Archbishop Leonard Dawea
Exodus 12: 37-42; 1 Cor. 12: 12-30; Matthew 8: 23-27
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Theme: A spiritually United Church.
May I extend a very warm welcome to all of you again; those of you are present at this service and those of you are praying with us via television or radio broadcast. I welcome you all as members of the Church or in the words of St. Paul, we are the Church; the living Saints.
When one revisits the history of the Church from her beginning, the Church journeyed around the world, even to Melanesia in people or missionaries. But the Church also carries people on their spiritual journey in anticipation of the Kingdom of God. It is the role of all Christian Churches, to carry and safe guide people on their journey and relationship with Christ. But it is also a spiritual avenue where Christians meet, create relationships and even socialise for the sake of Christ.
What begins to surface here is that the Church is a body. It is a living organ, so like any living organ, the Church encounters challenges in her growth and development. The people of Israel as we heard in the Old Testament after their slavery and experiences of oppression, started out on a journey with God, but it was not a smooth ride. They complained, they became thirsty and hungry, they were bitten by poisonous snakes.
But they also experienced the power of God; he rained down manna from heaven, gave then water from the rock and divided the red sea for them to go through. In the end they archived nationhood; they became a nation of their own in the Promised Land.
In the Epistle reading we heard Paul describing Christ to the people of Corinth as one body with many parts. He helped them to value and respect each part as invaluable for the wellbeing of the one body. They are to correlate and not to dispute each other’s functions. He goes on to say that each one of them is part of the same body. He also described the different ministries we have in the Church in the same way.
Practically there may be rooms for disagreement with each other, but the call is to respect, value and appreciate each individual Christian and every ministry there are in the Church. Because there is no division in the body, the different parts should have the same concern for one another, v. 25. That gives us assurance that all of us are to be participants in the life of the Church, even the least ones. The different parts of the body reflects a picture of united individuals and ministries in the Church.
The gospel reading is a story of a united church. It is on a journey. Matthew reshapes the story to instruct the Church after the resurrection. In this story the Church carries the people as represented by the boat. And literally Jesus was in the boat; he got into the boat first before his disciples. We shall use this faith story to weave a message for our Church today?
The Church is Christ’s Church; before we became members of the Church, he himself was already in the Church, he owns the Church. We were not told in the passage who owns the boat; Jesus did not seek permission from anyone. It was wrong from the society’s point of view. But seeing the boat as representing the Church, Jesus had no need to seek permission because he owns the Church.
Like the disciples, most people don’t know why they became members of the Church and where they were heading. St. Mark’s gospel tells us that they were going to other side of the lake. He went on to say that the disciples took Jesus with them, Mark. 4: 31. This is an interesting picture of the Church; Jesus was in his Church, but the disciples took him with them. The Church belongs to Jesus, but only we can take him and his gospel forward.
As soon as the disciples got into the boat with Jesus, the journey began. Both Matthew and Mark used the word ‘suddenly’ to describe the prompt arrival of a fierce storm against the boat. It came against the boat so hard that it was in danger of sinking. It continues through the unity, commitment and hard work of the disciples.
The journey of the Christian Church suddenly shattered her early beginning. The Church travelled everywhere in inhuman circumstances of torture, persecution, martyrdom, even to our own Church of Melanesia. But we are assured that Jesus controls it and can never, ever sink.
The biblical tradition holds the sea as symbol of disorder and chaos. It was very rough on this particular scenario. All around the boat, the sea must have been white like a lake of snow. And together with the wind, the sea feared the disciples. Because the water that spilled into the boat can kill. If it is not bailed out, it will sink it and the disciples will be exposed to the ravages of the sea and the wild sea creatures.
But it is the very sea that the boat travels on. The sea is here portrayed as the society. The society persecuted and humiliated the Church as soon as she was started by Christ. And this has been the road the Church travelled around the world. The society forces different situations and issues on the Church which sometimes seems as it will sink her. Though the society rocks the Church; it is the same society that carries the Church. It is the Church’s situated context. But like the boat in the lake, the Church will never ever sink. Whatever people might think, feel or say about the Churches we belong, it is important that we remain in the Church for that’s where Jesus is; it is our spiritual sanctuary.
We are encouraged here to remain in the Church or be part of a Church no matter whatever we might say or think about our Churches. In the midst of the storms of society, the Church can carry us forward. It might be rocking, it might in danger of sinking, it might be full of unrighteousness, but it’s safe because Jesus is always present in it.
Let us look at how the Bible portrays the disciples in this passage; it presents them in plural or inclusive form. There was no use of personal pronoun in reference to any particular disciple except for Jesus. They were all in total danger, but there was never any shout of frustration; they most probably rowed, bailed out, control the sail and worked hard together in their time of crises. Peter, the leader of the disciples was never mentioned as giving orders; he most probably led the disciples through this crises with practical leadership. But certainly there was indication of ongoing talks between them; they were united through their ongoing dialogue in the middle of the storm; they continue to find a way forward out of the pressing situation.
Their unity in this time of crises helped them to realise something important; something that would change their whole life. They realised that Jesus was with them; they made the decision together to wake him and they woke him up. Peter did not go alone to wake Jesus; they all went. It is a picture of a truly united Church. Through our working together, we can realise every day that Jesus is with us in the Church, he is in control, even though sometimes he is asleep through our ignorance.
The disciples woke Jesus up saying, ‘Lord, save us – we are about to die’. We said that the disciples did not know the reason for their travelling. But in the midst of their crises, one thing came out very clear through their words to Jesus. They crave for life. They need Jesus to give them life; the Church is where we seek life in Jesus Christ. The disciples prayed, asking Jesus to save and give them life. They realised that their source of life was in the boat, Jesus Christ himself.
The prayer ought to be our prayer in our Church. It is a confessional statement of craving for life eternal with God. The Church can be lukewarm, it can be buried in its human nature, it can be neglected, it can be tossed about by the changes and chances of this world, but it has within it life giving spirit which offers life eternal. We need not only work together for the physical welfare of our Church, but like the disciples, we must also pray together to Jesus to save us from our daily encounters with life, deliver us from our spiritual weakness and give us life eternal.
This works with faith and I like Jesus’ response to the disciples in Matthew because it is an assurance that we have faith, even though it is little. Little faith presupposes some faith, but faith that has grown weak, paralysed to act and lukewarm to make any real impact in our society. But at least there is faith, little as it may be, it has great opportunity to grow and impact hugely in our society and Church.
The disciples in this scenario learned faith. They witnessed their Lord giving orders to the wind and the waves. The disciples were seen together as one when Christ measured their faith and together they learned to practice their faith. Jesus sleeps through most situations facing our Church because we think we know it all. Peter and the other disciples were called from the lake; and understood it very well. It was like their play station, but in this encounter, their knowledge of the lake seems inadequate and fake. However, they were correct to wake Jesus, he may knew nothing about the characters of the lake, but he knows the created order. In our everyday struggles with the issues of our Church and society which we think we understand better, we ought to make Jesus part of us for he knows far more than us.
We need to see the real nature of Christ and his saving power. In their realisation and amazement the disciples said, ‘who is this man, even the wind and waves obey him?’ It is Jesus the Son of God who has complete control over his Church. It is his Church, he knows it better than all of us, but leads the Church forward through us.
We need to pray together, ‘save us Lord, we are perishing’. Some areas of our Church are perishing lukewarm-ness, disunity, hatred, poor Church attendance, lawlessness etc…., but we need to remain united, to talk, plan, decide and think together. Our Lord is here with us; our saviour is right here, and our help is right here.
This is the model Church for our Province where Jesus is always behind the wheel and all her members are all co-participants. In most instances, Jesus is a sleep in our Church because we deceive ourselves by thinking that we are alright, but it is clear from this story that we need Jesus.
The state of the boat in calm waters is the state we crave for the Church in Melanesia, because Jesus is present with us and participates in our struggles for life. Let us all be united with each other in our Church, with other Churches, with our national governments and united with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. God bless the Church of Melanesia; God bless all Christian Churches in New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
The Lord be with you. Amen.
News story and pictures from ACoM Communications