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2020 could easily be called the year of crises. In March, we suspended in-person worship and activities following news that a highly contagious coronavirus was spreading across the globe. In the ensuing months, COVID-19 has become public enemy number 1. Relentless in its pursuit of new hosts, the virus now bears responsibility for the deaths of approximately 1,000 Americans each day.
As we await a scalable vaccine, we turn to the best defenses currently available to us by keeping our distance from others. By wearing a face mask. By avoiding large gatherings. And by washing or sanitizing our hands frequently. In four short months, we have learned so much, not only about the frailty of the human condition but also about the interconnected nature of the systems that sustain us. We have discovered that COVID-19 is not merely a health crisis, but a healthcare crisis, as well. It is not merely a business crisis, but an employment crisis too. COVID-19 is an economic crisis, a housing crisis, and an educational crisis. And as it ravages prisons and nursing homes, our latest foe has created crises of long-term detention and eldercare.
The present moment has illuminated our deficiencies in testing and in contact tracing. Meanwhile, social distancing measures have torn at the fabric of our communities by separating us from our loved ones, friends, and neighbors. The current pandemic has altered our worshiping behavior, dividing us from our brothers and sisters in Christ and, I imagine, tempting some to drift away from the faith.
By almost every metric, we are hurting. We are physically fatigued, emotionally assailed, and spiritually battered. The reality has set in that we are in this for the long haul. And in the midst of so much turmoil, we routinely wonder where we are apt to turn for a word of reassurance, a sign of hope, or a comforting touch.
In our second lesson this morning, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side. Then, he dismissed the crowds and went up the mountain by himself to pray. He did this for a variety of reasons. First, he was looking for divine guidance, to be sure. But he was also practicing self-care. After speaking with and caring for a large crowd, Jesus needed some alone time. He needed to recharge his batteries. He needed to prepare himself physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the next phase of the journey. And so, he went in search of a moment of rest before facing the trails that lay ahead.
The message for us is very clear. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Now, more than ever, with instances of self-reported anxiety and depression steadily on the rise, we need this reminder. To ensure that our own, basic needs are met before fulfilling a role of service to others. For in a world full of crises, Jesus was teaching us how to avoid burnout.
He was also teaching his disciples about life beyond the bounds of his constant, physical presence. So he sent them ahead of him by boat to the other side. And there, they encountered the same kinds of things that we encounter as the people of God. By evening, the boat was battered by the waves, too far from the shore to easily turn back around, and tormented by the wind which was against them.
Jesus had sent them there, out onto the open waters, but he did not abandon them. With the sun setting placing one more obstacle in their path, the Lord came out to meet them. Witnessing the miracle, the disciples thought that he was a ghost, and they were afraid.
Then, by his words, he signaled that he was not an apparition to be feared, but a Savior to be welcomed. Jesus said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter, the ever-vocal disciple, spoke up, saying, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” In response, Jesus uttered just one word, “Come.”
Today, many of us are called to do things that sound about as probable as walking on water. According to a recent survey, a mere 15% of parents feel adequately equipped to homeschool their child or children at the present moment. This means that the overwhelming majority fear that they are woefully unprepared to be of service to their children at a time of extraordinary need.
As districts weigh their options and opt to begin the school year 100% online, 100% in the classroom, or as a hybrid of the two, the majority of parents recognize that it will be a daily struggle to keep their children focused, and on task, and committed to making this school year as successful as it can be. Many parents will do this without assistance and while simultaneously attending to professional obligations. Today, parent’s boats are battered by the waves, tormented by the winds, and too far from the shore to turn back around.
Meanwhile, many business owners are steering ships across choppy waters. Margins are down. Employees and customers are scared. And as they look at the bottom line, they wonder how much water their vessel can take on before it is finally pulled into the deep. The examples right now are seemingly endless.
In scripture, Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Friends, it’s okay to admit that we can’t do this alone. That we need one another. That we need God. It’s okay to be afraid when so much in our world threatens to overwhelm us. To claim that you are unaffected by the current crises is to be thoroughly disconnected from reality.
Joyfully, though, this passage reminds us that when we feel as though we are beginning to sink the Lord is always near. Peter said, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Then, when they got back into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
God knows the ever-present trouble that lies ahead. It has always been and will always be. But when Jesus directs us to go on ahead to the other side, we do not go alone. And when the storm comes, the vessel is battered, and the wind is against us, our help is always near. May it be so and all thanks be to God. Amen.