All Hands on Deck: Week 2- Trust
“All Hands On Deck: Trust”
November 13, 2022 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church , Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Luke 8:22-25; Matthew 14:22-33
Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
Jesus Calms a Storm
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’
Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
After a string of beautiful, warm November days over the last couple weeks, the weather turned on Friday and Saturday and it was rainy and windy. Yesterday morning in the early hours was especially windy. Those really strong gusts of wind rattle the windows and toss the tree branches around and each time one comes there’s this split second where I think, this is the one that’s going to break something. And then it passes. But then another gust comes and enough of those strong gusts come within a 5-minute stretch that I begin to think, how long is this going to last?? So I do what any other 21st century person does when they’re concerned about the weather. I open the weather app on my phone and I look at the hourly forecast. And, ah, peace of mind. The storm looks like it will clear to sunshine in a few hours.
If only life where that simple, right? We are talking today about weather, storms, boats, and seas. But we’re also talking about precarity. Precarity…The state of being precarious. That feeling of being unsure about what it is that holds you up when life around you swirling.
To get into this conversation, we just heard two stories about boats in precarious situations. In both stories, disciples of Jesus are in the boats. In both stories they are sailing from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other. In both stories, a storm comes up unexpectedly making their journey more difficult. And in both stories Jesus is nearby, but not exactly holding the disciples’ hands. In the first reading we heard from Luke 8, Jesus is actually in the boat with the disciples when the storm descends. That’s good, right? Only thing is….he’s sleeping! Turns out, even Jesus gets tired! Who knew? Being in crowds of people and teaching and healing all day was as exhausting as it sounds and Jesus needed this boat ride for some down time. And so when this squall descended on the boat, what happened? The disciples panicked but Jesus doesn’t even stir. The squall doesn’t even phase the sleeping Jesus. He’s either super exhausted or a really deep sleeper. Or maybe he knows something that the disciples don’t know about this storm. When the disciples panic and wake Jesus up screaming that they think they’re going to die, Jesus stood up, rebuked the raging winds and then turned to the disciples and said something like: “Really? You thought you were going die? Where is your faith?”
I am going to say that if I had been in that tiny boat on that big turbulent sea in a storm, I would have probably reacted in a similar manner to the disciples. But then this week I heard our friend Tom tell a story that helped shift my perspective. With his permission I’m going to share it with you. Tom’s been fortunate enough to take a couple trips to Israel in his life and told our small group Bible study this week that one trip he was at the Sea of Galilee. While he was there, he was able to speak with some fishermen who were on the shore. And they were talking about the weather, like you do. And they told him the Sea of Galilee is largely a calm body of water but does occasionally get very unsettled when strong winds come down off the surrounding mountains in kind of a sudden way. But, they said, those same winds that come down quickly also leave quickly. None of the storms on the Sea of Galilee ever last very long. The winds blow in, they unsettle things, and then they lift.
Many of the disciples in that boat in our Bible story were fishermen themselves (we know that because of the story from last week) and they probably also knew this weather pattern, too. But I think Tom’s encounter illustrates an important point. Perspective matters in situations of precarity. It’s easy for someone on the shores to look out onto the sea and say, yeah, the storms come quickly and go quickly. It’s no big deal, don’t sweat it. And it’s an entirely different experience to actually be on a small fishing boat in the middle of vast body of water in the middle of a storm where even just a few minutes of high waves and strong winds can feel like an eternity.
I think Jesus knew both of these things: that the storm would pass quickly and that the disciples were scared. And that was okay. His response, knowing both of these things was to rebuke the storm for being so frightening… and also to say to the disciples “Where was your faith? You were not actually going to die. These storms come quickly and they also pass quickly. Your faith would have gotten you through the scariness of it if you had just leaned on that instead.”
I’m not sure how many of us have been on a little wooden boat in the middle of a storm, but I think we can all relate to feeling overwhelmed when things get unsettled in our lives. The kinds of storms that appear on our horizon are less about high winds and big waves and more about disappointment and hurt or coming to terms with our own harmful actions or betrayal or insecurity or physical and mental illness and so many kinds of loss. These storms come up fast and unsettle our lives. We feel anxious and scared. We wish Jesus was literally sleeping next to us so we could wake him up screaming about the raging storm in our life and how bad it is and isn’t he going to do something about it.
He’s not literally in the same boat as us. But through this story he did leave us his wisdom for charting a course in his direction. Find your faith and keep it close. Your faith will be your life preserver. It will keep you afloat. But you have to make sure you have room in your life for what really matters. Because if you don’t, your faith will be crowded out by things that have no actual value when it comes to getting you through the stormy seasons of your life. Let me repeat that: If you don’t have enough room, your faith will be crowded out by things that have no actual value when it comes to getting you through the storms.
Find your faith and prioritize it in your life. If our faith is a priority, meaning we’ve put it first when we’ve filled the vessels of our lives, then everything else begins to fall into place around it and we have it at the center of our lives when challenges begin to swirl. Our priorities ground us.
Here’s an example, scrolling through Facebook won’t do a lot to help me get through a difficult an emotional situation in my life, but that conversation I had with a wise person I saw at church on Sunday? Another example, retail therapy is called retail therapy because spending money and buying things we want can be cathartic. But when we spend money on possessions that aren’t really necessary and make our closets and garages overflow, does that actually help ease our pain?
Where is your faith? Jesus asks. Is it central to your life? Or is it the thing you add in when you happen to have time? Is it what you give to when you happen to have a $5 bill left in your wallet on Sunday? Is it the last-minute plea to God for help when you think you actually might die?
Our faith should be at the center of everything else not an after-thought. It should be the starting point. It should be the priority when we make our budgets and plan our days and fill our jars of rocks and sand. Our faith should be alive and well on days that are not only stormy, but also sunny.
We read a second Bible passage about Jesus, a boat, scared disciples and another storm. This one from Matthew 14 finds Jesus not in the boat, but watching from one of the mountains that surrounds the sea. He knows his friends are in trouble so he walks out to them through the storm on top of the water in this mind-bending, super-natural fashion.
The disciples are scared. They think this might be a ghost. Jesus tells them to have courage and not be afraid. Peter from inside the boat decides to test Jesus. “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” As if regular old humans could walk through storms on water, Peter’s thinking.
“Come!” Jesus replies, as easily as if he were on dry ground. At this point I wonder if Peter regretted asking. But he put one foot out of the boat, and then the other. And one foot in front of the other, he began walking toward Jesus through the storm on top of the swirling water.
But a gust of wind came and Peter looked down and the precarity of his situation overwhelmed him. He began to sink into the water and cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus found him and pulled him up and asked firmly and gently, “You had faith but you didn’t lean on it. You began to doubt.”
I admire Peter for getting as far as he did. There will be times in our life when we are called to step out into the precarity of our situation. Times when taking a risk is the next right step. In these situations, your faith will never be more important. It will buoy you through the unimaginable if you let it.
Don’t get distracted from what is most important. We live in turbulent times. There is a lot that swirls beneath us ranging from personal issues to political tension to price inflation. It all weighs heavy on our hearts. Can we trust that our faith will be enough to see us through? Are there even situations where taking a step further out into the turbulence is the next right thing?
This week I was having a conversation with a group of leaders from this church. The conversation centered around the question: when the finances are not quite enough, do we take a step in faith, trusting that God will provide? It feels a little like climbing out of the boat and stepping onto swirling sea water. When we feel pinched by our financial worries, is it possible to still take risks that we feel called to take as the next faith step? Ultimately we decided the risk was worth taking. They trust, as do I, that God will provide the resources to make our precarious steps possible.
These are, indeed, risky times to prioritize our faith, especially when finances are involved. When everything around us makes us want to shrink into a scarcity mode, there is Jesus saying, “where is your faith?” This week as my family is filling out our pledge card, we’ll have some hard decisions to make. How much can we let go? Where is the balance between risk and safety that we feel God is leading us to find? How do we organize our life so that our priorities don’t end up crowded out by the less important stuff? Hard questions indeed.
My Grandmother has always has said with great confidence: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.” In other words, it’s not about the weather, it’s about us and how well we’re prepared for what comes in the storms that are inevitably part of life. What kind of faith do you have to help you weather the turbulence? Are your priorities organized in such a way that your faith won’t be crowded out by less important things that have no actually life-preserving qualities? I pray that it may be so for you and for me.
Grace and Peace,