Well we know what storms are on this island. We used to expect them at the times of the equinox, the spring equinox in March and the autumn equinox in September. The word equinox comes from the Latin, aequus meaning equal and nox meaning night. Quite simply it is the time of year when day and night are as close to equal in length as they can be. I’m not a scientist and so I can’t tell you exactly why but it is a time when we expect the weather to be unpredictable and wild. The equinoxes and the solstices, the winter solstice, or the shortest day and the summer solstice, the longest day help us to place ourselves in time and in the solar system. We can mark our progress through the year by these landmark dates.
You all know the phrase, “The nights are fair drawing in.” Our summer solstice is past now. It happened on Thursday and it was a driech old day right enough. Despite the terrible weather that day when I walked my dog last thing at night around 11 o’clock, it was still bright enough to see quite well. Last night it was really dark by 10.45. So it’s fair to say the nights are fair drawing in. From here on it will get darker a little bit earlier each day. So we mark our year in these ways. We keep track of our progress and we used to know what kind of weather to expect at these key times.
Thing are a little less predictable these days. Our weather is all mixed up. Storms seem to bubble up at any time of year! Weather patterns across the world are changing, extremes are more usual. Poor old Yorkshire and the borders have endured terrible floods, not something that they’re used to in June.
In other parts of the globe this kind of weather is not just a nuisance; it is positively life-threatening. Most environmental scientists say these changes are due to global warming. They would say, put simply, too many people and too many carbon emissions over many years has damaged the earth’s atmosphere. The result? Less predictable weather, less regularity in the seasons, too much rain, not enough rain, too hot, too cold, too wild and windy and many more storms for everyone.
Whatever the reasons for these changes, the modem world is indeed a stormy place for us all to inhabit. In the life of faith and the life of the Churches the spring equinox and the summer solstice have passed. There have been a number of storms along the way but the high time of the institutional church has come and gone and the nights are now drawing in. We should take note of these signs of the times and get ready or we may not survive the coming winter. But it’s not about battening down the hatches and riding out the storms in the hope that there won’t be too much collateral damage come the springtime. It’s about seizing the moment. Carpe Diem! The favourite phrase of one of my dearest friends. Taking note of what’s happening and getting down to business. Grasping the moment!
I wonder if you know what happened on this day, 24th of June in 1314? Yes, it was of course the Battle of Bannockburn. King Robert the Bruce was not a chancer. He watched and he waited until he knew the time was right for a battle. And he won! He seized the moment after 18 years of what was largely a guerrilla type of war. He knew that Edward was about to send an army north to Stirling to prevent the surrender of the Castle there (the only one north of the Forth to be still in English hands) and Edward did exactly that. The time and the circumstances were right and so the battle was won. Bruce read the signs of the times and waited till he knew that Edward would be surrounded and the battle would be his. The rest as they say of course is history!
John Chrysostom, the 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, called the troubles that the early Christians encountered a ‘blizzard of troubles’ and our reading from Corinthians lists some of them for us. Afflications, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger. In some parts of the world today Christians are still being persecuted for their faith in blatant ways. Here in Scotland we have living among us (at what is the end of Scottish Refugee week) many hundreds of refugees who have been granted asylum because they’re Christians. People who have been placed in grave danger in their own lands simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
But what about us, what kinds of storms are we facing? Paul talks about the inescapable pains of life. Things that none of us can avoid. We will all suffer loss and pain. Anyone who is capable of love can’t avoid it. It’s part of the human condition. But the old adage ‘better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’ is absolutely true. The loss of a child or a parent or a partner or a dear friend has brought us all low at one time or another. There are other kinds of losses too: the loss of status or job or face or health. Christianity is not an insurance policy that protects us from these storms. And if we don’t face absolute hostility for our faith we have a more insidiously dangerous foe to overcome, apathy. Most people just don’t care, are not interested, don’t consider the greatest story ever told to be of any interest.
The Reformer George Fox tells of a visit to a Church to preach where the Session Clerk disagreed with him so violently that he took up the Bible as Fox was speaking and in Fox’s words “struck me on the face with it, so that it gushed out with blood. Then the people cried, ‘let us have him out of the church’ and when they had got me out they beat me and threw me down over a hedge.” And that wasn’t the end of it; poor old Fox was stoned and dragged through the streets, but managed to get up and continue to preach to the people as they abused him. Now listen to me carefully, I will say this only once! It is not my ardent hope that people will receive my preaching in that sort of a way and if Tony or Mairi bashed me over the head with our Bible I do hope you would protect me and not shove me over the nearest hedge! BUT it is more than disappointing when the people in any community seem to have little or no interest in the things of the faith. Here Christians are tolerated kindly, there is no passion either for or against us and in many ways that is a much harder nut to crack than out-and-out hostility.
The Sea of Galilee is prone to storms and the disciples were not immune just because they had the Son of God sleeping in their boat. They were afraid they were going to be overcome, they woke up their sleeping Lord who calmed the storm and restored peace to the lake. Just because we are in this particular boat with our Lord Jesus Christ, just because we bear his name and follow his lead, we are not immune to the storms of life. We will still be battered about by all sorts of things but we are offered in our life of faith a spirit of endurance that can bring us safely and even joyfully through all these difficulties. As far as our Churches are concerned, we are enduring less of a storm at this time in history and more of a period in the doldrums. We have been becalmed, something was needed to stir up the waters and get us moving again! Perhaps the wind of the Spirit in our current disagreements and divisions is beginning to stir the waters up again. We’re at a turning point, an equinox or a solstice, a moment where change and renewal can take place, an opportunity for us to seize the day, to be as the hymn writer of our next song says, “Inspired by love and anger.” Inspired to make a change, to be involved in what God is already doing here in this place. I don’t know what that will be for each one of you but be assured if you keep your eye on the Seasons of the Spirit you will not be disappointed. It’s time to shout out for help and to wake up the sleeping Lord Jesus in the stern of our boat before it’s too late.