Sunday, March 13, 2016

Footsteps of Jesus at the Sea: Calming the Storm (Luke 8:22-25)

22 One day Jesus and his disciples boarded a boat. He said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail.

23 While they were sailing, he fell asleep. Gale-force winds swept down on the lake. The boat was filling up with water and they were in danger. 24 So they went and woke Jesus, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” But he got up and gave orders to the wind and the violent waves. The storm died down and it was calm.

25 He said to his disciples, “Where is your faith?”

Filled with awe and wonder, they said to each other, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!”

If you’re just joining us today, we are in the middle of a trip to the Holy Land.  During the Season of Lent, we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus, making stops along the journey as we move with him toward Jerusalem, the cross, and the empty tomb.  Today, we are in the region around the Sea of Galilee for the third week.  We’ve only been around the sea; today we’re leaving shore and actually getting on the boat.

One highlight of any trip to the Holy Land is a ride on a boat across the Sea of Galilee.  I’ve done it twice – once when it was warm and sunny and the surface of the lake was like glass, and once when it was cool and rainy and a little windy and choppy.

In the Scripture we’ve read, Jesus has been traveling from place to place teaching to the disciples and crowds and then “one day he got into a boat with his disciples and said, ‘Let us go across to the other side…”

Getting into a boat with Jesus may not seem like a really big deal. After all, many of the disciples are fishermen. They know boats. They know the water. They’ve made a living knowing this sea well. It’s not unusual for them to get in boats but it’s not without its risks, either. Unpredictable and sudden storms can, and do, pop up when out in these waters.

Any geography buffs here today?  Ok, then today is your lucky day!  The Sea of Galilee, which is really a big lake, is in a hollow bowl about 680 feet below sea level.  Right around the sea, it’s semi-tropical: warm and humid.  All around the bowl are hills and low mountains up to 2000 feet, and the air there is cool and dry.

The hollow bowl that is the Sea of Galilee sits 27 miles to the east of the Mediterranean Sea, and there is a channel that runs through the mountains between the two bodies of water.  The prevailing winds off the Mediterranean blow through that channel, up into the mountains where it gets cool and dry, forced through narrower and narrower gaps until it comes rushing down into the bowl of the Sea of Galilee.

Cool, dry, rushing air, dropping down onto the warm, humid air of the Sea of Galilee.  Rushing across the lake, hitting a wall of higher mountains on the eastern side of the lake, cycling the wind back into the bowl.  So you’ve got “new” wind blowing into the bowl from the west, and “recycled” wind cycling back in at the same time.

To top it all off the Sea of Galilee is shallow…200 feet at its greatest depth and so the winds can “whip” up the waves easily. [Info from Dr. Donald DeYoung in his book Weather and the Bible]

It’s the perfect place for a perfect storm.

When we’ve heard this story before, we’ve often focused on Jesus’ miracle of calming the storm, and the lack of faith or trust on the part of the disciples while they were in the boat, today I’m giving them props for at least getting into the boat to go to the other side, in the first place. Yes, they freaked out. No, they didn’t truly trust in Jesus, yet. Yes, they were even more freaked out about who Jesus was after the wind and the waves obeyed him, but at least they were in the boat going to the other side with him. They had enough faith and trust to do that and it’s a good start.

Karoline Lewis writes,

“Maybe the point is that Jesus is just trying to get us to the other side. Because left to our own devices, we’d rather stay where we are.

If the disciples had said to Jesus, Well, what if there is a storm?” they would have never gotten into the boat because there are always storms on the Sea of Galilee and when you least expect it.

If the disciples had said to Jesus, Well, first tell us what’s on the other side?” they would have never gotten into the boat because if you read on, on the other side, they encounter a demon-possessed guy who lives in the cemetery. And [Jesus] sends that guy’s demons into a herd of two thousand pigs. And then the pigs [jump into] the lake.” Who would believe that?

The [first thing]… hardest thing is getting into the boat [in the first place to go to the other side.]

The shoreline is a tempting place to stay. Shorelines are beautiful, and comfortable and safe.  But friends, Jesus is in the boat.  Not hanging out on shore.  Jesus is in the boat, moving away from shore, and he calls us to go with him.

Did you know that one of the earliest symbols of the church is of a boat?  Says a lot, doesn’t it?  Being in the church means being in the boat.  That understanding even showed up in church architecture.  Think about our sanctuary – look at the arched beams, the wooden ceiling – sort of looks like the inside hull of a ship turned upside-down, doesn’t it?  The part of the sanctuary where the pews are, where most of the congregation sits, is called the “nave,” from the Latin navis, which means “ship,” and from which we also get the word “navy.”

Friends, being in the church means being in the boat!  Just walking through the doors, you are literally stepping into the boat!  But this boat isn’t meant to remain at anchor and sit on the shoreline.  It’s meant to go somewhere.

When we get in the boat with Jesus, moving away from the shoreline, these are the things that will likely happen (They are what happened to the disciples):

1.   Storms – There will be storms.  Where’d we ever get this silly idea that following Jesus and being a Christian was signing up for smooth sailing?  If you want a smooth life, stay on shore.  However, if we want to really be able to “see” well, we will have to weather the storm with Jesus. The disciples believe in Jesus enough to get in the boat with him. They call him, “Master,” but it’s while in the boat, they begin to truly see who Jesus is as the Son of God, Filled with awe and wonder, they said to each other, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!”  It’s while in the boat the disciples start getting the stunning revelation, “I think God’s here with us!”  You don’t have to have any faith to stay on shore, where it’s safe.  It takes faith to get into the boat.  Who knows what will happen?  None of us.  But we do know that God is with us.  On his deathbed, John Wesley said this was the best thing to know in the world, as he uttered his last words, “Best of all, God is with us!”  But if we’re not in the boat, we may never realize this beautiful truth.

2.    Taken To The Other Side - Jesus will take us to the other side; unfamiliar places in need of his grace. The disciples don’t go to the other side and find a perfect world. Instead, they’ll find a person in great need – a man possessed be a legion of demons who is a danger to himself and others.  He’s so scary and dangerous, the village has chained him up out in the cemetery where no one else ever goes. This is where Jesus directs the boat! It had to have been shocking to the disciples, but it shouldn’t be. Jesus preached earlier “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19) If we get in the boat with Jesus, you can bet he’ll be steering the ship to the poor, to those held captive in mind, body, or spirit, to ones who are blind, and to the oppressed, to all those undesirable folks on life’s margins. When we get in the boat it’ll take us to strange, new places. Which means…when we get in the boat, a third thing happens…

3.    We Are Changed - We will not be the same once we get in the boat, withstand the storms, and arrive on the other side…we will be different. Getting in the boat with Jesus will change us. And change is scary.

There is a cartoon I saw this week of a speaker asking a crowd, “Who wants change?!” They all raise their hands and yell, “We do!” Then he asks, “Who wants to change?” and there are crickets. We most often want things around us to change. It’s harder to for us to personally change. However, if we really say “Yes” and get in the boat with Jesus, we will be changed. We will see differently. We will act differently. We will love differently.

One word for this is scary, especially knowing where Jesus is likely to steer the ship. But, another word for it is sanctification. The process of Jesus saving us by grace through faith. It’s the process of growing in the love of God and neighbor that makes us more and more of a true reflection of Christ in the world. It can be scary. It is also sanctifying.

Have you seen those DIRECTV commercials with The Settlers?  They settle for an 18th-century pioneer lifestyle in the middle of a wealthy suburb, they settle for cable when all of their neighbors have DIRECTV.  “We’re Settlers, son; we settle for things.”

When we stay on the shore instead of getting in the boat, we become settlers, too.  We settle for less than what God wants for us, less than what God wants to do in us and through us.  But friends, the nature of a life lived in God’s grace is that it’s not static.  Through our lives, we are always moving, growing, changing, going somewhere.  God’s always working on us to increase our capacity for love of God and love of neighbor, taking us to places and people in need of God’s love, and God will be counting on us to bring it.

Given the choice between settling for a safe, comfortable life on shore, and a wild, unpredictable, stormy ride in the boat to the other side of who-knows-where where we’ll encounter who-knows-what and who-knows-who, which would you choose?  Before you answer, remember: Jesus will be in the boat.

Lord of wind and water, of calmness and peace, be with us this day. Calm our fears as we face uncertain futures. Help us to relinquish control and to place our trust totally in you. Give us the courage to step off the shoreline, and into the boat with you.

O God, at the beginning, Your Spirit moved across the waters and brought forth life. The wind and waves still obey your will. In the midst of every storm in our lives you make your presence known.

Forgive us, O God. Too often we let our fears dictate our actions and our doubts get the better of us. We’re better at making waves than calming storms. We behave in ways that are less than faithful. Sometimes we take foolish risks. Sometimes we’re too afraid to try anything.

Remind us to continue to faithfully work for good, with gratitude for the many blessings you have poured upon us. When the waves and torrents threaten us, let us again to turn to you, and remind us that you’re in the boat with us. Give us courage to become disciples who can calm the seas of doubt and anger, bringing hope and peace. For all the goodness you have poured on us, we offer prayers of gratitude and love, as we ask these things in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

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