John Greenleaf Whittier's hymn
"Dear Lord and father of Mankind"
is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry I know.
But there is a line I think is untrue
"In simple trust like those who heard beside the Syrian Sea"
It simply is dissonant with the Gospel record.
The disciples commonly did not trust Jesus and frequently tried to get him to change course. And here in this fearful event accused him of not caring–even not caring that their lives were in danger. Jesus was doing what Whittier's hymn projects at his disciples. And I want to ask of us,
'Are we asleep with Jesus in the boat?
Or are we afraid, panicking even, with the disciples?'
There is no doubt the church and especially the URC is in 'choppy waters' – waters that even threaten to overwhelm us! But they need not and though many are saying 'Lord, don't you care about us any more, don't you care if we go under- we need not fear nor give in to fear.
After all, don't we trust God- as children? I have travelled around the Synod I have seen life and hope in many of our churches. I have witnessed growth and exciting mission being undertaken, and let me share with you a statistic most of our churches are bigger now than they were in the first 10-20 years of their life. God worked in and through when we were small and God can do again, and more to the point is doing! When businesses shrink and are in choppy waters, they, if they are well led, re-focus on their core activities and on what they are about at their heart. Vision4Life was about providing a vehicle and an opportunity for the URC to do just that. A renewed love for prayer, for the scriptures and a love for our Lord and others, such that we find the courage to speak of God is surely at least part of what lies at the heart of what it means to be church
I don't think the answers to our problems are that hard to find, they lie close to us-for God is our answer. I want to challenge us to be asleep with Jesus in the boat, to cultivate that childlike trust in God that comes from lives devoted to working at our relationship with God. God is at work much in our churches, God is certainly not finished with us, God is doing wonderful things in our Churches small and great,
And before, like me, we say to Jesus 'Ah, but.....'
remember what he said to his friends and disciples,
"Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
So as Churches, let's keep focussed on the things that cherish our relationship with God; let's know that God is trustworthy and let's rise to the challenge of 'being a sleep with Jesus in the boat'
Peter Meek's opening address to the 80th Synod meeting of the East Midlands Synod. Reproduced from his handwritten notes, giving the gist of what he had to say to us, with reference to the apparent decline in church attendance; and our reluctance, it seems sometimes, to completely trust God to help us through all adversity.
Reverend Peter Meek is the Moderator of the East Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church.