I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to go sit someplace and look at the water. I don’t mean a video or a painting of water, but actual water — like a river ribboning in the sun or the ocean pouring out into the sky. Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, I hope you have given at least thirty minutes of your life to just looking at the water. Whenever I do this, something in my soul is restored. It’s like looking into the water brings my spirit into alignment with the Spirit of God.
And I know how this could sound. Ah, to go stare at the sea, and soak in the beauty of the universe, and let there be peace on earth… It could all sound so gift-shop lovely, but come on.
Anybody who knows anything about peace will tell you it’s not really a peach pleasant afternoon. Anybody who knows anything about water will tell you the same thing. Actual peacemaking is frightening and usually dangerous, and when it comes to the world, peacemaking is what will save our lives.
So it’s not that different from the water. As lovely as the river looks on a summer afternoon, as lovely as the sun-dappled sea appears, the truth is this: We human people are not in charge of the water. Even though it has been said that we treat the world’s oceans like our toilet and our pantry, still. Ask any sailor of any craft; they will tell you, we are not in charge of the sea.
This is a truth that echoes throughout the Bible —all through the Old Testament and the New. Often when the writers of the Bible mention the water, they’re referring to the mysterious realm of the cosmos that is made of chaos. This is the deep. In Genesis, God doesn’t create the deep. God makes the world by gently moving the deep out of the way, separating the waters from the waters, then the waters from the dry land.
It is the deep that rises up in the Great Flood and demolishes every living thing except for those stowaways in the ark. It is the deep that rises up into the Red Sea, letting Moses and the Israelites cross but drowning Pharaoh, and his armies, and their horses.
In our Psalm-of-the-day which we sang a few minutes ago, the singer is exclaiming the power of God. Just exactly how powerful is our God? Even the water will bow down before him! “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid. The very deep trembled… O God, your way was through the sea, your path through the mighty waters, though your footprints were unseen” (Psalm 77:16 and 19) says the Psalm.
You, O God can make peace even on the water. Even when the rain and the wind sweep up the sea in a torrent, the LORD our God can go into that trouble and make peace.
Today we’re continuing our winter series by hearing Mark’s version of the night when Jesus was walking on the water. Not long before this famous incident, there was the night when Jesus and the disciples left the crowds and got into the boat to sail over to the other side. What happened was the deep rose up, the winds swirled, and the waves swamped their little boat.
All through the storm, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat! They woke him up saying, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?!” First Jesus spoke to the wind. Then he told the sea to be still. When there was a dead calm, Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
The disciples don’t answer him; the question is left ringing in the air, but I can think of some replies! Why are you afraid? Seriously Jesus… The disciples begin to wonder who this guy really is. I mean, if the shadowy realm of chaos obeys him, exactly whose side is he on? This is like when they think, hey, if he can speak demon, it makes you wonder whether he is one… (Mark 3:22).
Once the disciples get to shore, Jesus’ ministry continues. Pretty soon, it’s starting to catch up with him. The disciples don’t get it; he can’t go home; John was killed. So on this day, he sends the disciples away, then he sends the crowds away, then Jesus goes up the mountain to be with God.
When evening came, Jesus looks out at the water and sees the disciples in the boat struggling against the wind. Maybe he’s moved by anger or maybe he’s moved by compassion, we can’t tell. Either way, Jesus starts out across the water —walking right over the realm of chaos like he’s its god, like he’s our God. And the part I cannot explain to you is that he was planning to pass them by! (I know!)
Only problem is the disciples see him and don’t recognize him. They’re out in the middle of the night on the realm of chaos, so they believe he is a ghost. They are terrified; Jesus has to say something. According to our version, he says, “Take heart, it is I.” But it could be translated, “Take heart, I am God. Do not be afraid.” He said it so the water could hear him, then he got into their boat, and the winds went quiet.
And oh my friends, I wish I could tell you what happened next was a happy ending! I wish the disciples recognized him then breathed a huge sigh of relief, and threw their arms around him and said, “Oh man! That was amazing! We were so scared! You came over here and stopped the storm. Again! We’re going to laugh about this for a long time!”
Instead. What happens is the disciples take him into their boat, Jesus stops the storm, then the disciples’ hearts are hardened. The people hearing this story would remember that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The disciples do not understand. The next day, they dock the boat, and they follow Jesus who sets out healing people.
Some months ago, a woman named Ayanna Cruver made a video that went viral. 1http://www.wtsp.com/news/video-woman-gripped-by-fear-after-police-stop/446363224 It features her sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car describing what happened when she, as a black woman was pulled over by a white male police officer. You see, she was doing nothing wrong. She was leaving the Air Force Base, driving on the highway, and she was not speeding. Still, the officer pulled her over, and motioned for her to get out of the car.
He said, “The reason I pulled you over is you were driving under the speed limit.” She said, “I was going to slow?” The officer explained that people often drive slowly when they are too tired or inebriated. He said, “I just wanted to check on you.” And she broke down crying. She begins crying on the video while she’s describing crying during the incident. “I was so scared” she says.
Through her tears, she explains the two sides of this. On the one hand, she acknowledges how the officer was genuinely kind to her. He was doing his job, and when she began to cry, he gave her a hug and asked her to be safe.
On the other hand, she was so shaken, she had to calm down before she could keep driving. As she states, “I shouldn’t have had to feel this scared.” She’s right. No one should feel like their life is in danger at a traffic stop.
But whose fault is this? It is not that police officer’s fault; he is not to blame for her fear. But neither is she! Some people say: “If you’re obeying the law, you have no reason to fear. Just don’t be afraid. Easy-peasy!” Anyone who says that does not understand the risk. Instead, they’re invoking the promise of the angels like it’s a flippant instruction.
So we have two unsettling stories: the disciples are terrified on the sea, Jesus says “Do not be afraid” but they are. There is no happy ending and the next day they keep following him. Ayanna was stopped by a police officer, and even though he hugged her, she should not have to be this afraid. There’s no happy ending.
But I really believe, there could be one day.
What strikes me about both of these incidents —the disciples on the boat, Ayanna on the highway —both of these are stories of peacemaking. Now I know. We so often think of peacemaking as the celebration at the end. It’s the sigh of relief, it’s the hug of reassurance. See, peacemaking is not so much the happy ending. It is the night on the sea, during the storm, when you have to decide whether to trust a ghost.
Now if I am going to stand up here and say our world needs more intentional peacemakers, and I am, because it does, then somebody needs to say that peacemaking is dangerous, and terrifying, and it is what will save our lives. This is what it looks like: It looks like going out on the water when you see the wind battering the boat you’re friends are in. All you can do say the promise before it has come true: “Do not be afraid” then you take them with you even when they don’t understand.
Peacemaking looks like making a video to say what happened even when you’re scared, and it’s not your fault, because you know the truth: no one should have to be this afraid. It’s showing up to the middle of the trouble because you know it is love that casts out fear; love is how we’ll overcome. And we’ve got a long way to go.
The world needs people who will go out on the water —right into the terror—with tears on our faces and the deep, deep love of Jesus who will teach us to pronounce the courage of God even when we’re frightened. Until even the chaos of the cosmos can hear. Until our hard hearts break open into guilt, and then grief, and then grace. Until we can look back and laugh at how we used to be afraid. Until even the water becomes a sign of peace. Until that day…