A few years back I was thinking about the nature of church life. I came up with a brilliant phrase to describe it “Messy Church.” “Brilliant,” I thought, “I’ve even got a potential best-selling book title there!”
There was just one problem -someone had already coined the phrase to describe midweek children’s and families outreach.
But I think you’ll get the sense of the phrase and for many of us it will resonate because at times church seems messy. I don’t mean that we need to hoover, tidy up, redecorate etc. Rather, there’s a messiness that reflects the reality that life is messy and church is a place where we all come with our mess.
Maybe that’s where you are today. Maybe messy is even an understatement for deep hurt, unease, confusion, fear.
- There’s bills to pay and you don’t know where the money’s going to come from.
- You don’t know if you’ll have a job after Christmas.
- You are grieving the loss of a friend or relative- a gaping whole has been created in your life.
- You’re waiting for the diagnosis from the hospital.
- You don’t know if you’re going to get leave the stay.
- It feels like your family is falling apart. Maybe your marriage is hanging by a thread.
- Maybe your own hope is hanging by a thread.
And all of that in the midst of a messy world of war, terrorism and political upheaval.
For some of us life still feels reasonably okay. We are reasonably secure and successful at work, our homes are comfortable, we have a good standard of living. But for some of us I know there is the dis -ease of living comfortably but surrounded my so much pain and hurt that we feel helpless to do anything about and even guilty.
That’s the context for our Christmas series – how do we find peace from the storms of life. How do we find peace in the midst of the storm?
What is real peace and where can I find it?
Must we always live in fear of war and terror?
How can I find peace of mind?
Before we see what peace is – I want to say something about the opposite of peace -the mess and storms that we face.
- The storms of life expose the truth of our hearts
I love the little account of Jesus in the boat. It points us to his humanity -the one who takes time to rest and sleep. It also shows us that He is God – the creator of the Universe shows up and exercises his authority over creation – calling us to faith instead of fear and unbelief.
But I want to focus in on the disciples’ response here. There they are in the boat with Jesus. He has gone to sleep. They are sailing across the lake and the storm arises. They include seasons fishermen among them who will have seen many a storm and they are with the Lord -who has already displayed his great power. But when the wind rises and the waves begin to beat against the boat, they are terrified. Their circumstances bring out their fear.
If you take a glass of water, full to the brim and knock it, what will happen? Water will spill out of course. Why? The obvious answer is “because someone keeps knocking it.” But actually there’s another answer “because it has water in it.”
Jesus says that what when we speak and act – it is what is in our hearts that comes out. How do we respond to circumstances? We respond based on what is in our hearts.
If you have a severe, constant pain in your shoulder and you go to the doctor, maybe he’s a bit rushed and he sends you off for an ex-ray. It comes back clear. Puzzling! Then the doctor stops and thinks -maybe the pain you are feeling isn’t actually coming from there – it’s referred pain and he begins to trace the pain back to its root cause in your back.
Sometimes pain just becomes overwhelming, chronic and everywhere. Every bone and muscle seems to hurt. Anyone and anything that comes into contact with you causes more and greater pain. Even someone coming to help, someone coming to show love with a hug just seems to add to the pain. Your response is to cry out, step back, put up your guard even to blame and to lash out back at the other person.
That’s true physically but it can also be true spiritually. Some of us just feel overwhelmed -everything is messy, everything seems broken and hopeless. We are hurting so much, we can’t remember where the hurt and pain started. We’re lashing out -it’s a natural defence mechanism but we know that we are hurting others -it’s not their fault but we can’t stop. Families and friendships are under pressure.
Maybe it’s time to stop and get back to the root cause.
- It’s your relationship with God that matters
Our other Bible reading is Ephesians 2 – it starts out by reminding us that we were
- Spiritually dead because of disobedience
- Following the devil -the chief of God’s enemies
- Strangers -and outsiders to God and his grace
In other words we were at odds with God -we were his enemies. The real problem is not the mess our lives are in, not the mess our world is in. The real problem is not any one or any combination of the struggles and trials I mentioned at the start. These are all “referred pain.”
The root cause is a broken relationship with God. Now I’m coming back to the heart of the Gospel here. This means that if you’ve never put your trust in Jesus, never asked him for forgiveness then you cannot experience true peace until you do.
But this also must say something to believers. Now, you have been saved. You are no longer dead, you are alive. You are not God’s enemy. He has promised that he will never lose or let go of you.
However, if I’m allowing myself to be overwhelmed, if I can’t find peace, then maybe my circumstances are pushing me back to my relationship with him. Has my love grown cold, have I allowed other priorities to creep in, am I looking for hope and security in anything or anyone other than Jesus?
So – the starting point for peace is our relationship with God.
It means that when we put our trust on God we are reconciled to God. We are united with Christ. That’s what the Gospel does.
It means that peace is not just a concept or a thing. Peace is a person. Did you notice that? It’s maybe not so obvious in the New Living Translation but verse 14 in the NIV says
“For he himself is our peace”
It is in Jesus that we find peace with God. It is in his death and resurrection that we find forgiveness for sin.
This leads us on to the third thing
- When our relationship with God changes – it must transform our relationship with each other
This is actually something we’ve kept coming back to this year. Paul says that Jesus is our peace – he has made two peoples into one people.
Jews and Gentiles were separated by walls. There were metaphorical walls -the Law distinguished between those who were descended from Abraham and those who weren’t There were physical walls too. The Temple in Jerusalem was divided into courtyards. There was one for Gentiles, one for female Jews and then one for male Jews. Eventually you got into the main Temple building itself. Only the priests could go in there.
We put up walls all the time. Even today along the West Bank there are walls and fences dividing people. There were peace lines dividing communities in Northern Ireland, the Iron Curtain used to divide Eastern Europe from the West and of course we all know about Donald Trump’s plans for a wall to keep the Mexicans out of the US.
We put up walls -guards, defences against others. We try to keep them out. It’s a way of stopping others from hurting us. It’s a way of hiding.
Some of you may remember Ronald Reagan’s speech in front of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War and his rallying cry “Tear down that wall.”
The Gospel tears down those walls. It means there is no place for racism. It means that it is possible to be reconciled -to forgive and be forgiven where there has been hurt and offence.
I want to come back to the image of the storm. I want to say something to those of us who feel like we are overwhelmed -like the boat will be destroyed.
First of all – I want to recognise that some of us feel that we are at breaking point. We can’t go on, we are crying out. We are desperate for Jesus to speak to the storm and bring peace. We want to pray with you for that.
BUT – I also want to say this. That if Jesus is in the boat with you then you can face the storm. Sometimes we need to go through that storm and learn all the more to cling on to him. When we d that, we find that there is a peace that passes understanding. This peace isn’t dependent upon our circumstances but is there in our troubles.
More than anything I want to pray this for you. I pray that you will find that peace by turning to Christ and putting your life safely into his care.