In the Gospel lesson for today, the disciples are rowing. They are rowing at three o'clock in the morning. Do you think you would like to do that? 3:00 A.M. Plus, there are those waves.
It had started out as a very good day. Jesus had been teaching all day. He would have said things like he said in the Sermon on the Mount: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do to others as you would have them do to you. He was healing and curing people right up till suppertime. And then he involves you in this huge miracle. He does a miracle with you. Five loaves and two fishes, he multiplies among probably fifteen thousand people, including women and men and children. A great day.
It would have been nice to relax in the evening on the shore after a day like that, but Jesus sends you out across the lake. That would be a pain. It is eight miles wide, but you are fisherfolk, you can make it. If it weren't for the wind and waves.
In the Greek, the wind is not just against the disciples in terms of direction. It is actually hostile to them, it carries active malice toward them. The waves do not just drive against the boat. They torture the boat. The pound against it again and again and again and again.
In a sea like that, you have to keep the bow of the boat pointed into the waves. Which means you have to be constantly pushing the boat forward, pushing it forward. Otherwise the waves will turn the boat sideways so that they break over sides instead of the front. And if the waves break over the sides of the boat, they will turn it over, it will sink and you will drown. So you have to keep rowing, even though it's three A.M.
Not only that, but , it's dark. No running lights on the boat, no floodlights, no lights along the shore. Only darkness. Also, remember that big water like this, a wide lake or an ocean, represents chaos to people in Jesus' day. It brings up all the feelings we have when everything comes apart, when our world dissolves around us. Stormy water in Jesus' day invoked the same feelings as a mushroom cloud does today. It's when one thing after another keeps coming at us from out of the dark and we can't see what is next or where we are headed and it's three A.M. And we are exhausted but we have to keep going. You ever feel that way?
This is how we feel when we get a layoff notice from work and we don't know how we are going to pay the bills. It's how we feel when we get really bad news from the doctor. All our plans, our dreams for the future. It's how we feel when, well, when the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia votes to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee in one of its parks. However you may feel about taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee, the city council is a democratically elected body. It's their statue. Fine.
Then all of these hate groups get together for this protest starting Friday night. We're talking neo-Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists. And they march around the rotunda at University of Virginia yelling and waving their torches. Which, this is America you can say what you want, even if it's boot stupid. So fine, I guess.
Naturally about twice as many counter protesters show up and they march around the rotunda at University of Virginia yelling too. Which, this is still America so if you disagree with somebody, you can say so, even to their face. Sometimes we are called to, in fact. So that's fine too.
But why they have to get into the fistfights and the throwing of the bottles of water and the shooting of the pepper spray at each other, I don't know.
And why somebody has to drive a gray Dodge charger into a crowd of people marching peacefully, two hours after the fight had been broken up, in a completely different part of the city, murdering one person and hurting nineteen others, well, that's chaos. That's evil.
Rowing against the chaos. Rowing against the evil.
Now, the disciples have been in a situation like this before. Several chapters ago, again, interestingly, after a day of curing and healing miracles, the disciples find themselves on the lake in a storm. Jesus is asleep in the boat. It's actually kind of funny, waves pouring over the sides of the boat, disciples terrified. Jesus in there, snoozing away. Disciples wake him up. “Lord, we are going to die!” Jesus says “Oh, little faith people.” And he rebukes the storm like he rebukes a demon. Storm ends. The disciples ask a question then. “Who is this, who commands even the wind and waves?”
That time, Jesus was in the boat. Jesus was with them, in the midst of the familiar, the safe place, a part of the community. Maybe asleep. Have to wake him up. But he is there.
This time, Jesus is not in the boat. Jesus does not even seem to be there at all. We say, “Where is God?” “Why is God letting this happen to me?” This time, Jesus is not part of the familiar.
Jesus is out there, in the chaos. We need to be able to talk about hate, and white supremacy, and evil. We need to be able to deal with cancer and death. We need to be able to address hunger. Because in addition to being in here, in our boat, Jesus is out there too, in the chaos.
Jesus says “Take heart, be brave, it is I.” the Greek reads “Ego Eimi” “I am.” When God commands Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery into freedom, Moses asks “What are we supposed to call you?” God says, “I Am.”
The foundation of being, “I Am,” has to do with freedom from slavery. Jesus connects himself with this same God, this same I Am. So that in addition to freedom, healing, the curing miracles that Jesus does, are also a part of existence itself. Connection and sharing, and full stomachs and good lives are a part of existence itself. Love is the foundation of being. “I Am.”
Now, Peter asks if he can get out of the boat and Jesus says, “come,” so he climbs out and then sinks down in the water, and Jesus hauls him back into the boat and says “Little faith person, why did you doubt?” I'll talk about that next week.
And then Jesus stills the storm. And his disciples now answer the question they asked last time Jesus calmed a storm. Remember, they said, “Who is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” Now they say, “You are the Son of God.”
So, even if you have no job, Jesus is deeper than the hardship of financial chaos. Whether you recover from cancer or not, Jesus is deeper than the chaos of cancer. Whether you are bound by hatred or not, Jesus is deeper than the chaos of your hatred. Whether you are killed by violence or not, Jesus is deeper than the chaos of violence.
Jesus is deeper than the storm, and Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. That is why we can face cancer together. That is why we can face hunger and financial loss together. That is why we can face hatred together. That is why we can face violence together. Because Jesus loves us. So let's get to work.