When Jesus inaugurated his ministry, he declared, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.”(1) Soon after, he recruited disciples. Soon after, he began to teach and preach, perform healings and miracles. Jesus, empowered, enflamed by God’s Spirit, compelled by God’s call, God’s claim on his life, was in a mighty hurry.
After teaching all day by the seashore, “when evening had come”, he says, “Let us go across to the other side.” Immediately. And giving no reason. And “just as he was,” that is, with no preparation.
If I had been one of his disciples, especially at this early stage of his ministry when, though fascinated by this charismatic person, I was striving, struggling to figure him out, and, as a fisherman familiar with the turbulent nature of the sea, I might (no, I would!) have begged: “Jesus, let’s wait until daylight. Please!”
But, no, at his command, off they go, scrambling aboard several boats, pushing off from the shore, a convoy heading across the sea. A great storm rises, the wind blowing hard against the sails. Rowing with all their might, they make no progress. The waves spill into the boats. Bailing is useless. Fear seizes, strangles whatever embryonic faith they possess.
(What a contrast to David! Facing the coming storm known as Goliath of Gath “whose height was six cubits and a span”, standing somewhere between six-and-a-half and seven feet, who terrorized King Saul and the armies of Israel, David declared with triumphal trust in God, “The Lord who saved me from the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine.”)
The disciples awaken Jesus. After a day of exhausting teaching, he is asleep. (Surely, a sign that, though divine, Jesus was…is human, but I digress!)
Now, I don’t know how he could sleep or why the disciples waited so long to awaken him. If I had been there, I would have had him up at the first breath of wind, the first rise of the waves: “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”
And Jesus, who is the peace of oneness with God, creator of heaven and earth, doesn’t calm the storm. That would be like trying to appeal to an angry spirit or David trying to appease the violent Goliath. No. As David struck down the giant, Jesus overpowers the storm. As God, in the beginning of creation, spoke and all things came to be,(2) Jesus speaks, “Peace! Be still!” And, instantly, as great was the storm, now great is the calm.
Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith and they, “filled with great awe,” fear and reverence, can only wonder: “Who is this?”
Sometimes, I wonder about the first disciples and us.
They walked and talked with Jesus. They heard him teach and preach. They saw him perform healings and miracles. They were rescued from the storm. Nevertheless, they, filled with faithless fear, questioned and doubted…
So, what hope do we have? We who are subject to the powers of angry winds, violent rain, tempestuous seas, bellowing volcanoes, diseases of body, mind, and soul. We who are susceptible not only to natural calamities, but also destruction at the hands of human evil. How many before us have cried, now cry, and, in time to come, will cry for relief, yet hear no word, “Peace! Be still!”?
As a disciple of Jesus, I confess that I desire a pain-and-stress-and-danger-free life. Yet in this life pain, stress, and danger always, like the kingdom of God, are at hand. Thus, by faith, I trust Jesus who, throughout his earthly ministry and unto this day, always is crossing the sea. This, for me, is a metaphor for connecting whatever divides. Jesus always is crossing the spiritual divide between the righteous and the unrighteous. Jesus always is crossing the sociopolitical divide between the rich and the poor. Jesus always is crossing the physical divide between the well and the sick. Jesus, in challenging the authorities who sought to maintain the status quo of division between the powerful and the powerless, climbed up on the cross and stretched out his arms spanning the chasm between his life and death. And Jesus, in his resurrection, proclaims the good news that he bridges everything that dares divide us, even our fear of death.
Therefore, I have faith in Jesus that come what may, come whene’er, come howe’er, whether sunshine or shadow, joy or sorrow, I, you, we, in him, have peace.
I planned to end the sermon here, but a real-world experience comes to mind; one that, though many years ago, for me, confirmed then and confirms still the real presence of this peace of Jesus.
I was on a flight to Atlanta to attend a conference in the company of the Right Reverend Quintin Ebenezer Primo, Jr., then Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago and one of my earliest mentors. The skies were turbulent. The flight, rocky. I hated flying. (Still do!) I was terrified. Bishop Primo was fast asleep, his arms folded in peaceful repose. We hit an air pocket and the plane suddenly dropped. Stirring, Bishop Primo looked over at me and into my eyes wide with fear, saying, “Have faith”, and then went back to sleep! I marveled at his trust, his confidence. I asked him later how he could be so calm in the midst of the storm. He said, in words I’ve never forgotten: “I was blessed to be born. One day, I will die and I will be blessed to enter the fullness of eternity. And, trusting in my destiny, I am blessed by every moment I am given in between.”
I’ve never known anyone like Bishop Primo. One who knew, embraced and embodied, breathed the peace of Jesus. And one day, in spite of myself, I will have it, too!
(1) Mark 1.14-15
(2) Genesis 1.1-27
Jesus Teaching by the Seashore, James Tissot (1836-1902)
Jesus Stilling the Tempest, James Tissot