Sea Fever

23 Jun
Sea Fever
(John Masefield)
(Mark 4:35-41)
I must go down to the
seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall
ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and
the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the
sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
 
I must go down to the
seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a
clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy
day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and
the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the
seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the
whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry
yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a
sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield went to sea on tall ships at the age of 15. He
fell in love with the sea and reflects in this poem on his experiences and
longing to return. Yet he concludes his poem with the desire to complete his
journey and when it is over to enjoy the afterlife.
Masefield’s poem likens life to a sea journey, a wild journey
that is untameable by ordinary means. He seeks the wind and the spray in his
face, both dangerous and life-giving. He knows life will not be an easy
journey, but completed in the company of others it is more than bearable.
Mark takes us on a similar journey in today’s Gospel. Jesus goes
down to the sea in a boat, a small fishing vessel with minimum sail, an
experienced crew and a small following flotilla. They venture out into the deep
and open themselves up to the wildness of the sea, the most unpredictable and
treacherous of the natural elements.
Sea is used throughout the Bible to signify fear and mystery. It
is approached with fear and trembling by most books in the Bible.
Right at the beginning of the Book of Genesis we read: “In the beginning when God created the heavens
and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness
covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the
waters.” The sea and God are connected. It is primal, there at the beginning.
It’s primitive and untamed nature invokes fear, not only in sailors but in the
psyche of
the human being.
In the book of Daniel we read: “I, Daniel, saw
in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from
one another.”
Psalm
107 gives a similar story as Masefield: “3Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty
waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.”
Then we have Paul being
thrown overboard by his shipmates because they thought he was responsible for
the storm threatening their lives.
Jesus goes to sleep on
the cushion at the rear of the boat. Right near where the rudder was and where
one would normally find the skipper of the boat. From there you chart the
course, monitor the wind and manage the sails and the boats’ safety.
This is also where the
water would pool. It is normally the lowest point of the boat and any water
that came on board would run and pool at the feet of those sitting here. If the
boat was filling with water, so were your shoes.
Mark suggests Jesus, by
his position on the boat, was in charge, and  the crew complains he
is asleep at the wheel! Asleep his feet were out of the water, next to him on
the cushion. To them he appeared to be totally neglecting his responsibilities,
asleep at the wheel and out of harms way.
There are consequences for
skippers and their passengers when they are asleep at the wheel. The skipper of
the Costa Concordia has been charged with neglect of duty for allowing his ship
to run aground and causing the loss of 32 lives. The most famous of all was the
wreck of the Titanic.
Mark uses this fear of
the sea and it’s inherent fury to demonstrate the divinity of Jesus, that not
only did he have the power to heal and cast out demons, but he had the
authority to calm the wildest and most unpredictable of the elements. His
authoritative teaching was matched by his ability to manage the created world.
Miracles may or may not be factual events and I question whether it matters if
they are. They are parabolic stories with meaning for those with insight.
When woken Jesus deals with the problem. Taking control, he
shows that he is in charge and can deal with the terrifying. ‘Peace, be still”
is a Biblical call for faith and centred-ness, or as we might say, mindfulness.
As the Egyptians closed in on the Israelites at the edge of the Red Sea, God
reminds them that “The Lord will fight for you, and you
have only to keep still.”(Exodus 14:14)
Is the ‘peace be still’ aimed at the sea or at
them? Is the fact he is awake and present to them sufficient for them to change
from fear to a sense all will be well? Is Jesus suggesting fear, doubt, worry
comes from within, not from without?  The storm is not the problem.
It is what we make of the storm that is.
As he swings back into the role of the skipper,
the man in charge, all becomes manageable.  Did the storm immediately
stop? Perhaps not. Perhaps what happened was that they now had a leader,
someone they knew who was capable of leading them through what had seemed to be
the end for them.
‘Peace’, be calm, let go of fear, look
rationally and logically at this situation. Did you really think you were going
to die? Where was your faith in yourselves and the experience you have had of
God’s involvement in your lives? Why did you abandon what you and your people
have experienced time after time?
‘Be still’, stop, slow down, take a good long
deep breath and put your self back in control. It is no accident that one of
the things we do to calm people down is to help them get control of their
breath. Jesus say be still, all will be well. You are with me and with my
Father and we have given you plenty of examples of our power and compassion and
we will remain present.
Jesus shows his power and
authority to the disciples and the flotilla of little boats and asks that we
too ‘Be still’ and trust when the greatest of ill winds unsettle and threaten
to sink our little boat. William Loader reminds us: “(We) know
what it is like to be buffeted. (We) know what it is like to have no control.
(We) know situations where only the divine can intervene.”
The church in the 21st century seems to be in die
straits. Reputation is under threat; numbers are dropping at a remarkable rate
so much so that the churches in England is predicted to be empty by 2050, or
there abouts; the challenge to the traditional view of marriage and sexuality;
and more. As we look about us here we see the challenges we have to face and
could be overcome by anxiety about our existence and our relevance.
The storm is calmed and now the hard work begins for those with
him, the hard work of practicing the presence and power of Christ in the
ordinary events of everyday. Who is at the wheel of our boat, and if it is God,
how reliable is God?
We know from experience God is not asleep. This is God’s church
and God will steer it through the storms we appear to be facing. We are not
alone. Like the Israelites at the Red Sea and the disciples in the little boat
we are to be still, take a deep breath and look around and see the
possibilities of the Spirit.
Brian Stoffregen writes: “While we may pray that Jesus would work miracles in
our lives and in our world and in our neighbourhoods; the miracles that come
probably won’t let us off the hook from doing some of the hard work required to
do what Jesus has called us to do.”
Are we ready to be still and work hard to bring in the kingdom of
God? AMEN

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