping it will all go away.

Or perhaps we’re standing with Jesus, watching on as he rebukes the storm, and stills the waves.

Wherever we feel we are in this story, we are encouraged to have a Godly perspective, to have faith that Jesus, who was with the disciples through the storm, is with us now.

 The Gospel doesn’t promise us no storms. We see this in our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where even though they’ve faced afflictions, hardships, calamities and imprisonments, Paul isn’t at all afraid. In fact his ‘heart is wide open’ and he encourages his hearers to ‘open wide your hearts also’.

The Gospel promises that Jesus is with us in it all. He calls us into the boat, will be with us as we face the storms and encounter adversity, and he has ultimate authority over the winds and the waves.  

“Do not be afraid” is the phrase most often used in the whole of the Bible. And that’s because there are always things to be afraid of, externally and internally. But we’re reminded over and over again, that we don’t need to be afraid.

Even if we are battered by storms, we’re not alone in the boat. Jesus is with us.

Peace, he says, be still.

End with words from the song of American Gospel singer James Cleveland.

The winds and the waves
Shall obey my will, peace be still.
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea
Or demons, or men, or whatever it be.
No water can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies;
They shall sweetly obey my will,
Peace be still, peace be still.
They all shall sweetly obey my will;
Peace, peace be still.

James Cleveland, Peace Be Still

[1] I got these statistics from this website –