s124g97 Somerton Park 22/6/97 Sunday 12 Pentecost 8
"Peace! Be still!" Mark 4.39
There is, let me assure you, nothing in the Greek language in which these words were originally written, corresponding to the exclamation marks which have found their way into the English text. So while we can be fairly certain of the authenticity of the words, we have no idea what so ever how loudly Jesus may have said them.
I find it interesting that in the incident with the tortured demoniac. It is the demons who beg Jesus "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." Jesus simply "gave them permission". Mark 5:12,13 He clearly did not have to raise his voice there. Perhaps he did have to raise his voice to bring Lazarus to life, but after four days in the tomb we can assume Lazarus was a little hard of hearing. John 11.43
One of the interesting parts of the "Chronicles of Narnia" stories by CS Lewis, is in the first - "The Magicians Nephew" - describing the creation of Narnia. The creation by Aslan was not by words as in Genesis, but by a song. Lewis writes thus (p93 - 96): "A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away ... There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful that he could hardly bear it ... then ... all at once ... a thousand thousand points of light leapt out - single stars, constellations, and planets ... (later) ... the Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose ... (revealing) ... the Singer ... a lion ... singing his new song ... softer and more lilting ...
So when we hear Jesus say "Peace! Be still!" we need not assume that he had to raise his voice at all to calm the raging tempest around him. The words God used at the creation of the world similarly we would have probably had to strain our ears to hear.
Significantly at his "trial", Jesus is by and large silent, and there is not trace of anger, anxiety or resentment in any of the words he is recorded to have said. But even those precious few words which have been recorded,have been read and wondered at by countless Christians down the centuries. So it seems to me that Jesus is adept at making himself heard without raising his voice.
Of course Jesus did on occasions get angry and I suspect he did raise his voice as he removed the interlopers who kept getting in the way of the ordinary people coming to God - the money changers and the pigeon sellers, along with the religious authorities who spent their time and energy laying heavy burdens on others, with lifting a finger to help them bear them. (Matthew 23.4)
But in terms of our own relationship with God, Jesus does not need to raise his voice at all. Jesus is able to bring grace into a situation which only the most observant might see at the time. In retrospect we begin to see and appreciate ...
So as I said last week in the sermon. If we ever think that God isn't listening, let along answering, amid all the hustle and bustle of modern living, God is still there, looking for us as God looked for Adam and Even who were hiding in the garden. It is not God who is hiding but we ourselves. God seeks us out, in the midst of the hustle and bustle and says quietly "Peace! Be still!"
So in fact there is little need to hear God's voice. As we come to Church for this time apart, we are doing as God would have us do. For many of us, our hour in church is a time apart, when we have responded to God's word: "Peace! Be still!" I have recently been thinking that one of the reasons some people have objected to the new services is subconsciously they miss the first of the "Comfortable Words" said whenever 1662 is used, but not so often in the new forms. "Come to me all ye that travail and are heavily laden and I will give you rest." Sometimes our coming to Church doesn't seem to be a time of peace and reflection; as we are urged to do this or that; be involved in this fundraiser, or that protest, or (of course) support this worthy cause ...
One of the things the latest prayer book suggests is that we have times of silence and reflection during the service. If we really did everything the book suggests is a good idea, we would be here forever.
If you look at the first order of the Holy Communion service, you will find the prayer of preparation and the prayer of humble access actually printed in plain text rather than bold. This means that they are to be said by the priest alone. In fact if one looks at the original 1662 Book of Common Prayer service of Holy Communion, the only two things that the people are told to say are the responses to the reading of each of the 10 commandments and the Lord's Prayer after communion. Even the confession is said "in the name of all those that are minded to receive the holy Communion, by one of the ministers ..." This points to the fact that the silence that we often came to Church for has been hijacked by the congregation all joining in everything. It is called lay participation. Now we find periods of silence are suggested to give lay people time for their own prayers, in amongst all that they are participating in!
In the "good old days" we let the priest do his thing up the front, in whatever language, and lay people quietly said their own prayers and devotions in the congregation. This had some merit, and it points us to the fact of how the Church itself has surreptitiously changed. We now have an expectation to be active, involved, busy ... But God continues to say: "Peace! Be still!"
For how many years did the church survive with the services in a language foreign to the people in the congregation - quite literally centuries.
However, please do not suggest to me that the service go on longer so that we can have periods of silence as the new book suggests. Let me say my bit up the front, and as I myself do, think and pray about my own issues as the words are being said. Please don't feel you have to follow each and every word of the service religiously, sing each hymn lustily and so go home without your own thoughts and prayers brought before God. Of course your thoughts and prayers are known to God anyway. But the service is for you, not you for the service.
I don't make silence into another thing we have to do. We can be silent as we are in the midst of a very busy life, changing nappies, doing the dishes, travelling to work, or between appointments, as we walk along the beach getting some fresh air, exercise and enjoying the scenery, and as we come to Church. For those without partners, there are many opportunities for silence and reflection at home.
I find it interesting how my various commitments outside the parish inform my work inside the parish. So I have found I have learned a lot from my being chaplain to the Mothers' Union, in that it has improved my preaching enormously by having the opportunity to preach in the various different places and congregations - rather than one congregation here.
So too the opportunity to lead the Retreat for the staff and students at St Barnabas College has been a real learning experience. As I have prepared for that, I have found new insights into silence, which I would otherwise not have explored. In my first talk I say how I have benefited from the preparation, for I have had to work out why I really didn't like retreats over the years. Having worked out what Retreats are all about, in the future I will be able to appreciate them more when I attend as a participant rather than a leader.
The greatest event in the history of the people of the Old Covenant was accomplished with the word from Moses: "The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still." (Exodus 14:14). I too have only to be still and the Lord will work these things out. I needn't become anxious about the material I will present.
Over the years the Church has had so many opinions about this and that, how to live the Christian life. One of the favourite things the Church has pontificated on is just who should marry whom, and when, and who one shouldn't marry ... It may come as a distinct surprise that God doesn't want anything more from us at all.
The great prophet Elijah, fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel and Ahab, travels to the mount of God in what must be one of the greatest flights from the world and spiritual pilgrimages to God ever undertaken. Arriving there, Elijah protests at the faithlessness of all around him, his utter aloneness in proclaiming faithfulness to the one true God The still small voice of God asks: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
For the reality is that God is on the high mountain and in the world in which we live and work. In the nappies and the meetings. In the midst of his enthusiasm and in the cut and thrust of the task Elijah failed to see that God had kings to do his bidding and that there were 7000 who had not "bowed to Baal" 1 Kings 19.18 The risen Jesus is found in the same places he was before his death - visiting one and all and accepting the contributions all made to him.
When I was at St Barnabas College, I recall the then Warden saying that he had been asked to join a league dedicated to " the defence of the Catholic Faith". He explained that he declined saying that if the Catholic Faith needed defending by humanity, it wasn't a faith worth defending. So too with God, who is well able to defend himself.
When we are fearful and anxious about our own welfare or that of the Church, today's gospel story tells us that we needed worry, for "... even the wind and the sea obey him".
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