Holy Trinity, Lakefield, August 13th, 2017
Lord, consider my thoughts, guide my words and make them acceptable to you and accessible to those who would hear them. Amen
I remember quite well being in a boat and that was already some distance from the shore, battling with a headwind and a rough sea. Not literally of course because I am not a sailor, but metaphorically, I certainly remember it well.
I worked for a consulting firm and we had a project in Saudi Arabia, for which I was responsible. I was leading a team of consultants who were working on a training project for a major Saudi organisation. It was the biggest contract I have ever signed and managed and it wasn't going well.
Why were we some distance from shore? Well, we were some six to nine months into the work and there was no turning back. We couldn’t say that we didn’t like this project or that it would be best to stop or go back to the beginning and start again. The client had paid us some of the money and they expected their money’s worth. There was only one direction to go and that was forward along a hazardous route. It was hard to communicate with my colleagues in Montreal because of an eight hour time difference so I felt very alone - a long way from the shore.
The headwinds we battled were all about relationships, with the client and within the team. The team was composed of two groups, one Canadian and one Egyptian. The Canadian team was made up of both Arabs and Caucasians, all Canadian now but originating from several different countries; the Egyptian team was exclusively from Cairo. Within the team, there were significant differences in culture, religion, values, work ethics and experience and this caused dissension.
The second headwind was from the client. They always wanted more than we had bargained for and our work never seemed to please them. As a result, we had to redo or repeat work to meet new expectations, attend another unanticipated meeting; the work always took longer than expected and we were significantly over budget.
The sea, meaning the context and the environment in which I was living, was rough because this was my first contact with the Arab world. Although I had an Arab Project Manager, who advised me on matters cultural, that was not enough for me to be confident in a culture that was strange to me.
I learned many things for the first time, including that Saudis think that they were taken advantage of for a long time and that now it’s payback time - and that’s probably accurate.
We were away from our families for several weeks at a time and there were not many diversions from work in Riyadh. There were no theatres or cinemas, only shops and restaurants, so we ate well and spent too much money, but we were often bored and it was difficult to keep the team’s morale up during long stays. We were definitely at sea when it came to understanding our environment, and that sea was rough.
In times like that you need a Jesus to come walking across the water to you. You need a minor miracle of some sort to calm the sea and the wind and to sail the boat safely to its destination.
Why do I take so much time to talk about my Saudi experience? Because I suspect we have all been there, been in a boat a long way from shore with a headwind and a rough sea. Maybe from an illness or the loss of a loved one, from financial difficulties or the loss of a job. And Jesus doesn't always look like Jesus. He may come in the form of your spouse or a friend, a parent or a child. Sometimes it’s a stranger who knows how to listen.
I remember well enough waking in the middle of the night, heart beating like crazy, mind suddenly on the alert, with no possibility of going back to sleep. If I didn't wake Cheryl to talk things over, I would pray. Often the Lords Prayer, other times my own prayers, spontaneous or ones I had previously written. It was the beginning of a habit I now have that if I wake in the night, I pray.
I remember asking a priest whether using the Lords Prayer was an appropriate thing to do at a time like that and he laughed. He said that there were whole Orders of monks based on praying around the clock, so I had no reason to be concerned!
My prayers comforted me and in the end a solution to the Saudi contract was found. It came out of the blue and was not at all the solution I expected. Was it a miracle? Not in the sense that it necessitated divine intervention but was it miraculous that the situation was resolved? Yes it was, because I would never had dreamt of it in a thousand years.
Where is all of this going? This is a story of miracles, showing that there is no limit to the power of human faith. Each of the miracles demonstrates something different.
1. The first is Jesus walking on water. This is one of the parts of the Bible that most people know something about. When use the expression “walking on water” we mean doing something that seems impossible. “I can’t walk on water, you know.” “We’re going to have to walk on water to get this done!”. And what does the miracle demonstrate? Much the same as many of Jesus’ miracles, that He can do miraculous things.
2. The second miracle shows that we too can achieve the seemingly impossible, if we have the faith to do so. Peter walks on water. He does the seemingly impossible because he has sufficient faith. He leaps into the situation - “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you over the water.”
But when he is no longer in the throw of his initial enthusiasm, he loses faith. Has that happened to you? You are halfway through something new or challenging that you took on with enthusiasm - repairing something in the house, cooking a new recipe. Halfway through you think “I can’t do this!” and you lose faith in your ability to complete it.
Walking on water these days is the forte of magicians and tricksters, and we can watch them do so on video, but when Peter had the faith in Jesus’ ability to make him walk on water, he did it.
Fear threatens faith and can destroy it. The moment Peter realizes what he is up against, the strength of the gale, he loses faith and starts to sink. When we embark on something that is outside our experience, we sometimes get fearful. Travelling in a strange new place, standing up in front of a big crowd of people, looking after children for the first time. The kind of fear that stops us doing things we should do. In those moments of a fearful lack of confidence, we can call out for help - in prayer or in some other way. Only when Jesus reaches out to Peter and catches hold of him, does Peter succeed in walking back to the boat.
3. The third miracle is the wind ceasing abruptly, as Jesus controls Mother Nature, much as God controlled the waters in the creation stories in Genesis.
This miracle brought calm; outward calm to the sea and inner calm to the disciples. Particularly, I would imagine, Peter. It deepened their faith, as we see by their immediately acknowledging Jesus as “Son of God”. They suddenly realised, that they were in good hands and could be calm. Receiving help when we ask for it does this; it brings calm and then confidence.
Whether or not this story is historically accurate or invented later to make a point doesn’t really matter. The fact that it was mentioned in three gospels, Matthew, Mark and John, may indicate that it had a basis in real events and was not simply a myth, but who knows.
All that doesn’t matter now because its significance is in the point it makes. And that point is that we can do the seemingly impossible if we have faith. Reaching out to Jesus, in whatever form He takes, to ask for his help brings calm, and the confidence to achieve our endeavours.