In this gospel the forces of nature collide with the power of Christ. And it is no contest. At a word, the peace of Christ prevails. The sea is calmed. Yet despite our years of Christian worship, our reading and re-reading of scripture, the idea of commanding nature is still a mystery at best. From what we know of meteorology and hydro-dynamics, storms are not biddable. It is a scientific impossibility. But seen through the eyes of faith, it is equally impossible to suggest that the Author of the Universe cannot hold immediate sway over a minor inland sea.
The purpose of this gospel is to provide an answer to the question: Who is this Jesus? Who is he to command Creation? For almost two centuries, Anglican priests… both theologians and scientists… have been in the forefront of the effort to answer this question consistent with both divine revelation and ongoing scientific discovery.
Building on Charles Darwin’s original breakthroughs, Charles Kingsley developed a theological perspective for thinking about a world that is continuously making itself… a world in which God has the power, but not the inclination, to snap his fingers to reverse the course of Nature. On the stormy Sea of Galilee Jesus did not even need to snap his fingers. His word was enough to calm the sea. As contemporary Christians how do we reconcile the idea of Nature acting so unnaturally?
Most recently, leading Quantum Physicist Father John Polkinghorne rejects the notion that science and religion are at odds. His work as both a theologian and scientist has led him to believe that they are equally valid approaches to the same reality… a position he calls “critical realism”… holding that God is the author of science and his hand is revealed in every scientific advancement.
In this light, the Hubble Space telescope is as much a spiritual blessing as it is a scientific breakthrough. For the scientific community it is a window into the workings of a Universe far vaster than ever anticipated. For the Christian community it is all that and more. It is an awesome demonstration of the power of God who presides over an infinite and expanding Universe, yet in his love cares about our every thought, word and action.
Look at the images captured by Hubble and then think: the God who set these cosmic storms in motion billions of years ago, the God who calmed the stormy Sea of Galilee two thousand years ago, cares infinitely about the storms that rage within you and me today. No one makes a passage through life without storms. And if they are not perilous in actuality, our pride has the ability to create tempests in every tea pot, magnifying petty fears, creating turmoil from minor or imagined slights.
There was nothing minor or imagined about the storms that rolled over Horatio Spafford, a 19th Century Job. The Chicago fire destroyed his family fortune. His four daughters, aged five to eleven, were lost at sea. His wife was driven mad by grief. He was a prime candidate for despair and who could blame him? But Christ was his refuge in every storm. His faith was tested, but never broken. Traversing the same stretch of ocean that claimed his children, he wrote:
When peace, like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hath taught me to say,
It is well; it is well with my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but in whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Spafford went on to literally walk in the footsteps of Christ. He took his recovering wife to the Holy Land and, like Job, they started their family anew. Together they served the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities of Palestine with orphanages, soup kitchens and hospitals. In tragedy they clung to Christ and in triumph he bore them home.
In today’s gospel the frightened followers asked: Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him. They would soon learn the answer. The Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer, God made flesh had come among them. And not all the storms nor all the plots, neither the might of Rome nor the gates of Hell…none would ever prevail against him or those who cling to him. No astronomer’s telescope or psychiatrist’s couch has ever found a storm that could not be calmed by the love of Christ. His peace awaits us, safe on the shore… only a prayer away.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: Ann Fontaine