Memorial Service 2009
D. G. Phillips
at St. John’s on Bell
107:23-32 Jonah 1:1-17, 2:1,10 Matthew 14:22-33
WHITHER shall I go then from thy spirit? /
or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I take the wings of the morning, / and
dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there also shall thy hand lead me, / and
thy right hand shall hold me.
The Bible is
full of images of the sea and full of stories of those who go down
to the sea in ships and make their business on the great waters.
1. Leah Bell
read from the opening chapter of the Bible, it is an account of the
creation, of God separating the waters above from the waters
beneath, and of God’s blessing of the sea:
waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life…And
God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth,
which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and God
saw that it was good…And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and
multiply, and fill the waters in the seas.
We can imagine
from the earliest times there have been fishers of this abundant
provision of food. The ocean is teaming with life, and provides
nourishment and a livelihood for vast numbers of people around the
2. But the sea
also spoken of in the Bible as a threat. Think of the story of the
great flood and of Noah’s ark – the waters are an instrument of
judgement but for cleansing and for the re-creation. There is a
certain unpredictability of the sea. Storms can suddenly arise or
simply because of its vastness or cold and depth it can threaten and
take lives – no one who works on the great waters takes it lightly.
There is an ambivalence – the sea provides abundantly, but the sea
also threatens. Some here will know that by personal experience,
some of us learn it by reading the accounts of mariners, like
Steady as she goes by Dolly Publicover, where she gives an
account of her father’s journeys.
Those who have
seen the power of the sea, the threat to life and limb, know that
one can very quickly be entirely at the mercy of God, the sea’s
power can only be met by the greater power of God:
At his word
the stormy wind ariseth, / which lifteth up the waves thereof.
carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep: / their soul
melteth away because of the trouble.
They reel to
and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, / and are at their wits'
So they cry
unto the LORD in their trouble, / and he delivereth them from their
for believers may come in one of two ways…but for all who cry to the
Lord, there is deliverance.
3. From early
times the writers of the Bible have seen in this outward activity of
the sea, sometimes chaotic and sometimes calm, a parallel to the
inward state of our souls. When we are carried away inwardly by the
stresses and strains and temptations in life, when we are in turmoil
inwardly – it is only the power of God that can bring to us the
inner peace we desire. Heaven is described in Revelation as a sea
of glass, and as a place where there is no more sea, a place of
perfect rest. So when we read those psalms, we read them not just
in a literal way as about those on the actual sea, but as an
expression of what each one of us knows and feels sometimes in our
from Ps 93
THE floods have lift up, O LORD, the floods have lift up their
voice: / the floods lift up their waves.
the roar of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, /
the LORD, who dwelleth on high, is mighty.
from Ps 69
me, O God; / for the waters are come in, even unto my soul.
2 I stick
fast in the deep mire, where no ground is: / I am come into deep
waters, so that the floods run over me…
23 BUT as for
me, when I am poor and in heaviness, / thy help, O God, shall lift
Mariners lift up
their voice in a storm; so do we in our struggles.
4. Jesus chose
fishermen to be his apostles – and three of the twelve apostles,
Peter, James and John, the inner circle, all fishermen, were chosen
by Jesus to be unique witnesses of his transfiguration, and of his
time of deep distress in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter, James and
John responded gladly to the call of Jesus to become fishers of
people. There was something in their training that prepared them to
be evangelists to the world.
In the Gospels
we have more than one story of Jesus with the disciples in boats on
There is one
where he is sleeping in the boat when a storm arises on the sea of
Galilee and is woken up and rebukes the sea – and the wind dies down
and there is a great calm. In that story Jesus reveals his divine
nature. But let’s look at the Gospel story in tonight’s Second
Lesson. Here we have another story of Jesus and the disciples
on the sea, and a miracle, but it is one of the more peculiar
Jesus had been
praying on the mountain alone, and had sent the disciples to go to
the other side of the sea of Galilee. During the night a storm
arises and they are anxious, but this time Jesus is not on the boat
with them, but comes to them walking on the water and they are
transfixed. First frightened that it is a spirit, but he assures
them, Be of good cheer; it is I, have no fear. They are no
longer afraid of the storm or of a spirit but full of awe and Peter
wants to try to walk too. He begins when Jesus bids him come, but
then begins to sink, and Jesus reaches out and lifts him up and they
get into the boat together.
purpose of this story, which is to be told and retold, is not to say
that Jesus is like a guru from the far East with special powers
acquired through meditation… The purpose of this story is not to say
that we should desire to walk on water literally. But, as with all
Jesus’ miracles, there is something else being shown us, something
of a more universal meaning for us as people of faith.
Lord, if it
be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And
when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to
go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid;
and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And
immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and
said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
Every one of us
has times in our lives when the stresses and anxieties build within
us to the breaking point, sometimes we are unable to be in control
of our lives, sometimes ready to be overwhelmed by temptation even
to despair. The waters are come in even unto my soul. We
feel like we are drowning. But we step out in faith, which is
commendable, taking things day by day, walking in faith without
seeing. But it is so easy to be distracted, to turn one’s eyes to
one’s trials and not to the One who is beyond it, the One who is
above it, when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and
beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. It is the
cry of faith, even of faltering faith, that we need God to help us.
And that help, is promised from above, it is promised in this Gospel
miracle, And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and
We who are
living the life of faith know severe trials from time to time in
this life, and we know the experience of deliverance – not always as
we anticipated – but deliverance when we look up.
For all those
who have been lost at sea…
It is hard to
imagine but that they thought of loved ones, and finally
cried out Lord, save me. And this Gospel miracle assures us
of how such a cry will be met. And immediately Jesus stretched
forth his hand, and caught him.
For each one of
us, at the end of our lives—wherever that be, whether at sea or in
our home, or on a hospital bed—we will all face that same moment. I
don’t know about you, but I hope to be fully alert when it happens.
Today we worship
with grateful hearts, Jesus, who assures us in this Gospel, that the
call for salvation, coming from us, whose faith is weak and
faltering, the cry of distress – Lord, save me – will be met
by God not based upon the strength of our faith, thankfully,
but upon God’s mercy and grace. The hand of Jesus, will reach out
to us, lifting us out of our distress, pulling us out of the deep
waters, above the chaos of the stormy seas of this life and through
the very gates of death to the calm of heaven. This is how the
fisherman John describes it in Revelation…
immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in
heaven, and one sat on the throne…. And before the throne there was
a sea of glass like unto crystal.
I saw as it
were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the
victory … stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
And I saw a
new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth
were passed away; and there was no more sea.