EPIPHANY IV – Adorate Deum

Introit: (Ps. 97) O worship God, all ye angels of his: Sion heard, and rejoiced; and the daughters of Judah were glad.  Ps. The Lord is King, the earth may be glad thereof: yea, the multitude of the isles may be glad thereof.  Glory be …  O worship God …

Collect: O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

OT Lesson: Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it, and brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?  Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place; that it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it?  It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.  And from the wicked their light is withholden, and the high arm shall be broken.  Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.  (Job 38.1-18)

Gradual: (Ps. 102) The heathen shall fear thy Name, O Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy majesty.  V. When the Lord shall build up Sion: he shall appear in his glory.

Epistle: Brethren: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers; for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves condemnation.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.  Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good.  But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.  For for this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.  (Romans 13.1-7)

Alleluia. The Lord is King, the earth may be glad thereof: yea, the multitude of the isles may be glad thereof. Alleluia.

The Holy Gospel: At that time: when the even was come, Jesus saith unto his disciples, Let us pass over unto the other side.  And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship.  And there were also with him other little ships.  And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.  And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?  And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace be still.  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?  And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?  (St Mark 4.35-41)


“What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

As we wend our way through the Epiphany Season, the Church has been presenting us each week with Scripture lessons that focus on the miracles of Jesus.  Two weeks ago we saw Him change water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana; last week we saw Him cleansing a leper and healing the servant of a Roman centurion.  Today we see Him calming a storm.  If you remember back to the miracle at Cana, St John concluded by telling us that, because of the miracle they witnessed, His disciples believed in Him.  In fact, this was the first of seven “signs” around which St John arranges his Gospel narrative—signs of Jesus’ divinity and messiahship.  But the miracles were not just raw proofs of His divinity.  His mission was not simply to go about for three years proving to everyone that He was God.  His mission was to use those three years, and all His teaching and miracles, to manifest the grace and love of God—to correct all the misconceptions the people had about God, in order to prepare them for the gracious salvation He was about to offer in His own sacrifice of Himself on the cross to reconcile us to our heavenly Father.

Epiphany has been showing us these examples so that we can follow them.  And now, as then, as Christians, we cannot just go out into the world and proclaim that Jesus is God, because the world still has too many misconceptions about Jesus and about God, about the Church and about the Gospel.  Our mission is to go out into the world and manifest the grace and love of God—to show the world who God truly is, who Jesus truly is, what the Church reallyis and what the Gospel reallyis.  The lessons today remind us that our God cares, that our God is a God with authority and power, and we manifest both His power and our trust in Him as we live in His peace.  Today’s lessons do not leave us in fear.  They also remind us that Jesus is not only our Lord, but Lord of all creation, and because of that, we can rest in His peace, knowing that He is sovereign over all things.  Living in peace is thus an act of faith that manifests Christ to those around us.

Both in the ancient world and today, the two biggest threats to peace, and to life itself, are natural and political power.  Power is often corrupt, and often deadly.  But we are invited today to trust in a higher power—in Him who is greater than wind and sea and storm, greater than all the tyrants and rulers of the earth, the supreme power—the All-powerful God.  And more than that, we are invited to know Jesus Christ to whom all power is given, the Lord of wind and sea and of all creation, and to trust ourselves to His care.  Jesus tells us that the antidote to fear of these earthly powers is faith in God, and St Paul tells us that it is to do that which is good, having a clear conscience.  When St Paul says that there is no power but of God, he is speaking from a fundamental faith and trust in our Lord’s authority and providence.

We all like to complain about the government.  But consider what it was like for those early Christians living in the Roman Empire, to whom St Paul was writing.  Their Faith was outlawed.  Under emperors like Nero, Decius, and Diocletian, Christians were arrested and crucified, thrown to lions in the arena, and dipped in pitch to become human torches for Imperial garden parties.  Even at its best, the Roman Empire was incredibly corrupt and oppressive.  And yet, St Paul says: “Let every soul be subject unto the governing authorities.”  And why?  “For there is no power except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  Ultimately, all power is God’s power.  God is sovereign—sovereign over nature, and sovereign over sovereigns.  When good government exercises its power, it is doing so on behalf of God, but even when bad governments exercise power, God is still sovereign.  While we have an obligation to resist the government when it abuses that God-given power and uses it for evil, even so, as we see from the example of the early Christians, they did not resist government for their own benefit, but to witness Christ to others.  They allowed themselves to be carried off to the arena, but they worked tirelessly and selflessly to protect others from injustice, and it was through that kind of witness that an enormous influence for good was eventually had on the Roman Empire, and on the entire world.

Jesus had come to His own people, but the more good works He performed, the more they hardened their hearts against Him.  The more He showed His divinity, the more He clashed with their conception of God and how God was supposed to work.  So He decides to take His message to the Gentiles for a while.  He and His disciples board a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee to a mostly Gentile area, the Decapolis, on the other side.  But you will notice that there is more than one way to get to the other side.  Some followers skirted around the sea on land.  Some went in other boats.  Only a few actually went across in the boat with Jesus.  And if we think of getting to the other side of that sea as a metaphor for our earthly pilgrimage of faith, it changes how we hear this story.

In life, we can take the long walk around the edge of the lake with the crowd.  We can take another boat.  Or we can go in the boat with Jesus.  Most people go through life choosing to be part of the crowd.  They might be curious about Jesus.  In the Western world the figure of Jesus is still familiar to just about everyone, and it could be said that Jesus continues to have a modest influence on anyone who lives in a traditionally Christian country, whether they realise it or not.  But there are other boats on the lake.  We might liken these to other religions that admire Jesus as a prophet or teacher, but do not believe that He is God, or even to churches that pay mere lip-service to Christ.  But if we are not in that boat with Jesus, as God in human flesh, then we really are not travelling with Him, and we will never know the power of the love, the security, and the peace He offers.

The other side is almost always a scary or undesirable place, or at least so we think: the “other side” of the tracks, the “other side” of the aisle, the “other side” of the sea—the unknown.  There is always a boundary which we are taught not to cross.  After all, the boundary is there for a reason: for our protection, for our preservation, for our privilege, for our purity; be it a wall, a fence, a law, an attitude, or a sea full of monsters.  In biblical language, the sea represents the demonic and chaotic forces that stand against the Kingdom of God, but it is also a boundary, literal and metaphorical, between Jew and Gentile.  Jesus wants to cross the sea because the Gospel is never for those on just one side.  But in their attempt to cross to the other side to bring hope and healing and good news, the demonic forces within the sea, lying in wait under the boundary like a troll under a bridge, stir the waters into a terrible storm.  Because of the geography of the lake, sudden and violent storms occur regularly, as they do even today, but this must have been a particularly bad one, since it terrified even the disciples, several of whom had spent most of their lives on those very waters.  So suddenly, a violent storm sweeps in with black skies, fierce winds, and huge waves, and the little boat begins to founder.  Such storms, giants, or monsters, strike us all in our Christian pilgrimage, and we wonder if we are going to survive.  Where is God?

In such moments, in the storms of life, when we are frightened and lost in the dark, when it seems there is nothing we or anyone else can do, we may look to a higher power, and that is exactly what the disciples did.  But what did they find?  Jesus in the stern of the boat asleep on a pillow.  It seems as if he doesn’t care.  Has it ever seemed to you as if God is asleep at the wheel of the world or of your life?  Have you ever doubted or wondered: “Does Jesus care?”  This is the only record we have in any of the Gospels of Jesus sleeping, and it presents a rather odd picture.  There He is, in a storm-tossed, sinking boat, with panic and mayhem all around Him, blissfully and comfortably asleep on a pillow, seemingly oblivious to the grave and imminent danger.  They ask Him, even rebuke and challenge Him, “Don’t you care?”  But Jesus sleeps, not because He does not care, but because He does not fear.  The disciples ask, “Don’t you care?”  Jesus replies, “Don’t you believe?”

Then He calms the storm.  With a simple phrase, “Peace, be still,” He puts whatever is raging about us to rest.  As Bishop Michael Hawkins says, “It is that peace, that stillness of soul, that Jesus gives to the sea, and that he would give to our hearts and minds.  It is to our souls, all turned and churned up, that he speaks today, ‘Peace, be still.’  Be still, and know that I am God.  But it is a peace we can know and receive only by faith, by believing and trusting in him.”  When the waves rise and the thunders roar, we can trust our Captain not only to see us through the squall to the other side, but also to ensure smooth sailing.  What a beautiful and comforting image!   No doubt that is why there are so many songs and paintings around those three simple words: “Peace, be still.”  My grandfather was a fisherman all his life, and had seen more than his fair share of strong winds and rough seas.  His favourite hymn was “Master, the Tempest is Raging.”  That hymn brought him great peace and comfort.  But as wonderful as the miracle is, it is meant to reveal to us a greater miracle still—the miracle that Christ Himself is.  He is the obedient one.  He is man restored to the glory of his first place in creation, and He is God in the form of a servant, humbling Himself to reconcile the world to its Creator.  In Christ the spirit of man and the Spirit of God meet and move as one: He speaks, and the wind and sea obey, as in the beginning.  The miracle takes place in an instant, but its purpose was not just to astonish; its purpose was to strengthen faith.  The disciples cried out, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

“Christ does not come just to share our sorrows and to join our miserable company. He comes to do something about the condition of our storm-tossed, sin-wrecked hearts. He comes as Saviour. He goes to the cross for us and for our salvation … Epiphany would awaken us to the radical nature of his being our Saviour, even to the truth of the cosmic Christ.” (Fr David Curry)

“What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Nowadays, we seem to think that such power over nature comes from science.  For us, technology seems the key to power and authority.  Science has given us a mastery of the elements, but are we any more advanced in the mastery of ourselves?  For all our skill and technology, are we any wiser in securing peace, or protecting ourselves and our world from being destroyed by our own inventions?  Instead of always looking to future scientific progress to save us, perhaps we might look back, to the very beginning of creation.  In chapter 1 of Genesis, we learn of another storm that engulfed the entire universe, a watery chaos without form and utterly void, and darkness was everywhere.  But then, in the midst of this cosmic storm, God spoke: He uttered a Word, His Spirit breathed order upon the elements, and there was peace.

In the previous chapter, when He commissioned His disciples, Jesus gave them the power to cast out demons, and to heal every kind of disease and sickness.  He even tells them that the gates of hell cannot prevail against them.  Thus they already have the power to rebuke the forces that stir up the wind and waves.  But they lack the faith.  They don’t even try.  They are too busy casting out the water from their boat to cast out the demons around it.   This is not the only time they fail in this way.  When Our Lord descends from the Mount of Transfiguration, He meets a distraught father whose son is possessed. The disciples cannot cast out the demon, so He, again lamenting their lack of faith, rebukes and exorcises the devil.  In Matthew 14, when He comes to the disciples walking upon the water, Peter tries to trust in the power and promises of Christ, and steps out onto the waves.  He trusts that if the Lord says he can do it, then he can do it.  But then the demons of the sea begin to stir and he begins to fear, doubting whether the power in him is strong enough to stand amidst and atop the forces of evil.  And so he begins to sink.  “O thou of little faith,” says Jesus, “wherefore didst thou doubt?”  Peter does not doubt the Lord’s power to stand upon the swirling sea.  But he doubts his own.  As modern-day disciples, do we have faith in Jesus?  Do we trust Him with our life?  We of little faith, why do we doubt?  We believe in Jesus enough to worship Him.  We trust in His words and His power to cast out sin and death, but we have trouble trusting in His power within us.  We stand on the shore, fearing the storm that is sure to brew if we try to do something different—to cross to the other side.  Will we weather the storm if we try to cross that boundary?  Maybe it is best just to stay safe over here on dry land.

Every day, I see another panic-filled article about the decline and demise of the church.  (Just read the “Anglican Journal”).  We may look around and wonder if the church is going to die while Our Lord is napping.  Does He not know that membership is down?  Does He not care that the budget is broken and we are taking on water?  We are so busy trying to calm ourselves and bail ourselves out that we cannot calm the wind and the waves that batter our lives.  We do not believe we have the power to stand above the forces of evil, so instead, we huddle down in the bottom of the boat and watch the squall through stained glass.  What else can we do?  “We’re just disciples in a boat,” we say.  “If a storm comes up that keeps us from going to the other side, then it’s up to Jesus to calm that storm.  If He wants us to go to the other side, He ought to make sure we can get there!”  Is that faith?  Our Lord does not call His disciples merely to follow along in the crowd.  He calls them to go forth, to lead, to heal, to proclaim, and to cast out.  He asks them to have faith in the power He has promised them for the work He commissions them to do.  Faith is trusting that the power of God is always at work, in Christ, in the Church, and in us.  Is there division? Heal it.  Are there hurtful words? Silence them.  Are there broken hearts? Bind them.  Are there storms that would keep us from proclaiming the love and grace of God? Still them.  “But isn’t that His job?  What’s He doing while all this fear and pain and division is happening?  Is He asleep?  Why is He silent in the midst of this storm?  Why won’t He do anything?”  But when we ask God such things, we must be prepared for God to ask us the same questions!

When the disciples told Jesus that the crowd who had been following Him was hungry and had nothing to eat, He replied, “You feed them.”  They took what little they had, five loaves and two fish, and began to dole them out to the crowd until everyone had had their fill.  Did the disciples feed that crowd or did Jesus?  The answer, of course, is ‘yes.’  This is what the Church Fathers call synergism—human beings “working together” with the Divine Initiative.  Harmony and order through obedience to God is the first and fundamental law of all creation.  His service is, and ever was from the beginning, perfect freedom.  But mankind turned away from that will, exchanging freedom for slavery, exchanging the original harmony of creation for conflict and war, becoming a source of suffering and death to himself and to all creation, for creation too fell into bondage, waiting, as St Paul says, for the manifestation of the true children of God (Rom 8.19-23).  The key to all power and mastery of ourselves comes from harmony and agreement with the Divine Will.

So today’s theme is that of the manifestation of Christ’s power and authority—over nature, over spirits, and over human authorities and institutions.  What that means for us, practically speaking, is that as we live in trust instead of fear—showing the evidence of our faith in Jesus and showing the world our eternal perspective—we manifest Christ to the world.  We show the world that His power is real.  When we can live in the midst of a natural disaster and devote ourselves to helping others instead of worrying about our own lives and our own possessions, we demonstrate in a tangible way not only the love and mercy of Christ, but our faith in His power and authority.  As we choose to live in victory over evil instead of living in fear of it, we demonstrate to the world the power and authority of Christ.  And as we submit to those who govern us, we show our trust in the true Sovereign who rules over all, and demonstrate, again in a practical way, our faith that God is in control.  St John Chrysostom is a prime example of this.  He continued fearless and faithful in his proclamation of the Gospel despite the opposition and hatred of the ‘Christian’ Empress and Imperial Court of Constantinople, in the face of government threats declaring, “If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear?” And on the eve of his exile, so severe that it ultimately cost him his life, he writes: “The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock.  Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock.  Let the waves arise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.” (John Chrysostom, Ante exsilium)

There are times when disasters threaten our lives.  There are times when government wields the sword unjustly.  But no matter the situation, the grace of God is always with us, and we can always know that God is sovereign.  Faith in Jesus means peace—peace that the world cannot give, peace that passes all human understanding—not the absence of conflict, not insurance against storms ever coming, but the assurance that we are His and He is ours as we abide with Him in this boat.  So … have you still no faith?  Have you left the crowd behind?  Are you travelling with Jesus, or have you chosen another boat?  If He isin the boat with us, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the Father’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord!

“Peace, be still.” “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear the prayers of thy Church: that we, being delivered from all adversities and serving thee with a quiet mind, may enjoy thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.

—Father Kevin+