A sermon preached by Andrew McKearney at St Mary’s, Iffley on 1st February 2023
This is the first of four extraordinary deeds of power done by Jesus that Mark gives us in his gospel one after the other, beginning with the stilling of the storm.
This event is so extraordinary that it’s easy to get caught up in the question of whether, and if so how, Jesus did it. But trying to get behind a story like this, to question or verify what it’s saying, quickly takes us away from the story itself.
Often more fruitful, spiritually, is to move towards a story like this, playing with it, possibly with the use of our imagination.
Brother Lawrence in his book ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ 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.’
That’s a classic take on this story. We all experience storms, gales, moments when we seem to be drowning, times when we’re sinking, fast.
‘Wake the Lord within you.’ Brother Lawrence tells us. Christ is able to bring calm to the roughest sea. That’s one very common take on this story.
Another less common take, comes from another spiritual classic the ‘Story of a Soul’, the autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux.
In that astonishing book 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.’
It’s an intriguing take on the stilling of the storm.
Thérèse finds that 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, instead she allows Christ to rest in her, to sleep and find his peace in her.
But what then happens to the storms and gales? How does this bring peace to them?
Turning to Christ, as the disciples do, Thérèse sees him asleep on a cushion. She sees his trust in God, the peace that he has that enables him to sleep and take his rest even in the middle of a storm. And instead of following the disciples by shouting and waking him up, she lets Christ become the centre of her attention.
His peace transforms the panic within her.
‘Let his peace be your peace’ she learns, ‘then you too will be able to be at peace even when the storms threaten to overwhelm you.’
Brother Lawrence, Thérèse of Lisieux, they each in different ways play with this extraordinary story, using their imagination.
They’re brought to the same place as Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan who wrote in the third century:
‘Begin the work of peace in yourself
so that, once you are at peace yourself,
you can bring peace to others.’