Faith in Deep Water
First of all I would like to describe to you the Sea or Lake of Galilee. According to the Bible Dictionary, the Sea or Lake, which I will refer to as a lake, is very large, 13 miles long and 8 miles wide at its widest. It is surrounded, except on the southern side, by high cliffs of about 2700 feet. As a result of the high cliffs, cool winds frequently rush down these slopes and unexpectedly stir up violent storms on the warm surface of the lake. This is what must have happened to Jesus & His disciples when they tried to cross the Lake.
Jesus’ disciples were great fishermen and probably faced this same situation on some of their fishing trips. They should have known what to do in the storm, but when Jesus was there asleep, they panicked and lost their faith in themselves. I’m sure most of us would have been the same way, facing the waves and wind.
I remember several years ago I was in a small boat fishing out of Westport and it seemed like we would never get to the place where they thought the fish were. Well, while out there fishing, I got sick as usual, and also the fog rolled in big time. Couldn’t see anything and there was no GPS either. All we could do was listen to the fog horns at the bar or inlet to Westport. That boat just putted along—putt, putt, putt putt! I was getting concerned if we would ever find land again. Thanks be to God, we made it in.
Well, I know how the disciples felt, except I didn’t have Jesus with us sleeping, to awake and lift the fog, to show us the way in.
The disciples were afraid, and it appeared that they were troubled by Jesus’ indifference. It couldn’t have been the storm since they were experienced sailors. Neither was it the indifference of Jesus that worried them. They were frightened of the awesome power of Jesus to make things calm.
At first, it appeared that Jesus was indifferent to their plight. “Do you not care if we perish?” Jesus stilled the storm, which proved that he cared, but they were still afraid. The fact that he stilled the storm was simply overwhelming. It defied logic. It was beyond comprehension. It was beyond their control, but Jesus was still in charge.
“Why are you afraid, have you no faith?” To have faith in God is scary business. It is also risky. It means we have to trust in the power of God instead of our own ability. It means we have to take risks we are not always willing to take.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord calms the wind and the waves and says to the tense disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” He surely intended the link between faith and fear. The opposite of faith is not doubt or unbelief; those tend to be doctrinal differences. No, the opposite of faith more often as not, is fear. We fear the unknown. We fear the undiagnosed lump in the breast, or the persistent cough. We fear the new swine flu. We fear losing control of our bodies and our health because of aging. We worry about how changes in politics, technology, or the economy will influence our jobs and the income from our savings and retirement funds. Fear is like waves ever seeking to knock us off our footing…our faith footing.
The story that follows, is one of faith in a potentially fearful situation. It was told by a Presbyterian minister. He told of his days as a navy submariner in the Pacific during World War II. “We would often come under depth charge attack by Japanese destroyers, “ he said. “The other sailors would be trembling with fear, while I just leaned back and read a comic book. One of them asked how I could be so calm. I explained to him that in my childhood I had very little supervision by my parents, so I spent many hours each day at the New Jersey beach. Sometimes a huge breaking wave would catch me by surprise and thrust me under the water, rolling me in the sand. But then, I learned when I would just relax thousands of air bubbles like the fingers of God would catch me up and lift me to the surface. Now, whenever I find myself in trouble, I just relax and wait for the fingers of God to reach under me and lift me up.”
Faith is a stance in life, it is a confidence that is typically acquired very early in life when a child learns to expect his or her environment and the people in it to be reliable and trustworthy.
A little boy was put to bed one night and his mother was with him; when she got up to leave, he begged her not to leave him alone. “You’re not alone,” she assured him, “God is here with you.” “I know,” he replied, “but I want something I can touch.” We always want a concrete God that we can touch, that we can reach out and hold on to when we’re afraid of life’s turmoil. We want real, tangible assurance that God is wide awake and working on our behalf.
When things are going well in life, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, believing nothing bad can befall us again. We have fallen asleep at the wheel and we awake in a panic when the storms of life begin to blow. We wonder where God is and if we have been abandoned to the waves that threaten to capsize our boat. We accuse God of being asleep—leaving us to be swallowed up by our problems.
We forget that we have the greatest power in the world right at our fingertips. God, whose power flows in and through everything in this world, flows through us as well. God’s power is not the power of a dictator or superman, swooping in to rescue us and set everything right in the blink of an eye. Instead, God’s power is a cooperative power that requires us to be awake. This power requires us to have faith in ourselves, in our own ability to work with God in the world. Our faith doesn’t have to be huge—just the size of a mustard seed will do—but our faith, combined with God’s power, means that nothing in the world can upend our boats. That faith in ourselves, combined with God’s power, means we can move mountains—or find calm waters when our boats our rocked.
How many times in life do we find ourselves in a “storm” beyond our ability to handle? When we reach our limits trying to handle the situation, we simply want out of it. And when it becomes desperate enough, we often find ourselves crying out to Jesus, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?”
“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks. Because we are human, we struggle with our fears and our limits just as the disciples did. Yet, if we remain open to the unexpected, Jesus will see us through, in spite of our doubts, fears, and lack of faith.
DON’T BE AFRAID, GOD IS WITH YOU!