"On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, `Let us go across to the other side.'" (Mark 4:35)
When Jesus said those words, he was standing on a boat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel, speaking to a crowd in the ancient village of Capernaum. The crowd had gathered to hear him preach on his topic of the day: the Kingdom of Heaven. He spoke in parables so they could easily understand. He told them that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which begins small but grows into something huge. They easily understood his agricultural metaphors because Capernaum was a farming community.
(We learn something about Jesus in this detail of the story. He was a gracious teacher. He had all the wisdom of the universe, yet he spoke to farmers about seeds. He used simple metaphors to point to profound truths. He stooped to their level. He was gracious.)
In fact, most of Jesus' message was probably well-received that day. But the last words of his sermon would have offended them: "Let us go across to the other side."
The other side was only eight nautical miles to the east. From the shore at Capernaum, people could see the other side. It was the Land of the Gerasenes. In their eyes, it was a place to avoid. It was full of people who had fallen prey to Roman culture and Hellenism, with its vices and moral decay. It was a mess. Go to the other side, Jesus? Why would we ever do that?
But some did go. They stepped into the boat with Jesus and followed him to the other side.
Perhaps you know the rest of the story in Mark's Gospel. Immediately the travelers encountered a freak storm. Any fears that the Capernaumites may have had about going to the other side were coming true. Frightened, they awoke Jesus, who was (strangely) sleeping. He rose, and then he rebuked the wind and the waves. And there was peace. Calm. Smooth sailing.
In the eerie quiet, Jesus' followers might have begun to understand why he had beckoned them to the other side. Maybe he wanted to show them that he was who he said he was. Maybe he wanted to display the fact that his voice had authority over the wind and the waves. The Bible says that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God spoke them into existence (e.g. "let there be light").
On the Sea of Galilee, the wind and waves recognized the voice calling from the boat. They had heard it once before, at the dawn of time.
Some of us recently heard the voice of Jesus inviting us into the storm after Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the shore of our nearby sea. Like the Capernaumites, we may have had fears about going to that other side. But many of us did. Several churches, synagogues, and community groups from Greenwich got into their cars and drove into places like Far Rockaway and Staten Island. Around 75 of my parishioners went.
In the storm, we encountered Jesus. We saw him in the sacrificial service of the people who showed up to help. We heard him in the voice of one woman who walked through her destroyed home while singing praises to God. We met him in the words of one man who said to us, "thank you for your help, but I know someone else in my neighborhood who has it worse than me. Let's all go work on his house instead of mine."
How could a person be so calm amidst the wreckage of such a storm? I believe it is because Jesus is still in the boat. He may not have stopped the literal wind and waves that struck our shore, but I saw him calm the raging seas within the hearts of those who seek him.
On that shore, I recognized his voice and his hands and his feet. I saw his sacrificial love, his power, his healing and his hope.
What is your "other side"? Where might God be summoning you? If you follow him there, you just might see God's authority and glory revealed to you in a new way. I encourage you to step off your shore of safety and get into the boat with God.
The Rev. Nathan Hart is associate pastor of Stanwich Congregational Church, 202 Taconic Road. The church's website is stanwichchurch.org.