Readings: Romans 10:5-15
Who likes a good storm? I do. All those special effects for no charge. The sheer power and majesty of the elements: the snake of lightening and crack of thunder that reverberates for miles, the drenching rain pouring from the skies. I love to stand and watch it progress, that is, from the safety of my home.
Our attitude towards a storm can alter depending upon our location. If you are a million miles from anywhere it becomes somewhat more scary. A few years ago, Mike and got caught out in a storm when we were on holiday in Cape May on the America East Coast. We had gone for a long coastal walk across to the lighthouse – the sky looked rather threatening but we took the risk since that is what we had planned for the day. We were at our destination, several miles from our hotel, when the big fat drops of rain began to fall. Luckily for us, we happened to be just a few paces away from a visitors’ centre where we could shelter from the storm. When the rain stopped we headed back but we could see the ocean waters still raging. The beach was deserted and later we discovered why: it had been evacuated following fatalities from a lightning strike.
So, I can appreciate the disciples fear and anxiety, when the wind whipped up and they were caught out, defenceless against the elements. This gospel reading follows on from the feeding of the 5,000 – it had been a long day and Jesus was overdue some time out. He also needed to come to terms with the shocking news he had just received that his cousin John had been beheaded. It was Jesus who sent the disciples across the lake, whilst he dealt with crowds and then took off solo up the mountain. As usual, Jesus doesn’t get his peace and quiet for long.
The Sea of Galilee was notorious for sudden storms. It was fine when they set off from the shore but then it changed. Jesus doesn’t show much sympathy when the disciples become frightened. The fact that Jesus walked out across the water to reach them made them all the more terrified, quite understandably. Once they realise that it is Jesus and hear his reassuring words, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”, they are placated.
To the Jews, water was a symbol of death, as well as life. This is reflected in the baptism liturgy, in the prayer over the water. The Israelites had to pass through the waters of the Red Sea to enter the Promised Land. In the waters of baptism we are buried with Christ in his death in order to enter eternal life. By walking on water, Jesus showed that he had authority over death.
Peter, impetuous as ever, is initially so excited that he gets out of the boat to walk towards Jesus. All is going well until he stops to consider the madness of what he is doing; when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the wind and waves around him, he begins to sink. His attention switches back to Jesus; he cries out and Jesus saves him. Not only that, but as they clamber back into the boat, the storm stops. Jesus acts as God in his capacity to control the chaotic forces of primal nature. Those in the boat are left uttering, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The sea of life can feel very intimidating at times and our boat very small. The poet Ruth Burgess expresses her struggles in the following prayer:
Today has been a restless day,
things going wrong in all directions,
and my anger rising – at others,
at circumstances, at myself.
God, you are in the midst of this.
I sense your presence
prowling like a tiger,
pushing me, pursuing me,
restless yourself until I change.
I am ready to hurl stones into oceans,
to pound my fists into a brick wall.
I am ready to shout,
to curse the darkness,
to bury my head into warm flesh and sob.
I am afraid, God;
there is no one here but you and me,
my friends are out or busy or far away.
Do I trust you enough to give you my anger, my loneliness?
Do I believe you enough to reach through the emptiness
and grasp for your hand?
God, I love you.
I can say no other words.
What things threaten to overwhelm you? Are you caught in a storm in your life? Do you dare to step out from what safety you know onto the waters of God’s turbulent promises, trusting only the call of Jesus? We can remain afloat by fixing our focus on Christ; by calling out to him. The psalms repeatedly speak about crying out to God for help. Psalm 34 says, “Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.” Most importantly, we have the reassurance of Jesus: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
We needn’t wait until the storm comes before calling for help. Better to be safely guided by a lighthouse than be saved by a lifeboat. In the Christian life, Christ, the Light of the World, is the one steadfastly guiding us when we look to him. He is the lighthouse directing us to dry land.
[That is what we recognise in baptism: it is the start of a life journey with Christ. Symbolically, through the water, we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. We die to sin and are raised to new life. Baptism is about being born to new life with Christ and continuing to walk with him. The candle given at the end of the service reminds us that Christ is the light of the world and that is the light that we carry with us.]
Storms will happen; that is life. But it is the anchor in the storm that makes the difference. Don’t focus on the waves. Instead, reach out to Christ as he approaches and hold onto to his calm, peaceful presence. Amen.
Rev Lisa Cornwell