2 Corinthians 6.1-13
Rev Canon CherylCollins
May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit
One of the special father/daughter memories that I have is our annual trip to watch the newly released ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie. My favourite is the second film ‘The two towers’, and in particular, I love the scenes at Helm’s Deep. At the end of the film the forces of good are making a final stand at the fortress of Helm’s deep. They are surrounded by the orcs, the forces of evil if you like; and prepare for the battle which must come with the grim determination of those who know they are going to die. Suddenly, faintly, the earie sound of a horn is heard. It does not sound like an orc horn. They rush to look, and discover the elven army
marching through their gates to fight, and if necessary to die, alongsidethem.
The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, just a story if you like, but we know that Tolkien embedded his Christian understanding of the battle between good and evil in his masterwork. In my experience stories
often convey truths that facts cannot. I think that’s why the Bible is both one story, a golden thread running through all its books and a series of stories. It has at its heart two questions: ‘Who is God?’ And ‘Can we
have hope?’You may be wondering what all this has to do with today’s sermon? Bear with me!
When we read the Bible, we inevitably come to it with three contexts- the first is our context as Christians- we believe this book has an authority that comes from God and reveals to us the answer to both of the
questions above. The second is the context in which the different books of the Bible were written, and for us today having some idea of that context helps us to read the Bible better. The third is our own context we come to the Bible in the midst of the story of our lives, bringing the hopes and fears, questions and commitments of those lives with us. Or, as George Herbert puts it, ‘Thy wordes do find me out.’ The original context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians seems to be the struggles that this new Christian congregation were having inadjusting to the new realities of their lives as Christians. The honeymoon period was over, and they were wrestling with the fact that faithful discipleship requires change of life. Newman put it best when he wrote ‘What is it that we who profess religion lack, it is this a willingness to change, a willingness to suffer Almighty God to change us. ‘Paul draws on his own experience of the challenges of being an apostle to remind the Corinthians of the paradox of Christianity. Paul is honest about the cost of following Jesus, the cruciform shape of the life of discipleship. It does not make us more respectable, or less likely to suffer. It calls us to open our hearts so that together, in the joys and pains of our own
lives, we may embody the Christ whose body we are.
The whole of Mark’s gospel is a story which aims to demonstrate the statement with which he begins the gospel- the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus’ identity is proclaimed through the way he
does what God does, but there is also a theme of secrecy. We can only uncover the full pattern of the story when we choose to stand where the disciples stood, to see the story as a disciple. Today’s reading from Mark follows on from Jesus telling the parable of the sower and the two parables of the mysterious kingdom that we heard last week. So many people have gathered round Jesus on the seashore that he has been forced to preach from a boat. Now he decides to cross over to the other side of the lake. The other side of the lake was in fact Gentile territory, the country of the Gerasenes where Jesus will heal the man suffering from demon possession. Jesus is all about crossing social and spiritual boundaries. He eats with unsuitable people, breaks the Sabbath laws, he associates with the unclean and heals them at the wrong times and he communicates with unclean spirits. Like the Corinthians, wrestling with the reality of discipleship, Jesus first disorientates us in order to reorientate us to a life built no longer on just our own wants and desires but on God’s love for us and for all of creation.
Reading the story of the storm at sea afresh this week I suddenly saw it in a new way. It conforms to the pattern of an enacted Psalm of lament. It describes a bad situation which may result in losing our very lives. It tells the truth to a God who seems asleep to our situation which results in us focussing on God’s character more than our own situation. This focus leads to awe and a new declaration of who God is in our lives.
Lament is big in the Bible, and that can be a source of hope for us. Over a third of the Psalms are Psalms of lament and elsewhere the Bible is full of laments- Rachel, Hannah, Moses, Job, Tamar, Jeremiah and
Jesus himself to name but a few. Lamenting is our help when our own suffering or the suffering of other people feels utterly overwhelming. It reminds us that even in the pain there is an invitation within suffering. It is an invitation to stop pretending everything is fine, to stop trying to avoid pain or muffle it with distraction, to let go of the control we don’t actually have anyway, to pour out our hearts and tell the truth to God, to allow ourselves to sit with the unanswerable questions of life. I guess what I’m trying to say here is lament is way of reaching out to God in our pain, not denying or pushing God away. And in that choice of
lamentation it enables us to have a closer, truer, more intimate relationship with the God who is longing to have that relationship with us.
Lament helps us to listen for God’s louder song and believe that one daywe will hear it above the noise of our pain, just as the soldiers of Helm’s deep heard the faint but unmistakeable sound of the elves coming to be with them. Lament turns us away from our circumstances and towards God. There is another detail of the story of the disciples on the lake which I think is important, and that is the fact that they were on the water. The Bible characterises water as both a necessary blessing- the water of life, and a place of uncontrollable and chaotic power. Genesis begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the water, poised to bring order out of chaos and darkness. Psalm 42 describes a reality that probably all of us have experienced at one time or another as ‘all your waves and breakers sweep over me.’ To lament is to speak the reality of our formless and chaotic suffering to God and ask God to fill it with God’s very good new creation. It is our request that God be Immanuel (God with us) inside the sacred, hurting place, even if it’s only for a few precious moments. For the disciples in the boat, it showed them something more about who Jesus is, who God is. Remember the third context I spoke about through which we read the Bible. It’s no secret that I’m struggling like someone who feels like they’re going down for the third time. Last Sunday I was blessed by the sacred fellowship of those who know what depression is like who reminded me that I’m not alone. This week in encouraging you to listen for God’s louder song I have heard its sweet notes in the distance myself. And what about you? This past year, together we’ve been caught up in a storm of suffering. You may feel like four more weeks might as well be an eternity. You may be struggling to make sense of such suffering and devastating loss of life. Your heart may go out to those who’ve lost loved ones or lost a stable foundation for their life in other ways. Whatever your reality today, share it with God. May your lament bring you closer to the compassionate heart of our Father and, like Jeremiah in the midst of his book of Lamentations, may you discover that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. Amen