4th week after Pentecost- 6/20/21
St. Aidan’s Alexandria
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales
Six years ago, I sailed on the Sea of Galilee ⎯ the very same sea, or lake, that’s mentioned in the gospel we just heard. It was a beautiful, clear, July day, and my group was in a big boat piloted by an experienced captain – who did NOT fall asleep. It was a memorable experience, and YES, I got the T-shirt/ (HOLD UP SHIRT)
Maybe you expect me now to tell you now a dramatic story about a storm that rose up unexpectedly and terrified us all. No such luck (that would have been fun). But our captain did tell us that storms come up very quickly on that sea, and that even experienced sailors can get into serious trouble. For us, since we weren’t trying to get anywhere in particular, it was just a lazy cruise through breathtaking scenery.
A far cry from what happened to the disciples in our story today. It was Jesus’ idea, after all, to “go to the other side.” He trusted that he had at least four competent fishermen among his troupe, so after a long day of teaching under the Galilean sun, a long day of expending energy among the crowds, he felt free to take a little break. So I picture him relaxing into the rhythm of the waves, letting his body sink into his place at the rear of the boat, where a little overhang provided a smidgen of shelter from the sun and a bit of hush from the voices of his companions. With his head on a cushion – possibly a sandbag placed there for ballast – it’s no wonder he drifted off.
Till the voices of his terrified crew shook him out of sleep!
Just as our captain on the Galilee had warned, the storm had come up suddenly. The sky darkened, the wind howled, waves beat against the boat, water poured over the side. It must have felt like a bad dream at first. But then Jesus heard what his “faithful” followers were asking – accusing, really:
“Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”
Jesus did care.
He didn’t panic. He didn’t stress.
He just stood up – no small feat in the scene I’ve just described -- and spoke to the sea:
“Peace! Be still.”
Just like that, the sea became as calm as the day I sailed on it six Julys ago.
The sun came out, seagulls coasted overhead, and I like to believe that a rainbow appeared, just as it did when the Great Flood of Noah’s day finally ended.
That rainbow was God’s promise to stay with his people,
and the calming of THIS storm was another fulfillment of that covenant.
“Peace, be still!” is the word our translation places in Jesus’ mouth.
Other scholars say the words mean “Silence! Shut up!”
Is that too rude to say in church?
I don’t think so, because Jesus said something similar every time he cast out a demon from some poor, suffering soul. Just as demons obeyed him, so did the wind and the sea.
“Peace! Be still!” might be the way the disciples heard Jesus’ words. Rather than a harsh command, maybe they heard his reassurance, his comfort, to them, the way they had long ago heard their parents quell their childish sobs as they woke from a nightmare. Shush, he was saying, you’re okay. You’re safe. I’m here.
Peace! Be still! Jesus is speaking to us, too.
We have all lived through a storm, like no other in our memories, and in many ways, it’s still not over. Not a storm of wind and waves – not this time – but of a virus that changed our lives in every way and took 600,000 American lives – a number that’s hard to grasp.
The winds have died down, but the storm of Covid-19 – which came up suddenly and rocked everything in its wake – was not stilled by a sudden command. Rather, it has taken concerted cooperation by all of us and our neighbors (the masks we wear today are a vivid reminder), and the dedicated efforts of scientists and policymakers and medical professionals.
Did Jesus not care that we were perishing? Of course he did. Of course he does. It’s Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who gives us the will to care for one another and for the strangers who benefit from our commitment to safety protocols and vaccinations -- and prayers.
Things are still scary, though, and it’s OK to admit it. This week, I took part in an international conference of Godly Play practitioners. One of the graces of our Covid experience is that we are so proficient online now that conference organizers pivoted from a planned event in Kansas City to a digital platform that allowed many more people to attend. In one of my small groups I met a woman from Durban, South Africa, who said they are just entering into a third wave of disease and, since she is not yet 60 – that’s six zero – she is not yet vaccinated. The storm still seethes.
On a happier note, I want to share with you what another conference leader taught me. In our opening worship, the Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones had us enter into silence, trust our imaginations, and pay attention to our breath. So I want to adapt the exercise he taught us.
Whether you are anxious about Covid, or want to be prepared for hurricane season, or have other fears in your life – there are hundreds to choose from -- please join me in a simple exercise. (I promise it won’t be too weird.)
If you are willing, please close your eyes and then breathe slowly in with the silent word: “Peace.”
Slowly, breathe out, with the silent words: “Be still.”
Let’s do that two times more. . . .
Peace! Be still.
Jesus is in our boat with us.
No matter what our fears, worries, or anxieties, he is still with us,
Even if he seems to be asleep,
He is right here, saying
Ssssssh, you’re Ok, I’m right here.
Peace. Be still.