I expect that all of you, like me, love the seaside. For me it is just the sight of that immense amount of water wooshing or crashing again and again onto the beach. We must seek God in all things, but for me it is most easy to feel God’s presence when I hear that gentle sound -the swish swish of the waves. I am lucky to live near some large trees, and so I can hear then swishing too as soon as the wind gets going even a little bit. But when the wind turns into a storm or even a tempest then both the sea and those trees begin to roar, and the sound then can be more than a little frightening.
Our first reading (Job 38:1.8-11) however reminds us that although we may feel God close in the gentler sounds of the natural world, he also speaks and is present in the midst of a storm or a tempest. Then we are reminded that God is a power beyond our imagining, far more powerful than any storm however terrifying that may be. So Job hears God say to the sea from the midst of the tempest, when the sea is roaring uncontrollably “Come thus far, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break.”
In our Psalm too (Ps 106:23-32) we hear more about the sea, with similar words “He stilled the storm to a whisper: all the waves of the sea were hushed.”, which, of course, points us forward to today’s Gospel. (Mark 4:35-41)
But let’s look at our 2nd Reading first, where Paul reminds us, as he so often does, that we meet God most of all in and through our fellow human beings, most of all in that one human being Jesus, who brings God close to us in a unique way. So Paul says “The love of Christ overwhelms us”. Yes, overwhelms us. It ought to. We should never get so used to looking at Jesus on the cross, that we forget what an amazing thing that love is.
The power to love like that is something given by God that all of us have within us. It leads people to do something for others that goes beyond just being kind. Think of firefighters or lifeboat crew risking their lives to save others. There we see humanity at its best, and need to thank God that such love, such service of others, exists. It’s something that should lead us to pray every time we hear or see a fire engine or an ambulance pass by. Think too of the many young parents caring for their children when they are sick or frightened in the middle of the night. There too we see powerful love at work, and there too we should recognise the presence of God.
I always think that the most important part of the story of Jesus in the storm is not when he wakes up and the storm dies down, but the picture of him asleep. I think it is the only time that Jesus is described as being asleep, and it is worth picturing this in our minds. Think of the times you have found yourself in a storm, even in your own house. The wind roars around, the trees sound as if they are falling down, and if you are by the sea, the sound and sight of immense waves roaring and crashing on the beach can be quite terrifying. This is what is happening all around Jesus, and what is more, he is not in a house but in a relatively small fishing boat! Most of us know what it is like to be woken in the night by such a storm, and to find it impossible to go back to sleep. Most of us know too, the times when the worries and anxieties of life have been like a storm waking us in the middle of the night, and leaving us shaken and frightened.
Think of all this, and then think of Jesus, asleep through it all. His sleep reminds us that God is with us however frightened we are made to feel by the storms of this world, whether they are caused by the forces of nature, or happen inside our heads. Jesus knows all the Psalms by heart, as well as The Book of Job; but he doesn’t just know these writings as words, he lives then out in his life, in that utter unity with God the Father into which he is calling each one of us. It is not an accident that in one place (1 Cor 15:12-20) St Paul describes Christian death as “falling asleep in Christ” – as a time of undisturbed sleep. Think of those times when you sleep well and wake refreshed, and you get some idea of what it means to be one with God.
So whatever storms we face in life, we are reminded today that God is always with us. It can be hard to feel this, especially in the middle of the night when we cannot sleep; but just because we cannot feel God’s presence does not mean he isn’t there. The disciples had Jesus right with them in the boat, but his presence did not stop them feeling frightened. In one sense we are thus reminded that feeling frightened is OK. It doesn’t mean we lack faith. It means that we know how much we need God, and that, in the end, is all we do need. In the end there is only God.