Occasionally, I preach a sermon from the first person, taking the imagined perspective of one of the characters in the biblical story. Today’s sermon was one of those that seemed to be “so-so” after I wrote it and yet in the actual act of preaching in the community of faith, it came alive in an amazing way. As I preached this morning, I knew that everyone was with me in the story. And when I finished, the ground felt holy under my feet. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. . .and sometimes I know grace best in holy silence.
(I invite you to listen to the gospel story today from the perspective of Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples.)
I need to get something straight right from the beginning. This boat ride across the Galilee at night was not our idea. It was Jesus’ idea. Jesus had called twelve of us to travel with him around the area. I wasn’t exactly sure why Andrew and I had said yes to Jesus’ command to follow him. We just knew we could not say no. So we had left our fishing boat to follow this carpenter from Nazareth as he began to preach and teach and heal.
It wasn’t very long until word spread about Jesus’ power, and crowds began to grow. People who were sick, crippled or possessed by demons were hungry for his healing touch. People were hungry for good news in the midst of their difficult lives. They heard that Jesus preached and taught the good news of God’s kingdom coming among them right here and now. Yet most of the time, Jesus used parables to teach. He didn’t often explain these short tales that illustrated universal truths to the gathered crowds.
He waited until the thirteen of us were having supper around the fire to explain them. I have to admit to you that sometimes I didn’t understand the parables any better once he explained them, but I figured that in time, I would get it.
One day, he had spent the whole day teaching about seeds sown on different kinds of soil, lights hidden under bushel baskets, seeds growing in the dark, and mustard seeds. That evening, he said to us, “Let’s go across to the other side.” We were a little surprised that he didn’t want to wait until morning. But maybe he just wanted to get away from the crowds. They had pushed and demanded his attention all day long. Besides, the Sea of Galilee was as smooth as glass as we pushed off from shore. Some other folks joined us, so several boats headed for the other side.
Almost immediately, Jesus found a cushion in the stern of our boat, curled up, and fell asleep. But it wasn’t long before the clouds gathered. The wind picked up, then grew into a furious squall. Choppy waves grew into swells that began to lap over the sides of the boats. Now I am a fisherman. I had been in rough waters before. But never had I experienced such a sudden, violent storm. Within a few minutes, even the four experienced fishermen among us went from being concerned to being terrified. Suddenly, we were afraid we were not going to make it to the other side alive. It was as if the wind, the sky and the sea had joined forces and turned into a chaotic, evil force.
And where was Jesus in the midst of this raging storm? He was asleep! He got us into this mess and now he was sleeping like a baby in the back of the boat. So we staggered back there, shook him awake and demanded, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” But he didn’t speak to us at all. He stood up and looked around him. Then, as if exorcising some kind of cosmic demon, he spoke to the wind and the sky and the sea. “Peace! Be still!” In that very instant, the wind died down. The surface of the sea became as smooth as glass. Then he turned to us. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
We did not know what to say to him. Who was this man? We had heard good preachers and teachers in our lives. We had seen traveling holy men who possessed healing powers. But we had never, in our lives, seen anything like this. Who was this man, that even the forces of nature—the wind and the sea—obeyed him? Suddenly, we were all terrified again—not of the storm, but of him. Only God can tame the forces of chaos and destruction in nature. Yet this carpenter from Nazareth had awakened, stood, and tamed the forces of chaos and destruction right before our very eyes.
Over the next three years, we would slowly grow to understand more about Jesus of Nazareth. Yet it would only be after his death, his resurrection and his return to God that we would really understand who he was. After Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit that had lived in Jesus would begin to live in us. In his name, we would teach, preach, heal and cast out demons. We would begin to tell the whole world that no matter what kind of chaos, fear and destruction there is in people’s lives, God’s love will always prevail.
Two thousand years after that stormy evening, you sit here listening to my story. Maybe you haven’t ever literally been in a boat in choppy seas. But my guess is that you have experienced difficult, chaotic—even terrifying times. The truth is that for us as human beings, life is difficult. Our world has always been full of wars and conflicts. Drought, famine and floods threaten many of our brothers and sisters around the world. Some of you have struggled with economic hardships. Some of you have lost someone you love, and your grief may wash over you like raging waves washing over the side of a boat. Some of you have faced major surgery or medical treatments with dread and terror. Some of you struggle every day to live with the challenge of chronic pain or disease. Most of you are hungry for spirituality and community, so you come to worship. Yet in tempestuous religious seas, you may wonder if the institutional Church—especially the Episcopal Church—has surrendered to the demons of conflict and chaos. You may wonder whether we have totally forgotten a sleeping Jesus or worse yet, thrown him out of the boat.
I must tell you something that you must never forget. No matter how difficult times become, Jesus is in the boat with you. Darkness and despair may roil the waters. Chaos and confusion may whip winds into a frenzy. Yet the powers of death and destruction will not win. Fear will not win the day. Faith will win the day. And even if your faith is tiny—like that mustard seed Jesus taught us about—that’s okay. All you have to do is to call upon that bit of faith in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. With that, you can hold on to the mast of the boat, trusting that no matter how violently the storms rage, God will guide you safely into the harbor. It may not be the harbor you thought you were bound for, but God will be with you there.
In that knowledge, you can trust the peace of God that passes all human understanding. You can trust the power of God that will prevail in any circumstances. And most of all, you can trust the love of God that will surround and sustain you all the days of your life. Amen.
© The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton
Picture of Sea of Galilee accessed through Google images (www.fairfield.k12.ct.us)
Other pictures by McJilton
 Definition of a parable accessed at www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable.