Romans 10:5-15 Psalm 85:8-13 Matthew 14:22-33
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Storms rage around us and within us and cause us to be afraid.” The prayer of the day could not have summarized our situation any better.
It is good to sail together at this time in the ship that is the church, that is our faith. The storms of this time and the rage how we deal with them, often feel as if the bottom is in the process of being pulled out from under us. The metaphor of the boat tossed about, “tortured” as the text says literally, for endless hours in the dead of the night on the Sea of Galilee readily applies itself to hospital situations, to kitchen tables piled with unpaid bills, to city hall deliberations, police departments, demonstrations mourning the shooting of loved ones, the halls of congress, the space of national cyber security. Storms rage around us.
– Put yourself for just a moment in the shoes of the citizens of Beirut after the harbor explosion, and pray for them this week.
Here we are assembled as church, sailing together in these times, supporting each other; and yet still reaching out in Christ the King fashion, identifying victims tossed about in worse ways than we are, who need the calming of the waves even more urgently than we. Such reaching out is beautifully expressed in our monthly mission offerings and the many ways you individually care for others beyond your own selves.
Culturally, the ship is an enduring symbol, deep in our human consciousness. Views of the oceans arise in us, we remember maybe experiences of awe, the beauty of sunsets and waves, at the same time real terror of drowning, failed rescues. The water, a place of otherness, unpredictability, great beauty and destructive power. Seafarers have sailed the waters of the world from earliest times, leaving the shores of home, questing for nourishment from the sea, but questing also beyond the horizon for exploration.
In the Christian faith, the ship is of course a symbol for the church. You see it right here (the antependium), and here on my stole. Our church ship that hangs from the ceiling in the southwest corner of the nave usually, the Superb, sits currently in a pew, in your place I guess, for the installation of our new audio system. And, of course, this whole building is called the nave, from navis ship. Sanctuary we call only the space immediately surrounding the altar.
In ancient Israel, the people knew God as the Lord of the sea, appearing in a storm, parting the waters of the Red Sea for a safe passage. The psalmists often pray to God with the same cry as Peter, “Save me!”, and God does. The waters are calmed, all is quiet, all is good. (For example psalms 77 and 107.) God is described by Job as trampling the waves of the sea, or walking on the sea as if on dry ground. God is the Lord of the sea, and none other.
When Jesus walks on the raging water of the Sea of Galilee, he appears just as God is known to appear, and that can only be good news, for the pattern is: God appears and there is deliverance.
We can rely on this: as Jesus shares in God’s divine powers to feed the hungry with a feast of crumbs, reminiscent of Manna in the desert, so will Jesus trample the raging waves that torture the disciples’ fisherman boat.
This is indeed the Lord, the kyrios, the Lord of all creation, the Lord of life and out of death, whom it is worth to confess with our mouths and in our hearts. Just as the disciples say, for first time confessing: You are truly the Son of God. But not before they scream in terror: a ghost!! A phantom!, upon seeing Jesus come to them on the water.
It is not by their own strength or will that they recognize and confess Jesus as Lord, but only after he calls out to them, it is I. Which is none other than the name of God. It wasn’t their faith that saved them, but the initiative, the acting of God; let’s not presume we make our salvation happen. But God appears, and God delivers.
What then is our job in all this, dear congregation? When we picture ourselves inside the boat, now, in this summer of 2020, tossed about, maybe injured, pushed outside our comfort zone, are we supposed to hunker down, hands over heads, and trust that Jesus will for sure lead us out of danger, make all this stress go away, our pilot who safely steers us to the harbor?
Well, that would be a bit too passive. It doesn’t go well at all with the fact that we are called. Baptized, we are called.
Turning to Paul’s ruminations in Romans 10, he speaks about the intimate near-ness of God’s word in our hearts and our mouths, God’s word/Christ is in us. But it cannot be held inside. God’s acts of salvation push inside out, want to be shared, communicated, told, want to become fruitful, effective, and spread wide.
Paul’s whole point is about how the proclamation of all who have known the saving presence of Christ, in the storm or elsewhere, elicits faith in those who hear about it. So Paul counters our understandable urge to stay hunkered down inside the ship, with this quote from Isaiah: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Ha!, we are supposed to go and skip and run and spread the good news. Light on our feet and rejoicing in our hearts.
Can we get to such a place? I think so. Especially if we take the burden off our shoulders as if we needed to carry the weight of this time, the mistakes we make, the failures we’ve got to deal with, all by ourselves. Or that we would be the saviors of the day. We learn again today, that we may trust our ever faithful God, that when we cry, “save us,” God will make a passage way to get through. God appears and there is deliverance.
With the many gifts and skills assembled in our congregation, that reach far beyond the confines of the church, deep into the fabric of our common life, I know that your feet skip and run, taking the message of God’s peace, hope, justice and salvation into the communities of which we are a part. And we don’t even have to brag that what we do we do in the name of Christ. God and God’s Spirit will take care of that.
One word about Peter, before we part.
I am torn. I like that he follows his urge to get close to Christ on the water in the midst of the storm. Christ is clearly Lord of the storm, the source of life, and what in the world could happen to him, Peter, if he ventured out there.
On the other hand, Peter replies to Jesus’ “I am” with: Lord, if it is you, command me to come. – He’s got to be kidding, right?, testing the Lord who is about to save him and his buddies?! – I wonder, who are we people, children of God? Peter scares me because who knows when I will knowingly or unknowingly put God to the test.
The good thing is that Jesus does not scold Peter. He calls him to come, and when the overwhelming force of the waves lets Peter’s faith falter, Jesus stretches out his hand and saves him. “Save me!,” and God delivers.
So, sisters and brothers, remember your feet rather than your swimming skills. How beautiful are the feet of the messengers who bring good news. Apply that literally and figuratively, wherever your place is in life.
You have heard the good news, and to close with the prayer of the day as we opened, we know God is God to rescue us from despair, deliver us from fear, and preserve us in the faith of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.