(With Abraham Fields (15) playing his original composition)
“We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”
Last night, the north wind tried to break in. The walls shook, the windows bowed under the knock of its hand. The rain struck with such force we thought we’d be sucked from our beds and swept away in a river down our stairs.
There have been four storms like that these last two weeks. The air is howling even as I write---hurricane force winds that have timbered trees and torn roofs off. This is my home, this faraway island of rock in the Gulf of Alaska, where storms coalesce, where gale and hurricanes train, where the winds unleash and the sky leans down in howls of snow and rain. And when it all stops and the sun peers out and the world holds its pretty blue breath, we disbelieve the calm. We know another storm is already clotting the nearby skies.
This is where we all live, isn’t it? We all live in a time and In a place where one storm follows another, and there we are, out on the sea in small boats. Sometimes we can barely hold on.
And now another year is swelling and breaking upon us. How do we greet this new year with joy and innocence and hope? How do we pretend we are not sea-rocked and sick, tired and shaken from the old?
Come with me into one stormy night.
Twelve men were crossing the sea that night, twelve friends. It was just a lake, really, but the winds could barrel down and stir that coin of a lake into an angry ocean in minutes, and could blow for hours. There they were, men with just oars in their hands, with just muscle in their arms and shoulders, only flesh against the wind and an oceanic lake. All night long they leaned into the oars just to keep the bow into the waves, to save their lives. But their strength waned with each hour. And not two miles had passed.
You know what happened near morning, how he came to them upon the waters, feet on the tops of the sloshing waves. And you remember how one of them, Peter, our darling impetuous Peter leaped overboard into the waves to walk toward Jesus. And for a few miraculous moments, there he was, tight-wiring on the sea itself, a man aloft on the tumultuous waters, Peter the Triumphant mastering gravity, mortality, and inadequacy!!
Since that five second walk on water, we have all been urged to “get out of the boat” so we too can “walk on water.” We are told that if we have the faith of Peter, we too can leap out and tread on stormy seas, victorious! We too, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’ll never sink beneath the waves!
But no. Listen. Peter did not leap out of the boat from faith----but from doubt. They were terrified, thinking this form in the storm was a phantom. Jesus identified himself clearly to his friends in the storm: “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Eleven men believed him then and knew it was their master who had come to them on the waters, but Peter did not believe him. “IF it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
It was Peter’s idea, not Jesus’. It was Peter’s doubt that sent him into the water, not faith. Jesus never intended for Peter or any of them to walk on water. There was no need. Jesus had already given them a boat. And companions, each other, to row it. And he had given himself, there upon the waters, with them. That is enough. More than enough.
I write this now because another year is coming, swelling and breaking upon us. I write this because I have seen people jump overboard---abandoning their families, their faith. We will not escape, any of us, the brush of death, the terrors of love, the tides of fear, the crushing graces of a life we do not deserve. The waters will rise, and there will be wars and rumors of wars; there will be bombs among the innocents, guns among the young; there will be family fights and difficult reconciliations; there will be feasts and singing among broken hearts. Babies will be born, fathers will die, weddings will break out in the streets, while the seas rise and fall, while the waves whisper and roar.
We’ll tire at the oars, we will. We’ll see the water filling the boat, we’ll bail for all we’re worth, we’ll think we’re going to sink---
Do you remember what he said to those terrified men that night, terrified by the storm, terrified because they thought he was a ghost from the abyss?
“Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Do you hear that? This is for you, right now, for me, right now, for this new year ahead of us. I’m a little afraid, I confess. But I’ve been given a boat----my family, my church, the Words of God, Jesus himself, all of YOU here in this place. And there is no storm, no wind no dark no sea that can keep him from us. He will always find us. He will come to us as the King and Lord over all of creation, striding on the very waters that threaten us, and he’ll call to us, gently and strong, from inside every storm,
“Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Don’t abandon the boat. Don’t let go the oars.
Let us keep rowing, dear friends, beside one another. He will be with us every day of the year to come.
We will not be afraid.