As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, A Most Unlikely Hero, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday June 24 2018. The Reading was Mark 4:35-41.
Expect the unexpected
I know that there might be a bit of a feeling that Liesl and I preach very differently. That when I’m preaching, you will get a bit more of a standard sermon, that hopefully teaches, inspires and puts a new spin on the reading for you. Where as Liesl…. Well, anything can be expected. You might even expect the unexpected. And that’s ok, we need both, and I know Liesl and I are both glad we don’t preach exactly like the other, because my style will connect with some better than hers, and she will connect better with others. So if you’re one who connects more with Liesl’s preaching, I apologise but you have me again. I’ll try not to put you to sleep.
One of the shows that I watched a lot of in my teenage and early adult years was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I loved the weird, British humour, and the older I’ve become, the more I appreciate what they were doing through their skits. One of the skits I remember well was the Spanish Inquisition. Now I bet you didn’t expect me to bring up the Spanish Inquisition.
There were a few skits like that, where someone would say that line, and they would burst in shouting “No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
And there’s this humour of the unexpected the first time they come in, but the next few times they repeat variations of the skit, the hilarity comes in the similarity and the differences. I know how this is going to run, but how is it going to play out.
In some ways, this is how we need to read the Gospel of Mark. We know how this is going to play out. We know the end game. But in there, we get these little differences, these unexpected happenings, that give us an interesting glimpse into the lives of Christ and his disciples.
This reading is an important one in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has been teaching by the sea-side. After the crowd disperses, he continues teaching the disciples, and then decides to head across the sea. Up until this point, Jesus had done lots of teaching, and he had performed some healing miracles. The Disciples had been with him for a while, and had seen that Jesus was something different.
And right from the very different, we should be hearing that this is something different. We have the setting – “When evening had come”. Ok, we know that this is happening in the night-time. Why is that significant? Firstly, there is a practical perspective. At the time, sailors wouldn’t sail across the lake at night, because there was more likely to be storms. It was easier sailing during the day. Now, perhaps because Jesus had fishermen who were more used to fishing at night, as opposed to sailors, that might explain why there were no objections. We’re not told why Jesus wants to cross the sea then and there, but he does.
And then, as can be expected, A storm arises. Not just any storm, but a great storm. They wake Jesus, and he calms the storm and there is a great calm – the NRSV puts it as a dead calm, but the Greek word – Megas – means great and is used earlier. And the disciples are filled with great awe, or more accurately, great fear. And out of that great fear, they ask this question: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Who is Jesus?
And here we get the start of a sequence that won’t find it’s conclusion until the Easter narrative. All throughout the rest of the Gospel of Mark is this returning question: Who is Jesus?
And it’s a question that is continually asked of us. Who do we say that Jesus is? It is a question that we must all ask, because it is a question that fully defines our relationship with Jesus.
Is Jesus a great prophet? A great teacher? A guide, a friend, a mentor, a saviour, a miracle worker? Is Jesus God?
This is a question that we have to ask, because others have been asked it. Even Jesus himself was asked – Who are you? Are You the King of the Jews?
In the Gospel of John, in Chapter 9, there’s a fantastic story of a man born blind, who was healed by Jesus. He Never asked for this healing, Jesus healed him so that the glory of God could be revealed. As the Pharisees investigate this healing, the man goes from saying “He is a prophet”, to saying “I don’t know whether he is a sinner or not, all I know is that I was born blind, but now I can see”, to this amazing affirmation of saying “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Finally, upon meeting Jesus, he says, “Lord, I believe.”
Recognising Jesus as Lord
And just as this gradual revelation brought this man’s recognition of Jesus as Lord, so we must recognise Jesus as our Lord. He can also be our prophet, teacher, guide, friend, mentor, saviour and miracle worker, but if he is not Lord in our life, then we are missing the most important part of the relationship.
Jesus is the Lord over our lives. But what does that mean? It’s something that is a bit harder for us to understand, as we no longer live in a period where the title Lord has any effect in our every day lives. While there were many meanings and usages of the word kyrios, a simple understanding for us can be similar to the feudal role of a Lord, who would be the master over the people living on his land. As we are living on the land God created, we recognise God – father, Son and Holy Spirit – as Lord over our lives. If he is master, then he can tell us how we need to live our lives.
But a Lord who lives in his castle and never visits the people has little influence over their lives. But God didn’t do that. He sent Jesus to earth, to teach us, and the Holy Spirit to remain with us. And that brings me to one of my favourite passages. But first, a story.
There was a church, your stock standard, traditional church. The pastor of this church started to offer a lunch for the homeless, and they started flocking there in order to grab something to eat. In time, they started coming into the church services in order see what was happening. One of the elders of the church came to the pastor and said, “Pastor, it’s great that these people are coming to our church, but don’t you think they would be better served by a service just for them?”
The Pastor replied, “Don’t you think that everyone deserves the chance to meet Jesus?”
The Elder said, “Absolutely, I think everyone deserves the chance to meet Jesus, but I don’t see why they can’t meet him in a different time?”
The Pastor said, “I was talking about the members of our Church meeting Jesus in them.”
One of my favourite passages comes from the latter parts of Matthew’s Gospel. You may know it as the parting of the sheep and the goats, where the sheep are those who fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, visited the imprisoned, cared for the sick, etc. When the sheep asked “When was it that we did these things to you”, the Lord replied “Whenever you did it to the least of one of these, you did it to me.”
We have the possibility to recognise Jesus in everyone. When we call Jesus our Lord, we need to live in the way that Jesus asks, and as such, we need to live that way towards all people, believing that Jesus can be found in all people.
We will see great things
When we live in this way, I know that we will see great things, because God is the God of great things. We saw that it was a great storm, and there was a great calm, and a great fear. God is the god of Great things, and when we believe in Jesus as Lord, and we live in the way that he commands, then we will see great things. We will see people come to believe in the Lord. We will see lives transformed. All because of the love of God that we share, because that is what Jesus commanded us to do.
See Jesus in everyone you meet
So Go and live in the way that Jesus – your Lord – has commanded. Show love and care to all people, because Jesus can be found in all people. Love them and care for them in all things. Show them that Jesus isn’t just an existential thought that exists in our minds – he is real, and we experience him in all people. So Go and live out the love of Jesus.
We’re going to sing a wonderful song called “Lord, I need you” – because we do need our Lord in our lives. If you need prayer about anything, feel free to come forward and pray. Maybe you feel like your life is in a great storm at the moment, with the wind and waves bashing you from all sides. Come forward, saying Lord, I need you”, and ask for the great calm that only Jesus can provide. Maybe you’ve accepted most of Jesus, but never accepted Jesus as Lord, but today is the day. Come forward, saying “Lord, I need you”, and ask Jesus to be Lord over your life. Maybe you’ve heard all the great things, that Jesus has done, but you’re still not sure. That’s fine. Come forward, and ask for that guidance as you seek to answer that question: “Who then is this Jesus fellow?” Or if you need prayer for any other reason, then come forward, saying “Lord, I need you” and know that Jesus will be with you and will protect you.