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Pentecost 10A Sermon
Matthew 14: 22-33
August 13, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I think it is amazing how I can read the same passage of scripture, study it, prepare a sermon based on it every three years or so, and a different emphasis or even a flat-out different meaning can surface each time. As I studied our gospel lesson for this morning – the rather well-known story of Jesus walking on water toward the boat filled with disciples, being battered by the waves and wind on the lake – I almost feel compelled to take the first part of my sermon this morning and apologize for the messages that I shared these past few times I preached on this text.

Don’t get me wrong – at the time there must have been things going on in my life, the congregation’s life or the nation and world that influenced the way I heard the word, that made it come alive in a particular way. I remember talking about how the disciples – especially Peter – Just don’t get it, and how Jesus always has to clean up their messes. I’ve encouraged congregations to, “keep your eyes on Jesus” especially when everything around you is in chaos. We’ve all admired Peter for even having the courage to step out of the safety of the boat and take that first step on the lake, while the other disciples just sit there quivering. And we’ve all heard stories about how Jesus is right there to grab us when we are sinking, at the right time to save us. Now, those are all really good messages … and as I said, must have spoken to us vividly in the context of those days. The Holy Spirit uses God’s word in different ways for different circumstances. But the Holy Spirit is really speaking to me differently today through this passage, and I think it is a powerful message that we – and the world – needs to hear.

What those earlier messages failed to say much about is the miracle that happens in the first place. Jesus breaks the laws of science and nature and walks on top of a windy, wavy lake of water! Pat, I know you pretty much have your research set for this year in England, but when you get your next sabbatical in 7 years or so, maybe you can delve into how a grown human being could possibly remain atop of a body of water like this!! It seems impossible to me! That’s your topic for the next sabbatical.

My point is, at the heart of this story is the notion that Jesus, having taken some time to pray on a mountain by himself, now needs to get to his church; he needs to get to his followers who are in a boat, in a storm on the lake – frightened and wondering how they are going to survive. In one of those episodes that can only be explained by saying that Jesus is fully divine, he walks out to meet them where they are, in the midst of their fear and wondering and chaos. Whether you hear it symbolically or literally, it is a story of the extravagant love and devotion that God has for all of us, especially when we are in the midst of chaos.

Here is the message of love and grace to us today – that Jesus does all that he must do to meet us in these circumstances. Nothing will get in his way as he promised, and a few weeks ago we heard Paul basically tell the Romans the same thing when he said that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – not death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, not anything else in all creation. Not even a raging storm with hundreds of yards of open water between Jesus and the wind beaten boat filled with his disciples. Not even whatever it is that is causing chaos in your life right now to the extent that you wonder if you are going to survive. That is the promise of this one who is fully divine and fully human – that knowing what it is to suffer in life, he is present with us whenever we need peace and healing. Even on the sea, the Biblical symbol of chaos and danger, Jesus will not be kept away from us.

The problem is we don’t always believe that. We don’t always believe that Jesus remains with us and provides all we need in the dangers of life. And so, we think we need to make things happen on our own. Peter thought that, and that is why he asked Jesus if he could come out and join him. He wasn’t patient enough to let Jesus do as Jesus was going to do – reach the boat, come in with them and make the winds to cease. He thought he had to make his way TO Jesus. And as is demonstrated by what happened to him, Jesus had to rescue Peter, the one who became so frightened that he began to sink in the lake.

Much like the symbolism of the sea with chaos, so also the boat is a symbol of the church. You are sitting in the part of the building called the nave – from the same latin word for Navy. As residents on this boat in life, we endure storms together; we love and support each other; we encourage and pray for one another; we anticipate Jesus’ presence with us together as he promised to do. I think that Peter’s example is one to learn from, but not in a positive way. When you are part of a community of faith, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, that is where Jesus promises to come. Even if we are unsure of ourselves in light of our community, Jesus promises to be with us. Elijah thought he was all alone in our first lesson – he believed he was the only faithful person in all of Israel who had not bowed to worship the Canaanite idol, Baal. But there were more … and God promised that he would find 7,000 more – a community of faith to be faithful together! You are not alone! We are not alone! God has promised to be present with us in the context of a community of faith.

We’re in that time of year when people are leaving us. College students are preparing to either begin or return to campus, leaving behind parents and siblings and the comfort of home. High schoolers are preparing to return to classes most of the day, and new communities there will be formed or renewed. Newly graduated men and women are either looking for or beginning jobs in their careers. Our friends, The Woodwards, will be leaving for a year abroad. Deb Mak will be returning to Jordan with her husband Tom. We have people selling their long-time homes to move into apartments as their lives change. We have people from our congregation not able to get out due to health issues, and we have said goodbye to two folks in the last month or so. It is so important that we find ways to stay connected, that we remember that we are still part of this faith community no matter where we are or what our circumstances.

It is in the context of the church that Jesus eliminates all obstacles and comes to us. Our task, which sounds easier than it actually is, is to be the church; to know when to step out, and when to wait for Jesus to do what Jesus does. To be the church even when miles separate us physically. To pray for those not with us, to keep up with them and encourage them even while they are away.

The storms will still hit – the chaos will still be present. But within the faith community of The Church, Jesus promises to be with us however he can. In all of the transitions going on at this time of year, that is a comforting word to an otherwise chaotic situation. Thanks be to God; Amen.