Often times when I gather with acolytes, lay readers, Eucharistic ministers, clergy and choir before a liturgy, I’m asked to say a prayer. (We will have those gatherings again, when we can do that safely.) Part of that prayer is this: “Lord, in this hour together, may you comfort us as we need to be comforted and challenge us as we need to be challenged.”
I believe that today’s story of the storm at sea, together with another story of a storm at sea, reveals the comfort and the challenge we receive from Jesus. Today’s story of a storm comes in the 14th chapter of Matthew. Matthew tells another story of a storm at sea in chapter 8. Let’s look at that one first.
In chapter 8, Jesus and the disciples are on a boat at sea. After a long day of preaching, teaching, forgiving and healing, Jesus is asleep in the boat. “A windstorm arose in the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves.” The apostles were terrified and they woke up the sleeping Jesus. Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.”
Psychologists like Carl Jung and many theologians encourage us to pray stories such as these as our stories. Imagine the boat and what happens in it as the story of our lives. Have you ever experienced your life as one caught in a great storm? Other Gospel writers use the words “the boat was being battered by the winds and waves.” Or the gospel of Mark says “they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind.” I love that line. Have you ever felt you were “straining at the oars against an adverse wind?” Have you ever felt like that during this pandemic? I know I wake up some mornings feeling that way.
The apostles wake up the sleeping Jesus. Taking this story as our story, we have the possibility of doing that same thing. It is our Christian belief that “the kingdom is within.” Christ is present in us. In baptism we have been “claimed as Christ’s own forever.” When the adverse wind hits us, when our lives are being battered by the winds and waves, when we are afraid, it is time to “wake up the Christ within us.” It is time to go to that place in our souls where we are loved by God. Remembering what our Michael Curry says over and over again: “If it is not about love, it is not about God.”
Wake up the Christ within who had the power to calm the winds and the waves. Wake up the Christ within who said so many times in his earthly ministry and says to us now, “do not be afraid. I am with you.” Wake up the Christ who offers us “a peace which passes all understanding.”
In this story we experience the Christ who comforts us as we need to be comforted.
Now for the second storm at sea. In this one Jesus is not in the boat with the apostles. Jesus has been praying on a mountain while the apostles are in the boat far from land and the wind was against them. Early in the morning they see Jesus walking on the sea. And they are terrified – not because of the winds but because of Jesus. They think it is a ghost.
How can they find out if it is a ghost or it is Jesus? Peter knows how. He says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He says this because if the answer comes back: “oh no, Peter. Stay in the boat. Stay there in your fear. Keep things exactly as they are.” That would not be the Jesus they knew. That would be a ghost. When Jesus says “come, get out of the boat and follow me”, that is the Jesus they knew. The Jesus who had come to them months earlier when they were tending their nets and invited them on a journey that would change the world. That’s the Jesus who challenged them to become part of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is do so many into the dream God has for it.
Brothers and sisters, we are being challenged right now in many ways but one that might finally be getting our attention is that of racial justice. We are being challenged to acknowledge our history of white privilege and our oppression of people of color. Jesus is not a ghost saying “stay in the boat. Keep doing what you have been doing.” Jesus is being Jesus and he is saying, “Get out of the boat. Yes it will be difficult. But now is the time.”
Recently I read a Fourth of July sermon by The Rev. Deborah Lee at St. Bart’s Church in Manhattan. She refers to “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and says this:
“Rather for people of color, it has often been the land of the followed and the home of the fearful. The land of the harassed and the home of the intimidated. The land of the suspected and the home of the disenfranchised.”The Reverend Deborah Lee
Lee goes on to quote activist Ginna Green. “The United States is breaking – painfully, visibly – but not irreparably. The cracks have always been there for us to study. Perhaps now we can create a place that holds us all.”
May Christ comfort us as we need to be comforted AND may Christ challenge us as we need to be challenged. Jesus is calling us out of the boat to follow him on an adventure that will change the world.