8th Sunday after Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Have you heard Don and Judy Simpsons’ story of the storm which demolished their vehicle and nearly all the houses around them. They were spending the night with friends when that mile wide tornado ripped through Alabama. Are you ready for hurricane season? What’s in your storm survival kit? Bottled water, non-perishable food, a supply of medicines, flashlights, batteries, a generator? Or are you a person who rushes out at the last minute when the forecast is foreboding?
Our Gospel story today teaches us that it is not only what you have with you in the storm, but whom you have with you. These fishermen, were well –acquainted with storms. They knew harsh winds as well as anyone, but even so, they were frightened. These tough men in harsh elements needed more than anything, the comfort of their friend, their leader, their teacher Jesus. But even the arrival of Jesus on the scene creates fear. After all, he’s walking on the water. Their minds cannot comprehend what their eyes see.
Hear the Gospel:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat
and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
23 And after he had dismissed the crowds,
he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
When evening came, he was there alone,
24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves,
was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea,
they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat,
started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened,
and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him,
saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying,
"Truly you are the Son of God."
Jesus has been in his own storm, hearing of his cousin. John Baptist’s death, then being surrounded by the crowds, who always need something – food, healing, help of one kind or another. Twice in chapter 14 we are told that Jesus intentional got away from the crowd. There’s a lesson in that for each of us. Time away from people and/or responsibilities is crucial to our health. Time for prayer is vital to our well-being, our shalom, our peace. Even God on earth needed it, so of course we do.
Jesus goes away for renewal, comes back to feed 5000 men, probably 18,000 people we figured last week. Feeds them with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Whew! That must have been exhausting. Goes away again for prayer. The disciples are on the stormy sea. Jesus walks across the water to rescue them. When he finishes calming the storm, he’s on to healing the sick and the people bring him all in the region who have ailments of any kind.
Now, like I said last week, if you like to think that the miracle of multiplying bread happened by the sharing of everyone what they had, or if you find your faith inspired by thinking that a sandbar helped Jesus get out to the boat, that’s okay with me.
I prefer to lean into the mystery of the miracle, believing that Jesus is capable of things we cannot explain rationally. Again, I figure these fishermen knew where the shallow water was. This was a shocking event for them. But Jesus says to them. “Take heart, it is I (or more literally, I AM) Don’t be afraid.” In modern parlance, it might be “Chill out, guys, it’s me.” But that “I AM” reminds us of the Burning Bush story where Moses wants to know the name of the God who speaks to him out of the bush and tells him to lead the people out of Egypt. Moses says, “Who are you? Whom shall I say sent me?” And God says, “I AM who I AM.”
Have you ever had the “I AM” response from God? Sometimes is not the answer we what to hear. It is like the parental response to the child asking why. It is that “Because I said so, and I am your mother” kind of response.
Jesus’ encouragement not to be afraid part reminds me of the angels coming to the shepherds at his birth. The shepherds were scared, like the fishermen. But the angels said, “Do not be afraid, for we bring you good news of great joy.” The news they brought was of God’s coming to them in the human-divine presence of Jesus Christ. And that Jesus, all grown up, says to his buddies, his followers, when he startled them. “Settle down, guys. It’s me. I am here with you.” Presence.
Then Peter questions the identity of Christ, saying “If it is you, Lord, tell me to come to you on the water.” This seems like the same sort of question the devil gave to Jesus in the wilderness in the temptations. “If you are the Son of God, then command these stones to become bread.” Jesus invites Peter out. But Peter, looking around to see the danger he is in, begins to sink, and cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me.”
All of us get into situations of danger. The disciples in the boat are in a dangerous situation, not of their own making. Peter is in dangerous situation because he asked for it. In both cases Jesus is present to rescue.
When Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I think he is not chastising Peter for sinking, I think he is saying why did you question who I was. Why did you say, “if you are the Son of God, prove it to me by helping me walk on water.” Peter did not need to walk on that water. Jesus was coming to the boat.
Jesus agrees to let him step out, but it is not Jesus’ idea. Good example of the freedom God gives us. Good example of how all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, as we read together two weeks ago in Romans. Christ gives us freedom to stay in the boat or get out of the boat, even allows us to question who he is. But what he hopes is that we will recognize, as the all the disciples in the boat do in the end, and as the centurion says at the cross, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Okay, so what about those of us who are calling out to God in our own stormy seas? People like the Tuite family. Their boat has been blown around like crazy for the last couple of years, taking Rob to the east coast, where Kim and the kids finally joined him this summer. But before they could settle, before getting internet hooked up, before the kids were registered for school, before Patrick could go off to college, before the family had made any friends in Vero Beach, and while they were on a mini vacation in Ft. Lauderdale, Rob got terribly ill with pancreatitis. Some of you will remember he was hospitalized with that some months back, while they still lived here. Well, this time, he’s been in the hospital four weeks, and keeps getting worse. They rushed him to Shands teaching hospital in Gainesville, hoping to find the answer. It’s not cancer, but now he’s on a respirator, not stable at all. Poor Kim’s got a three and a half hour journey between her kids and her husband. What a stormy summer, what a wild sea!
It was a stormy night for the disciples and Jesus did not come right away. He was near, but not so they could see him. He was praying. Sometimes God is near you, but you do not see God, but we know by the scripture we’ve read, and the church’s creeds and confessions that God is present, even when unseen. We too are scared. We too could be said to have little faith. But we, like the disciples can tell our stories of rescue, as well as fear.
Are we testifying to the truth of God’s ability to save? Are we singing God’s praise because the wind does die down and we do experience the peace the passes all understanding? Are we being the body of Christ to encourage others with God’s help from their doubts and fears, their sinking situations?
The spiritual survival kit takes more time to build than the material kit. That’s just a quick drive down to the local store. What should we have in our soul survival kit?
What about a vibrant faith, a strong relationship with the only One capable of stilling the storms? What about a church community of friends who can sit with you when Jesus is near but seems far away? What about a Bible? What about the words of a confession or prayer or creed in your head? The lyrics of a hymn or song full of faith? What about a rhythm of weekly liturgy, Word and Sacrament reminding us over and over again that “In life and in death, we belong to God.” Say it with me. “In life and in death we belong to God.”
“In life and in death, what? We belong to God.” In health and in sickness, what? we belong to God. In joy and in sorrow, we belong to God. In wealth and in poverty, we belong to God. In fullness and in emptiness, we belong to God. In marriage and in divorce, we belong to God. In comfort and in discomfort, we belong to God. In righteousness and in sinfulness, we belong to God. In good times and in bad times, we belong to God. In addiction and in sobriety, we belong to God. In community and in loneliness, we belong to God. In storms and in sunshine, we belong to God. In success and in failure, we belong to God. In depression and in contentment, we belong to God.
Christ is coming to lift you out of that sinking situation in which you find yourself – whether you are sinking in sadness, sinking in frustration, sinking in debt, sinking in helplessness, sinking in schoolwork, sinking in exhaustion, sinking in fear, sinking in sickness. God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Be humble and bold enough to call out to the Lord in your sinking situation. It may be the nighttime of your despair and fear, but I promise the daybreak of Christ’s coming to you is near. “Take heart, Christ says, “I am here. Do not be afraid. Do not doubt. Believe that I am the Son of God, your Savior.”
Give thanks to God who hears our cries
and saves in troubled days
with wondrous works to humankind
that call for highest praise.
Let all who know God’s saving love
sing grateful songs always.