“Before dawn Jesus went to them, walking on the lake. His disciples were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they cried. But Jesus said: ‘It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” – Matthew 14:25-27 (NRSV, adapted)
After feeding the multitudes, Jesus instructs his friends to sail back across the lake. He’ll meet them later. They assume he’ll walk home or hitch a ride. So when a strange thing approaches them on the water, they don’t think, “Oh right, that’s Jesus.” They think, “Oh Jesus, that’s a ghost!” Panic ensues. Until they realize it’s him.
We can be like that. Something unfamiliar comes along, and we assume it’s going to be dreadful and get all lathered up. But if we’d take a breath, give it the benefit of the doubt and a little time, we might save ourselves a boatload of emotional energy.
A colleague was six months into a new pastorate when the moderator stopped by to discuss a worship change she’d proposed: adding a confession to the Sunday service. The previous pastor had found confession depressing and axed it. They hadn’t had one in twenty-six years. If she introduced it, the moderator warned, people would revolt, and he’d leave.
She said, not unkindly, “I hope you find a church that gives you life.” He was apoplectic, but he’d backed himself into a corner. He left. Four months later he was back. He missed his church, so he tolerated the confession.
Years later, she retired. He chaired the search for her replacement. A candidate asked if the congregation was open to change. “Change anything you want,” he replied. “But not the confession. It means a lot to us here.”
That unfamiliar thing upsetting you? Relax. It may not be a ghost coming to kill you. It could be Jesus, come to save.
Ease my panic about the unknown, Jesus, at least long enough to discover if it’s you.