Peace, Be Still!
Has anyone here ever seen the Sea of Galilee? It sits in a steep basin, surrounded by hills and cliffs on three sides. It’s more of a large lake than a sea. At the longest point it’s 13 miles, at the widest point eight miles. Once nighttime comes and the sun starts slipping behind the hills to the west, it gets dark quickly.
The Jewish people mainly lived on the west side of the lake. On the east was the Decapolis – 10 cities that held a large Greek population. Jesus goes there to preach. He sets out to do something a rabbi shouldn’t be doing – preaching to, and consorting with Gentiles. This was forbidden. But for Jesus, sharing his message of God’s love and grace for all people was as much a command as the Torah was.
One night he and the disciples set out from the “Jewish” side of the sea and headed toward the “Gentile” side. It was probably about a five-mile journey across – no big deal. Until you stop to think about the size of the boat. A recently found and excavated boat in that region has been dated to Jesus time. It was 26 feet long and about 8 feet wide. It was simply made of wood and probably coated inside and out with pitch to keep it from leaking. It would have been propelled by four oars, two per side. This was thought to be about the size of a fishing boat from that period. Imagine 13 men, four at the oars crossing the sea at night in this with no light but the stars to guide them.
Until the bane of all fishermen appears, a storm at sea!
With the cool air falling from the hills meeting rising warm air from the surface, a strong storm rises quickly. Imagine being out in the middle of this big body of water, no power for movement but your own arms and a storm strikes, one with high winds, creating huge waves, higher than your boat. A calm trip across the sea has now become a nightmare!
What do the disciples do now? How will they get out of this storm and safely to any shore, let alone where they were headed?
They are terrified. Their lives are in grave danger here. The boat is being swamped. Even the seasoned fishermen among them, Andrew, Peter, James and John were sorely out of their league. Who could they turn to? They turn and look for Jesus, only to find him sleeping peacefully in the back of the boat!
How could anyone sleep through all this? They wake him up and ask, “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing? How can you sleep when we are all in such danger?” Jesus doesn’t bother to answer the question, he simply stands up in the boat, and speaks to the wind saying, “Peace, be still.”
The wind stops and a there’s dead calm on the sea.
Jesus turns to the disciples, looks at them and asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
What do you say to this?
Remember the disciples were men who feared God, who had been taught that God had created all the world and that to look on God’s face was to die.
Now here they see Jesus – who they still think of as merely human, a man like them who needs sleep – who has just completely stopped a storm over the sea. He has the power of God at his command. What does this mean? Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? If they had known the answer it might have been almost as frightening as the storm.
It’s easy to be critical of the disciples. They had no idea what was to come. We, who are on the other side of Easter have a very different understanding of Jesus then they did at that point.
But many times, we are just as afraid as they were. We worry. About family members, about our jobs, our homes, our world. There are things to be concerned about. We all have times when we feel abandoned, alone, like the sky is falling, and no one is there to help. When it seems like everything dear to us is at risk, and we want to scream to God Don’t you care that this is going on? We want to trust, we want to have faith, but it is hard sometimes. God know this.
Look at it this way. When we are in trouble we can choose to act in faith or in fear, regardless of how we feel.
In WWII England things were not good. England had declared war on Germany and was engaged in all kinds of preparations. Children were evacuated to the countryside, they were building over a million bomb shelters, ordered more than a million gas helmets, even for babies. It was grim. On Christmas Day the King usually gave a radio address to the nation. He did that year, 1939, as well, acknowledging the situation and quoting these words:
“I said to a man who stood by the gate of the year. ‘Give me a light that I may safely tread into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the hand of God trod gladly into the night. And he led me toward the hills and the breaking of day in the Ione east.
So heart be still, God knows his will is best. The stretch of years which winds ahead so dim to our imperfect vision, is clear to God.
Our fears are premature, in Him all time hath full provision.”
Today it seems like we have more to fear than ever before. The world seems crazy, upside down. Global warming, nation against nation, nations against their own people, people so angry with others they cannot see their common humanity, and status as children of God. Hunger, poverty, disease. It’s easy to cry out from our individual little boats, “Don’t you care that we are perishing here?” To cry out, “Give me a light that I may safely tread into the unknown!”
But then we hear the still small voice of God telling us…
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into my hand. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
Or as the old fisherman’s prayer goes,
Be with me O God for the sea is so big and my boat is so small.