This coming Sunday, the Gospel text that will be read in most Episcopal, Protestant, and Roman Catholic parishes happens to be one of my favorite “memories of Jesus” in all of the New Testament. Take one tired carpenter/preacher who leaves his core group so that he might spend a little time in prayer. Add the desire to go about their normal business without using a skill they should have had (get into a boat and head out when a storm is coming!), followed by what surely was a miscast scene from The X-Files where Jesus is walking through the storm toward them – on water, and then finally mix in the semi-delusional bombast of one Galilean fisherman named Peter who conjures up his “proof” for what he may be witnessing. (“Lord, if it really is you, tell me to come out of the boat and walk to you!”) If I want “proof” of what I am seeing, this is not exactly an invitation to inspire confidence.
Dismissed during the Enlightenment as utter fantasy, and relegated to a Christian theological re-reading of the psalms by certain contemporary schools of scriptural thought, it seems to this simple and ordinary parish priest that we miss the point by overthinking. Look at what is going on! Here I will speak for myself. If any of this might apply to you, so be it. If not, your life has been smoother than mine, and God be praised for that.
You’re out on your own and the context is a storm. This is so often how life is experienced. You might have all the skills and “knowledge,” but guess what: Life Happens! And life can be so utterly unfair.
The unpredictability and unfairness of life can rip out your pulsing heart. An 11 year old girl goes out to play, and she is murdered. A talented young prospective athlete blows out his arm, and his zillion dollar contract and hoped-for life style evaporates in an instant. My company downsizes, and in spite of my years of work, I lose my job. People mishear what you say and misinterpret what you mean either because of their own agenda or perhaps foolishness, and you are demeaned. In spite of your best efforts at a project, you simply aren’t good enough.
Life brings its storms. Some results are truly tragic! Others pass for tragedy only in the minds of the usually privileged. No matter! The feelings of loss, helplessness and loneliness can burn “a hole in your soul” (using a phrase a friend of mine is wont to use). But the point is that we are NEVER alone. We might not be able to see clearly. We may wallow in self-pity. We may have legitimate reasons to feel such pity. But we are never alone. There is one who is always with us. He isn’t going to call you out of the boat. (That’s been tried, and the human didn’t do so well, did he?) But there is “one like us on all things but sin” who always journeys with us, who upholds us, and never abandons us. And as long as I know that I am never abandoned, then the storm will never ultimately destroy me.