The readings set for Sunday 21st June in the Anglican lectionary are Mark 4:35-41, Job 38:1-11 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13. The passage from Mark 4 reads:
On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
When was the time when you felt closest to God?
I remember in my twenties sitting at the end of Buttermere in the lake district on a still and bright summer’s day with the lake as flat as a pond and the mountains reflected as clearly in the water as I could see them above it. And for a moment I had the strongest of senses that God loved me and that everything would be OK.
So, when did you feel closest to God? Perhaps seeing a stunning view; perhaps the birth of a grandchild or a son or daughter; perhaps out fishing early in the morning; perhaps when you knew that you’d be getting married.
Many of us will have had those special moments when God seems present in a special way – when we feel something of his glory, his majesty, his closeness, his love. Perhaps not just in good times, maybe in the saddest of times too – God breaks into our fear, confusion or depression, our grief or loneliness and reveals his love or a way out of the mess we feel we are in.
But the vast majority of our lives are spent plodding on, aware of God somewhere in the background but without that intensity of feeling that we experience on those special occasions. And perhaps just as frequently as the good moments, the highlights, we experience things that draw us down into the deepest of despair.
The reading from Job comes at the end of a great dialogue between Job, and his friends about suffering and hardship. In which they have discussed the meaning of suffering and the reasons for it. At the end of the book of Job, God speaks, and we heard the first eleven verses of God’s response to their deliberations. God asks a series of questions about their authority to challenge him. Who are you, says God to challenge me, can you possibly understand the workings of the universe?
The reading from 2 Corinthians, talks of Paul’s hardships and sufferings as he served God and as he spoke about Jesus. In the midst of the list of his hardship, Paul seems to find hope and life:
“Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
Suffering and joy intermingle in Paul’s experience but he remains sure of his faith and of God’s love despite whatever hardship comes his way. … Paul is convinced that God has given us work to do and that as he faithfully serves God, whatever comes his way, can be overcome. The book of Job reminds us that suffering and hardship is ever present and it encourages us to express our feelings to God, secure in the knowledge that God will always be there for us, secure too in the knowledge that God knows and understands what is happening, even if we have not a hope of understanding.
The reading from Mark’s Gospel tells the story of an encounter with a violent storm. Jesus disciples find themselves in a place of fear and worry and concern. It is a place that they cannot cope with and they fear for their lives. In this story, God’s power breaks in. Jesus seems at first to be ignoring the danger. And then the disciples are amazed when they see him command the water and the winds and return them to safety. … The disciples are afraid and then they see God’s power at work in a dramatic way that leads them into peace. As the disciples spent more and more time with Jesus they saw again and again how God could break into the lives of people and transform them. And it didn’t end with Jesus’ death and resurrection – for as we read our Bibles, we see this continuing through the disciples ministry in the book of Acts.
There have been times when God has broken into our lives. ……….. Often at these times that we gain a new perspective on God, or a reminder of something we’ve forgotten. These moments can motivate us, or sustain us. They’re moments to treasure.
But, if you’re like me, there will be those times when you desperately want God to break in again. When you want to know for sure, to feel that God is with you. But for some reason God is absent, or the pain is too great, or the anger overpowering.
God does not deal with us in predictable ways. We want to feel his presence all the time. When actually what we may need is to begin to grow in faith, to grow in our confidence that God is there with us even when it doesn’t seem to be the case. God wants us to grow to be strong in faith. And so will be times when we need to remind ourselves that God is intimately concerned with us, with me, giving me life, giving me purpose and giving me hope for the future.
God has created us, God has redeemed us, God walks alongside us in the mundane experiences of life, at times of greatest difficulty, when he seems most absent he remains there with us in the pain, and ultimately God has a future for us in heaven.