In the Gospel lesson for today, the disciples find themselves again in a boat, again on the water, having been sent out into the darkness by Jesus, again, again fighting the waves. You may remember from last time we saw them in this situation, the waves scare them particularly because they represent chaos in ancient near eastern cultures. Stormy waters represent that pit that opens up in your stomach when the doctor sits you down and first uses the word “Cancer,” the ache in your heart when you wake up in the middle of the night and say to yourself, “Yes, my child is addicted to alcohol.” The grit in your teeth in the afternoon when you hear on the news about yet another shooting. Chaos.
You may also be aware that, in the early church, a boat was used to symbolize the community of faith. So that it’s not just us alone out here in the storm. It’s us as a community, a church in a culture that, for good or ill, doesn’t listen to the church as much as it used to, in a society in which, for good reasons and bad, not as many people attend church as once did. Touches of chaos.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus comes to us in the midst of the chaos, walks on the water. And what does he say? He says “Take heart, do not be afraid. It is I.”
The Greek phrase that is used to communicate “It is I,” reads as “Ego emi.” That is, literally, “I am.” “Take heart. Do not be afraid. I Am.”
Where have we heard those words before, “I Am?” That’s the name of God. When God speaks to Moses from the burning bush, God says to Moses, “Go to my people Israel, who are enslaved in Egypt, to the most powerful nation on earth, in bondage to the most powerful man on earth, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and tell them that the God of their ancestors is coming to set them free.” Moses says, “When I go to my people and tell them the God of their ancestors is coming, they’re going to want to know your name. So what ‘s your name?” God says, “I Am.”
In other words, the dream of freedom just is. The hope of healing just is. The beauty of life just is. “Take heart, do not be afraid,” says Jesus. “I Am.”
So let me tell you a few ways in which I saw Jesus in the midst of the storm of life this week. This was Vacation Bible School week, and the theme song goes like this,
God’s Plan for you is Jesus. He’s the way of salvation.
Several nights there was a chorus line of young people up here dancing to that, doing the sign language for it. Ever notice the sign for Jesus? Hands to the cross, then up in resurrection.
Here’s the sign for salvation. Bondage into freedom.
First night, Sabra brings in these two little girls that just arrived. They didn’t know if they wanted to be here. Sabra says, “You want to go up front with the kids your age.” “No.” Sara House sees them and she comes back, halfway down the church, and she gets down on their level with this big smile and this sparkle in her eye, and her hands are making that welcome magic that sometimes people can make with the way they move their hands, and she talks to them, and they get a little interested. She says “Why don’t you come with me up front, so they nod and they go up with their class. Next day they jump out of their car and they’re running into the church.
Mark Lynch was the mad scientist. One day he got some shaving cream and sprayed it on the table. All the kids gathered around, watching. Spray, spray, spray. Big pile. Then he pours some baking soda on it. Kids mush it, mush it with their hands, all the way up to their elbows. Pour some more baking soda on, eventually it turns into playdough. So sometimes you introduce a new substance to a system and it changes the whole system. Like Jesus is introduced into the world and into our lives and it changes everything.
Chet Gentry has the fifth and sixth graders. He’s teaching a lesson about how Jesus died to bring us into God’s family. They are reading the story of the crucifixion together. For a minute you can hear a pin drop. Then a kid, I’ll call him Billy gets up, starts walking around. Billy does this a lot. Get up, walk around. Chet is calm and strong. Billy, sit right here. Billy sits down, looking at these pictures on these bookmarkers. Gets up. Billy, sit right here. Sits down.
End of the class, Chet asks, okay, what’s the point of the lesson for today? Billy says “Jesus died so that we could be a part of God’s family.”
Life can seem awfully chaotic.
“Take heart, do not be afraid. Jesus is here.” Jesus is in this church, in our lives, in this world. “Do not be afraid. I Am.”