The Rt. Rev. Frank Sargeant is Assistant Bishop of Manchester and Liverpool. He is honorary assistant curate to the parishes of St Philip and Sacred Trinity Salford. His new book ‘A Complete Parish Priest’ about the life of Canon Peter Green will be published in October, 2011.
Truly you are the Son of God by the Rt.Rev. Frank Sargeant
Notices fascinate me. Some are easy to follow – others not so easy. Let me give you two examples. The other day I saw a bus being towed away by an articulated lorry. The bus displayed the notice ‘Not in Service’ – that was perfectly obvious. The second notice was outside a pub. It read, ‘Sunday Lunches Now Being Served’. It was Tuesday morning! What did that mean? That it was possible to have a lunch similar to the ones served on Sunday on a Tuesday? Or that at one time lunches were not being served, but they are now served on a Sunday? You had to think about it. In the readings we hear week by week some meanings are very obvious, some you have to think about. Some are totally unexpected.
1 The Lake.
Last week’s and this week’s Gospel readings (Matthew 14:22-33) are based on the Lake of Galilee – the Lake itself is obvious but other details are not so obvious. For instance, the Lake is eight miles in circumference. Therefore, five thousand men, women and children had walked eight miles to hear Jesus teach and be healed by him. It had taken them a lot of effort, as it sometimes takes us a lot of effort to get to church when obstacles stand in our way. But like the people of Galilee we are fed by the Lord’s word and sacrament.
Another thing that is not so obvious was that although most of the time the Lake of Galilee is calm, storms can appear in a matter of minutes. Huge waves toss the fishing boats around like bits of drift wood. In today’s reading (Matthew 14:22-33), the disciples found themselves in such a storm. While, at last, Our Lord Jesus had found time to pray alone on a mountainside. He needed to get away after John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod. However, the temptation for Jesus was to hide in case he was next for the chop. But just as Jesus allows himself to be interrupted by the feeding of the five thousand, he also allows himself to be interrupted by the needs of his disciples caught in the storm. In order to rescue them quickly, Jesus takes a short cut by walking on water. Now that is a tale of the unexpected, the not so obvious, as are all the miracles of Jesus. He breaks the routine rules of life to rescue those in need as he shares the creative power of his Father. When Peter tries to emulate Jesus by also walking on the water he begins to sink because he lacks faith.
But the experience was not wasted on Peter or on the other disciples. Despite his frustration of not being able to walk on water, Peter was reminded by the others in the boat that Jesus was the Son of God. They already knew that Jesus was their Lord because they had chosen to be his disciples– now they realised that Jesus was the Son of God. After the crucifixion of Our Lord, the Roman soldiers also realised the same fundamental truth about Jesus.
2. Message for today.
That is the message of today’s passage (Matthew 14:22-33). We come to worship God, not just Jesus a good man who lived his life for others, but Jesus the divine-the Son of God. If that is obvious, we tend to forget it. When we feel sorry for ourselves, we can do well to think of the times when God has come to our rescue. They are times for which we can’t account, and become obvious only when we reflect on life’s experiences.
Today, we are all faced with frightening experiences some with sudden results, into which I need not to go into because they are obvious – but they must not destroy our faith in God. We must hold on to the disciples’ words, “Truly you are the Son of God” when we try to marry our faith with life.
3.Action and Devotion.
This brings me to someone who did marry faith and life, Saint Teresa of Avila (Saint Theresa of Jesus 1515-1582). She was noted for her extreme action for others and her extreme devotion to Our Lord. She left two prayers which sum up her attitude to faith and life. One states that God has no hands but our hands to do his work – we must remember that. We are commissioned to solve life’s frightening problems by rescuing others – but we can only do that if we allow our lives to be interrupted and have constant faith in God. St. Teresa’s second prayer is called her ‘Bookmark’ because it was discovered posthumously in her prayer book. (Incidentally, a bookmark is used to remind us how far we have got in a story; and so St. Teresa’s ‘Bookmark’ reminds us to remember God in our own stories.)
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
The truth of St. Teresa’s prayer may not be immediately obvious, but we shall find it to be true on reflection. Amen.
Originally preached at St Philip’s with St Stephen’s Church, Salford, Manchester on 07/08/2011.