you are present with us throughout our lives,
even when others plot to do us harm.
May we learn to live together in unity,
that in all we do,
we may sing your praises now and forever. Amen.
This weeks RCL readings are here.
Over the Fourth of July weekend I went sailing for the first time. The water was calm, the skies were blue, the breeze was stiff enough to move us along, but gentle enough to be peaceful; our time on the water was ever so relaxing. and soothing. Nonetheless, I was keenly aware that circumstances could change, and that being on the water presented challenges most of us don’t face on a daily basis. And I can only imagine that depending on the wind and water to get from one place to another on a regular basis would require both patience and fortitude.
Some of Jesus’ disciples, were fishermen, and all of them lived and traveled in a region where sailing was routine. They knew only too well what traveling by boat entailed, and they had a healthy respect for the power of the sea. So when heavy winds and waves caught them far from shore, it is easy to imagine their unease as they worked to control their boat as best they could. That unease became real fear when they saw a ghostly figure walking towards them on the water; was it a specter of death? An hallucination? No, it was Jesus!
This is the second story in Matthew’s gospel involving the disciples and Jesus being out in rough seas. In the first (Matt. 8:23-27), Jesus is asleep in the boat when a storm comes up; the disciples are sufficiently afraid to wake Jesus with cries of, “Save us!” Jesus complies, demonstrating for the first time his command over wind and sea.
Now as Jesus approaches the boat, he identifies himself (“It is I”) but Peter, being Peter, challenges him: “IF it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus does, and when Peter steps out onto the water at first all seems well, but as he is buffeted by the winds, he becomes afraid, takes his eyes off Jesus, and begins to sink. He is saved only by Jesus, who reaches out and pulls him to safety. When Jesus steps into the boat, the winds cease and the water calms, demonstrating for the second time his authority over the seas, and in that moment, the disciples see God in all God’s power and glory, revealed in Jesus.
Like the parables and the story of the feeding of the multitudes we’ve heard over the last few weeks, this tale is a familiar one. Our preaching challenge is to help our congregations to hear this message with fresh ears, and to make it REAL, real and immediate. One way we might do this is by asking our audience whether they expect God to show up when they are afraid. And if they do, do they ever feel like testing God as Peter did, or bargaining with God?
Another take on this gospel might be to explore the whole notion of how we see Jesus/God in the world around us. Part of Matthew’s goal in this gospel is revealing just who Jesus is, bit by bit and he feeds his Jewish-Christian audience clues they should recognize all along. Just as Moses did in the wilderness, Jesus goes regularly to the mountain top to talk with God, and this day is no exception. After feeding the multitudes, he withdraws, alone, to pray. Then in the wee hours he walks across the water to join his disciples, and on the way demonstrates (for the second time) his powers over the seas. It was indeed a moment of revelation. We, as a general rule, aren’t afforded that kind of opportunity to see God’s power being revealed, so what does clue us in to God’s presence? And how might we become more attuned to that presence?
A third tack might be to address Peter’s faith and lack thereof. Sarah Dylan Breuer takes that approach in a post from 2005, likening Peter to other reluctant prophets, and asking just how much faith we need to believe that we can make a difference in the world, a question that continues to resonate.
Where might you be headed, preachers? Share your insights and inspirations here, and your questions and frustrations, too. It all goes into the mix!