Sermon: Who Then is This?

A sermon preached by the Revd Dr Trevor Jamison at Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church on  June 23rd 2024

This sermon frequently references and quotes the hymn ‘Eternal God, Your Love’s Tremendous Glory’ by the URC minister and hymn writer, the late Alan Gaunt (1935-2023) (Rejoice and Sing 33; Singing the Faith 3)

Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1, 23-31; Mark 4:35-41

Watch the whole service on YouTube


Who is in control of the wind and the sea? Is it God? If it’s not God, then it’s no one. I don’t think, for example, that human actions which warm the planet, so affecting sea levels, and the frequency and severity of storms, counts as “control” – quite the opposite.

Is God in control of the winds and the seas? If so, that leaves us with questions, some of them uncomfortable ones. If God controls the winds and the seas in every detail, then is it God who sends ship-sinking storms, whether upon the Sea of Galilee two years ago, or to swamp small boats in the Mediterranean and the English Channel today? If so, what does that say to us about the nature of God?

I think it’s legitimate to ask questions like that in a church service on a Sunday morning. After all, such questions are already there in our minds from time to time. Also, if they are not in our minds they certainly are in the minds and on the tongues of others: “How could God let this (or that) happen if God is in control of the world?”

I think it is legitimate for us to ask God that sort of question. After all, if a question is in your heart and mind God knows that, so you may as well voice it! If you do, however, don’t have too high an expectation about the answer you receive, especially if the experience of Job is anything to go by.

The Old Testament Book of Job tells a tale about human suffering, focusing on the experience of one individual. We are told at the outset that book that Job was a blameless and upright person (Job 1:1), yet he went through prolonged, painful suffering. When he finally cracks and demands that God explain why so many bad things have happened to him God’s answer – we heard the beginning of it read to us this morning – is no answer at all.

Instead, God confronts Job ( this representative of our human suffering) with a series of questions, which put him in his tiny human place. Job (and we) were not present when God ‘laid the foundation of the earth’ (38:4), nor have we ‘determined its measurements’ (38:5), so who is Job, or who are we, to question God?

Instead, like the writer of Psalm 107, whilst we acknowledge the dangers of storms at sea (and storms within our lives) – dangers which have us tossed ‘up to heaven’ at one point, only to be plunged ‘down to the depths’ the next (107:26) – we are invited not to complain, but to give thanks (107:31). We are to give thanks for those times that God dismisses the storms and brings us to safety: ‘Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress; he made the storm  be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and God brought them to their desired haven.’ (107:28-30)

Being told to be grateful to God in such circumstances may be good advice but it’s not what you would call “comforting”. God is made to seem like some remote, inscrutable figure, one that’s it’s wise not to cross, just in case …

If we relied only upon the Book of Job and the author of Psalm 107 how could we say with confidence that God is loving? How could we have the confidence of Alan Gaunt who wrote of the ‘ Eternal God … [whose]  love’s tremendous glory cascades through life in overflowing grace, to tell creation’s meaning in the story of love evolving love from time and space’? Well that takes us to today’s other Bible reading, the one from Mark’s Gospel, and to the, ‘Eternal Son of God, uniquely precious … [through whom] God’s love has fathomed sin and death’s deep darkness, and flawed humanity is glorified.’(Alan Gaunt)  In other words, Jesus Christ.

Remember that event which was described in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus and his close followers are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat when a great windstorm arises, and they are in danger of being swamped. (4:37) Whilst the disciples are doing their utmost to keep the boat afloat Jesus is snoozing away, head on cushion. (4:38) In desperation, the disciples (not unlike Job with God) try to wake up Jesus, asking a question about their suffering: ‘do you not care that we are perishing?’ (4:38)

And just like God with Job, Jesus does not answer their question, instead telling them off: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (4:40) But Jesus has first stilled the storm: ‘He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.’ (4:39) [Leave a pause here for the calm!]

And the awestruck disciples are left with a question that should also be our question: ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (4:41) Who then is this Jesus, that even the wind and the sea obey him? And, given what we have read and heard in our other Bible readings today, the answer we are pushed towards is that this is God: the ‘eternal Son of God, uniquely precious,’ as Alan Gaunt once wrote in his hymn.

And we know that Jesus is loving. He is loving in his interactions with his followers and with the crowds who were drawn to him. Jesus’s teaching was about loving: ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength … and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Mark 12:30, 31) And Jesus was loving in how he lived his life, serving others, and even to the point of dying for them on a cross. (Mark 10:45).

So the One who controls the wind and the waves is loving. That’s what the whole life of Jesus tells us about God. Mystery remains, but there is hope. How will we respond to this mystery? We need help to do so, and God is there to help us in our doubts and perplexity – an ‘eternal Spirit, with us like a mother, embracing us in love serene and pure,’ strengthening us to follow in the way of Jesus, so that we can become ‘full-grown’ disciples and human beings.

We started by asking, “Who is in control of the wind and the seas?” God is, and that God, revealed to us through Jesus, is loving. How that works in detail we may never know, but we seek the wisdom and the strength of God’s eternal Spirit to support us on that journey; that in our lives we may ‘seek love and serve love’s purpose, till [as the hymn writer puts it] we ascend with Christ and find love whole.’ Amen.

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