Life is a steady diet of change, growth, and new things isn’t it?
When we were very young, the story inside our head went like this: I haven’t been a little kid before. I haven’t gone to school before, or stayed home alone before, or gone to sleep without a night light before.
For others among us the inside story sounds like this: I have not been to college or grad school before. I haven’t had to look for a job before, or been deployed before, or been entirely on my own before, I’ve never been married before, or had to name and share my inmost feelings before, or been really poor before.
And for some the story goes like this: I haven’t been old before, or been widowed and alone before, gosh – I have not had cancer before. I have not had a loved one with mental illness before.
There are many of different stories. We each have our own, and for each of us, the story keeps changing! But the big question for all of us is always the same: as the next door opens and we come face to face with our next challenge, will we freeze in fear, and pull back, or will we walk through the door and come to grips with whatever we find there?
The question is not whether being alive is dangerous and difficult. We know it’s dangerous and difficult! There’s always some kind of “storm” rocking the boat. The real question is whether we’re going to let our fear of life’s dangers and difficulties take over our lives and shape us. Will we let fear master us and shrink our life small?
The answer we give to that very big question will come right from the core of our relationship to the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Your relationship with Jesus all starts with who you believe Jesus is. Do you recall the question the apostles ask themselves about Jesus in the Gospel? To have a true relationship with Jesus everyone of us must answer the question the apostles ask. It is this: “Who then is this, whom even the wind and the sea obey.” In your heart of hearts, how do you answer that question. Who is this Jesus?
Jesus is different from any other religious leader who ever walked the earth. No one else has ever claimed to be God. Confucius and the Buddha claimed to offer wisdom and enlightenment, but they never claimed to be the ultimate source of that wisdom and enlightenment. Mohammad claimed to have a revelation from God. But he never claimed to be God himself.
In contrast, Jesus offers something more than wisdom, enlightenment, and revelation. he claims to be God. Not only does he claim to be God but he shows himself to be God by performing mighty deeds that only God can perform. We see this on full display in today’s gospel as Jesus calms a fierce storm with only a word. Throughout the three years of his ministry, he also showed it by healing the sick, raising the dead, forgiving sins, and knowing people’s thoughts. Ultimately, he showed that he was God by rising from the dead. The divinity of Jesus is not something the disciples cooked up later. Rather, it was a claim that Jesus himself made when he said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30) and when he said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
Consequently, we have to make a choice when it comes to Jesus. Do we believe him? Do we believe that he is who he says he is? Do we believe that he is God?
The temptation for many people in today’s world is to say that Jesus is only a wise teacher. But that is not who he claims to be. If he is not who he says he is – if he is not God – then he is a liar and a fraud. If he claims to be God and really isn’t, then he is not a wise teacher or a good man but a crazy person.
So, we again are faced with the question – Is Jesus God, or a liar, or a crazy man?
Now, if we say that we believe that Jesus is God, we are also saying that we believe that he is Truth itself. This is what he says of himself – “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). If he is God, then everything that he says is true. Nothing he says can be false. If we truly believe that he is God, then we must accept and put into practice everything that he taught. We cannot say that we like it when he says “do not judge lest you be judged” but then not accept when he says, “Whoever divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery.” If I believe that Jesus is God then I cannot say that I accept his commandment that we love one another but not accept his commandment to turn the other cheek. In the same way, I cannot say that I believe that Jesus is God but that I don’t have to be a part of the Church which he established. If Jesus is God and we believe in him, then we have to accept everything that he taught as truth and put into practice everything that he preached.
It sounds daunting – to live the life Jesus calls us to. But there is more to the story. Because Jesus is God, because he is All-Powerful, he can change us. Confucius can teach us wisdom, but he cannot make us wise. The Buddha can show us the way to enlightenment, but he cannot enlighten us. Muhammad can pass on his personal revelation, but he cannot reveal God to us. However, Jesus can do all things. He can teach us wisdom and make us wise. He can teach us how to be good, and he can also make us good. Most importantly, Jesus can teach us about the Father and the Holy Spirit, and he can also show us the Father and send the Holy Spirit to us. Jesus, as God, has the power to change us.
This is the point of the second reading today. In that passage Paul is referring to our baptism. He says through our baptism, we are made a new creation in Christ. The God who created heaven and earth, re-creates us in Jesus Christ. The God who renews the world, renews us when we are baptized. In baptism, we are made a new creation, freed from sin, and given the hope of everlasting life.
If we believe that Jesus is truly God, if we believe that he died and rose again to empower us to live the gospel, then we must no longer live for ourselves but for him. We must put him and his will ahead of our own. We must make him and not ourselves the center of our lives. We will willingly and gladly make him the center of our lives when we experience his love in our hearts. Because, unlike any other religious leader who has ever lived, Jesus invites us not only to believe in him but to be in relationship with him. He invites us to be loved by him. Once we have known the love of God in Jesus Christ, we will desire nothing less.
Jesus makes a startling and bold claim – that he is God made man. All of us must now make a choice. Do we believe him? Will we follow him? If we say “yes”, we will not only be his followers but his friends. If we say “yes”, then we are being transformed into a new creation by his power as God.
The same Jesus who calmed the sea, who healed the sick, who raised the dead, who died on the cross for us, and who was raised from the dead, will make himself present here in the form of bread and wine. It is his Body and Blood that we receive in Holy Communion. He gives himself totally to us, in Holy Communion, to remake us into his image and likeness. If we believe, then we will be made a new creation. Sin and death will have no more power over us. We will live no longer for ourselves but for him. And we will live with the hope of everlasting glory.
Because we believe that, there’s no room for fear or for the “living death” that fear imposes on its victims. There’s only room for the internal peace, hope, and joy that no sadness can take from us. Even in the midst of the storm, when our little boat is being tossed about violently, peace can be experienced only if we truly trust and believe that Jesus is right there with us through it all. Peace is not the absence or avoidance of turmoil; instead, peace comes with a change of heart through our faith-recognition of the presence of Jesus in all circumstances. God is with us, now, and always. Do you believe? Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey? Do you believe?