First Mennonite Church
June 11, 2017
When Storms Come By
Text: John 6:16-21
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Events that happen at nighttime are often more stressful than those, during the day. I do not have the experience of being caught in the middle of a hurricane, category 3 or 4, when I lived in Belize. By the time hurricanes of such categories arrived in the area I lived, their wind force had diminished significantly. In my experience, every time a hurricane made landfall was during the night. The last time I experienced one of those was when Emmanuel (my son) was only a few months old. (Wow, that’s 19 years ago!) There is much inconvenience and stress when hurricanes come at night. Most usually, there is not electricity. The few houses considered strong enough to stand hurricane force winds get crowded because families of the owner of the house come finding shelter and so do a few neighbors. In the darkness you cannot see much because of the heavy down pour; you cannot see more than a couple yards away even with a flash light. All you can hear is the wind breaking down trees, toppling down small structures around the house, and the most dangerous aspect of it is flying debris from everything that’s being destroyed. Life-threatening events at night are definitely very stressful. But when life-threatening situations come at nighttime and you are in a boat in the open waters, the level of stress and inconvenience doubles. Take for instance the event of April 14/15, 1912—the sinking of the Titanic. That tragedy happened far away in the Atlantic Ocean. It was freezing cold and everything happened so fast. It all started shortly before midnight on the 14th of April. Based on survivors’ accounts, there was much confusion during the evacuation process; there was difficulty in communication, and the end was so tragic.
The situation in our story for today was not of the magnitude of the sinking of the Titanic. Nonetheless, it was a life and death situation for the disciples as they attempted to across the Sea of Galilee. The day began with Jesus teaching a great multitude. There was an interesting interaction between Jesus and Philip. Upon seeing the huge crowd, Jesus asked Philip how would they provide food for so many people. But Jesus’ question was only to “test” Philip, writes John. He adds, “for he (Jesus) knew what he was going to do” (6:6). The word “test” is the same used for “tempt.” James 1, 13 says that God “tempts/tests” no one. Why would Jesus ask something only to test Philip? Philip’s answer is also interesting. He said to Jesus, “Not even six months’ wages will be enough for each one to get something to eat.” Just imagine a large crowd that six months of your paycheck is still not enough to buy food in bulk quantities to feed it. That was the size of crowd that followed Jesus to the mountain. Andrew came to Jesus and said, “There is a kid who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what is that for a huge crowd.” John tells us that Jesus fed the crowd by multiplying the loaves and the fish and the disciples even gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers. The people were amazed at that miracle that they wanted to take Jesus by force and crown him king. Jesus sneaked away into the mountain.
It is from here that our story begins. As evening was approaching, Jesus stayed behind. The disciples embarked to cross the lake and were caught by a severe storm. Storms are natural to develop on bodies of water, but it was not a common scene to see a man walking on the troubled waters. The disciples could not believe their eyes; they thought they were seeing a ghost. If at first their fear was of dying, their latter was of seeing a man walking on the water. They were terrified. But as Jesus approached them, he called them and said, “I AM. Do not be afraid!”
Dear friends, there are various lessons we can learn from that incident. Where is Jesus when we need him the most? Where is Jesus when the darkness of night engulfs us? Where is Jesus when the storm beats against us? Storms in life come in the form of prolonged illness, gradual decline of health and vitality. A stormy night can be in the form of facing the prospects of death or losing of a loved one, or having financial strains, or losing a job. Some months ago, someone called in the night and left a message. The person was asking for someone to call back because the caller said she was very ill and was likely to die. But her pleading was made more poignant when she added: “I have a couple of issues which I want to get over with.” In the morning I called, but there was no one to answer. I called again later and still there was no one to answer. I do not know what happened. There are moments in which we feel overwhelmed by raging storms. We fight back. If it’s an illness, we go to the doctor for help. If it’s financial struggles, we take a closer look at how we spend. If it is decline in health and vitality, we become more conscious about taking care of our diet and finding the balance between rest and exercise. It is natural and wise to do those things. In Mark’s version of this story, he writes that when Jesus saw his disciples straining at the oars fighting the storm, he came towards them (Mark 6:4). Almost always we are strained at the oars fighting our storms in life. Most often we feel as if we won a battle only to be confronted by another. Sometimes it feel as if we are in losing battle altogether. Fear or anxiety prowls around wanting to take over our heart.
May I ask you, what storms are you fighting now? Have come to the point of wondering where Jesus might be in all that you are going through? What fight is consuming your energies, or has become the reason of seeking God’s face in your daily prayer?
Let us remember that just as Jesus came to the rescue of his disciples, he will come to ours, also. His coming to his disciples walking on the water was not for the sake of amazing them. His appearing to his scared disciples was not intended to prove to them his power to overcome the laws of nature. Jesus walked on the water for the sake of saving his loved ones from danger. He appeared to them to strengthen their faith and to increase their understanding of him as the Son of God. Above all, Jesus came to rescue them. The very way he addressed his disciples likely reminded them of a familiar passage of scripture. In Isaiah 43, verses 2 and 3 says in part:
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you. . . .
3 For I am the Lord your God.
God knows what storms you are confronting today. The Lord knows your level of stress you carry. He knows if there is anxiety in you. But in the middle of the storms of life God wants to remind us the words of Psalms 46, verses 10a and 11a: “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Lord Almighty is with us. If there is something stealing your peace of mind, gnawing away your joy, hear the words of Jesus, “I AM. Do not be afraid.” John tells us that when the disciples heard it was Jesus coming to them over the water, they willingly took him in the boat. Let us take Jesus in the boat of our lives. Storms will continue to come. But the One who is Lord of all will lead us to safety. Amen!