August 09, 2020
10th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 14
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Jim and I were watching a British detective show on Netflix one evening this past week and as an episode ended, we debated whether to watch another one, which would have kept us up past our usual bedtime. Jim in his cleverness said, “no because it’s the last of the season and if it’s a cliffhanger we’ll have to stay up even later to find out what happens.”
Long gone are the days of having to wait all summer to find out who shot JR.
How we encounter the gospel story, God’s story, through our Weekly Sunday readings is like a tv drama that keeps building on itself. You can jump in the middle and get some idea who the characters are, but you really get to know them best if you can start at the beginning. Each weekly reading is a cliffhanger for the next and when you miss a week, you miss a piece of the whole story.
This year, during our ordinary time in the church calendar, the season between Pentecost and Advent, we are walking with Jesus as Matthew tells us the story of God’s love. And while each Sunday reading can be taken on it’s own with great benefit, to read them as a continuous story offers an even deeper understanding of who Jesus is and our place in this story of all stories.
Today’s reading follows right after the demonstration of God’s abundance as Jesus feeds a giant crowd with one sack lunch, which followed teachings on what the kingdom is. Immediately after the disciples had participated with Jesus in a glorious view of life on earth as it is in heaven, he tells them to get in the boat and head to their next destination.
Matthew doesn’t give us the conversation between Jesus and the disciples but I imagine it went something like this:
Peter: “but Jesus, how will you get there if we take the boat?”
Jesus: “don’t worry Peter, I’ll meet you there.”
Peter: “but Jesus, we’ll have the boat. Do you want me to hire you a charter? I’ll wait with you to make sure you get there.”
Jesus: “Peter, go. Do as I’ve asked. I’m going to dismiss the crowds and then I’ll catch up with you. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
Peter to the other disciples: “come on, guys. I have no idea how he’s going to catch up with us. I sure hope he knows. I can imagine all that’s going to go wrong with his plan. But he insists, so let’s go.”
And, so they go as Jesus asks them. And crossing the water, they are caught in a storm. But as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, this would have been nothing new to them or us. We’ve already seen the episode where they are crossing this same sea, in a storm, and Jesus is sleeping in the back of the boat.
The disciples aren’t surprised by or terrified of the storm. They know what to do. What terrifies them is that through this storm they see a human shaped figure walking on the water toward them. And in their minds, it is easier to assume it is a ghost, a shadow of death, rather than the living, breathing, son of God whom they had witnessed over and over again performing miracles of life.
Even after Jesus calls out to them, Peter does’t believe it. “If it is you,” Peter says, “command me to come to you on the water.”
Peter wants proof his own way, regardless of all that he’d witnessed Jesus doing and teaching.
Jesus calls him into the stormy waves and Peter is able to do what Jesus commands him.
Until he gets distracted and takes his eyes off of Jesus.
As Peter cries out, Jesus saves him in the storm asking “why do you doubt?” Notice it isn’t until they are in the boat that the storm calms.
Jesus meets us in the storm and reminds us, “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” Sometimes, as Jesus calms us, we have to wait for the storm around us to settle.
When Jesus asks, “why do you doubt?” He isn’t looking to shame the disciples, or us. He’s asking us to look inside ourselves, at our own thoughts and preconceived notions and sort out what it is that makes us doubt God’s promises to be with us always, to love us unconditionally, and to provide our daily needs.
We are all frightened and disturbed by the storms in our life – the pandemic, social and civil unrest, economic downturns, relationship struggles, loneliness, and mental and physical illnesses. We are human.
God created us with a fight or flight reflex to help preserve our life, AND God says to us, “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
In the midst of the storms of our lives, we can know beyond a shadow of doubt that God is with us. Even as we falter and doubt, Jesus reaches out to save us in the storm and says “take heart, use my strength, have faith”.
In a recent interview with the Today Show, Bishop Michael Curry said, “I’ve seen us do what we never thought we would or could do, because we dared to do what Jesus tells us all to do.”
In the storms of our life, when we take our eyes off of Jesus and cry out, Jesus catches us and reminds us of our faith in a faithful and loving God.
We’ve seen episode after episode of God’s story. We know the ending. We can look back through our lives and see God’s provision of our true daily needs, even if at the time we wanted something else.
We aren’t created to watch this story as a distant observer, we are created as a part of it, participating with God on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, we do learn about Jesus from our Sunday readings, but we get to know who Jesus is and grow in relationship with him by walking with him each and every day, seeking to be aware of God’s presence with us at all times.
We cannot live the life Jesus teaches us to live, the life we are created to live, without Jesus. Like Peter, when we take our eyes off Jesus, we begin to falter.
And when we doubt God’s faithfulness, because we all will from time to time, Jesus reaches out to us in love and compassion with grace and forgiveness, saying, “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” Amen.