Posted by: mikebackup | June 20, 2009

Don’t Panic!

Mark 4.35-41 – Jesus Calms the Storm
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

As we have reflected on several times this year, Marks’ Gospel has certain themes and focuses. It reflects deeply on a suffering discipleship, it focuses on the cross and presents the disciples as fallibly human, failing to get the point about Jesus time and time again. It is also exceptionally honest about life and faith and that makes it a fantastic Gospel to use when witnessing about faith. It presents life and faith with the only certainly we have, that of uncertainty. Even Jesus, when on the cross is abandoned and uncertain – ‘My God, My God, why have you foresaken me?’. The original ending of Mark at 16.8 leaves us uncertain.

When it comes to God we get no categorical, unchallengeable answers. Atheists like Richard Dawkins see this as a significant reason why he believes there is no God. Because there is no way we can experiment on God, carefully noting the cause and effect of God’s actions then there probably is no God. Whereas the material universe in which we live appears to be explaining the complexities of life quite well and Richard Dawkins argues that these explanations show that our universe is working independently without a need for a God, even if there was one. Because of this he believes he has the answer to the truth about God, there isn’t one. The material universe can explain all without the need for a God. He is unable to prove that there is no God, but then as he says he is unable to prove categorically there isn’t such things as Unicorns. He would say the weight of his scientific evidence has made the the proof question about God irrelevant and the woolly unprovable statements made by those who do believe in God only strengthen his position.

If you are in conversation with someone about God and they give some of these Atheist arguments and say ‘there’s no way to prove God and the universe is explaining itself so the weight of evidence against God’s existence is overwhelming’ you could answer in this way. You have to acknowledge that there is no scientific way to prove the existence of God, and life itself is only full of uncertainty. Yet something fundamentally human sees us striving for the other, for something beyond the nuts and bolts of what can be tested in a laboratory, beyond the material universe. Everyday, the complexity and richness of human emotions of which the greatest of these is of course love cannot be isolated and then tested, touched or experimented on. In Mark’s Gospel, the uncertainty of life is presented, yet the answer is also shown. To truly find God we must begin a journey of discipleship in faith. We must go from the uncertainty of the empty tomb and go and find Jesus for ourselves, and only then do we find God. We don’t find God in certainty, but in love, hope, trust and experience.

As people of faith we are part of the universal church, united in our diversity of life and experience of God. Faith is a quite remarkable answer to that human quest to seek beyond what we can see and touch. It is there that we find and experience God who is above and beyond the uncertainties that define our existence.

With all that in mind, let us looks and these familiar verses from Mark. Here the Disciples as so often the case in Mark fail to have faith in Jesus when they are tested. Probably all Christians have reacted like this at some point or another in their discipleship when faced with difficult uncertainties. Yet what the Disciples failed to remember and what we forget at times is that we’re in the same boat as Jesus!

It is in the storms of life’s uncertainties that we must truly put our faith in Christ. From a personal perspective, since I started my training I have been facing a storm of uncertainty. In the past year particularly I have constantly asked ‘Can I continue with this?’, ‘Will this cause irreparable damage to the family?’, ‘Will we cope after my training?’, ‘Will we get through the next college year?’. The most important parts of my life have been put in a constant state of uncertainty. I have been and continue to be very scared about a lot of things. Yet somehow, amidst being tossed about in this storm, Jesus has always reminded me that he is in the boat with me.

Here at Boulton Lane, since I started we have been in quite a storm. We have seen so many dear friends pass away, and others have moved on. This again provides uncertainty in abundance. Our present considerations about our missionary future provide an enormous degree of uncertainty. Uncertainty makes us scared and at times, like the disciples that makes us forget that Jesus is in the boat with us.

Ironically, from a church perspective, it is ‘certainty’ that we should be most afraid of. In his book ‘The McDonaldisation of Church’ John Drane presents the reasons why the church has lost touch with society and why so many churches die, as down to the way churches operate using the principles of a fast food outlet. Churches operate in a safe, efficient, pre-packaged, predictable manor. All creativity is lost because the machine is programmed to produce the same week after week. Any attempts to change the system are rejected because it will threaten the certainty of what will happen. This also removes spirituality as well. Those who are protecting the system or pre-packaged certainty may feel they get something spiritual out of it, but outsiders get nothing. Surveys have shown that people in this country do not associate the Christian Church with spirituality. This is a sad state of affairs and down to a predictable, uncreative way of doing church.

So certainty in a church’s approach to worship, spirituality, mission and ministry is in fact a far greater danger than uncertainty. The challenge is embracing the fact that uncertainty in this respect is in fact a fantastic positive and a powerful witness. To be able to say to someone ‘our church is great, you never know what’s coming or around the corner. On a Sunday I don’t know where I’ll sit or what will happen. It challenges and stretches me and best of all it shows that God is such a dynamic living presence in my life’. Predictability and certainty in the way church works will never give you this.

As a minister, the moment worship, deacons and church meetings become times I barely have to think about is when I must stand before God and say ‘I have failed you’. I need to minister where I constantly have to be creative myself and react and embrace the creativity of the church – ‘Mike I have a great idea, let me tell you about it’. Predictability and certainty in a Minister is one who is failing God and their congregation, Jesus constantly surprised his followers, with the greatest of those surprises being a walk of suffering to the cross. Not knowing what’s around the corner when you’re being creative is in fact the greatest of blessings.

Let us now consider bad uncertainty in church, where it suddenly dawns on a congregation that the church is in great difficulty with a bleak future. This is where churches suddenly realise that the predictable, certainty they have comfortably lived in has in fact been killing the life and future of what they hold so dear. So many Baptist churches in Derbyshire are closing because they have lived a comfortable church life that suited them and no-one else. They wake up to this fact when it is far too late. No minister or miraculous appearance of a young family is going to save them.

I am passionate about being a missionary disciple and love Boulton Lane. I don’t want you to suddenly realise in the near future that the church is in real trouble. At present, where do you see Boulton Lane in 5 or 10 years time? But let’s bring our thoughts to within touching distance. In 11 months time, I will begin the settlement process and at present I will not be able to stay on here because Home Mission will not support half time ministry after my training. What would happen in two years for example if I left, and then Maureen and Linda felt it was time to move on?

You see just by embracing the healthy uncertainty and challenges of being mission focused and being creative is something that in itself stands out. Home Mission will certainly recognise it, and even if we are failing miserably at getting newly baptised members, but it’s clear we are working the land hard, they will support us.

When in the Doctor’s waiting room recently, I picked up a copy of ‘Poems in the waiting room’, which is a free collection of poems provided by a charity. It’s a lovely idea in itself, and one of the poems spoke to me that links to what we have been reflecting on. It talks of the dangers of certainty and the creative possibilities made possible by uncertainty.

The place where we are right

From the place where we are right flowers will never grow
in the Spring.

The place where we are right is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place where the ruined
house once stood.

Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) © Hana Amichai
The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai Viking 1987

As disciples living in an uncertain world it is very easy to crave for certainty. The problem is we often look for certainty in the wrong place. We are not going to find certainty in anything we can see, touch or do. So instead of attempting the impossible why not embrace that uncertainty with a creative zest. After all there is no certainty that any of us will live another day. Our certainty is found in remembering that Jesus is in the same boat as us and in faith, hope and love we get all the reassurance we need.

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