When we got back to our cabin, I read the gospel reading for this morning. Imagine my surprise when I saw that it was all about taking a boat out onto a lake and encountering dangerously windy conditions! The difference was that Jesus and his disciples actually made the trip.
In our gospel story, at least two things are going on. The first and most obvious is an impressive display of Jesus’ power. When wind and waves threaten the boat, Jesus calms the storm with a word. Not surprisingly, the disciples are filled with great awe and ask, “Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
But, impressive as the miracle is, we are no longer filled with surprise and awe. We know Jesus can work miracles. We know Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. We know Jesus can make the wind and the sea obey him. It is always helpful to be reminded of just who Jesus is and just how much power Jesus has. But that is not the main lesson of this story for us.
For us, the more important lesson comes from the conversation between Jesus and the disciples. In his part of the conversation, Jesus is clearly irritated. Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” That is not something you want Jesus saying to you!
So what have the disciples done wrong? I do not think Jesus is irritated just because they are scared. I have only once been in a boat that swamped. It was a canoe. The weather was good. The river was not deep. The shore was only a few feet away. There was no reason to be afraid. Still, I felt a surge of fear as the boat went over. Fear is a perfectly natural response when you are in a boat that is in the process of being swamped.
The issue is not the fear. The issue is what we do with the natural fear that we feel. What the disciples do is blame Jesus. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That is the wrong question.
At issue here is much more than a boat ride. This story is a metaphor for life.
Life is like a journey across the sea. Sometimes storms come up. The dangers are real. We lose our jobs. People we love get sick. Bad things happen in the world. Those are our storms.
In the midst of whatever storms come our way, we struggle as best we can to keep the boat afloat, to keep moving forward.
But sometimes the challenges are too great. We cannot handle them by ourselves. Our gospel reading invites us to think about those times. What do we do in those moments?
The disciples spend precious time blaming Jesus. That might seem strange, but we all do the same thing. When problems confront us, we sometimes focus more on who is at fault than on what is to be done. If we cannot find someone else to blame, we blame God.
It is a natural enough response. But it does not help us to move forward.
What would be better?
The most obvious thing is to ask Jesus for help. In our reading, Jesus wakes up and solves the problem. He rebukes the wind and stills the storm. In our lives, too, Jesus sometimes does that. Problems go away. Good things happen.
But all too often, miracles do not happen. The wind keeps blowing, and the waves get higher, and troubles keep mounting. Sometimes the boat goes over. We do not get any guarantees. What then?
Last Wednesday, a storm struck Charleston, South Carolina. As some of you will know, a white supremacist went into a Black Church, was welcomed, prayed with the gathered community, and then opened fire. He killed nine people, including the pastor, before fleeing. That community is in the midst of a terrible storm.
This morning, that Church has come together to worship. They are probably still in shock; they are surely still grieving.
What is the good news of our passage for them? What is the good news of our passage for tose of us going through our own storms?
The good news of our passage is that Jesus is in our boat. We sometimes think of Jesus as somewhere out there, watching us struggle but not intervening, leaving us totally on our own to face the storm. If we think of Jesus that way, we naturally ask, “Teacher, do you not care?”
The good news of our passage is that Jesus does care, that no matter what happens Jesus is in the boat with us, that Jesus has tied his fate to ours, that if we go down we do not go down alone, that if we go down, we go down with Jesus.
My hope and my prayer is that the Church in Charleston does know Jesus is in the boat with them, that Jesus suffers along with them, that Jesus stands with them against racism and hatred and violence. Knowing that Jesus is with us in our storms helps us to carry on, even when all seems lost.
The violated Church in Charleston will need time to grieve the murdered members of their community and to rage at the killer as well as at anyone who may have encouraged him. Probably they will need a lot of time.
But eventually, for their own health as individuals and as a community, they will have to move forward. Eventually we have to do the same, no matter what storms come our way.
Eventually we all have to turn to Jesus, there in the boat with us, and ask a very different question than the one the disciples ask in our reading. Eventually we have to ask Jesus what our next step should be? What does Christ want us to learn from our experience? How is God inviting us to grow? What is the lesson in this storm for me? For us?
I have no idea where God is leading the Church in Charleston. I just pray that they feel God’s presence powerfully among them. I do know that one lesson of their storm for all of us is repentance, repentance for racism and injustice and mutual hatred.
But abstractions do not take us very far.
So I encourage you to take some time this week to ask yourself, what are the recent or current storms in your life? How can you be more aware of Jesus’ presence with you as you go through the storms? And going forward, what lesson is Jesus inviting you to learn?
My prayer for us all is that we can face the storms, that we can turn to Christ, and that we can follow were he leads, even in the midst of the storms.
In the name of Christ, the captain of our ship and the master of wind and waves. Amen.