4:35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
4:36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.
4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
4:40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
A few years ago a friend of mine who lived in Boston decided to take a quick trip to the outer tip of Cape Cod. The two aren’t that far apart, of course. At least not as the crow flies. But if you drive you have to go down the South Shore, over the backed-up bridge, and over and up the Cape again. Several hours later you’ll get there.
So my friend decided to go by boat. When they got on the ferry, the day looked pretty nice. The sea was calm. It was sunny. They’d be there soon. But once they got out in open water, things changed. The swells came up the side of the boat. It lunged through the water, dipping up and down, and her friends told her she was literally turning green.
She made it safely to the other shore, but she resolved that next time she would drive.
If they had had cars in Biblical times I’ll bet the disciples in today’s passage would have gotten to the other shore, turned around to look at Jesus, and said “next time we’re driving.”
Jesus is teaching the crowds and when he gets done he tells them that they are going to the other side. And part way across a storm kicks up. The water swamps the boat, the waves beat against it, and the disciples are not just seasick; they’re pretty sure they’re going to die.
Times like this, you want Jesus to be awake. But they look over at him, and he’s sleeping. And I’m sure they were thinking, “How can you sleep through this, Jesus?” They call out to him, “don’t you realize we are about to die? Don’t you care?”
And then Jesus wakes up. And he looks around. And he says, “Peace…be still.”
The storm goes ends. And the winds die down. And they are safe again. Jesus asks them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The Scripture tells us that the disciples were filled with awe, and started to ask each other, “Who is this guy? Even the wind and sea obey him?”
Had I been there, I might not have been filled with awe about Jesus. It might have gone more like this: “Hey, buddy…while you’re asleep the rest of us are about to die, so maybe you could wake up and help us keep the water out of the boat?”
To be honest, a lot of us have moments we feel that way about Jesus. The sea gets rough, the waters of life overwhelm us, and we call out to a God who it sometimes seems might as well be sleeping. Sometimes we might feel like we are all alone on a sea, shouting, “Jesus, don’t you care?”
This passage gives me hope in times like that. Not because Jesus stilled the storm, though I’m glad he did. But because it shows me that even the disciples felt that way at times.
But more importantly, it shows me this. Even the disciples were put in situations that they didn’t know how to get out of. It shows me that Jesus sometimes does lead us to places that aren’t all the great in the moment.
I think sometimes we think that if we really believe, if we really try to be a good Christian, nothing bad will ever happen to us. I wish that that were true. The saints of the faith have lived holy lives, and yet they, like we, have often found themselves on choppy seas. And the people in our lives who most exemplify “good” sometimes are the ones who face the situations we just don’t understand.
It doesn’t feel fair. It makes us want to call out to Jesus, “Why is this happening? Are you asleep at the helm?”
But then I think again about today’s passage, about Jesus telling the disciples to get in the boat and cross the sea, and I wonder if maybe he knew what was coming. I wonder if he was preparing them for what was about to happen.
Jesus was a teacher. He used parables and metaphors and whatever was handy to teach his disciples about God and the life of faith. And I wonder if that’s what he was doing that day. He knew that life for the disciples would be full of stormy seas, and that at times they would be about to lose everything. And maybe he knew that in those moments they’d need to draw on faith from somewhere.
Have you ever noticed where Jesus is in this passage? That’s what always strikes me. Jesus isn’t back on the shore. And he’s not standing over on the opposite shore. He’s not high and dry and safe.
He’s in the boat. He’s going through the storm with the ones he loves. And in the end, being in the same boat with Jesus is what saves them.
In art work, the church is often represented metaphorically by a boat. The World Council of Churches, and international body made up of denominations from all over the world, chose not a cross, but a boat as their symbol. And during World War II the Confessing Church, the churches that opposed Hitler in Germany, used a boat as a symbol.
The boat symbolizes the church and its people being carried by God through the sometimes choppy waters of life. Even this place you’re sitting in now, this part of the sanctuary, is also called the “nave”, from the same root as naval or navy. If you think of the steep roof of a church, it looks a little like an upside down boat. There’s a reason for that. Even church architecture reminds us that we are called to journey together in the same boat as Jesus.
That’s both a blessing, and a warning. When my friend got on the boat in Boston, she knew she was going to make it to the Cape. Even when the waters got bad and she wanted to just be on dry land, she knew that by night fall she’d be eating a lobster roll and sitting by the beach.
But getting in the boat with Jesus is different. It’s not a luxury cruise ship. It’s not a quick ferry. It’s a boat that goes to places that sometimes we might not want to go. Because it’s Jesus boat. And sometimes Jesus goes into the heart of the storm. That’s his job. To be there in the roughest of waters, with the ones who need him the most. And if we want to be in the same boat as he is, that means that sometimes we will end up there with him too.
Sometimes Christians, especially in this country where we are rather comfortable, fall into the trap of thinking that the church is more of a club than anything else. We go to church on Sundays, but it doesn’t really affect us much. Or, we don’t go to church at all. We figure we can just follow Jesus as an individual, and we don’t need the community of faith. Christian belief becomes something that doesn’t really challenge us much.
But if your Christianity is not inconveniencing you a little, if you are not at times finding yourself on choppy seas because of what your faith calls you to do, you might want to check to make sure you are in the right boat back at the docks. If your faith makes no demands on your life, if it doesn’t make you make the hard choices sometimes, chances are good that you may have accidentally boarded the cruise ship, not the Christ ship.
It’s okay. God allows you to change your travel plans mid-trip.
I talked earlier about the Confessing Church in Germany. These were the Christians who refused to be a part of the puppet Reich church that Hitler had set up and instead decided that they were going to follow the Gospel. The fact they chose a ship as their symbol is a reminder to me of the sometimes very high price of being in the same boat as Jesus. Some of them died for their beliefs, and their refusal to collude with Naziism. They could have chosen smooth waters in a safe ship by simply cooperating with Hitler. But they didn’t. And the storm got bad.
But they called out. They remained faithful to the Gospel as they knew it, and, they called out to Jesus at the worst of the storm, when it must have most felt like God was asleep at the helm. And finally, the winds stopped, and the waves receded. And not only they, but nation and a world was saved. They did not do it alone, but they did it perhaps more faithfully, and with greater stakes, than any other Christians. And, ironically, all the ones who had chosen the boat with the easier waters, found that in the end their ship was the one that was destroyed.
I have no doubt that Jesus was in the boat of those confessing Christians. And I have no doubt that Jesus is in the boats of all of those who would follow Christ’s call no matter where it takes them, even if it’s into the storm. We are often tempted to pray for smooth waters and an easy passage. I can’t deny that I want that sometimes. But ironically, in the end it’s being in the boat that sails the hardest seas, the one with God at the helm, that will truly bring us peace.
May this small boat that we all now sit in find the other shore safely, but may the seas be just choppy enough that we know we are on the right boat. Amen.