QuestionsI’ve been told that you people go to the sea for your own pleasure. That you take your leisure at the water’s edge. That you peel the clothes off your children and coat them in oil and send them running into the waves. I hear that you purchase boats for no other reason than to ride to and fro on the water. You do not fish with them. (And if you do, you throw the fish back?!) You do not carry goods to foreign lands. You simply spend a day riding about on the waves. And I hear that you sometimes tether people to your boats using a long rope and drag them along behind you on smaller boats? My friends and I did not see it this way. The Sea of Galilee was our livelihood. It literally put food on our table, it was the life we lived before we met Jesus. It was the life we left in order to follow him. It was the life to which we returned when we thought that we had lost him. But the only pleasure we ever received from the waters was a full net. And we were just as likely to receive something else altogether for our troubles. If a day of hard labor pulling in fish was our reward, there were days when the sea gave us nothing but the sun. Sun that punished us from above and glared at us from below as it reflected back from the glassy water. But everyone knew that this was not the worst that the sea could give. As children we were taught that the sea opposed the Lord. We were taught that, at the creation of the world, he had to beat it back in order to give his children a firm place to stand. We were menacingly reminded that in Noah’s day, he used the sea to punish our wickedness. And every time we heard the story of our escape from Egypt we experienced the terrifying prospect of being caught between the sea and the armies of Pharaoh. Both opposed us. We escaped them both only with God’s help. We were taught that the sea is the home of the monster that swallowed Jonah. It is a place of death and of evil. Demons reside there, too. A man is pulled down into the depths never to return. Only the Almighty has power over the sea. The rest of us are at its mercy, able only to take whatever it gives whether good or evil. So at the end of that long day, when Jesus announced that we were to make for the other side of the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help but exchange nervous glances with James and John. We had thought that the boat was merely a device to keep the crowds at bay so Jesus could teach. We had no idea that travel was on his mind. And travel to Gentile lands at that. Lands on the “other side” of the lake, full of unclean people and unclean animals. I had noticed how, at different times during the day, the sons of Zebedee had pulled their attention away from the work in order to scan the horizon. I know they saw the line of clouds in the distance. I know they heard thunder on the other side of the mountains that overlooked the Galilee. But our impromptu trip was clearly not up for debate, because, as soon as Jesus announced our destination he grabbed a cushion from the nearest rower’s seat, stumbled to the rear of the boat, and collapsed in an exhausted heap. He would not stir until hours later when Peter finally decided to take matters into his own hands. Our progress at first was so good that we began to think we might have been unduly alarmed. Even James and John began to relax as we rowed our way through the warm, still night. But even people like us, who have spent their lives on the sea, can forget how quickly the storms come rolling over the mountains. And in moments the reflection of the stars disappeared from the water, chopped to bits by the waves and obscured by the sudden arrival of the storm clouds. The rain did not present itself with care. It rushed upon us suddenly. Our only warning was a wave that sent the boat listing dangerously to one side, and then the downpour was upon us. We pulled in the sail to keep it from being shredded and to keep the mast from being splintered and, taking to the oars, we began to fight against the water. I was at the stern of the boat, just in front of Jesus, an unmoving, soaked pile of clothes and skin and bones. We turned her around to face into the oncoming waves, but that gave little comfort. Between the wind and the rain I could only see the front of the boat when lightning struck. The men at the bow would rise precipitously until they were directly above me, and then they would come crashing down below as the boat crested each wave. Every time the front of the boat was catapulted upwards I thought to myself, this will be the time that it doesn’t stop. It will continue to go up and up pass the point of no return and we will be tossed into the sea. I wondered if Jesus would wake up even then, or would the last sight I ever saw be of him, curled into a ball and sinking into the blackness. I’ve noticed that, in everyone’s stories about Jesus and us, his disciples, Peter doesn’t always come out looking so good. It’s not his fault really. He’s usually just the one who says what we’re all thinking. The decisiveness that will someday make him a leader also makes him look occasionally foolish. But in this case, when he finally got up and lurched his way past me and stood over Jesus, he was only doing what we all lacked the courage to do. Another thing I’ve noticed is that Matthew and Luke try to clean it up a little bit when they tell this story. The way they tell it, you would think that Peter knelt piously before Jesus with his head down and his hands in the air and said, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" But Mark is closer to the truth when he tells the story. Peter didn’t kneel submissively. He began to shake Jesus, as violently as he could. And I could hear him roaring above the sound of the waves, "Teacher, what is wrong with you! Don't you care if we drown?" Even in this dire situation, Peter realized he had gone too far. He pulled his hands off of Jesus and dropped onto the seat beside me. Nobody was rowing anymore. Every eye was on Jesus. We waited to see what he would do. I don’t know what anybody expected him to do about it, but I can say that no one ever dreamed that he would do what he did. He swung his legs down, rubbed his eyes, stood up and yelled above the tumult, “Quiet! Be still!” Jesus rebuked the wind like he rebuked a demon. He issued orders to the sea. “Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” As quickly as it had come, the storm disappeared. In the moonlight reflected off of the smooth surface of the water, I could see my utter amazement staring back at me on the faces of the others. And then we were aware of Jesus’ eyes on us. No one knew what he would do now, but everyone waited. I will never forget it. After a long silence, Jesus shook his head, smiled a weary smile, and said "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" And with that, he reached down for his lost cushion, stepped back to the stern of the boat, where he collapsed. Pulling his cloak over his shoulder, he turned away from us and fell asleep in seconds, leaving us there gazing on in amazement. For a while no one spoke. There was only the sound of our ragged breathing, the dripping of our clothes and the gentle creak of the boat as it lilted about on the sea. And once again, we were all afraid. Not because of the waves, but because of what we had just seen. And suddenly, I was a boy again sitting in the synagogue, watching one of the elders rise from his seat and pull the scroll from its place. Watching him stand before the congregation, watching him unroll it and begin to read: 1 Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. 2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. 4 He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. 5 He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7 But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight… Once again it was Peter who broke the silence. Once again, it was Peter who said what we were all thinking. Nudging past me and walking back to his place on the boat he sat down, looked at us all and said, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" And with that, he set about rowing us to the other side, just like Jesus had said.
This Sunday I’m beginning a series on our theme/mission: “Changing Lives Through Jesus.” And, once again, I find myself frustrated with the concept of preaching. Every once in a while I think about it and it strikes me as bizarre that I stand in front of you for twenty or so minutes and tell you what I think. Refresh my memory, why do we care what I think again?
I’m especially feeling it with this theme. It just seems like, in my life, this idea of “Changing lives” is in real danger of being little more than a slogan. Every advertiser in the world says that their product is life-changing. Certainly Jesus changes lives on a deeper level than, say, shampoo or floor cleaner or power tools. So help me think about this. Here are some questions I want you to think about and answer.
- How has Jesus changed your life? Really, how has knowing Jesus made a difference to you? What are you today that you would not have been had you not come to know Jesus?
- How is Jesus changing your life today? Where are you feeling the call to “higher ground” in your life? What aspects do you feel Jesus challenging you to change?
- How do you resist this change? This one is for the courageous of heart. How do you dig in your heels with Jesus? How do you resist making your life different? Why?
- What gives you the courage to let Jesus change your life? What is it that finally brings you around?
- How do you feel God calling this church to change? Is there some place you feel that he’s leading us?
- What ways can we be sharing this with each other? What forums can we be using? This blog has great potential, but what other media could we be using?
I just want to have an authentic conversation about what we really mean when we talk about “Changing Lives Through Jesus.” So help me out! I talk to myself enough as it is. Throw in your 2 bits. Actually, it’s most important that you ask the questions for yourself. Then if you choose to share what you come up with that would be even better. I hope to hear from a lot of you. You can post a comment here. You can send an email to email@example.com. You can just tell me about it. As always, anything you email me or tell me will not be used in a public arena unless I get your permission first.
On a totally unrelated subject: I’ve been telling some of you about “Carrier,” a documentary airing on PBS at the end of the month. Basically a film crew embeds on the USS Nimitz for a full deployment, and we get to follow various people and hear their stories. The reason I’m talking it up is because I want to hear from those of you who have first hand experience. How close are they? Where do they miss it?
If you have some free time next week, there will be two free screenings of it here in Hampton Roads. The producers will be there. You can go here for more information on the screenings. For a preview of the show, click here.