Working, Watching, Walking, and Wind: A Message for Hurricane Barry
Due to the forecast of extreme weather over the next 24 hours, we are cancelling Sunday morning services for July 14th. In lieu of our gathered worship, please take the opportunity in your homes to read this message, to pray and sing, and to help neighbors as they have need.
The arrival of Hurricane Barry puts me in mind of the story of Jesus’ disciples on the Sea of Galilee, right after the multiplication. Here is the story as told in the gospel of Mark:
“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded” (Mark 6:45-51).
In this short message, I’d like to focus on four details from the passage: working, watching, walking, and wind.
The first thing we see in this passage is that Jesus makes his disciples get into the boat, and directs them to travel without him. It was evening, at the end of a long day, and the disciples must have been tired. They had just hosted five thousand for a dinner of bread and fish! They might very reasonably have asked Jesus to settle in for a night of rest. Instead, Jesus put them in a boat to work some more. When we read the text closely, it seems that the disciples might have even protested. The word translated “made” is the Greek word “ἠνάγκασεν,” which has a connotation of compelling force, and which the King James Version translates “constrained.” So the disciples were reluctant, but Jesus required them to work some more, sending them into stormy weather, where they struggled to make headway against the wind.
Our lives are often like this experience of the disciples. There are plenty of times when we feel tired, and we would like to rest, but we are required to go on and keep working. We might even be experiencing that now as we prepare for Hurricane Barry. Our own plans and schedules are frustrated, and we are constrained to set out and deal again with the storms of life. I think God gives us these experiences to teach us how to rely upon him. We rely upon God not by stopping our work, but rather by learning in the midst of our work to trust him. We learn to continue our work, trusting that the God who made us still watches over us.
Jesus was watching over his disciples. Even as he prayed on the mountain in the stormy night, he was watching out for their good. He eyesight must have been very good to see the disciples in the night!
Jesus’ careful watching over his disciples should encourage us to realize that he is also watching over us. Sometimes we think of heaven as if it were a high and lofty mountain, where God is removed from our everyday struggles. Our story from Mark shows us this is not the case. For even when Jesus was communing with his Father, even then he was watching out for the good of his disciples. In fact, now that Jesus is ascended and dwelling at the right hand of God, we can have confidence that he is interceding for us, eagerly seeking our good.
When Jesus saw that the disciples were struggling, he went out to them, walking on the water. One of the interesting details in the story is that Jesus meant to walk alongside the disciples; he did not plan to join them in the boat. Why?
Ever since the beginning of Creation, God has been seeking to walk alongside his creatures; even in Garden of Eden God came to meet Adam and Eve, walking through the Garden in the cool of the day. But because Adam and Eve were ashamed of their sin, they hid themselves. In our story, the disciples were not ashamed, but they were scared. And instead of trusting in Jesus walking alongside them, they thought that perhaps he was a ghost, and they cried out. As God was merciful to Adam and Eve, so Jesus was merciful to the disciples, telling them: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
As he went to his disciples, so Jesus comes walking to us. He comes alongside us through the Word of the scriptures, in the form of his body the church, in his Holy Spirit which he has shed abroad in the world. Sometimes we are frightened when we catch a glimpse of him, when we see God dwelling amongst us. But Jesus encourages us, telling us to be not afraid.
There are times, in the midst of all our storms, when all of a sudden the winds cease. Sometimes our external circumstances change – our problems are resolved, or we find a new opportunity, or the Hurricane weakens. But it is even better when we find a new peace, even as external difficulties remain. For when God climbs into the boat of our lives, he comes to bring the peace that passes understanding, to calm not only the winds of the air but also the winds in our minds.
God can do that for us because he has already accomplished the great work of salvation. The disciples, that night, only knew the joy that came from Jesus climbing into their wooden boat. But we know the joy that comes from Jesus climbing onto a wooden cross. For on the cross, Jesus accomplished the work that none of us can do. He watched the predicament of his fellow man, and while praying to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, he accepted the call to love him to the end. Then Jesus walked out of the city, walking alongside humanity in our deepest sin, walking to the cross in the gathering storm. There he took upon himself the force of the cosmic hurricane, spinning out all the power of sin and death until it was no more.