Walking In Storms

August 09, 2020
Matthew 14:22—33; Matthew 8:23-27; Psalm 85:8-13

We had just finished passing out the bread and fish, we couldn’t believe there was enough. We were counting twelve baskets of leftovers when Jesus said we should get in the boat. We could take his boat, the one he brought for this outing to a place where he could be alone. He didn’t find the solitude he was hoping for so he was trying again. He shooed us to the boat while telling the crowd it was time for them to go home.

There is no quick way for 5000 families to exit the hillside, especially as night is falling. But Jesus was clear, it was time for people to move on. He seemed in a hurry to get away from the people, even from us. He was tired – and still grieving the death of John the Baptist, killed in prison by Herod. It wasn’t lost on me and surely it wasn’t lost on him, that Jesus himself might be next.

So as the last people left, so did we. We got into the boat and started rowing. It wasn’t the best idea since even in the dark we could tell that the clouds were moving fast across the sky. Storms can whip up quickly on the lake. A number of us made our living by fishing; we knew the power of water and wind. But Jesus had been clear, he wanted us to go. We figured there was enough time to get to the other side before the storm really broke loose.

And I wasn’t too worried about the departing crowds. I figured they would soon get far enough from the lake that they would be safe. It would be a long walk for Jesus all the way around the lake but he seemed to like time alone to pray, plan out his teachings. I have always been grateful that I was part of the inner circle who got to see the “real” Jesus. And yet there was a part of him that was always just out of reach. He was an introvert who needed space to recharge, to reconnect with himself and with his God.

In the boat, the wind started to blow and it took me back to the last time we were in a boat with Jesus, not that long ago. (Matthew 8) It had looked a little cloudy that time too but Jesus got into the boat and went right to sleep, so we set off. What else could we do? When the winds and rain came, we rowed. And rowed, even as the boat began to take on water. Jesus kept sleeping – until in our panic and exhaustion we woke him. Jesus didn’t panic. He asked why we were afraid. Then he stood up, his feet and ankles covered by the water in the bottom of the boat. He calmly spoke to the winds and the waves; he told them to stop. And everything became as calm as Jesus himself.

But this time, we were by ourselves in the boat. We tried calmly telling the wind to stop blowing.

We tried shouting at the rain.

We even tried sleeping like he had done. Nothing worked for us.

Instead the storm seemed to grow even more intense – the winds howled, the waves crashed. It felt like we were out there for hours, just trying to stay afloat without capsizing.

Then we saw something coming toward us over the water. It wasn’t a boat. It wasn’t a bird. It was moving slowly but steadily through the mist and wind.

It looked like a ghostly specter of some kind. Now we shouted even more, this time for the wind – and this creature, to go away. And we rowed, whoo did we row, though with all the wind and the crashing waves we made little progress. Then over the noise of the storm, we heard something else. Was that a voice? Could we all be having the same hallucination?

Even through the wind and rain there was something about that sound that seemed familiar. Then I heard it more clearly, “It’s me, y’all, it’s me. No need to be afraid.” I guess the others heard it too, what sounded like actual words or was I imagining it? Lord knows, I was tired of shouting and cowering. I felt more than a little foolish but what was there to lose? We needed a little levity so I talked back to the wind and waves shouting, “Jesus, is it really you? If it is, tell me to come to you.”

It was a silly thing to do, to test a specter, to pretend to talk to the wind. I can be a show-off but this wasn’t really the time or place. Jesus walked into dangerous situations all the time but this here, walking through the lake, during a storm, this was taking it to a whole new level, if it really was him. And I didn’t want to join him, not really. Then I heard it, “Come.”

The others thought I was losing it as I stepped out of the boat. I took one step and another. Then a gust of wind blew water full in my face and I couldn’t see the specter, I couldn’t hear the voice. I was under water before I knew it. I kicked up and shouted for help. An arm reached out to save me and I heard the voice again, “Oh you of little faith.” That was the same thing Jesus said the other time when we were caught in the storm. It had seemed cruel to belittle our faith, in the face of something so impossible as calming a storm. But here it was again. Another storm, another test of faith. Another time I failed.

I was hauled back into the boat, and there he was, Jesus was with us. What could we say? We had questioned him. He had questioned our faith. All we could say is, “This one is holy. This one comes from God.”

We survived that second storm, all of us, in the boat. But the figurative storms, they kept coming at us. Between the unending crowds of people that needed healing and the religious leaders that would not accept Jesus’ teachings, we were always in a storm: a storm of need and accusation, a storm of faith and doubt. We could never find the calm except when we found a way to reach out and experience the peace that Jesus wrapped himself in.

I often felt guilty, reaching for that peace and calm, when others were stuck in the storm without options for healing. I felt guilty loving that calm with Jesus when I saw minds that were fixed on failure and unable to imagine something new. I felt guilty breathing in the calm when the air was so full of violence and incarceration and death. Jesus tried to share peace with those who came to him but no matter how many he healed, no matter how many he fed, no matter how many religious leaders he engaged in conversation and debate, the storms raged on.

He is gone now. The community he created has splintered – and curiously it has grown. I continue to grasp for him, for the calm he offered, for the peace he exuded.

I try to rework his life story in my mind so that in the end Jesus is triumphant; I try to make him the winner. I can’t make sense of it all though most days I try to follow the way he lived and taught. I try to share the healing and peace that he offered. That still seems almost accessible in a mysterious way.

Sometimes the storms pass over and we live in the calm for a while. I try to live into the possibilities.

But most of the time my mind is on the gathering clouds, that will rage as storms soon enough. I try not to get dragged down by the deep waters but when I do sink, I often hear Jesus’ voice in my head, “Oh you of little faith.”  All these years later, my faith still feels small in the face of the injustices that persist, in the face of the powers that use violence to quell pleas for peace.

I know it all sounds irrational. There is nothing much rational about faith. Faithfulness and love, justice and peace are irrational and yet they persist. They meet, they embrace. They grow, like weeds in hard soil. They bloom, in the most difficult conditions. Faithfulness and love, justice and peace, are watered by the storms.

I walked through the storm and I was rescued by Jesus. There is no rational way to explain it. The only thing I know to do is keep seeking, keep offering healing, keep challenging those whose minds are fixed. I keep trying to bring the peace of that Holy One as I walk in the storm.