It’s hard to imagine looking at the news this week and not feel the choppiness of the water surrounding our boats. We pray for all those affected by the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, particularly the family of the woman who died and those injured. We pray for all those at University of Virginia and the neighboring schools who are watching in horror.
We pray for Guam, who has been directly threatened by Kim Jong Un. We pray for a president who has no experience in this type situation, and may encourage violence rather than squash it.
Prayer is about hope, faith, and love. We may not be able to directly calm the waters around us, but we can abate the hurricanes inside us, emotions rising that we may not have felt before because for the young, they are walking in new territory… while older Americans remember the white supremacy violence and nuclear threats of the 1960’s, and have to relive that trauma.
Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus needing rest and relaxation after preaching to the crowds and having them flock toward him, overwhelming the calm inside him and needing to retreat to recover. While he is gone, a storm brews on the Sea of Galilee (now known as Lake Kinneret), and Jesus cuts his time away short to run to the shore and help them.
It is essential to remember that Jesus is not doing anything out of the ordinary, and is in fact, a part of his personality. Jesus is doing what he always does, which is to help people in need. When the Disciples see him walk out onto the water, they are terrified. Some people translate this literally, that he could walk on water. However, from the Greek, it is unclear whether this is what happened. In verse 25, it is epi ten thalassan, which can equally mean over the sea and towards the sea. In verse 26, it is epi tës thalassës, which can mean on the sea or at the seashore. Therefore, it is hard to tell whether the Disciples thought they’d seen a ghost because he was walking on water toward them, or whether he just sneaked up behind them and they jumped out of their skin. Remember, he was away and unexpected.
The surprise regardless of what you believe happened is that Jesus shows up in their hour of fear and need of reassurance. Whether the storm blew over on its own, or whether Jesus personally calmed the waves is of no consequence. As Rev. Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister in addition to his PBS presence, put it, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.
When we look around at the choppy waters surrounding our own boats, let us not focus on the water. Let us focus on the people who are willing to drop whatever they’re doing to rush in and help us in our own hours of need.
There is no better metaphor for our current situation than Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk rescue mission during WWII in which private sailors volunteered to drop everything they were doing, including fishermen who would lose wages, to go and rescue soldiers in France and bring them back to British shores, because the destroyers could not reach shallow water. Without even thinking about it, they refused to focus on the choppy water, but on the people in need. People who never signed up for military service endured gunfire and bombs, but ignored the threat in favor of “keeping calm and carrying on.”
It has become a trite saying, but when you really ask yourself, “what would Jesus do?,” this is it. This is the spirit of Christ working through enormous chaos, calming the water for the soldiers who saw the rescue boats coming. Just like the Disciples surprised by Jesus, they had no idea that the small crafts were coming. Some were scattered among different ships, and others were swimming for their lives.
Even if the weather was still bad, the storms that raged within the soldiers as they knew they were facing almost certain death from German fire or hypothermia were calmed. The spirit of Christ walked on the water, to the water, in the water.
When the storm rages within you, know that someone is coming. It might be the spirit of Christ that lives in you, or it might be the spirit of Christ that lives within someone else, ready to drop anything to come and help you in your own hour of need.