Holy Communion 11/07/21 (6th Sunday after Trinity)
(Stephen Hamer -Diocesan Reader)
Based on Matt 14:22-36 (Jesus walking on water)
Gen 8:1-21 (Noah’s flood)
See also Mark 4 35-41 (stilling of the storm)
May my words be in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit
Surrounded with bees, and a large one on the pulpit fall - a riddle to start with.
On the front of a green tin of Abram Lyle & Sons Golden Syrup is a trademark showing a dead lion and a swarm of bees around it. Under the lion are the words – Out of the strong came forth sweetness. It’s been used since 1881, and a bit of a twist on the original words that say - out of the eater came something to eat.
This is a reference to the Biblical story in chapter 14 of the Book of Judges in which Samson was travelling to the land of the Philistines in search of a wife.
During the journey he killed a lion, and when he passed the same spot on his return, he noticed that a swarm of bees had formed a comb of honey in the carcass.
Samson scraped the honey out into his hands and ate it as he walked along.
When he re-joined his father and mother, he gave them some to eat, but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the carcass of a dead lion.
You might wonder why not - Samson was a Nazarite, a person consecrated to God,
and he had violated a vow not to eat food from a dead animal.
The riddle surrounding the lion was used by Samson as part of his pre-wedding feast to the Philistine woman – a tribe he should not marry into. Scripture says that she nagged him [this story must be true!] for seven days for the answer and it led to the slaughter of 30 of the menfolk in the town of Ashkelon. It also had sad consequences for Samson - the bride to be ended up marrying the Best Man and Samson remained single living with his parents.
Yep – the Bible is full of everyday stories of everyday life. Some things don’t change!
Enough of riddles - back in January we had our Blessing of the Plough service when we asked God’s blessing on those who work on the land – to give them a good harvest. Today is Sea Sunday when we think of those who get their living from the sea – you might have guessed that from the choice of hymns. Farming and fishing are no longer done by poorer people for subsistence – that is, to be able to feed their families, but are now commercial enterprises.
Although much smaller than it used to be, the fishing industry across the UK accounts for 24,000 people of which over 11,000 are fishermen. Sadly, since Brexit the industry is collapsing fast – from Scotland right down to Cornwall. IOM Gov statistics don’t show how many are involved in fishing as they merge the figures with agriculture and forestry to get just over 800 persons. What we do know is that the main fisheries undertaken in Manx territorial waters (12 nautical miles) are for scallops, crab, lobster and whelk.
We can choose whether we eat fish or not, but 20% of the World’s population rely on fish as their staple diet. It used to be so here in the island. In our island churches, especially at Harvest time, The Manx Fisherman’s Evening Hymn was sung - written in 1896 when fishing was then an essential food. Even in the 1960s I can remember the many trawlers tied alongside Peel and Douglas breakwaters offloading herring into wooden barrels as salt was shoveled in amongst the fish to preserve them.
In those days I worked in Peel Power Station and one could often see the herring girls, many of them Scottish, gutting them ready for smoking into kippers. You can get a flavor of the scene in an area set out on the top floor of the House of Manannan in Peel – it’s well worth a look.
Statistics and history lesson over - let’s now look at the Bible reading from Matthew that Peter read to us. We’ve probably heard it before and perhaps wonder if it’s simply a nice story or it actually took place. Three weeks ago, Joanna preached another well known Bible passage located at the same place, and is perhaps better known –
the stilling of the storm.
Let’s consider the location. The Sea of Galilee or the Syrian Sea suggest a place with salt water and tides that go in an out twice a day. In fact, it is not salty at all but a freshwater lake. Otherwise known as Lake Galilee or Lake Tiberias (after the largest town), or from the Hebrew, Kinneret, it is some 13ml long and 8ml across. It is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and is situated in northern Israel, providing a significant amount of water for drinking and irrigation. Water is immensely important in arid countries and throughout history battles have been fought over it.
Lake Galilee is a bit like Injebreck reservoir but on a very much larger scale – it is surrounded by hills. To the east is the 9,000ft snow-capped Mt Hermon and the Golan Heights. To the north are the mountains of Lebanon and to the west is the almost sheer cliff of Mt Arbel, some 1300ft high. Water leaves at the southern end to form the Jordan River that flows some 65 miles down the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea. This skirts the Judean Desert comprising hills of 1,200ft. Thus, we begin to realize that Lake Galilee is set in a large bowl.
Even here on the island we can have warm summer days when the temp creeps up into the mid-20sC or upper 70sF (25C/77F). With little prevailing wind you might have observed an effect by the sea – an inshore wind by day and offshore at night.
This effect is much more noticeable in hot Mediterranean countries such as Israel.
A bit of basic science – in the day the land heats up, hot air rises, the air above the sea moves inland to replace it and thus we have an inshore wind. At sea level this can be quite noticeable. At night the effect is reversed, albeit not quite so strongly as the land cools slowly.
You now have the conditions that can so easily create waves on the Lake. I have experienced strong winds in the afternoon or early evening on Lake Galilee, but I am told that the winds sometimes combine and create very turbulent conditions. When this happens, the boats run for shore. Around the lake some 17 ancient harbours have been discovered – more than the number of communities. These harbours often incorporated fish holding tanks, probably of stone, and places to mend the nets until the wind died down.
Much of Jesus’s ministry evolved around the Sea of Galilee. The livelihood of the population residing around it depended on the many fish – and over half the disciples were fishermen. Galilee is sometimes referred to as Galilee of the Gentiles because a large non-Jewish population also resided in the area around the lake. If you want some proof of that you might remember the story of the herd of swine running into the lake and drowning. That was from the mainly non-Jewish community of Gadara, as Jews do not eat pig. The Jewish population comprised mainly poor fishermen and farmers who worked the small valleys around the shores. It was to this diverse group that Jesus brought the message – Jews and Gentiles.
The scriptures portray with amazing accuracy the nature of the lake. They even describe the type of fishing net. In Matt 13 47-48 is says
'Again the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net which is thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad.'
This is a description of dragnet fishing.
There are descriptions in Mark 1:16 of another method that is still used – casting (a circular net with weights around the edge so that when you lift it up out of the water the net closes and traps the fish). And in Luke 5: 1-7 it describes a further system using a multi-sectioned net known as a trammel net.
Why have I mentioned all of this as the sermon isn’t a study of fishing techniques? Simply, to make the point of showing just some of the accuracy to detail found in the scriptures. No photography in those days. If we get all this detail about nets why should we doubt accuracy when other incidents are recorded in the Bible.
Let’s look at Matthew 14: 22-36. It’s the end of the day and Jesus went up a hill to pray, leaving the disciples to take the boat out into the lake and fish. They were well out from shore and a strong wind tossed the boat around. In the early hours of the morning, in the darkness, Jesus came out to them, walking on the water.
Straining their eyes against the darkness they made out this lonely figure approaching and naturally were terrified. They cried out that it was a ghost – a soul or spirit of a dead person. Immediately, Jesus spoke to them and said
“It is I. Don't be afraid !”
Peter decided to test this voice that claimed to be Jesus and said
“Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”
“Come!” answered Jesus.
So, Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water.
“Save me, Lord!” he cried.
At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said,
“What little faith you have. Why did you doubt ?”
It then records that both Peter and Jesus got into the boat and the wind died down – just as it did in the ‘stilling of the storm’ when they woke Jesus up and asked him to save them from the violent wind and waves. On both occasions the disciples knew that Jesus was more than mortal man. In the record of the stilling of the storm [Matt 4:41] the disciples went on to asked each other,
“Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him”.
By the time that Jesus had walked to them across the water they knew. In v33 it states that the disciples in the boat worshiped Jesus, exclaiming
“Truly you are the Son of God”.
The boat continued across the water to a small town in the top north west corner of the lake called Gennesaret. There the people recognized Jesus and they sent for the sick folk in the community to come to him. They begged Jesus to just let them touch the edge of his cloak – and all that touched it were made well. A mixture of faith and miracles that can be found in many other places in the Bible.
These two pieces of scripture have a fairly short timescale – it all happened within 24hrs. The Old Testament reading by Sheila from Genesis 8:1-21 also involves water but over a much longer time of many days – in fact, many months that add up to almost a year. It’s often known as The Flood. The passage read today dwells on the end of the Flood.
As we know, Noah was a God-fearing man who trusted God when he was instructed to build a boat – a vessel to carry Noah, his family, and examples of all the world's animals from a flood that would engulf the then known world. The story in Genesis is repeated, with variations, in the Quran.
Noah had been in the ark for 150 days, the rain had stopped and the water had begun to subside. The record is amazingly detailed as to when the boat came to rest on a mountain in the Ararat range on Eastern Turkey – the 17th day of the seventh month. Some two months later on the 1st day of the tenth month the mountain tops appeared. The story goes on like a diary until there was dry land around the ark.
Then in v15 it says that God said to Noah
“Go out of the boat with your wife, your sons, and their wives. Take all the birds and animals out with you, so that they may reproduce and spread over all the earth.”
Noah built an altar to offer a sacrifice to the Lord for safe deliverance.
Scripture records God’s promise that never again will he curse the world for what people do, nor destroy all living beings.
This morning we have had two different examples of God at work. In both, water is involved. In both, trust was involved. In both the gracious mercy of God was displayed. Jesus stretched out his hand to stop Peter sinking in the Lake and God preserving Noah and his family because of their faith in him.
In the stormy seas of life or beside its quiet streams
we ask that the Lord be beside us as both our companion and guide.