a great calm Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-end; Luke 8:22-25
A little boy who had heard today’s reading from Genesis fell over
and hurt his rib-cage. He found his mother and complained of the pain.
He paused and then said: I think I’m having a wife.
to a Sunday School child Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.
Another child wrote that the first commandment was when Eve told Adam
to eat the apple.
Many cultures have their versions of creation, of how the world came about.
There is, of course, a great difference of opinion in the Christian world
about whether one takes Genesis literally or not. How you tell the story
of origins is very important to how you believe things should be. There
are, in fact, two versions of creation in Genesis. In the first version
God gradually builds up his creatures from lesser to greater, with humans
being the pinnacle of the whole order. The second version, that which
forms our reading today, reverses the order and sees human significance
in different terms. In this alternative version, humanity comes first
and then is given companionship in the rest of the created order, especially
in the animal kingdom. This second version also sees the relationship
of men and women as a supreme example of companionship. Male superiority
may be suggested by the spare-rib myth. But we have to balance that with
creation story version one in which God creates male and female together.
In creation mark one God’s command is to be fruitful, multiply and
fill the earth. In mark two, God proclaims his intention for creatures
to be companions on this earth. In times and civilizations when an ordered
hierarchy kept society together, ideas of superior and inferior as found
in the creation stories, seemed to make sense of the divine purpose. But
in our modern era, that which speaks of equality and mutual working together
appeals more to us. It all depends on how you look at the Bible’s
account of how things began. Both versions have their place.
Lord of Creation
What is clear from both, however, is that God is the Creator. It is by
his word that the world came into being. At his command the earth was
filled with creatures. But before plants and animals filled the earth
there had to be the biological means by which they would be supported.
In the second account of creation God causes water to well up from the
earth long before anything like rain waters the earth. The left out verses
from our Genesis reading describe a river flowing out of Eden and dividing
into four. The Hebrews were a people much more comfortable with water
in the form of rivers than in the seas. Rivers were civilized, whereas
the sea was a source of disorder. The sea comes, in Hebrew thinking, to
be symbolic of that which is overwhelming, that which is terrifying, which
threatens to destroy. The land-lubbing Hebrews left it to the ocean-faring
Phoenicians to make good use of the sea for travel and transport. Yet
they believed God to have created also the sea and some psalms speak of
God calming the sea-dragons, of keeping the ocean-leviathan in check.
He was not just the god of some parts of creation, but the Lord and Creator
of all that existed.
You get various stories throughout the Bible which feature hapless people
at the mercy of storms at sea. There are the stories of Noah and the Flood
or Jonah and the Whale from the Hebrew scriptures. In Christian scripture
today’s Gospel story of Jesus, the disciples and the Lake of Galilee
has a similar feel. The terrified disciples think they are about to be
overwhelmed. They have to wake the sleeping Jesus who stands up and by
his word of command calms the storm. Their question: “Who then,
is this?” expects the answer: “He is Lord of creation, for
he is able to control the raging sea!” But it also has other resonances:
they are in the Ark, the safe boat, and with Jesus on board they will
be saved from God’s punishment. They are on a mission, as was Jonah,
but instead of running away from what God wanted, and being thrown overboard,
they have the Lord with them and this time it is his command, not their
self-sacrifice, which brings calm.
On a Mission
But there is a further resonance which Luke sets up. If we bear in mind
that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are twin books, then we begin
to read them in a different light. There are many things which correspond
to each other in both books. The story of a storm on Galilee in the Gospel
is echoed by the story of St Paul and the shipwreck in the book of Acts.
There, the hapless voyagers all survive by managing to swim ashore on
Malta. They are rescued by a different means: by Paul’s presence
of mind and practical plans. But like Jesus, he is calm in the face of
a storm and all come to safety. What comes next in the Gospel is the calming
of the mad mind of the man from Gadara, the place to which Jesus and the
disciples are crossing. By his word of command, not only are the literal
storms calmed, but the inner mental and spiritual storms of the mad man
they meet. What comes next in the book of Acts, immediately, is a healing
story, and the opportunity for Paul to preach the gospel to the people
they meet on Malta. Beyond that, Paul’s hope is to preach the gospel
before the Emperor in Rome. In other words, Luke is taking the old stories
of God being in control of the raging seas, and showing how calm from
a storm brings after it the opportunity for mission: the chance to bring
healing in the name of Jesus and salvation through proclaiming the cross
of Jesus. Mission follows crisis. If you think about it, the stories of
Noah and Jonah also conclude with a new start, with repentance and faith.
There are times in our lives when we feel threatened by the storms. We
may feel it as individuals, and it is true of the Church from time to
time. We cannot see a way forward or out – we fear being overwhelmed
or going under. The Lord may seem to be asleep, or even absent. But our
prayer made in faith calls on him. He brings peace and calmness to the
situation: order out of chaos. From our storms will come the opportunity
for mission, for reaching out and proclaiming the Lord of all creation:
the Lord who made us to be companions for each other and ultimately for
Him. Are you carrying the Lord with you?
© Rev Paul Smith