Monday, June 25, 2012

The perfect storm

Some years ago we went on a family camping trip to a remote beach in the Marlborough Sounds, called Titirangi. It is an extraordinarily beautiful spot with steep hills running down to one of the few sandy beaches in the Sounds. Unfortunately we arrived as strong nor' west winds were starting up (as predicted in the weather forecast which yours truly overlooked). Through a long night our tents were buffeted endlessly, there was little sleep, and my many prayers for the wind to stop went unanswered. As the winds continued through the day some of our tent poles succumbed and after three or so were broken we packed up and returned to base and the camping repair shop.

Such experiences highlight the fact that yesterday's gospel reading, Mark 4:35-41, The Stilling of the Storm, is not in the Bible to encourage us to believe that all annoying high speed winds will be abated when we ask for that to happen. It is recorded for other reasons. One is to inform us about Jesus. The original experience was permitted in order that the disciples eyes were opened wider to who the real Jesus was. More than an extraordinary man, he was God in human form. We read about this experience so that our eyes also might be opened to who Jesus was and is. And it is not just any ordinary 'god' in human form: the God we meet in Jesus is awesome and mighty. That is something we are prone to forget in Western Christianity these days when we are intent on talking about the love of God in such a way that the God of Jesus Christ becomes our best buddy. He is but he is more than that.

A second reason we have the story of the Stilling of the Storm is because of the boat. The boat is not the Carrell family on a camping trip. The boat, according to a very old understanding of the story, is the church. This understanding goes back to Matthew himself who, writing his gospel with Mark's version in front of him, adjusts a small detail in retelling it. Instead of Mark's "they took him with them in the boat" (NRSV), Matthew has "And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him" (8:23 NRSV). Matthew's is the "churchy" gospel, the only gospel that uses ekklesia (twice). Here he uses the same Greek word, akoloutheo, used elsewhere when the talk is of disciples "following" Jesus. So the story is not just a miracle of the stilling of a storm at sea, it is also a parable of the church in history: it will face storms, but Jesus our Lord and Master is with us in the boat and we will come through them.

All of which is pertinent to the universal church in the 21st century in which storms of persecution and opposition (to say nothing of indifference and complacency) bear down on us, to say nothing of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia which has a storm no bigger than the hand of a man appearing on the horizon, just over Fiji, where our General Synod will grapple with 'gay marriage' and related motions, or of the regional Anglican church in Canterbury facing a storm relating to our buildings.

Why is God permitting these storms? I suggest it is because God (to employ other images from nature) winnows and prunes the church from time to time. No doubt God also wants us to be ruled by Jesus Christ and not by our buildings and their issues.

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