Wednesday, March 23, 2016
In the Thick of It. A Devotion.
In Morning Prayer, two passages of Scripture were pulled together for me that I thought were encouraging, and it made me think of some folks I know.
The first was Matthew 14.22-33. Immediately after Jesus had, from sparse resource, fed 5,000 men plus the women and children so that they “all ate and were satisfied” (20), he sent out his disciples by boat. It was in the thick darkness, the thunderous wind and thrashing waves Jesus came to his disciples, walking on the water. They were terrified by the shock of it all, and instantly thought it was a ghost they were seeing. Jesus then said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (27). After Peter attempts to approach Jesus on the waves, the Lord enters the boat, the wind ceased, and “those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (33).
The second reading was from Psalm 107.23-32. Here is a description of merchants traveling by sea who enter a horrendous storm that brings them “to their wits’ end” (27). They cry out to Yahweh “in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distresses” (28). He stilled the storm, hushed the sea, quieted the waters, and brought them to safety. Then comes the joyous refrain, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders” (31-32).
The seas can be terrifying places, even when sailing on one of our giant cruise liners. When storms smash against ships, it feels like a fight for life; like the bottom is falling out and one is firmly planted in mid-air. The squall is all around coming from every side at once, disorienting and crushing; feeling as if at any second it will scarf one up, and swallow them down. There are incidents in our lives, moments when we feel like sailors and merchants devoured by a storm. And that’s where these two passages come home.
The seafaring merchants in Psalm 107 were God’s people who knew to call upon the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The disciples in the boat were Christ’s disciples who worshiped him and declared him Son of God. If Yahweh can deliver God-fearing sailors through the raging tempest and Jesus can come to his own people and rescue them from the grinding storm and their own fearful dread, then can he not be with you in your devouring distress? You who are the dearly loved by God; you who have confessed with your mouths that Jesus is Lord and believed in your heart that God raised him from the dead; you who are “in Christ,” united to Christ; surrounded as you may be by thick darkness, thunderous winds and thrashing waves - maybe it's cancer and the treatments feel like their swallowing you up, or possibly it's your family situation that is tumultuous and traumatic, or you career looks to be crashing and shattering around you - see our Lord Jesus coming to you, and hear him say to you, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And instead of crying out, “It is a ghost!” call out to him:
“Calm me, O Lord, as You stilled the storm.
Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace”
(“Celtic Daily Prayer,” 38).