Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 18th September 2020: Mark 4.35-41
It has been really good over the last two weeks to get to know some of you in your bubbles, and to ask you the question what you would like to say if you were leading a Chapel service. Your suggestions were wide-ranging and indeed impressive, and have given us a lot of ideas to use over the coming weeks.
The overarching themes were the same for most of you. Thinking about diversity, and how we can get better in learning from our differences; mental health, both for boys and girls, and current affairs. Many of you also mentioned that you want things to be relevant to you, as you become adults in an increasingly complicated world, and you would like to hear from people with experience what life is like, not just someone saying ‘always look for help’.
I can’t promise to deliver all of this to you in each service, but I do hope that there is something you can take with you every time you leave this Chapel. What that might be does often only later become clear.
So, to the story we heard today. The disciples in the boat. Being near the South Coast here, I am sure that there are a good few sailors amongst you. I wonder, do you recognise the fear of the disciples in the middle of the storm, with the water gushing into the boat? I have to admit that I have only sailed a few times, and only when the weather was nice enough, so I haven’t really been in that situation myself. I can imagine, though, what it must have felt like: that fear, the sense that something is about to go horribly wrong, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Some of us may have had this feeling for a few months now, as nationally and globally we still struggle to get the coronavirus under control. Or when we think about the changing climate, we also may be overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and fear that it is already too late to make a change. Also in our own lives, we may have felt in those situations when everything around us seems in turmoil. When we cannot stop the thoughts in our minds going around, and we feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life. Metaphorically, we feel as if we are in that little boat, swamped by the wind and the waves.
The question is: what do we do? How do we trust that there is still hope, that thing can be better? Our first instinct, I suspect, is that we try to save ourselves. If we’re in a boat, we may lower the sails, change our course and get a bucket to scoop out the water. It may be enough, but it may not be. Thus, the first thing we can take from our reading today is that it is probably a good idea to find some help. The disciples decide to wake Jesus, and indeed, he stills the wind and the sea calms down. Some of us indeed may seek God’s help in our lives through prayer and trust. And, I have to say, it has definitely helped me at times. Those times when I have felt that I was about to be taken up by the metaphorical waves.
However, the message is not that much different for those who don’t believe in a divine being. When you are in the middle of one of the storms of life, it is good to go and find help. A parent, a teacher or a friend. Don’t try to solve it all on your own, but find someone you trust. Someone who can help you. So the first piece of advice is: don’t think that you are on your own, even if it feels like it.
The second point, which is maybe slightly more loosely connected to today’s reading, is the need for calm: the need to take a step back before you react or decide what you do. When you are in the middle of a storm, it is very hard to know in which direction to go, and even harder to know how to get there. In our own lives as well, I am sure, we know situations in which we reacted in the heat of the moment without thinking about the effect of our actions. It is particularly easily done with emails, texts or social media: to react to someone or something you have read without even thinking. Even our world leaders have come into trouble because of this!
So before you react, just take a moment to be still, a moment to step back. Talk it through with someone to get a second opinion. If you do that, you will notice that your perspective becomes much clearer, and your response more considerate, and usually more helpful! It feels a little bit like the sun breaking through those dark clouds, and the wind starting to ease off. Just as for the disciples in the boat, there will be calm after the storm.