The gospel for Sept 25th, the second Sunday in our four-part series on the Season of Creation, (Luke 8:22-25) features a storm. It is a fitting gospel for this Sunday since the theme is storms and also since media attention is on the damage that hurricane Fiona is doing to the Maritimes.
The chapter containing the gospel for this morning opens with the information that, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God… people were coming to Jesus from town after town (Luke 8:1,4). As an itinerant preacher he attracted a large following. The gospel as a whole gives the impression that he cured and counselled people in addition to the teaching and that the demands on him for personal attention continued long after he had “finished” his instructions for the day.
The complete gospel for Sunday September 25th reads: One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And waking up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. Then he said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were terrified and amazed and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him?”
While Jesus could control nature in the form of wind and waves, he did not exempt himself from his own human nature: he fell asleep, probably exhausted after the day of teaching and personal care.
At least four of his disciples, (Peter and Andrew, James and John) were fishers, so sailing would have been a familiar experience, including dealing with a variety of weather. But the windstorm (that) swept down the lake, filling the boat with water, and endangering them was more than they could handle. Either because Jesus was so tired or because he was in such a state of inner peace, he did not wake and the disciples had to rouse him “…Master, we are perishing!” They were afraid.
When he woke he rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.
His next comment came as a mild surprise, he said, “Where is your faith?” His disciples had shown their faith by following him. They had seen him cure people, forgive and confront the Pharisees. They had accepted that he was special. Jesus' comment implied that they had not fully trusted their lives to him.
His act of calming the wind amazed his disciples and became another reason they believed that Jesus was the Son of God. He was more than an inspiring teacher. He represented safety.
The passage is a metaphor for our days. We have set out on a collective journey towards the future. And as we travel deeper into the 21st century we face storms: environmental, armed conflict, hunger, disease and economic inequality. And we wonder whether Jesus is ‘asleep’ while we face the threats.
In his opening address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 20th 2022, the Secretary General, António Guterres, outlined the state of the world in grim terms, coincidentally borrowing on a storm on the water metaphor. (See web link for his full address below) In part he said:
“Let’s have no illusions. We are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon.
· A cost-of-living crisis is raging.
· Trust is crumbling.
· Inequalities are exploding.
· Our planet is burning.
· People are hurting – with the most vulnerable suffering the most.
…We are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction. The international community is not ready or willing to tackle the big dramatic challenges of our age. These crises threaten the very future of humanity and the fate of our planet. Crises like:
· the war in Ukraine and the multiplication of conflicts around the globe.
· like the climate emergency and biodiversity loss.
· like the dire financial situation of developing countries and the fate of the Sustainable Development Goals.
In particular, with respect to climate, he said, “The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time… yet climate action is being put on the back burner – despite overwhelming public support around the world.
Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed by 45 percent by 2030 to have any hope of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. And yet emissions are going up at record levels – on course to a 14 percent increase this decade. We have a rendezvous with climate disaster.
We see it everywhere. Planet earth is a victim of scorched earth policies.
· The past year has brought us Europe’s worst heatwave since the Middle Ages.
· Megadrought in China, the United States and beyond.
· Famine stalking the Horn of Africa.
· One million species at risk of extinction.
No region is untouched. And we ain’t seen nothing yet.
· The hottest summers of today may be the coolest summers of tomorrow.
· Once-in-a-lifetime climate shocks may soon become once a year events.
And with every climate disaster, we know that women and girls are the most affected. The climate crisis is a case study in moral and economic injustice.
· The G20 emits 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
· But the poorest and most vulnerable – those who contributed least to this crisis – are bearing its most brutal impacts.
· Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry is feasting on hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies and windfall profits while household budgets shrink and our planet burns.
Like the disciples in the boat with Jesus, our spirituality is not only about angels singing at Jesus’ birth, miracle cures, meals of loaves and fishes. When we travel with Jesus we are bound to encounter storms. Sometimes the storms are literal as well as metaphoric.
More to the point of this particular gospel, Christ asks us to have faith in him and his teaching. The challenge is to interpret what this means in our lives and the actions we pursue. Foremost, it means being faithful to our baptismal covenant to “strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth.” We must seek out ways in our own lives to reduce the demands that we make on the earth’s resources and to act in ways that minimize how we contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The next step is evangelism: taking our message of concern to politicians who decide on such things as building codes (insulation), by-laws regarding rentals (so home-owners in boroughs outside the old city of Toronto can take in renters), emission targets, capital expenditures (electric vs diesel busses).