There is something extra special this year. Barbara Berisford Jones has painstakingly restored our nativity set. As a result of her hard work, we now have the most beautiful and precious set. We are really grateful to Barbara for her skill and effort. You will see them repainted and repaired and the set will be blessed and set aside for the special purpose of leading us into the power of the nativity story. The figures will be placed in the crib at the crib service on Christmas Eve at 4.00pm. This service is a highlight in our church year when families come from all over Taunton and beyond to celebrate on this special night. Do come.
“They were distressed in rowing … he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.” (vv.48-51) RSV
We draw today to the end of coping with the storms of life. This story follows soon after the calming of the storm (Mark 4:35-41) that we have been studying. But this is different. Jesus wasn’t even with them in the boat since he had sent them on ahead of him. They were fulfilling his will and walking in obedience, so the storm was not because they were out of God’s will.
When Jesus did arrive – across the water – he was at first not welcome: a ghost! Why did the disciples not recognise him and welcome him into their boat? It was not just because they couldn’t see or that his arrival was unexpected. The answer lies in the text, though it is not obvious at first, “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (v.52). Earlier in the day they had witnessed and had taken part in the miracle of the Feeding of the 5000, yet they had ‘hardened their hearts” in ignorance and unbelief.
Such an attitude of heart means that they were not growing in faith and awareness of Jesus. It meant that they were starting to follow Jesus and his commands in their own strength. Their discipleship was starting to become an uphill struggle. Their joy and energy was gone and they were “distressed” (v.48). The result was not that they were in danger (there was no storm), but that they were going nowhere fast.
When our faith shrinks and we baulk at what Jesus has done, we too will not recognise him. We will mysteriously be bereft of his presence. Indeed we may think he is a “ghost” and a threat. If he comes into the boat he may rock it! How foolish can we become? Very, it seems. Spiritual blindness quickly follows hardness of heart. They were exhausted and struggling. Discipleship had become an uphill slog.
Lord Jesus Christ, you know that we are struggling to row the boat of life. Forgive us for striving in our own strength. Come and bring your ability to calm us and to calm our surroundings. With you alone can we make it to the other shore. Amen.
The local independent trader business community in Taunton have adopted ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s’ as one of their charities for the year. They are organising a Christmas tree trail to bring people into the local businesses, ending at St Mary’s in a giant knitted tree! Monies raised will go the Bell Appeal.
Please can you help by knitting some leaves.
You just need to cast on 30 stitches on size 4 mm needles and knit (garter) 120 rows.
It measures 12 inches oblong.
Double knitting wool in any shade of green.
Nothing is wasted. After Christmas the leaves will be sewn together to make blankets.
Please could you leave completed leaves in the bookshop.
If you have any children’s or adult’s t-shirts, airtex shirts or wool/tweed skirts that you no longer need and would like to have recycled – please could you let Sheila have them, before 30th November. It doesn’t matter if they have a small hole in them, or if they have got marks on – but please make sure they are clean! Please don’t send any thin cotton items. If your clothes are in good condition but are no longer required by you perhaps you could donate them to one of the charity shops sending clothes out to the Philippines.
“… take heart … for this very night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong.” (vv.22-23) RSV
The story of Jesus calming the storm may give the impression that God always wants to and will stop our crisis and make things calm once again. That is not necessarily so. Today’s story about Paul being shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 28:1) is just such a case.
Prayer does not always give us what we think we want/need. Paul did not have his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) taken away, and Jesus did not have his crucifixion taken away. Both of them started off their prayers requesting those things, but both came to understand that the highest purposes of God would not be fulfilled that way.
So, with the ship being in severe trouble Paul set about praying. During the night he had a visitation – an angel. Lucky man, that sort of thing doesn’t happen to most of us! Yet, maybe it does and we don’t recognise an angel when we see one (see Hebrews 13:2). Anyway, one way or another God spoke to Paul. The message was good news and bad news, the good news was that no one would die, but the bad news was that the ship would be lost.
Paul, amazingly, had such an authority and calm awareness of what was going to happen that he was more or less given a free hand to tell the crew and the soldiers what to do. God will give us authority when we listen to him and move in the Spirit. Hearing God is the key to life. Did not Jesus say: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”?
The storm in our lives may not always end up altogether happily but with God there will be a constructive and positive outcome. Sometimes our beloved possessions may have to be jettisoned. Sometimes the outcome puts us in a different place than we were before e.g. Malta! Travelling with God is not necessarily a smooth passage, but whatever happens, He is with us, and all things will work together for good.
Thank you Father for the excitement and unpredictability of life. And thank you that you are in it with us – a steady hand at the helm. Help us not to wrench it away from you. Amen.
Explore More – Genesis 39
1 What ‘storm’ of temptation did Joseph encounter?
2 What was the cost to Joseph of overcoming the temptation?
This Sunday 17th November, we extend a special welcome to Fr. Charley Thomas, Dean of Lusaka Cathedral who will be preaching. Fr. Charley is here in the UK for the Clergy Conference in Swanwick in the last week in November. He has come early to be with us – and we are thrilled! Do talk with Charley over coffee this morning.