The Wind and the Sea Obey Him

What is a miracle, but a demonstration that the Creator is Lord of creation? If you told me it was impossible, what happened here on the Sea of Galilee, I'd agree with you: water does not obey me. Gravity, as I have known ever since I worked in the department where we keep all the light bulbs, is my nemesis. I am stuff, like all this other stuff, and no better or worse. Smarter, more capable, but not ultimately superior to all the matter around me. I am subject to physics. That great big mass of earth below me pulls me down, and the water simply gets out of the way.

Peter is no different. And he worked on the water from the time he was old enough to go out there with his father and brothers and the hired men and get to work. He knows what it's like when this water gets all churned up, when the wind whips it into chop as it comes down off the mountains. It's not enough to keep you from tucking up in the bottom of the boat and getting some rest with the sea anchor out, but it's not nice, and as dark falls, the disciples are still on the water. Obeying physics, while taking advantage of drag and buoyancy to keep from obeying gravity all too well. And one or two at a time, they make sure that nothing bad happens while they're out there, just to keep it that way.

The disciples are just worried enough, with just the right worries and just the right tools and understanding of the way the world works, to stay alive out there. No big deal -- they've done it before, it's part of life on the water. They know what's normal, they know what's not, and they know when they should be afraid. But it is the middle of the night, and, well, imaginations do run away when you're sitting there staring out at the wind and the water. And staring. And staring. And staying awake. Your brain starts to make things out of the patterns, just like staring at the firelight. (Or for us, the television static -- though that's starting to be as much an anachronism today.) So you see movement against the wind, but it's dark. And the movement doesn't go away -- it doesn't just shift out of existence like the other patterns in the static. "Hey, that's spooky ... do you see that?" It starts to have arms and legs, vaguely human movements, then less-vaguely. But it's not obeying physics. The water doesn't get out of its way. It's walking ... out where nothing that lives has any natural right to be walking.

The disciples' conclusion is only natural -- it's a phantasm, an apparition, a ghost. The only kind of thing that disobeys the laws of physics, because it's not made of stuff anymore. But Jesus isn't disobeying the laws of physics. He isn't violating the rules. The creation knows its creator -- even the wind and the sea obey him. Jesus takes the short way to catch up with the disciples, and he asks the sea to hold him up, and it does. And reaching the disciples, he sees that they're a bit freaked out by this whole situation, and so he says to them, "Take heart -- it's me, don't be afraid." And Peter -- Peter who is no different than you or I -- asks for the otherwise insane. "Tell me to come out there with you." And Jesus says, "Come on!" And Peter believes. He trusts Jesus, and obeys the call. And the sea obeys, and holds him up. Until he realizes, "Holy shit, I'm not in the boat. This isn't the way things work -- I'm supposed to be sinking." He believes Jesus, but he's known the world a lot longer. And so now he's sinking. The world starts to take him back. And part of me wants to say he has two choices, and one of them is to let himself fall into the water, and try to swim to the boat through the chop. But this isn't what happens. Peter doesn't entertain his options. He doesn't calculate that Jesus is more likely to get him out of this situation. He's afraid, he's falling in, and he cries out, "Lord, save me!" There was, in that moment, nothing else in him. Nothing but fear, and trust.

And Jesus, who was never going to do anything else but save him, right there in that moment, takes hold of him, and supports his friend, this creature whom he loves, just as the water is supporting him: completely. And as he's holding him there on the water, and Peter is clinging to him, Jesus chides him, just a little -- "Little-faith, what were you looking at out there, that caused you to waver?" The wind and the waves weren't about to get in the way -- it wasn't a pleasant squall out there, but everyone, from Peter to the elements, knew who was in control of the situation.

When the Lord calls you out into a place where you don't think you belong -- where you've never been before, and where the world has never given you any reason to expect that you should be -- he has been out there ahead of you, and does nothing more than call you to come out to meet him where he already stands. For with the heart, one trusts and is set right, and with the mouth one confesses, and is rescued. We do nothing more, but nothing less, than Peter -- full of the same fear and the same trust, even though the trust is small and the fear is great. Against and in spite of the world. In your fear, doubt, and great familiarity with the ways this world treats you. Because ultimately the world is nothing but God's creation, even when it isn't peaceful, and God is present and powerful here in the midst of creation, and waits to catch you and lift you up when you start to fall. And you have a boat full of friends here, all out on the water, all with similar fears, and all with just as little faith -- and we return to the boat with Jesus, and the storm stops, if only for a little while, and we know why. And here in this little boat we worship, and we receive the grace we need to go out there again.

Comments

  1. Where was Jesus and your mommy-daddy "creator"-God in 2004 when a Tsunami killed 300,000 people?

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  2. First: God does not unmake the world. Jesus is not about turning all the things that can hurt us into Nerf toys. The world remains a dangerous place, and we remain weak creatures, capable of dying under too much force. We drown because the water doesn't care about us. God has not taken away death -- just its power over our actions.

    So: where was God? Not in the waves. Not in the earthquake. God was in the same place he is every day: in the midst of the lives of people and other creatures, suffering with them out at the front where the action happens.

    It's not a great answer if you want a God that promises no more death, no more harm, no more suffering. But if you're in the middle of it, no matter how bad it is, God is with you. God went "all-in" a long time ago, and he will not lose you, even when the world is stronger than you are.

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