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Matthew 14: God’s peace in turbulent seas and heavy winds

Lynne Baab • Thursday October 1 2020

Matthew 14: God’s peace in turbulent seas and heavy winds

I’m going to give you a series of words and phrases. Think about the ways these words resonate for you.

Battered by the waves . . . the wind was against them . . . terrified . . . cried out in fear . . . noticed the strong wind . . . became frightened . . . beginning to sink.

You may have guessed that those words come from the story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee on a windy morning. After the feeding of the five thousand, which had to be intense and exhausting, Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, and he says behind to pray. The next day, in the early morning the disciples are struggling with a strong wind, and Jesus walks across the water to help them. They think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus tries to reassure them. Peter asks that Jesus prove his identity by enabling Peter to walk on the water. You’ll remember that Peter sets out on the water but then begins to focus on how strong the wind was and starts sinking. Jesus grabs his hand, they enter the boat, and the storm ceases. (The story can be found in Matthew 14:22-36.)

Always before when I have read that story, I have put myself in Peter’s place as he set out walking on the surface of the water. Would I have kept my eyes on Jesus? Would I have gotten distracted, as Peter did, by the intensity of the wind and my fears about sinking?

This time I noticed the words and phrases that I put in the second paragraph above. I was struck with how that vivid language resonates with so much that I’m thinking and feeling right now. We are definitely battered by waves of disease, injustice, and unrest. With this virus, it often feels that the wind is against us, and for people of color in America, the wind has been against them for generations. In the seven months of the pandemic, I have had more moments of terror and crying out in fear than probably in the whole previous decade. Yes, the wind against us is very strong. Yes, I often feel like I’m sinking.

I am fond of a hymn called “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem,” written in 1889 by Louis F. Benson, a lawyer, then Presbyterian minister, then editor of Presbyterian publications.  The hymn’s four verses cover four parts of Jesus’ life: his birth in Bethlehem, his childhood in Nazareth, his ministry in Galilee, and his death on the cross. I love the way the first three verses of the hymn are grounded in a sense of place. The tenderness of Benson’s language as he describes Jesus’ life never fails to move me. Here’s the verse about Galilee:

O sing a song of Galilee,
    Of lake and woods and hill,
Of Him who walked upon the sea
    And bade its waves be still:
For though, like waves on Galilee,
    Dark seas of trouble roll,
When faith has heard the Master’s word,
    Falls peace upon the soul.

The hymn is sung to a traditional Irish melody, Kingsfold, and you can listen to it and see all the words here.

I pray that you are having moments when you hear Jesus’ word, and peace falls on your soul. I pray for moments when you feel Jesus’ hand stretched out to you, and he helps you navigate windy, turbulent seas, guiding you into paths of love, justice, righteousness and peace.

(Next week: Matthew 22 and God’s image. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

If you have more time for reading these days because of other activities being cancelled, you may enjoy my series of three murder mysteries, published for kindle. The first one is Dead Sea, set in Israel and Jordan. Dave and I lived in Israel for 18 months as young adults. Writing the novel was a very fun way to revisit a fascinating place. The second and third are:

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