A sermon preached by Canon Dr James Woodward, Principal, Sarum College
Master, Master We Are Perishing
The early Christians adopted as the symbol of The Church a simple drawing of a boat with a cross for a mast. In an age of persecutions from the outside and controversy and conflict on the inside the emerging Church must have seemed in their experience like a boat on a storm-tossed sea.
I should like this morning to reflect on the realities of change in and around us in the face of this question that Jesus asks in today’s Gospel: ‘Where is your faith?’
Change and uncertainty both in and around us?
First in our world. We are absorbed in on-going controversy and conflict amongst ourselves about boundaries and Brexit. There are serious challenges to the coherence of our democracy. Who will speak for us? What will happen? Who can we trust? The world around us moves. Culture and expectations of morality change, economics brings destruction or renewal, often both. All around us is rapid change and those struggling to deal with it, change for good and for ill.
Second in our Church. In some parts of the world Christians continue to suffer persecutions; our own experience is more likely one of indifference towards the faith, not helped perhaps by our seeming inability to connect with the longings and spiritual needs of people. We want authority, purpose and direction but of the kind that suits us. Decline continues to shape our religious life. I find it very difficult to convince my nieces and nephews of the credibility of who and what we are! What does love in practice really look like they ask?
Third for ourselves. I guess that are unseen struggles going on amongst you and your neighbours. Loneliness, health, worry about loved ones, bereavement. We carry our human boundedness and its joys and woes.
So it can feel as if the boat is about to sink. Perhaps we might sometimes feel like joining with those early Christians in a desperate prayer “Master, Master, We Are Perishing!”
The people of God are always in the midst of change. We must surely look to God for direction and purpose, for the journey we are to travel with him, for vision for our destination. Change is always happening – it is an inevitable part of living. Sometimes it is change that is beyond our control, sometimes we may be the cause of it!
So where does this land? How are we held and helped by faith? As we draw close to God in this Eucharist worship we are offered a wider horizon for the shape and direction of our pilgrimage. Change may even be gift for growth in wisdom. Looking, seeing and discerning in this spiritual context we might see change as an ally of transformation. The call of God is to move, and the uncertainty of the future is always held by his unfailing love. We might be better and braver and wiser if we did not think so often and so much of ourselves – the curious inward preoccupation of our Boat. Life seems very often to be greater than we can manage or control. How might we speak to others of the love of God? Better still how might we show them love?
Where is your faith? In these patient words direct to his disciples Jesus brings into focus the polarities of faith and fear. Faith is a stance, and how we stand up to those things that would threaten us, and how we embrace the uncertainties of this one precious life makes all the difference. In this, in all of this we look to Jesus, the gate, our light, our example, our Saviour.
Let us nurture a little more innocence and a deeper trust as we pray the Fishermans’ Prayer “Lord my boat is so small; the sea is so big”. In the midst of troubles, the stormy seas of change, let us reach up our hearts and hands to God and ask for help, trusting that the embrace and love of God will never fail to touch us and lift us into new and reassuring experiences of God’s grace.
So in this meal, this Eucharist - it is God’s purpose that we should each be consoled and comforted and changed by that shared love broken and poured out. This is our hope and destiny, present, participative and purposeful.