Preacher: Fr. Peter Snow
The gospel this morning is of one of those stories we all remember, but maybe don’t pay too much attention to. Before considering what any gospel passage might mean to you and me today, I always examine the text. This requires I compare this story with the same story in the other gospels, consider any historical anomalies, and ponder the circumstances in which the event or parable occurred.
This story of calming the waters is one twenty first century people give a nod to, then hurry onto the next chapter. The miracle of calming the storm involves affecting major meteorological systems. We understand even local effects of weather are massive and not to be arbitrarily messed with. The idea of him changing the weather is too much for us to process alongside our view of the physical world.
The boat would have been a working fishing boat. Typically they were about 27ft. long, 7ft wide with a freeboard of some 18 inches at the waist. There would be four oars, and a steering oar or rudimentary rudder. The boat would have a stumpy mast and a simple sail. The boat would be very heavy to row. On the after deck would have been the canvas sack in which the net was stowed ready for deployment.
Jesus was asleep on that cushion of fishing nets. Four of the disciples would have been rowing, and one would be at the steering oar. Other disciples would have been in an accompanying boat for the single boat would only hold six or seven men. When the squall hit the oarsmen’s job would have been to keep the bow to the wind and waves. If they allowed the boat to broach then the boat would fill and sink.
Remember these men knew what they were doing and in the earliest edition of this story were not afraid or desperate but needed everybody to help in order to pull through the storm. There was Jesus fast asleep and oblivious to what was happening.
Why did they wake Jesus up? No, they did not expect him to calm the storm because they were surprised when he did. So what did they want him to do?
Four at the oars, one at the helm only left one person to bail, and he was asleep! As they took on water, they woke Jesus because they needed him to bail. Jesus woke up, saw what was happening and said, “I do not do bailing.” Then stood up and commanded the sea to quit.
At this point the disciples became afraid not of the storm, but of him, for they said, “Who is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?” They were not afraid of the storm but of him. Storms they knew about but he was something else.
The disciples, very capable fishermen, needed him to do his part, namely to bail. They did not look to him to save them, but to help. The one thing they knew about was in situations like this everyone needed to help, and Jesus catching z’s on the stern deck was not helping.
When I consider my own spiritual life, much of the time I operate with the Christ very much in the background, kind of asleep on the bag of nets. I am very capable of running my life as those fishermen were in sailing their boat. Christ’s companionship is something that is central to me, and I can feel his presence most of the time.
If I call upon him in prayer most often I do so in companionable terms. My relationships, my work, or even my trying to figure out my computer’s inner demons are all moments to share with the Christ.
God be in my head and in my understanding,
God be in my eyes and in my looking,
God be in my mouth and in my speaking,
God be in my heart and in my thinking.
There are lots of hymns and prayers that address this companionship with Christ within the life of the soul.
In a few minutes at the communion we will re-establish that communality with the resurrected Christ as well as with others like ourselves who come to this table. This is vital for us because it gives us identity and sense of belonging even in the midst of our differences. I feel like those disciples in the boat, pulling on the oars, keeping the bow to the waves and knowing there is a need for bailing, and there is Jesus asleep. In my personal prayers I call upon him to help with the bailing in my life, helping to keep me buoyant.
When we come together we are like the disciples in the boat, pulling together to keep the bows to the wind, maintain direction in our lives and provide cohesion to our efforts. We build churches to house that community of people. We even refer to the body of the church building as the ‘nave’, Latin for boat. Roof beams are left to remind us of the ribs of an upturned boat. Thus this is one function of the Christ, as the center of our community he draws us together, sharing that common emotional life.
In the gospel story he doesn’t jump up and say, “Sure. Where’s the bailer?” He could have bailed, contributing to their weathering the storm, but he did not in this case.
He stood up and addressed the storm itself. In so doing he demonstrated a power and identity which we today have problems understanding or accepting. His authority was demonstrated and could not be mistaken. The disciples whispered among themselves “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?”
This is more than the Christ we know and experience in our own lives on a daily basis. This is another dimension to the person of Christ. How on earth are we to cope with the overwhelming authority he displays in this story? What does it mean for the world we live in? What are we to do when he addresses us and says, “Well?” No rationalizing, no excuses, no ideological or theoretical uncertainties are sustainable before that gaze.
This week in South Carolina there was another hate generated mass shooting. Racially motivated, the gunman tore open again the fissure that runs deep in this nation’s fabric. The civil war, the hundred years of Jim Crow laws, and countless events that constantly re-open the gaping racial divide, all continue to tear us apart. We have seen in the last 6 years, laws crafted to intentionally inhibit black people voting, for decades the jailing of black men has been at unprecedented levels and some 800 hate groups flourish in our nation. No other developed nation has the level of violence that we have. All this is happening now and not only in the past.
The Christ stands up and in judgment of us who defer to these base ideas says, “No.” This is where we come full face with the authority Christ exhibited in the boat as he commanded the storm to quit.
If we will not recognize his authority then we are on our own, and worse will come. Jesus gives us this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. “Lead us not into temptation.” This is the quintessential expression of the danger we are in. The Greek word translated ‘temptation’ means tribulation or horrific suffering. In that prayer which we so thoughtlessly repeat, there is expressed a request to not let us go down that road that leads to the horrors we already see around us.
Thursday the Pope gave the world his encyclical on climate change and especially the moral responsibility we have to care for this world and each other. He spoke with authority which was derived from the person who stood up in that boat and told the storm to quit. This is the authority that we stand before, and must answer to.
Before Christ’s authority we are denied the luxury of preferring ideas and ideologies that best suit our preferences. Facts are facts, moral issues really do determine the future. We have to get with God’s program, because there is no other. The alternative is chaos as we saw in S. Carolina, and we see in the distress of our natural world.
I was disappointed to hear Jeb Bush say he only went to church for personal faith issues. That’s like asking the Christ to bail. No, we cannot afford that denial of the authority of the Christ, because this world is His and He will allow it to kick us in the teeth to get our attention. We are up against Him of whom the disciples asked, “Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey Him?” He is in our face and we had better recognize Him for who he is.