Friday December 15th 2017

Farewell to The Rev’d Dr Matthew Anstey as Principal of St Barnabas College

Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor 


In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

Jesus is in a boat on a lake with his disciples and as they set out sailing across the lake, he falls asleep. A gale sweeps down and the boat begins to fill with water and his terrified disciples shout out “Master, Master, we are perishing.”

We gather in our cathedral tonight to celebrate Matthew’s time as Principal of St Barnabas’ Theological College, a college that is, I believe alive and more than alive, thriving, significantly because of him, and to ask God’s blessing on him and Liz and their family as he embraces God’s call to revel more fully in the scholarly life. As we gather in the midst of the word of God and in one another’s company, we spend a little time reflecting on the scriptures. We mine the scriptures for insights about God and for insights about who we are as human beings made and loved by God. We bring our questions, our ponderings.

Theo and I indulged Matthew a little in allowing him to choose favourite readings for this evening’s service. Matthew clearly loves the sea and Godly encounters there. He told me I have seven minutes in which to preach my sermon and that it would be great if I could talk about both passages. Well, I am as likely to keep to my time limit as he is to his three minute time limit later this evening, but in my attempt I hope not to disappoint him by spending a little time with just the second reading.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the wind and the waves and they cease and there is calm. And he says to the disciples, ‘Where is your faith?’ And afraid and amazed they say to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’

We who gather in theological colleges, and in cathedrals, mine the scriptures for insights about God and for insights about ourselves.

What strikes me about this passage is not so much that Jesus calms the storm – that is good Godly behaviour to be sure and we should notice it and be transformed by it – but what strikes me even more than that is how Jesus is affected by the storm, or more to the point how Jesus is not affected by the storm. There is a gale on the sea and the boat in which Jesus and his disciples are travelling is filling with water … and Jesus is asleep. He is not fazed by what is happening at all. We are fazed but he is not. You can only sleep if you feel safe, if you are unperturbed. Jesus is calm in the storm. Jesus knows such closeness to God, the one he calls Abba, lives out of that closeness, that he does not feel threatened by a storm at sea.

Jesus is calm in the face of many of the storms that he experiences in the gospel accounts, be it when he is healing a blind man or a leper or when he is encountering a demoniac in the Garasenes as in the passage following this one in Luke’s gospel – why does the man possessed by demons end up clothed and in his right mind – is it that Jesus sat calmly with him; unlike everyone else, Jesus was not fazed by him? Is that why the demons knew Jesus’ identity? The only one to whom they cannot bring terror? Jesus knows with whom he belongs, knows his identity as God’s beloved Son and so lives in harmony, is calm, with even the demons and the wind and the waves.

And we might begin to think that at all times, in all things, Jesus knowing his closeness to God …is calm.

Only he isn’t, is he? For you will remember that there are, particularly, two scenes in which Jesus is not calm, twice in the gospel accounts, when the wind and the waves terrify him. In the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing what lies ahead of him, Jesus cries out to God in fear, “Abba, Father, take this cup from me.” And when he is dying on the cross, Jesus senses that the God who he knows as Abba is gone and he cries out again “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus embraces what it is to be a human being, stands in solidarity with humanity and experiences the full horror of fear in the face of a violent death. Paul wrote about this in Philippians chapter 2 – that though he was in the form of God, Jesus emptied himself – he allowed himself to know the full struggle of human life – the struggle of one deserted and betrayed and executed by crucifixion. Jesus did this. God did this. The scholar Jurgen Moltmann would have us ponder the possibility that in the very heart of the life of the Trinity, God did this. He writes in The Crucified God:

The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father is just as important as the death of the Son…The deep community of will between Jesus and his God and Father is now expressed precisely at the point of their deepest separation in the godforsaken and accursed death of Jesus on the cross.[1]

That is how much we are loved.

There is no calm now. Jesus gives up the closeness of God’s embrace – the closeness that enabled him to remain calm in the midst of storms – to redeem the world. This is how much we are loved. That is the first thing we might notice – what God has done for us.

There is another thing. A thing we might remember when we find ourselves struggling in a storm. God’s spirit is with us. Christ’s risen presence is with us. The spirit of the one who remains untroubled when the lives of those nearby are threatened, the one who sleeps when our little boats are filling with water, is with us. Be at a time of illness, or the loss of one we hold very dear, be it the violence in the world or grave concern for the health of the planet that is our home, be it that Matthew is embracing a new life and our college, though clearly to be calmly led by Don and Cathy, is embarking on a new phase of its life, there are times when we will be afraid, we will cry out “Master, Master, we are perishing.” But the one who is calm is with us. And when he has brought peace, he will look at us and say, again, “Where is your faith?” And we, who are breathing sighs of relief as the waves die down, will vaguely remember that we have been here before, and we are wondering to ourselves, in fact, not for the first time, “Who is this, that he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him?”

Those of us who study theology, or enter cathedrals to worship, or gaze at the night sky wondering about what it is to be a human being and who God is, are given, we find, not so much answers as questions. Questions that, by their deep truth, sustain and enfold and guide. “Where is your faith?” Says God. “Who is this?” We wonder in reply.



[1] Jurgen Moltmann The Crucified God SCM Classics, 1974, pp251-2.