The Sermon for Sunday, June 20th, 2021, the Third Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; Job 38:1-11, 16-18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Mark 4:35-41
The Text: Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
The Topic: Thankfulness for God’s deliverance from the storms of life
Alexander Duff, the first foreign missionary of the Church of Scotland, got off to a rough start. He was young, only twenty-three, and bright and innovative. But on his way to India in 1829 with his new wife, he was shipwrecked – not once but twice! The most serious wreck occurred when his ship, the Lady Holland was within a few miles of India.
At 10 p.m., Duff was half-undressed when a shock and shudder ran through the vessel. He rushed to the deck where the captain met him with terrifying words, “Oh, she’s gone! She’s gone!” The ship split apart, but a portion hung precariously to a reef. Through the night the passengers huddled in terror in the surviving portion, expecting every moment to be swept away. They were saved the next day, but their clothes and prized possessions were lost, including Duff’s entire library of eight hundred volumes.
Later, standing on the shore and looking sadly toward the reef, Duff saw a small package bobbing atop the water. He watched and waited as it floated close enough for him to wade out and retrieve.
It was his Bible. Of all his precious books, it alone survived. His heart soared, for he took it as a sign from the Lord that this book alone was worth more than all the others put together.
He assembled his fellow survivors and read Psalm 107, the Traveler’s Psalm. Soon, using the same Bible, he began his first class with a group of five boys under a banyan tree. Within a week the class had grown to three hundred, and it soon became a school that evangelized and educated the higher classes in India, producing a qualified generation of leaders for the nation’s young church.
GOD’S RESCUE OF SAILORS FROM STORMS AT SEA
In Psalm 107, although there is a reference to God’s restoration of Israel from exile and captivity (verse 3), the theme is really the command to all people to give thanks to God for his deliverance from various kinds of life-threatening situations. In two of these situations, people are at fault for their distress: they have rebelled against God (vv. 10-16), or they have acted foolishly (vv.17-22), but in vv. 23-32, there is no record that the sailors who are storm-tossed at sea are being rebuked for their sinfulness. Rather, the psalmist notes that sailors who ply their trade by carrying cargo across the seas from port to port observe the works of the Lord and his miracles at sea (vv. 23-24).
A significant truth recorded in this short account of storms at sea is found in v.25: “For at his word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up the waves thereof” (Psalm 107:25, p.477, Book of Common Prayer, 1928). It is clear from the previous verse that “his word” means the Lord’s word. Later thinking and theology might assert the opposite – the Devil brings the storms, and the Lord calms them. Here either storms are not viewed as evil that the Devil brings, or the Lord brings both good and evil, as Job maintained in his reply to his wife who encouraged him to curse God and die, after being afflicted with boils from head to toe. Job asked, “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10b, KJV). Of course, Job did not realize that God had permitted Satan to inflict this suffering. In the case of storms, therefore, we at least can conclude that God permits them.
The magnitude of the waves in a storm at sea causes great fear in sailors whose ship is being tossed from the high crests of waves down to the depths, as waves crash over the ship. So great is their fear that “their soul melteth away because of the trouble” (Psalm 107:26b, Book of Common Prayer, 1928) and they “reel to and fro” and stagger as if drunk and are at their wit’s end (Psalm 107:27). Their resources of sailing skill and wisdom are exhausted – they cannot rescue themselves from death by drowning.
One thing remains for them to do is to call upon the Lord to save them from their trouble and from certain death. The psalmist testifies that when they do cry to the Lord in their trouble, he rescues them from their distress (Psalm 107:28). How does God do this when no bigger rescue ship is nearby? He causes the storm to cease, so that the waves become still and the sea calm. We see an instance of this in our Gospel lesson, when Jesus gives a command to the wind and the sea, and the storm gives way to a calm.
The Venerable Bede, an ecclesiastical historian of England in the eighth century, wrote an account of the coming of Bishop Germanus of Auxerre (378 -448 A.D.) from Gaul to England in the fifth century to combat the heresy of Pelagianism. Halfway across the English Channel, his ship encountered a bad storm. Bishop Germanus was asleep, but was awoken by his fellow bishop, Lupus, and asked to withstand the storm and calm it. Using holy water and invoking the name of the Blessed Trinity, he calmed the storm and encouraged his fellow bishop. Then everyone on the ship praised the Lord for his deliverance. Not only this, but the Lord brought the ship safely to shore (Bede: Ecclesiastical History, Lib. I, Cap.xvii).
Whether one calls upon the Lord or has received authority from the Lord to calm stormy seas, the result is the same – there is a calm instead of a storm. The sailors who experience this recover their gladness and peace, since they are no longer consumed by the imminent danger of drowning, and they now even find that the Lord brings them safely to their destination (Psalm 107:30).
THE OBLIGATION TO PRAISE AND THANK GOD FOR HIS DELIVERANCE
Verses 31 and 32 do not indicate that the result of being rescued by the Lord is to keep quiet about it and say nothing to anybody. Instead, all who have been rescued by the Lord should praise the Lord for his goodness and declare the wonderful things that he does for people (v.31). Verse 32 even tells people to exalt God in the congregation and in the seat of the elders. Tell others, as well as members of your own congregation, about the marvelous things God has done for you! In one of the South African parishes of which I was rector, I encouraged people to share in church the remarkable things that God had done for them. At first, there was little response, since people thought this kind of sharing at a certain point in the service wasn’t an Anglican thing to do. But later, some of the newest members of the congregation began to speak about the works of healing God had done in their own lives and in the lives of their relatives.
THE PANDEMIC – CONCLUSION
Well, someone might say, I haven’t been in a ship during a storm at sea, or even on a plane flight that hit stormy weather. However, there are situations from which God has rescued us, for which we need to be grateful to the Lord. On the way back home from our vacation, our Durango got stuck in a patch of fine, loose sand when I stopped at the side of the road. Without engaging four-wheel drive, we might have been stuck there for much longer. One time many years ago, when my father and I were driving along a slippery mountain pass road, my father suddenly braked and the car skidded off the curve and landed at the top of a precipice – any further, and we would both have tumbled down into the valley below. Then God rescued us from this situation, when six young men on a truck stopped behind us and, singing heartily, lifted our vehicle safely back onto the road. What a blessing from God that was! The car was not even damaged underneath, and we could continue our journey safely.
As the restrictions of the pandemic have been lifted, we can all say, God has delivered all of us from this pandemic. Many have died from Covid-19, but those of us who are here today can praise God for his deliverance! Through what challenging times the Lord has safely brought us!
 p.53, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.