Sermon: Daring to Dance on Angry Waves

Christ, walking on water[Given on Sunday, August 10, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

In the name of our Great God who is Creating, Liberating, and Sustaining. Amen +

There’s a storm out on the ocean
And it’s moving this o’way
If your soul’s not anchored in Jesus
You will surely drift away.

This is perhaps one of my favorite congregational hymns from my former life as a Baptist. [Anyone that really knows me knows that I say every song is my favorite]. But this song is probably really one of my favorites because, like most things Christian, it presents an interesting dichotomy. It doesn’t sound like it would be a particularly happy message, but if you could hear it in its full context with foot stomping alternating with hand clapping and the jangling of tambourines that created a palpable, pulsating energy in the room, it has a happy tune.

The message of the song is this – there is a storm coming.

We may not know the name of the storm, we may not know how strong it will be, or how long it will last, but we do know this – there is a storm coming.

Everything may look like sunshine and summertime now, but you just keep living. You are bound to encounter some of life’s troublesome storms.

They can be small storms – we may wake up one day and realize that we have a flat tire on the way to a meeting that we’re already late for, or maybe we say something to someone that causes a strain in a relationship, maybe you get a bad grade on a test, or maybe we have one of those days when nothing seems to go our way. Have you ever had one of those days? Your day starts off bad and just keeps on going from bad to worse, those days you just want to get back in bad and press the reset button.

Or maybe you experience some major storms, some hurricanes, in your life – the loss of a job, a sickness that the doctors don’t know quite what to do with, or maybe a strained marriage that leads to a divorce, maybe an unspeakable tragedy in your neighborhood or community. Or maybe the storm of spiritual uncertainty. You’re lost in the middle of a restless sea, you can’t tell north from south, your going from your coming.

When our disciples enter the story this morning, the record suggests that they were far from land in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when a storm has caught them by surprise. There are two things that can help us better understand their dire situation:

First, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by high hills and is itself 700 feet below sea level, this created abrupt temperature changes that created these violent storms that would come up out of nowhere.

Beloved, the storms that we encounter in our lives can often be unexpected. You might be tempted to look around now and see that all is going well in your life, but what the Testimony of the Sea of Galilee teaches us is that storms and upheaval can strike at any moment. That’s why 1 Peter 5:8 encourages us to “Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”

Second, the Ancient Hebrew Cosmology that is given to us in Genesis 1 reveals to us a creation that is essentially a bubble of peace, an oasis of calm, a sanctuary of stability in the midst of a chaotic sea. That’s what was going on when Genesis says that God made a firmament to divide the waters. And all throughout the Hebrew Bible we are given glimpses of a deep and abiding cultural fear of water overcoming and destroying creation. Storms, therefore, were a reminder to the people of how tenuous their existence really was, that at any moment the firmament could break and flood all of creation.

Dear friends, there will be times in our lives when we look all around us and it seems as if we are surrounded by chaos and catastrophe on every side. It doesn’t matter how irrational, unsubstantiated, and unfounded they may be, at the point of our storm, our fear becomes very real.

So then what shall be our response to these storms that arise in our lives? I want to suggest that storms create a sense of insecurity in our lives, and so our natural inclination is to restore a sense of security and control. Psychologists have pointed out that when we are afraid, we have two responses – fight or flight.

Those who fight are making an effort to remove the cause of the insecurity or fear from their lives.

I grew up with two brothers – one older and one younger, so I know a thing or two about what it means to fight. There were times when we would tear my mother’s house up fighting one another. It is no small miracle that we are all still alive, because some of these fights involved weapons and a little bit too much Power Rangers and Wrestlemania.

So when we fight, we are making an effort to remove the cause of the insecurity or fear from our lives. The other response is flight. If we can’t remove the threat, then we remove ourselves.

I have this obsession with movies that depict epic battle scenes. In one of my favorite movies the 2004 Wolfgang Petersen depiction of “Troy,” the united Greek army is attacking the city of Troy but they are suffering massive casualties. Odysseus, King of Ithaca, advises Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, to withdraw their troops. Agamemnon proudly explains, “my army has never lost a battle,” to which Odysseus retorts, “you won’t have an army if you don’t pull back.”

Fight or flight – those are our two options. But what happens when we can’t fight, and we can flee? What happens when we are trapped in the middle of a restless, stormy sea and there’s no where to go?

Trapped in that place of no where to go, in that place of hopelessness, in that place of powerlessness, is where we find our disciples.

You know my soul loves Jesus, I mean it – I really love Jesus. But there are some times when I REALLY REALLY love Jesus. This is one of those stories. Can’t you imagine it? The disciples are in the small boat being tossed to and fro and restless waves of an angry sea. The sky is dark and the only light they see is the lightning is flashing all around them. The waves were crashing and the wind was howling. But off in the distance, here comes Jesus walking on the waves. Now, I have too much imagination, I read too many books growing up, because I when I imagine this story, I don’t think of a Jesus who casually saunters across the sea, I think of a Jesus who walks with some swag.

Shoulders back.

Chest out.

Head held high.

With a little soul in his step.

Have you ever walked on water? I mean if I’m going to walk on water, I am going walk on water. I might even break out into the Electric Slide, or hit the Dougie if you tempt me.

But in the midst of these waves that were crashing to and fro, when they were very far from land, when the disciples needed him most, when all hope seemed lost, Jesus came walking across the waves and told them “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Now once again, the New Revised Standard Version obscures the power of this statement. The original Greek says that Jesus told the disciples “Be encouraged! εγω ειμι. Don’t be afraid.” That “εγω ειμι” is not to be overlooked. It is literally translated “I Am.” In saying “I Am” this story is connecting Jesus to Adonai, the God of the Exodus who appeared to Moses at the burning bush and said “When the people ask you who sent you, say ‘I Am’ has sent you!”

What are you saying, preacher? When we encounter storms in our lives, we have a third option. Some may choose fight, and some may choose flight, but for the Christian, we can choose faith. We can choose to dance across an angry sea because we have a God who walks across the storms of our lives and proclaims in the midst of fear – “I Am.” This storm may be, but “I Am.” This fear may be, but “I Am.” This chaos might be, but “I Am.”

I Am – the God who spoke something out of nothing in the beginning and brought the whole universe into existence.

I Am – the God who called Moses to go down to Pharaoh and declared “Let my people Go!”

I Am – the God who paved a four lane highway through the Re(e)d Sea.

I Am – the God who was with the 3 Hebrew Boys – Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – when they were stuck in the fiery furnace for standing for their faith.

Maybe those are too impersonal, those are stories that happened too long ago. Let me drive down your street this morning.

I Am – the God who stood by you in the hospital room, lying on your bed of affliction, and held your hand in the midst of your sickness.

I Am – the God who sat next to you and dried your tears when you were mourning the loss of that loved one.

I Am – the God who kept your mind together when the whole world tried to tear it apart.

I Am – the God who Sambas across the storms,

Wastusis across the waves,

Tangos across the thunder,

and does the Hustle across the Hurricanes of our lives and bids us to “step out with faith, step out in courage, step out in joy upon the sea and dance with me.”

Dance a dance of faith that says: “Come what may, I am going to stay with the Lord.”

Dance a dance of courage that says: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”

Dance a dance of Joy that says: “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy, sweet joy, beautiful joy, God’s great joy, comes in the morning.”

So when storms arise in your life, when you are tempted to be afraid and to cling to the fragile stability of the boat, just step out on the restless, angry sea, take your Savior by the hand, and just dance.

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