I spent many hours by the sea last week, now it wasn’t the sea of Galilee, but the Caribbean Sea. It was the most beautiful color sea water I have ever seen. It was similar to the vivid aqua color of glacier lakes in Canada or Montana. Unreal to our eyes. I even overheard one visitor ask a worker if there was a filtration system in use to create that clear, turquoise water along the shores.
I spent hours simply listening to the waves rolling in and crashing on the shore. I imagined the waves washing away the stress and strain of the past few months. I slept with the sliding glass door open so I could hear that rhythm all night long. It was a balm to my weary soul.
The disciples obviously had a very different experience on the sea of Galilee that night so long ago. The waves were not a welcomed, soothing in and out, rocking their boat and lulling them to rest after a long day of work alongside Jesus where they had been surrounded by crowds of people and listening to Jesus teach them in parables about mustard seeds and the kingdom of heaven. They were no doubt tired, but rest was not in the cards for them. A storm blew in and the tumultuous waves “beat into the boat, so that it was already being swamped,” causing them to fear for their very lives. And where is Jesus? Lying on a cushion in the stern, sleeping through it all. That is until he is rudely interrupted by the fear-filled disciples.
And notice, Jesus did not say, “There is nothing to be afraid of.” The storm was no doubt dangerous, even fearsome – just as some of the waves and winds that threaten us are. Rather, Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
There is a difference in saying, “There is nothing to be afraid of,” and “Why are you afraid?” There are certainly things to be afraid of which we all know too well after 15 months of dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic that has now claimed some 600,000 lives in the US alone. The pandemic has led many into other things we fear: isolation, loneliness, meaninglessness, loss of jobs, financial stress, emotional and spiritual dis-ease, and many other rippling effects.
Yesterday was Juneteenth and for the first time in our country, it is a national holiday – a true Independence Day where the word of emancipation finally reached the shores of Galveston, some 2 and a half years after being signed into law. Fort Worth’s own Opal Lee, a force to be reconned with, who at 94-years-old got to see her determination and persistence pay off in being right at President Biden’s side as he signed the bill making Juneteenth a national holiday – acknowledging that our country’s ‘original sin of slavery.’ The seas of race issues continue to crash on the shores or our nation, tapping in to various fears for us white folk that often go unnamed – fear of addressing white ignorance as it relates to the struggles of our black and brown siblings (for as Maya Angelou said, ‘when you know better, you must do better’); fear of saying something ignorant, or unintentionally racist because it is the water in which we grew up and live; fear of recognizing or admitting racial biases in the very marrow of our being; fear of change. (I applaud the Tuesday night folks that have been on the anti-racism educational journey for the past year – and I thank you for allowing me to learn and grow with you. It is important and humbling work.)
Juneteenth as a National recognition is an important step in the healing and restoration process. But it is only a step – we still have a lot of work to do in this sea of racism that continues to be an undercurrent in our country.
And you all are living through another fear realized, the loss of your beloved building on Meadowbrook Drive. Jesus poses a second question, to his “Why are you afraid?” -- “Have you still no faith?” Your faith has been on strong display through the upheaval, disorientation, loss and change that this year has presented. “As we continue living our faith, we grow to understand that even though such fearsome things are very real, they do not have the last word. They do not have ultimate power over us, because reigning over this world of fearsome things is God who is mightier than they. Time and again in Scripture the word is, “Do not be afraid.” It is, you might say, the first and the last word of the gospel. It is the word the angels speak to the terrified shepherds and the word spoken at the tomb when the women discover it empty: “Do not be afraid.” Not because there are no fearsome things on the sea of our days, not because there are no storms, fierce winds, or waves that upset our lives, but rather, because God is with us.
We don’t have to dredge up some kind of superhuman power or courage. We simply keep the faith, call on the name of God, the name of Jesus, when the seas of our lives are pummeling us. Just visualize curling up next to Jesus on that cushion in the stern and ride out the storm, for while scary and unwelcomed, storms do not last forever.
You recall Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast in 2005, devastating New Orleans….. After the last winds died down from Hurricane Katrina, there was little optimism among those who remained in New Orleans and could venture out to see what had happened to their city. A photograph taken shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit shows the devastation of a cemetery in the historic district of the city, with trees topped, debris covering the ground, and several burial vaults broken and smashed. But in the middle of the devastation, untouched by the storm, stands a statue of the risen Christ, arms extended wide, offering a benediction of calm amid the chaos. Such is the image conveyed by this text: the image of Christ with his arms extended wide over the chaos of our lives and world, saying, “Peace! Be still!” Peace. Be still.
Whether on a beautiful Caribbean Sea, with calm and beautiful waters, or on a tumultuous sea of upheaval and disruption, may your faith remind you that the very Creator of the winds and the waves is present in every storm and Christ’s response is always the same:
“Peace! Be still!”