How many of us long for the good old days? The mythical times of long ago, when everything in life was, well, just perfect. Those days when life was good, and it seemed as if our problems were far, far away. The only problem with the mythical good old days is, they probably never really existed. As the old song The Way We Were says,” Somehow time has rewritten every line. So, it is the good times we will remember, whenever we choose to remember, the way we were.” Sadly, this is the reality of the good old days. Time truly does rewrite it for us. It deletes the bad and somehow leaves the good behind.
Not only do our minds rewrite the past but so does history itself. It is true, history is written from the perspective of the victor and I would also like to add, history is rewritten from the perspective of the day. Our understanding of ancient/biblical history is no different. Somehow, over the years, the truth about the time when Jesus taught has been romanticized. Thanks to our Sunday school teachers, ancient Galilee has been etched in our minds as the quintessentially serene fishing village of ancient days.
According Presiding-Bishop Elect Michael Curry, Galilee was anything but serene. During Jesus’ day, Galilee was a place of political and social unrest. In John’s account, he refers to the sea as both the Sea of Galilee and the Sea of Tiberius. Prior to Jesus’ ministry, Herod decided to build the great city of Caesarea Philippi in honor of Caesar and rename the Sea of Galilee in honor of Tiberius Caesar. It was Herod’s way of letting the people of the area know where his allegiance stood and to whom they served.
Renaming a body of water may seem minor, and building a great city may offer a boon to the economy. Unfortunately, however, building projects take money and the only way king can raise money is through taxes, and Herod was no fool. So he decided to increase his income by taxing the fish caught in the Sea of Tiberius.
No one likes to pay taxes, especially to honor an emperor nobody in the area seemed to care for. So Galilee became a hot bed of unrest, a breeding ground for revolt. Galilee in Jesus’ day was the epicenter of political turmoil in Palestine. Perhaps this is why the disciple Nathaniel asks if anything good can come out of the area.
But it is here, in this hotbed of turmoil where Jesus begins his ministry. It is here, where Jesus speaks of divine love and forgiveness. It is here, in Galilee, where Jesus teaches the world to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek and to walk the extra mile. It is here, on the shores of Galilee where Jesus sends his disciples away from in order to rest.
Towns, villages and open spaces are numerous along the shores of Galilee. Some were easily accessible by road, most, however, were more easily accessed by boat. Crossing the Sea of Galilee had its own challenges. Eight miles wide and thirteen miles long, traversing the sea was long hard work either by sail or oar. And like so many inland waters, storms can form in the distance and turn a tranquil sea into a choppy chaos within a matter of minutes.
When John writes about the Sea of Galilee, he writes about both the physical sea itself and the metaphorical representation of water. In Genesis, when God entered the world, there was void and darkness, first God created the light of day, and then he separated the void, the water, with a dome of land. In ancient times, water symbolized chaos and uncertainty. While humanity is able to dominate the earth, humanity still cannot dominate or control the water.
So as John weaves together his Gospel, like his counter parts, he often tells a story within a story. As John writes to a persecuted church, he connects their story with this story. As we move from historical event to metaphorical message, John tells the story of the nascent church being tossed to and fro by the waters of chaos. He tells of our founder preaching and healing amidst the turmoil and the animosity of an earlier day. And in the end, as Jesus approaches the boat by walking over the stormy seas, he tells his reader that it is only Jesus/God, not Caesar, not King Herod nor any other earthly authority who has control over the chaos of the sea, and it is Jesus who will calm and console the troubled church and return it to safety.
As Bishop Curry writes in the final chapter of Crazy Christians, we all live in Galilee. We all live amongst the political turmoil that has over taken this country. We all live among the gun violence that has become all too prevalent in this country. We all live amongst the ever violent and changing sea. Yes, we too, live on the shores of Galilee amidst the chaos of modern life. And yes, we too are in the fishing boat of long ago, feeling as if the modern church is being tossed to and fro amidst an ever growing intolerant sea of change and we wonder how the church will survive.
For many of us, uncertainty is hard. We expect there to be chaos beyond these walls, but not within them. And yet once again, we find uncertainty within these walls as well. According to systems theorists, even the slightest challenge to the status quo creates a sense of anxiety and fear within the relational system.
Yes, we are afloat in the Sea of Galilee. The only difference between us and the disciples is, we know the storm is brewing and will overtake us. For Maureen and me with every passing day, the balance between excitement and fear, joy and grief, confidence and terror grows closer in balance. Yes, we know we are literally being called to the Port of Galilee in Rhode Island. But knowing the “where” does not make not knowing the “what” any less difficult and unsettling. And while we may believe we may know what the future holds for us, the truth is, we really don’t as we journey forward trusting that God is part of it.
While the time is soon upon us when our journeys will part, our separate experiences will not be that different. While Maureen and I venture into the great unknown of Narragansett, St. Luke’s will venture into the unknown of transition. Like Maureen, me and the disciples you too can see the distant shore God is calling you to, but you are still unclear as what it will take to get there.
And so like us, when the waves of uncertainty grow too large and it feel as if the boat is about to capsize with the shore still too far to reach, remember today’s Gospel, remember the disciples being tossed to and fro in that small fishing boat. . .and trust. . .trust that God is still in control of the chaos. That it is God and nothing, nor no anyone else who can calm the waters and it is God who will bring us to the safety of a new shore.