john davies
notes from a small curate

    On a Boat with Jesus

    Holy Trinity Parish Communion 22/6/03

    Job 38.1-11, Mark 4.35-41
      ship of fools

      what ship plays with icebergs
      and plays soft music as it sinks into the ocean?
      what ship on the throw of a dice
      feeds a prophet to his fishy destination?
      what ship breaks its spine on the rocks
      and turns the waves black with lubrication?

      a ship of fools
      but there are fools and
      those who seem to be

      what ship is built on a dry highland
      is launched in a downpour
      and flies on watery wings to the peak of a mountain?
      what ship has a crew
      of taxmen thieves and fishermen
      who decide in the howling storm
      to make a small sleeping carpenter
      their captain?

      a ship of fools
      but there are fools and
      those who only appear to be

    This poem by Simon Jenkins [1] suggests that living the Christian life is a bit like travelling on a ship of fools. This talk is about being on a boat with Jesus, and what you might expect to happen on that watery journey.

    Our gospel story shows that if youıre on on a boat with Jesus on the Lake of Galilee then you should expect storms.

    Galilee was notorious for its storms. They came literally out of the blue with shattering and terrifying suddenness. A writer said,
      Even when the sky is perfectly clear, it is not unusual to see terrible squalls hurl themselves upon these waters which are usually so calm. The winds from the high places surrounding Galilee are caught and compressed in such a way that, rushing with tremendous force through narrow ravines and then being suddenly released, they agitate this little lake in the most frightful fashion
    If you're on a boat with Jesus voyaging across that lake you might expect to encounter just such sudden storms as this. [2] And of course, that boat, that lake, those storms, are metaphors about us and the bumpy ride that we often find ourselves on. We can put ourselves onto that tiny Galilean boat, into the story of that stormy day.

    So in your life, if you're on a boat with Jesus you might expect confrontation.

    You'll be confronted with uncomfortable truths about yourself. You might not be a fisherman, accustomed to travelling this way. You may be a tax collector, a civil servant, a landlubber. Happy to queue at the Albert Dock for a close-up view of a tall ship, but very unhappy if that tall ship took you out into open seas and started to rock in the wind and the waves. Sickly and shaken, out of your depth, you may have to face your weaknesses, on a boat with Jesus.

    You'll be confronted with uncomfortable truths about God, too. Things like, when there's a crisis, when there's a storm, finding that God is asleep. You're panicking, you're fearful, you're being tossed and blown by the most awful winds of change. And though you know that God's there with you, God doesn't seem to be paying any attention. Just when you need him most, if you go looking for Jesusıs help, you may find him asleep.

    And when you wake him - it's up to you to wake him - if you're on a boat with Jesus you might expect to find more questions than answers.

    Questions like, how do I wake up God? Do I have to tiptoe around God, give a little nervous cough, in the hope that the almighty will stir and notice me waiting there? Can I shout at God, when the storm is loud can I scream at God through it to get God's urgent attention? Is it ok to pray that way?

    Questions like, can I argue with God? Call God to account: "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

    And if I do get into an argument with God, many many more questions:
      Why is this happening to me?
      Why do innocent people suffer?
      If you're a God of love why all this horror?
      If you're a God of order why all this chaos?
      If you're so powerful why do you seem so impotent?
      What does the future hold for us?
    If you're on a boat with Jesus you might expect to find that your questions are likely to be answered in unexpected ways. Our other reading this morning illustrates this point.

    Job wasn't on a boat with Jesus, but he was on the rocks with God.

    Job was in the middle of a personal crisis. A devout man, having lost his loved ones and his livelihood, aching, twitching and scarred by the most awful skin disease, Job wanted answers from God. He was a bit fearful about what God would say, but his need to know was stronger than his fears.

    And sure enough, God answered Job's questions, and answered them in unexpected ways, turning Job's words around to help him see life in a whole new way.

    So for instance when Job says God causes mountains to fall and all sorts of chaos on the earth, God asks, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" [3], and describes the stars and heavens singing because of the order God has brought to creation.

    When Job asks God why human beings live hard lives in their brief time on earth, God asks, "Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?" [4] and talks about creatures finding benefit in the natural cycles of life that God has established for them.

    When Job suggests that he'd be better off in hell, where he'd be free from God like a slave free of his master, God asks, "Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib?" [5], suggesting that God frees creatures and gives them a place on earth which they value and enjoy.

    God wanted angry, traumatised Job to see the world as a place of order. Though trapped in deep despair, Job's maker encouraged him to find freedom in his divine designs.

    As it was for Job, on the rocks with God, so it is for those on a boat with Jesus. Jesus spoke, and calmed the storm. Overcame the evil in the wind and waves. Let the waters become the sailors' friend again, no longer their enemy. He restored order to creation. He encouraged the amazed disciples to look deep inside themselves to see if there was any faith there, that might liberate and awaken them.

    If you're on a boat with Jesus, you should expect storms, and many questions. You should expect God to turn your eyes to another view of the world.

    The story of this little boat which Mark told, is a metaphor for our spiritual lives. But it's also something we believe happened in time and space. We mustn't forget that Jesus lived this, in the physical, because that awakens us to expect that in a mysterious way, he lives with us in the physical here and now, with all its storms and chaos.

    For many years the musician Nick Cave has been fascinated by the windswept, rainlashed Jesus of Mark's gospel, and he once wrote:
      The essential humanness of Mark's Christ provides us with a blueprint for our own lives so that we have something we can aspire to rather than revere, that can lift us free of the mundanity of our existences rather than affirming the notion that we are lowly and unworthy.
      Merely to praise Christ in His Perfectness keeps us on our knees, with our heads pitifully bent. Clearly, this is not what Christ had in mind. Christ came as a liberator. Christ understood that we as humans were for ever held to the ground by the pull of gravity - our ordinariness, our mediocrity - and it was through His example that He gave our imaginations the freedom to fly. In short, to be Christ-like.
    Jesus is with you in the storms of life as he was with those folk on Galilee that day. So, when those times come you should expect Jesus to ask you to let your fear go the way of the wind, to embrace faith, to find new freedom in being who you are in creation.

    If we can let this happen then our moments of greatest crisis can be transformed into moments of great illumination. The artist Michael Leunig suggests this in his poem The Tiny Boat, with which I close:
      God bless this tiny little boat
      And me who travels in it
      It stays afloat for years and years
      And sinks within a minute.

      And so the soul in which we sail
      Unknown by years of thinking,
      Is deeply felt and understood
      The minute that it's sinking.


    [1] Simon Jenkins: Rhinocerous, Fool Books 1980. Simon's 'Ship of Fools - The Magazine of Christian Unrest' eventually mutated into an award-winning website.
    [2] William Barclay: The Daily Study Bible: Mark
    [3] Job 9.5-7, 38.4-7
    [4] Job 7.1-3, 39.1-4
    [5] Job 9.16, 39.9-12
    [6] Nick Cave: Introduction to The Gospel According to Mark (reproduced here)
    [7] Michael Leunig, from A Bunch of Poesy