A stormy ride with Jesus- the cradle of faith is the edge of our comfort zone

From seeds to storms, last week we were thinking about some of the stories that Jesus told, this week we were thinking about what one of the miracles recounted in the Gospel of Mark might mean- thinking about how our faith is something dynamic and alive, that grows within us and flows out of us…

Talked last week about seeds- sowing, waiting and the harvest, this week we’re going to think particularly about the growing bit- and rather than thinking about how faith might grow in someone else, and the part we play in that of prayer, support and creating an environment suitable for growth, we’re going to look at how faith grows and becomes stronger in us…

The passage we had read to us this morning takes place at the end of a day of teaching, and the style of writing suggests that this is an event that took place rather than a story Jesus told. Other details in the passage indicate that we should read it as a real event rather than a metaphor- its not saying that its ‘as if’ Jesus had power over the wind and the waves, but that he did- the setting of it in the midst of the everyday, the size of the storm ‘a furious squall that nearly swamped the boat’ rather than ‘the biggest storm in the whole world ever’ and the confusion of the disciples (they aren’t presented as having understanding and wisdom that would come after reflection on the event, but as ‘terrified’…), these point towards a factual setting rather than a mythic/metaphorical… But why am I making this point? Simply this- the Bible presents this miracle as actually happening in an actual boat in front of people who were actually scared… they were scared of the storm, and they were scared of Jesus. The disciples have seen Jesus perform miracles- the catch of fish that nearly broke the nets for example, but yet his authority over the wind terrifies them… because they are confronted by the reality of who Jesus is- not just their teacher, not simply someone wise or even a prophet, but someone who can command nature with authority. When we know someone in one context, and suddenly see them in a different light, it changes things- we know each other here in the limited way that we do, but when we see someone in a different place, doing things we never knew they could do, that unsettles us- magnify that up… and we have a sense of how the disciples might have felt.

Have you ever had that experience of God- that realisation that you now see things differently… Very often that happens when we are in a different place to our usual- sometimes worshipping God in a different style or location, sometimes going to a conference, pilgrimage or retreat. Sometimes it happens when we are at the end of our own strength or ability to cope… ‘God, I really need you now’…but we need to have some knowledge or experience to base that hope on… how can we call out to God if we do not know he is there to hear us?  That is how our faith grows- we are outside of our normal, comfortable surroundings either because of our own choice or not and we open ourselves to God… coming intentionally seeking to know more of God, or desperately needing to know God is there… its true that our faith can grow in times of difficulty- but it can grow in every season of our lives if we make that choice. That’s why its important for us to know that worship isn’t about preferred styles of prayer or singing, it isn’t about what I know or find confusing- its first and foremost about meeting with God- those of us who lead have the privilege of inviting and leading other people into that encounter, and those of us who are not leading have the equal privilege of responding to that invitation…

That is one example of how we can grow in faith, but the principle holds true across our lives-

When we are outside of the normal things that we have known, then we grow (until our normal practice becomes that consistent habit of growth- when our default mode is to develop as a disciple, to have an expectation that our faith is growing daily as we follow Jesus…)

But for most Christians we’re not in the habit of growing. We’re living as Christians but not growing as Christians. And yet we want, or at least would appreciate having greater faith.  In order to have greater faith, we must first reach a place of dissatisfaction with ourselves- not self hatred or guilt, but an aspiration to go beyond where we are- born maybe out of experience of something wonderful (I’ve read that, seen that, felt it myself on occasion… I want it more) or something bad (I’ve been there and I don’t want to go there again, I know my own weaknesses… ). Faith cannot grow in us if we do not want it to. Simple.

If we do not want to see a miracle, we won’t see one.  If we do not want to see prayers answered or hear God speak into our lives, it won’t happen.  If we do not want to love our neighbours, grow in our understanding of the Bible, become more confident in our faith, worship God with increased joy… then none of those things will happen. We have received God’s love, God’s grace, but it has not fully grown and flourished in us…

BUT if we do… by taking a small step beyond our own comfort zone- praying each day for something new; meeting with someone and talking about our faith or a Bible passage with them, thinking hard about some of the ethical applications of our faith- to material things like shopping and use of money, getting involved in serving the community to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, go to New Wine or Spring Harvest or a youth camp or a day retreat, consciously commit yourself to worshipping God in our times together- go somewhere else for a week to get inspired and bring back something of what you’ve experienced… do this, and your faith will grow. Not necessarily in a logical progression that can be clearly identified, unless that is your personality, but it will grow. And as it grows you will become more aware that it could grow further.

It may be that we will face opposition from others if we do this- those who may feel judged by our decisions, who are made uncomfortable by our desire to grow in faith. That’s for them to reconcile with God, but don’t let it stop you.  There are others who want you to grow in faith, and who want to grow alongside you, and would be willing to help and be helped along the way- we help to keep the path clear for each other, making sure there are no stumbling blocks for one another.

So- we’re going to do something now, just as we move into a time of prayer and before we say the words of the creed which is our gathered response to God’s word, I want to invite each of us to make a response to God. A response in our hearts and a first step in our lives. God calls each of us to come to him, and to know him, to grow in faith. We never reach the end of doing that, and so each one of us can say that we want to grow in faith… so what we’re going to do is this- as we’re sitting, we’re going to close our eyes and be still for a moment, and then I’m going to simply say ‘I want to grow in faith’. And if you agree with that, I’d ask you to do something- you may want to stand up, you may want to put your hand up, you may want to open your hands on your lap, but if you want to grow in your faith, show it by doing something… this isn’t about showing off, but about showing God that your desires do connect with your actions… and then I’ll pray for us…

Obviously I’m not doing the bit at the end with you right now, but neither will I or anyone else be watching if you do want to do something to show your own commitment.

Have a great day, have a great week.

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