I have a lot of friends and family who aren’t religious. Often (as a Pastor person) I’m one of the most religious people they know. This has led to a lot of wonderful, funny, and educational conversations over the years.
One of the most frequent, and unexpected, are requests to change the weather. Whenever its been cold or rainy for too many days in a row, I’m definitely going to hear from someone, “Can’t you do something about this?” or “Can you talk to Jesus about this situation?”
It’s in jest, but it’s also revealing of how people think about God, prayer, and power. In the popular imagination one version of God is basically a big Storm from X-Men – a being of great power who does stuff for the people he likes the best or his own mysterious reasons. This is decidedly not a being with personal relationships, a greater vision and intention, or relevance to those who haven’t chosen to follow God.
For some, that’s the God on display in this week’s lectionary tale of Jesus walking on water. It’s a display of miraculous power, pure and simple, a demonstration of Jesus’s abilities with an added reminder in Peter’s attempt to join him to KEEP THE FAITH OR ELSE. My non-religious friends didn’t get their ideas about God out of the ether. They learned them from people of faith.
But there has to be more than that shallow vision of God in this incredible story of the stormy waters, one of the few contained in all four Gospels. The God in Jesus here is known not through the ability to manipulate nature (although he of course can do that too) but through the way he calls and comforts the people he loves.
When the frightened disciples see Jesus’s form walking on the waves, and they worry it is an evil spirit, Peter says to him, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter knows the being is powerful through what it does on the waves. He will know it is Jesus if he is brought into Jesus’s work, if he is invited to follow and to share, as he always has been before.
When the wind rages and Peter’s feet and faith stumble he cries out, “Lord, save me!” and immediately Jesus reaches out and catches him. It is this act of support, of mercy, of loving friendship, that convinces the rest of the disciples that the powerful man before them is “truly the Son of God.”
Powers and tricks are great. And God’s omnipotent sleeve is full of them. But they aren’t what makes God God. They’re not why I’m a Christian, and they’re not why I worship. I worship God because I have been called into the middle of raging storms while deathly afraid, and found more there than I ever would have asked for. I worship God because I have been caught just as my face began to sink into the waters, by a hand so gentle and so firm it never once felt like rebuke.
I serve a God of more than weather – a God of mercy, of justice, of creation, of newness. A God of all.