By Pastor Kathy Itzin
Recently, during a church service, we read the story of the disciples in a boat on the stormy seas. (Matthew 15: 22-33) In doing my sermon research, I discovered that a ship or boat is a very ancient symbol for the Christian Church. Going back even as far as the second century, Jesus’ followers used it as code at a time when it was illegal to be a Christian. It was even used to mark graves in the catacombs.
Why do we care? What difference does it make?
The deeper I dug into this image, the more I think it speaks to us.
First and foremost, none of the crew joins on their own. They are picked out, and hired by the captain. In the scriptures, the idea of ‘my deciding to join a church’ is never addressed. I doubt if the concept was ever considered. In the scriptures, we are chosen by God, not the other way around. "You have not chosen me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…" (John 15: 16)
In the story of Jesus calming the seas, "he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side." (Matthew 14: 22) Not only does Jesus tell them to get in the boat, but he also says they have to sail or row to the other side of the lake at night, when a bad storm is approaching. This clearly is not a pleasure cruise.
This story tells us a lot, if we think of the Church as a ship. We are chosen for it. We are told to get on board. Then we are pushed off into stormy seas. The stormy seas could be happening in our personal lives, or in this phase of our life as a church. Maybe it’s involving the whole Christian Church, or we could think of our own Parkway. The perilous seas can be all around us, and we could be afraid.
Here’s where more of that ship image comes into play. We’re not in the ship by ourselves. We are surrounded by other good-hearted people just like us, people that want the same things in life, and people trying their best to follow Jesus’ Way. We can ask each other for help. We support each other. We all have different jobs to do, and we bring different personalities to meet other’s needs.
But by far, the most important thing is that Jesus came when they needed him, and it wasn’t just Jesus. Raging waters had always been a symbol of uncontrollable chaos, fear, and death. In the Creation story, God creates land to hem in the uncontrollable waters. In the story of Noah’s Ark, waters threatened all life. In the Exodus story, the Red Sea closed back on the Egyptians when they were trying to take the Hebrews captive, and the Egyptians drowned. For these Jewish men in Jesus’ time, it was very clear that only God could control the waters.
Then, when the boat was threatened with the raging water, Jesus came walking on the waves. He not only controlled them, he stepped on them. He crushed evil underfoot.
We can worry about the stormy seas in our lives. We can be concerned about the future of our church. We can even be afraid of what will happen to us. But, we also know that we are in the boat together, and that God has the ship well in hand.