35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
6As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
What I Am Learning:
This week let’s change things up and consider two related readings. Yes, related. We might think that these two have nothing to do with each other, but obviously I disagree.
The gospel reading is often understood and then dismissed as a nature miracle that does not make sense in a scientific age.
The reading from Corinthians is referencing the real-world persecution that Paul and his co-workers had experienced.
To understand how the two relate, we need to go back in history a bit. The Babylonians’ creation story was about Tiamat the chaos goddess, made of water. She got into a conflict with her children. She was killed by Marduk with a spear of cold wind. Her body was cut in half: with one half Marduk made the dome of the sky and the other he made the earth. Humans were made from the mud to be slaves for the gods as they grew tired of caring for Tiamat’s dead body.
The gods left the earth for heavenly realms above the dome of the sky and left a king to keep the slaves in order.
The first story of creation, in Genesis 1, was first told while the people were in Babylon as they storyteller resisted the Babylonian creation story and the economic and social system it proposed.
In this story, the word “the deep” was basically the same word as “Tiamat.”
Ever after the first story of creation was told, the People of Israel used the image of deep water, the sea or ocean as a symbol for a domination/submission culture. Of course they used other images too, such as mountains, pyramids and even large trees. This is why in the book of Revelation the writer called Rome the “whore of Babylon.” In Mark 11:23 Jesus puts the mountain and the sea together:
Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. Mark 11.23:
In this saying, Jesus is encouraging the disciples to see that domination cultures can fall and that they are not inevitable. Even more, he is saying that God is moving to create a different kind of culture altogether – the reign of God. The disciples are being drawn into that reign and will work to resist the bullying, domination culture of the Romans.
In short, domination cultures breed chaos. They create vast gaps between the rich and poor. They use up and destroy the environment. They turn people against each other. They create a dog-eat-dog-eat-cat kind of world in which individuals and groups forget their self-interest is best served in partnership.
Once people start living out of the chaos a domination culture then has the perfect rationale for more and more police, bigger military spending and more draconian laws. They say that all of this is intended to bring order and even peace, but in reality it is just oppression of vulnerable human beings.
Paul experienced this sort of oppression. As he continued to preach the reign of God, albeit with different words than Jesus, he found that the bullying culture, the culture of chaos, the whole of Babylon, the pyramid of Egypt responded with violence of many kinds toward him and his message.
But in this passage from Corinthians Paul finds a center of calm, a source of trust and hope in the God who calms the seas of chaos, who invites us to live and love in a different way.
This way includes going out on the deep water and engaging the chaos of our time and place. This is a risky journey. Bad things can happen. As the old saying goes,
There are three things that are useless in a stormy sea: rope, anchor and the fear of going down.
While our boat goes across the stormy waters, Jesus sleeps on the cushions in the front of the boat. He wakes and tells the wind to cease when the boat is nearly overwhelmed. He invites us to trust for God made even the sea.
People often talk about being a disciple of Jesus as if it is some path to safety, prosperity and the American Dream. This is odd, as Jesus was pretty clear that following him entails risk: take up your cross and follow me. But being a disciple is not just about risk, even if it includes risk.
As our image of the baptized life suggests, being a disciple includes:
- realizing the ways we reject being human, rejecting life as it is
- encountering the God who fully embraces our life in Jesus.
- beginning to live in mutual community with others
- participating in the reign of God through public, risky leadership
This fourth image is of a boat on a stormy sea. In this image Peter has left the boat. He begins to fall into the water, to be overwhelmed by its power. This fresco has been damaged and we no longer see Jesus. We only see Peter here reaching out for help.
We trust that when the chaotic culture of domination overwhelms us, that the unseen Jesus is there, reaching out to catch us, to calm the stormy sea, and to bring us to safe harbor.
In whatever way you journey onto the stormy sea of chaos, know that Jesus is asleep in the bow of your boat. And that he will wake up and calm the wind and the stormy sea.