The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Into the boat. As the darkness overshadowed the shore, they got into the boat. They were nervous, of course. The water was not safe. On this evening, there was danger in the lake. But they were told to go, and so they did.
It's not like they were riding in a giant cruise ship; the boat was small. The chaotic water was close – close to them, close to eating them up. They pushed out and behind them the shore grew smaller. What they carried in that boat was a glass. They would use the glass to scoop up some of the poison from the waters – a visual aid to disturb the television news audiences, a beautiful glass of green algae for the world to see – maybe it would even go viral. All was going according to plan. The junior field reporter reached the glass into the mess. But then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw him, walking on the surface of the water, towards their boat. Could it be? Was it a ghost? Walking on the water? The young reporter gathered all of his courage and said to the one walking on the lake, “Command me to get out of this boat and walk on the water with you.” And then the mysterious visitor replied in a calm voice, “Come. If this algae bloom is thick enough to hold me, I’m sure it can hold you too.”
We've all had water on the brain recently, not necessarily in the mouth, but definitely on the brain. The entire nation watched last weekend as the people of our region did not drink the water. And we, who were directly affected, were reminded how essential water is to our life and our survival. We have long taken for granted that the water that enters our homes is clean and safe – now and forever. We learned last weekend that that is not necessarily the case.
What was most disconcerting about the entire crisis was how out of our control it really was. The contaminated water that filled our tubs, glasses and washing machines early Saturday morning, looked exactly the same as the good water that filled those same items earlier in the week. And were it not for those who alerted the public, we would have had no idea that the water we were consuming was harmful. The science was complicated, the wait was indefinite, the solutions were shrouded in mystery, and we were left helplessly awaiting the next announcement that our water was either still full of poisons or free and clear.
Assuming you were not hit by a bus before the ban was lifted, you have probably since resumed your typical water usage. The water has been declared safe to drink. But I suspect that for many of us, the anxiety lingers. Each drink from the tap still feels like a risk. My son, Oscar, is still drinking bottled water. The truth is: I still don't know what is in the water. I still don't understand what microcystins really are. I am more aware than ever how many people I rely on to keep me and my family safe.
The poisoned water is just another reminder of a larger reality: we are not in control. And that scares us to death. We try and we try to build comfortable, safe, secure lives for us and our families. But the best we can do is create the illusion of control. Really, like the disciples, we are floating in a little boat at the mercy of an uncontrollable sea of chaos, sailing into the fog of a mysterious future.
In the ancient world, the sea was a symbol of chaos. It was, as it is today, dangerous and mysterious and uncontrollable. There were terrifying monsters lurking in the deep – waiting to devour those who dared trespass in their realm. And there were storms – unpredictable and swift, able to conquer even the most capable of sailors. Lord Byron once wrote, “Man marks the earth with ruin, but his control stops with the shore.” Peter and some of his companions, some of the other disciples, were fishermen by trade; they spent enough time with the sea to properly cower in its wake.
That night, the night that Jesus sent them away in the boat, the chaos threatened to over take them. Their 1st century fishing boat was battered by the waves. Out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee with a capsized boat in a storm meant little chance of survival. They were at the mercy of those waters. And they were losing. And they were afraid.
And then, out of the darkness, Jesus. He comes to them, not in a boat, but walking on the water. The sea should have swallowed him whole. That chaos should have devoured him. But it did not. He stood on the sea and the sea closed its mouth.
Jesus got into their boat with them and the wind ceased. The storm was over. And that was that. Jesus calmed their chaos, saved their lives. And they got it – maybe for the first time. He was more than just a good teacher or a charismatic leader. He did what only God could do: order the chaos. So they worshiped him. Jesus was their salvation.
It was about more than just the boat. It was about more than the storm or the sea. It was about more than just that terrible night. This is a story about life and the chaos that comes with life. And it is about Jesus; when all hope was lost, Jesus was there. Jesus was with them in the chaos.
Life is out of control. Well, out of our control. It's scary. We are bombarded with terrible news from around the globe: war and genocide and starvation and disease – chaos. We spend a lifetime manipulating our surroundings, building something to keep us safe – some kind of protection from all of the bad things. Only to realize that the chaos of the world can rip away every illusion of control in an instant. And then what?
Our carefully constructed calendars might say otherwise, but each of us faces an uncertain future – utterly beyond our control. We look into that mysterious future not knowing what dangers and monsters lurk there. The antidote we are often sold for the anxiety is more insurance and a cache of weapons and a bomb shelter in the back yard. But nothing we buy will calm the storms. There is no paying off the chaos.
There is a lot of scary stuff in the world. Sometimes even our water is out to get us. And there is no stopping that. There is no way to control it all. There will be storms. And bad things will happen. And somewhere in that mysterious, unknowable future, there will even be death. One day the ship will capsize and descend into the chaotic abyss. And even then, after everything else: Jesus.
Do we dare trust our lives to the one thing we cannot buy? Can we trust our lives to Jesus? There are a lot of things that promise us security, that promise a safe future. But only Jesus will find us in the seas and in the storms, in the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows. When everything else fails, Jesus never does. When all hope is lost, salvation reaches through the chaos. And holds on tight. Still there, always there – even in the dangerous waters.