I took a beginner's swimming class in summer camp, but I never learned to swim. I was scared of the water. I guess my fear of water began when an older cousin tossed me into the deep end of the swimming pool, saying that I would either sink or swim. I freaked out, thinking that I was going to drown. I violently shook my arms as if the water was a sworn enemy to be defeated, and I sank to the bottom of the pool. After a lifeguard saved my life, my friends said that, if I would stop fighting the water and relax, I would float. I tried to follow this advice only to sink and not swim. I figured that my body was either waterlogged or designed to stay on land.
I tried to overcome my fear. I managed to make it across to the other side of the kiddie pool. But crossing over to the other side of the regular pool scared me to death. I was the only camper to receive a certificate who failed the swimming test. Someone had already printed the certificates, and no one had ever not received one. That is, at least until I participated. I never learned to swim. I'm still afraid of water and I always pray when taking a flight over water thinking my waterlogged frame will be my demise even with the flotation seat.
Today, years later, my inability to swim still haunts me. But it's not what you think. Of course, I stay clear of water, but I struggle to swim across to the other side of the deep waters of change. I can't keep my head above water. I can't catch the rhythm of the stroke. And deep change gives me a sinking feel that scares me to death.
Our Bible text today finds the disciples with a similar struggle. Jesus is teaching on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd grows so large that he has to use a boat as a makeshift teaching platform.
Jesus is preaching the good news of God's kingdom, wanting people to put into practice the words that he's saying, and people are following him. The crowds are growing large, and Jesus teaches in parables. And sometimes people understand it; other times people don't. So he explains it to them. And later that day, perhaps exhausted from exerting himself, he pulls his disciples aside and says to them, "Let's cross over to the other side of the lake."
Following Jesus' request, they set sail at the widest point of the sea, from the west to east heading for the other side. No sooner than they began to sail across the 13-mile lake, Jesus falls asleep. Now I can imagine the disciples talking amongst themselves, perhaps engaged in figuring out what the parables meant that Jesus told on the shore. Perhaps they're wondering what's going to happen once they get to the other side of the lake. Is it going to be more of the same? Are there going to be more crowds pressing in on Jesus and demanding his time and their time? Before they could answer any of these questions, it happened.
The swirling hot air rose, the cool air fell in the area to transform the calm sea. Without warning, the winds began to blow and the calm sea began to get choppy. Huge waves started to toss the boat back and forth. What began as a simple request to cross to the other side of the lake was now the "perfect storm." It scared the disciples to death. Some of the disciples on the boat were expert fishermen and they've navigated through the Sea of Galilee storms before, but this time it was different. The waves were so turbulent that water began to flood into the boat, and panic set in. They feared for their lives. And all the while, Jesus is asleep.
And they shake him as hard as they can, "Teacher, Teacher, Teacher, don't you care about us? Don't you care that we are about to die?” And I can imagine Jesus, rising to assess the situation. The Bible tells us that he calmly speaks to the wind and the waves, "Silence! Be quiet!" And just as fast as the storm started, the winds abruptly die down. The sea began to get calm again. And Jesus looks at his disciples and asks, "Why are you frightened? Don't you have faith yet?"
The disciples are puzzled, asking themselves, "Who is this guy? Yes, we know he can give parables. We've even seen him do some of the things that only God could do. But we've never, ever seen anything like this. He talks to the water and the wind, and they obey him!"
Jesus was asleep during a storm in the disciples' lives. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is where I find both troubling aspects of the text that stands out to me. You see, if I were in the boat, my fear of water would appear, and I would relive my swim class experience of sinking to the bottom of the pool. I would feel that I'm about to drown, and it doesn't seem that Jesus is that interested in what's going on in my life. Maybe you have had that same experience. Perhaps you're experiencing something now where you're struggling to keep your head above water, and you can't figure out why God is silent. Where is God in the midst of your storm? And perhaps, like the disciples, you shake your fist at heaven and yell at God, "Don't you care about me? I am about to die. Why don't you come see about me?"
The second thing that's personally troubling, and it seems kind of strange, is that it's Jesus' idea to cross to the other side of the lake in the first place. What was he thinking? Was he only thinking about himself because he was tired, but what about the disciples? Are there times where it feels that maybe you've gotten the short end of the stick? Perhaps you're waiting on something that you've been praying for a long time, and all you've heard is a deafening silence where nothing happens. Maybe you're praying for a miracle, and you've prayed without ceasing, even petitioning your A-List prayer warriors to intercede on your behalf. But still, your prayers seem to go unanswered and, like a rubber ball, they bounce off the floor and the ceiling never to reach Heaven's Gate.
But there is good news in this text. The fact that Jesus tells them to cross to the other side of the lake suggests to me that he will be present with us when we are crossing over the obstacles, problems, and uncertain situations in our lives. And just as I learned in swim class, the disciples also have to face their fear and cross to the other side of the lake. With Jesus asleep in their boat, they must cross over through the choppiness and the disorder of chaos, where the sunny skies turn dark and gray, where angry clouds show up suddenly to a place of tranquil water and still waters that run deep again. Like the disciples, I've shaken my fist at God before shouting, "Don't you care about me?" But all along, I was focused on the wrong thing.
It's so easy to get distracted by the storms and forget that Jesus is in the boat. Faith says that if Jesus is in the boat and the boat is going through a storm - if we're able to step back and look and get out of our triggered fear - there's a good chance that Jesus will also calm our storms. If we're in the presence of Jesus, then we will be okay. We might get a little wet, we might get a little soggy, but we will be okay because of the One who created the sky and the sea. The One who was with creation, when the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep. But the Spirit of God hovered above the waters. And God said, "Let there be light."
Perhaps this is a creation story for our faith. I know it is with me when I get down. When I get distracted and focus on the storm instead of Jesus, I get exhausted, and I fret. I get tired, and I need a little rest. Know that in your most difficult days, when the storms of life are raging, Jesus is the one who's in your boat. Maybe he's asleep, but he's still in your boat. And I would rather have a sleeping Jesus in my boat than being on a large luxury cruise ship out in the middle of the ocean with all the amenities, particularly when the sea gets rough.
What about you, friends? Is Jesus in your boat? The boat represents your life. Maybe your boat has drifted away from Jesus. Maybe, at one time, you were close to Jesus, but today you feel like he's miles away. Perhaps that's what it feels like for Jesus to be asleep in your boat, but the good news is that Jesus is never too far away from us.
Will you call out to Jesus? Will you trust Jesus when things get out of hand? Will you call when your boat begins to shake and it feels like you're ready to sink and drown? As you cross the obstacles and places of uncertainty in your life, can you call out to the One who can speak peace in your life, to say, "Winds, calm down; waves, stop"?
I still don't know how to swim, but I've placed my faith, hope and trust in the One who sleeps in my boat as I cross to the other side.
Those who have ears, let them hear. Amen.