Seeing Ghosts

Welcome to our 21st “Boost from the Bible,” where we delve into the depths of God’s Word in order to find sustenance during this strange, COVID time. Let us begin!

Okay, imagine you are one of Christ’s original 12 disciples. And you witness, in a great miracle – Jesus feeding thousands – 5,000 men, plus thousands of women and children; and then you find yourself and the other eleven doing your part to send out this food and then gather what’s left. You are amazed because you, with your basket in hand, had been thinking to yourself, “I don’t need this basket! For us to feed thousands with just 5 loaves of bread and two fish is miracle enough!” But THEN…what is happening? People have leftover food, somehow, and put it in your basket…and your basket is full! You go and brag about this to your fellow disciples, until you realize that the same thing happened to them!

You and the others are staggered by this turn of events. Yet you find that you and your fellow disciples are ordered away from there right away by Jesus. The description of this in Matthew 14 is: “Immediately Jesus MADE the disciples get into the goat and go on ahead to the other side, while Jesus dismissed the crowds.” So…another surprise – this one not welcomed: no talk with Your Lord and Master about the miracle He had just performed. No discussion with Him about what it all meant and how it all mattered – which Christ was always so good at. Nothing!

Instead, as you and the disciples row across the Sea of Galilee to get back home in Capernaum, a storm hits – one of those big, awful storms that the Sea of Galilee was famous for – and this storm was hitting them in the dark…in the dead of night! Perhaps they had attached a lantern to the boat; with the reported high winds, likely the wind and the waves had snuffed that light out. Where was Jesus? You knew He was grieving John the Baptist’s death. You later learn Jesus was praying all night until dawn. Meanwhile, you struggle to survive that whole long horrible night; Matthew later described your predicament this way: “by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.” That harsh wind was keeping you and your fellow disciples from reaching shore ALL NIGHT – so, feeling very isolated, in your heart and mind you ask a couple questions, over and over again: “Where is Jesus?” and “When will this ever end?”

We, in our own isolation, resonate with that last question, don’t we? “When will this…this virus thing…ever end?” We are surrounded, some of us, with the pleasantries of media – of TV shows and Netflix and YouTube we can view, and there are books we always wanted to read and zoom calls and the like, but still: in the face of the long length of this strange time period, and the capacity for renters to lose their homes and looking at all the unemployed and the continuing disease and more and more positive tests and now school reopening and colleges opening and some closing and all the anxiety over these things, it is, in a weird sort of way, our “dark night of the soul.” Why, just today I received an invitation – as a pastor – to take part in an online workshop event entitled, “Loss, Grief, and Pastoral Care during COVID-19. Here’s the short description of that event: “How do you provide pastoral care to those who are hurting the most as they try to make sense out of their experience? This workshop,” the announcement went on, “explores loss, grief, pastoral care and COVID.” So we know there’s something difficult going on in our culture, right now. As F. Scott Fizgerald once wrote, “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.”

Well, at three o’clock in the morning, those disciples had almost given up hope. Desperate, just a few hours later, in the midst of the raging storm, they saw something strange – a figure of a man, walking on water. “It’s a ghost!” they cried, out of sheer fear. And, in our BOOST FROM THE BIBLE today, Jesus replies, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mt. 14:27)

Jesus later calms the storm. He had the whole event under control. Yet Jesus still wanted them to learn something important: First, see Him, and not a ghost, and, second, do not be afraid. Can those two lessons in faith translate to today? Yes they can.

I wonder about what “seeing ghosts,” so to speak, would be like for us today regarding the coronavirus. If the disciples believed Jesus not to be Jesus, but instead a ghost, would they have asked for His help or even be willing to receive it? Maybe not. That’s what fear did to them and may do to us now. Taking that example to heart, maybe WE need to be spiritually ready for the time when a ghostly God, working through scientists and doctors, provides for us treatments and a vaccine or two that will help us out of this crisis, all of us working together. God working in that way will be speaking, perhaps, to us, like Jesus did on the Sea of Galilee, and saying: “Take heart, it is I; do not fear.” You know what I mean?

There’s another part of this event I want to mention – Peter’s part. Jesus had just said, “Take heart, it is I; do not fear.” At that  point Jesus had not yet calmed the wind. The next thing Matthew writes, is this: “Peter answered Jesus, ‘Lord, IF it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ Jesus said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the water and came toward Jesus. But when Peter noticed the strong wind, Peter became frightened, and, beginning to sink, Peter cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught Peter, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat,” Matthew added, “the wind ceased.”

You may have noticed that I emphasized the word “if,” for Peter had spoken a note of disbelief in his request of Jesus – “IF it is You.” Hmmm. You know it is very important not to express our requests of Jesus this way – “if you are Jesus, send me healing…if you are risen from the dead…if you care about me at all,” and so forth. As Jesus told the devil, “Do not put the Lord to the test.” God cherishes each one of us, knows our hearts and is closer to us than we are to ourselves. We, in this crisis, do well NOT to test God and God’s love.

So why did Peter begin to sink? That’s been a question Christians have asked for centuries. Matthew’s Spirit-inspired opinion: Peter looked away from Christ, whom he was walking towards, and instead “noticed the strong wind, and became frightened.” Jesus Himself called it “doubt” – the actions of one who had “little faith.”

Jesus once said of Peter and the others on another long, dark night – that last night in the garden of Gethsemane – “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We know what that’s like. If I have 9 things go right in my day, and one wrong thing, what do I tend to focus on? You know – the one wrong thing. Peter did that. He was focusing not on trusting his Lord but focusing on the one wrong thing – the wind and the waves. A favorite song of mine describes what Peter could have done, and what we, guided by the Spirit, CAN do during these strange times. 

“Oh, soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior…and light more abundant and free. Turn your eyes upon Jesus…Look full in His wonderful face…And the things of earth will grow strangely dim…In the light of His glory and grace.”

If you are experiencing a “dark night of the soul” at the present time – for whatever reason – go to God in prayer. You don’t need to know what to say to God – the Spirit will speak for you with sighs too deep for words. And, as together we walk through this storm, let us keep our eyes on the Risen Jesus for He really is here for us; let Christ provide to you “the light of His glory and grace.” Amen.

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