"My Favourite Island Church
- Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman CBE (1906-1984)
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St. Alban's Church, St. Alban's Road,
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When I read today’s Gospel passage, was reminded of an encounter I had with a patient some years ago when I was asked to bring Holy Communion to a man who was in the final stages of cancer. He was very anxious and, although he was of a generation and personality type which made it difficult for him to talk about how he was feeling, was physically demonstrating it by his rapid breathing and the heart palpitations he was experiencing.
I noticed that, as I went through the short bedside service with him his breathing slowed quite considerably, and when I said the words of the blessing, which start, ‘The peace of God, which passes all understanding…’ he clasped my hand.
After the service, he repeated these words to me and said what a comfort he’d found them. I commented on the fact that he seemed a lot calmer than when I’d first arrived, and suggested he might use these words as a kind of “anchor” to hold onto through the day. He said he would.
When we look at Christ’s life and work, it seems everything he did was, in some sense, about bringing peace. He worked at lots of levels both within individuals, bringing them the peace and wholeness they so desperately needed, but also working to bring these qualities into people’s relationships with one another as part of his kingdom purposes for the world.
In our gospel reading we heard the familiar story of Jesus stilling the storm. It is interesting that when the disciples in the storm wake Jesus in their terror of the life-threatening storm of wind and water, he first calms the physical storm which is raging about them, and then tackles their own inner storm of panic. “Where is your faith?” he asks. I think if I was one of the disciples I’d be panicking too – surely at a time like that it would be a pretty reasonable reaction? But what Jesus is trying to show them is that faith can transform their attitude to whatever experiences we are going through.
Over this past year particularly, I have found myself having conversations with people who are going through some particularly difficult times, and who have said to me, “Where is God in all this; or why has God allowed this to happen to me?”
I would say that turmoil and storms are part of what it is to be human and that, although God may not prevent them happening, he is always present and active in to try to bring us through these experiences and often strengthening and deepening our faith because of them - if we can learn to trust him.
Turmoil and storms are, as I said, part of life – and heaven knows, we’ve all had our faith share of that this past year - but they can also teach us some important lessons about ourselves and our relationships; so we can have confidence that there’s no need to panic, despite what is going on around us.
What we need to remember is that, like the disciples in the boat, Christ is there in the storm with us, whatever form that storm is taking, drawing close to us in times of need and giving us new courage and strength to weather the storm until normality is resumed. And how does he do this? Once again, it is through other people.
Card with a picture of a man on the upper floor of his, as flood waters rise. “Help me, Lord”, he cries. A man in a boat comes and offers to take him to safety. “No, no, I’m waiting for God to save me”.
The flood waters continue to rise and the man climbs onto the roof of his house. “Save me, Lord” he cries again. A rescue helicopter flies overhead and someone with a loud hailer calls down to the man, saying ”We’ll drop a rope for you. Take hold of it and we’ll winch you to safety”. “No, no” the man cries, “I’m waiting for God to save me”.
Eventually the waters rise above the roof and the man sadly drowns. As the man enters heaven, God says” You shouldn’t be here yet! I sent a boat and a helicopter, but you refused to accept their help”.
Let’s not be like the man who fails to see God at work in those who are trying to help him. Let us open our eyes to the reality of the fact that the God-given gifts of care, healing and compassion are the channels through which God works today, holding us firm through the turbulence of life and bringing God’s comfort, peace and wholeness; and that, as we have the opportunity, we may be prepared to be channels of God’s grace ourselves.