Sermon, 23 June 2024 – Ros Miskin

The theme of my sermon today is what is meant by being set apart.

In today’s Gospel reading we learn that by the Sea of Galilee Jesus

invites his disciples to leave the crowd behind and go with him into a boat.

The disciples are being set apart from the multitude.  In this instance to

be set apart meant to undergo a test of faith.

 

While Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat a great gale arises and the waves

beat into the boat, swamping it.  Convinced that they are perishing, the

disciples wake him up with the words: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we

are perishing?’  Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind and pacifies the sea.

He then rebukes the disciples, saying that their fear means that they still have

no faith.  They have failed the test.

 

This accusation by Jesus stands in stark contrast to his own behaviour in the

boat. As Jerome’s Biblical Commentary expresses it, the ability of Jesus to

sleep in a storm shows complete confidence in God.  It is not clear what the

motive was for getting into the boat and crossing the sea but in leaving the

crowd behind the disciples were put on a journey of faith.  Although they

are fishermen they fear drowning, so they do not pass the test of faith but

remain in awe and uncertainty as to who Jesus is.  They say to one another:

‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

 

If we look at the Old Testament, in Psalm 107 we find a similar pattern of events.

The psalmist writes that some people went down to the sea in ships

to do business ‘on the mighty waters’ but cried out to the Lord when ‘he

lifted up the waves of the sea’ and their courage failed them.  God stills

the storm and the psalmist calls upon the people to give thanks to God for his steadfast love.

 

So to be set apart can be seen as a test of faith.  For an explanation of why

we may undergo a test of faith we can consider the writing of John Ryle

in his expository thoughts on the Gospel of Mark.  He writes that: ‘Service

to Christ does not exempt us from storms.  We cannot expect a smooth

journey to heaven.  Ultimate salvation, yes, but Jesus never promised that

we shall have no affliction’.  Ryle also reminds us that with Jesus in the

boat with us, nothing is impossible.  When you commit your soul to

Jesus he will carry you through every danger.

 

Moving on through the centuries, we can find another example of affliction

in the dangerous crossing over the water in the heroism of the Allied forces who,

in June 1944 journeyed across the Channel to liberate Western Europe from Nazi

Germany. The crossing was delayed by one day from 5th to 6th June owing to bad

weather and heavy seas but upon that day, 6th June, known as D-Day, the fear and

tension of the soldiers must have been considerable. The liberation from Nazi

Germany did happen, but after considerable loss of life of both the forces and

civilians. Here is great affliction but ultimate triumph of good over evil which is a

reminder of Jesus carrying us through danger.

 

To be set apart, then, can mean loss of life.  As we know from the Old

Testament, when Abraham showed faith in God in offering to sacrifice

his son Isaac, the angel of the Lord appears to him and says that as he

has feared God there is no need to sacrifice his son.  Yet over the

centuries and into this present day there has been the sacrifice in wars

when the few have died to save the many.  Then there is the sacrifice

of those individuals who have stood out against corrupt regimes and

have suffered and lost their lives in the process.  Jesus himself died

on the Cross to open the door for us to ultimate salvation.

 

These heroes are remembered in our worship and prayers.  In the

hymn ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’ we call upon God to protect

those in peril on the sea.  It is a call for spiritual direction to calm the

natural emotion of fear.

 

All this suffering confirms the sentence provided by Tom Wright in his

book ‘Simply Christian’ that religion is not ‘a small safe department of

everyday life’.

 

There are also those who choose to be set apart to seek closer

union with God and to pray for others. Here it can mean letting go

of material goods and wealth and some of the pleasures of life.

Some to retreat for a while, others to enter the monastery or convent.

 

For whatever reason a setting apart occurs we do know that the Kingdom

of God is ultimately about unity.  Thus we seek reconciliation of conflicts

in our earthly life to try to work towards this unity.  We strive to put an

end to every aspect of life that may divide us such as racism or prejudice

of any kind.  At present, with the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Israel

and all the prejudices that lurk beneath our outward behaviour, this does seem

an uphill task but if we remind ourselves, as in today’s Gospel reading, that Jesus

is in the boat with us, calling upon us to be strong in faith, then if we

respond to this call, all will be well.

 

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