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Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany


Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary Who then is this...? The Ancient Israelites were not seafarers, that is for sure, which is perhaps a bit surprising when you consider that the land they settled some thousands of years ago is hard against the Eastern Mediterranean, which itself became a great watery highway for the close neighbours of the Israelites, such as the ancient Phoenicians. They made of the Sea a source of commerce, trade, and great wealth; but not the Jews. True to their nomadic desert origins and traditions, the Israelites were firmly bound to the land, to terra firma, for the most part shepherds and sharecroppers. For the Israelites, the sea and the waters of the deep always remained foreboding and ominous places of danger and threat. The very first verses of the Bible depict God bringing order “over the face of the waters,” before doing much of anything else. The only great sailors among the Hebrews, if I can even call them that, were at best reluctant ones. Noah, explicitly described as “a man of the soil,” seemingly could not wait for the waters of the Flood to recede so that he could escape the confinement of his Ark and get back to his vineyard; and Jonah, that other ancient mariner, soon enough regrets shipping out as he is promptly thrown overboard by his shipmates. In our first Reading this morning, the creation story from the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, call it the alternative creation story, the God of the Israelites plants a garden “in the east,” as we are told, which is as much as to say in the middle of the wilderness. Think of it as a kind of garden oasis. No exclusive luxury seaside resort, I am afraid, for our first parents. The only water mentioned in the text is a bit of rain and a stream, not even a proper river, the purpose of which is simply to “water the whole face of the ground.” Jesus’ early disciples were not true seafarers either, but they were professional fisherman with their base of operations located on the great inland Lake of Gennesaret, as Luke prefers to calls the Sea of Galilee. Because of the Lake’s location in a low-lying basin surrounded by hills and mountains which naturally funnel the erratic winds, the Lake is subject to frequent storms, as we see recounted in our Gospel narrative. One of the few Gospel stories which takes place out on the waters and far from land, it is told in all three of the so-called Synoptic Gospels, but with varying details. In Luke’s version, the disciples are alarmed, panicked even, fearing that they are about to end up overboard, perhaps like Jonah, and perish in the storm raging all around them. Genesis 2.4b-9,15-25; Psalm 37.1-7; Revelation 4; Luke 8.22-25

Oddly enough, our Lord is fast asleep in the boat, arguably the only point in Scripture where Jesus is actually depicted as sleeping; and in the middle of a tempest no less. Presumably shaking him awake, the shaken disciples shout over the sound of the wind, “we are perishing.” And much as God had put order over the waters at creation, Jesus now rebukes the “winds and the raging waves,” and as we are told, “there was a calm.” The order of creation is restored, and the disciples are saved; a metaphor of redemption if ever there was one. The forces of nature and the element of human fear are of course with us still. This past week alone has seen massive rains and mudslides in Brazil and unprecedented gales and storms in parts of England, Scotland, Holland, and other areas of northeastern Europe; perhaps in part at least due to humankind’s seeming inability to bring order to its abuse of the environment, order into the world God has put into our care. And needless to say, as we gather this morning, the storm clouds of human willfulness and greed hang over Europe just to our east, also a fair enough land, if not exactly east of Eden, but a land now threatened by war and its ravages, a land gripped by fear. The middle of a storm on the Lake of Gennesaret might not seem the time for philosophical, or theological questions, but such questions are exactly what we get in our Gospel account. Jesus goes first. “Where is your faith,” he asks almost rebukingly. Jesus gets no answer from the disciples, but perhaps it was a sort of rhetorical question to begin with. Despite the perilous situation, the implication of our Lord’s question would seem to be that God is always there to bring order and redemption into the lives of humankind. The only thing needed on our part is faith that it is so, a difficult enough challenge in Jesus’ time; no easier today. The disciples in their turn ask themselves, “Who then is this...?” Who is this that the winds and waters obey. A question which the entire Gospel of Luke tries to answer; a question which will recur in various forms throughout the Gospel narrative. “Who then is this?” And Luke’s point is none other than that this Jesus, moments ago sound asleep, is nevertheless the Son of God. No wonder the disciples are described as “afraid and amazed,” not so much at the ravages of the storm and the surge but at their sudden calming. In a sense, the presence and closeness of God always brings with it both amazement and fear; and almost paradoxically utter calm. The presence of Jesus, the person of Jesus himself, brings us up close and personal with the command and dominion of God over not only the waters of the deep and the storms of the Lake of Gennesaret but over the turmoil of our very existence, over “the unruly passions” of the heart as the Book of Common Prayer calls them. The disciples experience a Christophany, a fancy theological term meaning the very manifestation of God at work in Jesus. The disciples know instantly and full well the answer to their question, “Who then is this,” even if they are left without words to express it. As followers of Christ today, we too know the answer to their question. What remains for us to answer is Jesus’ question, “Where is your faith...?”

The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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