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Pentecost 10 August 13, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 10  Proper 14  Year A
1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, August 13, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
When Jesus made his disciples
          get into the boat
and head across the Sea of Galilee
          to the other side,
he was at the end
          of a sad and grueling day.
That morning,
he had heard that his cousin John,
          that wild, fierce prophet of repentance
          who baptized him in the Jordan
had been savagely murdered
– beheaded –
          by King Herod.
So Jesus had set off across
the sea of Galilee
with his disciples,
looking for a deserted and safe
place to be and to pray . . .

But the crowds he always attracted
followed along the shore,
mobbing him when he landed.
Instead of the solitude he sought,
he spent the day and himself
responding to a multitude of others’ needs.
As the afternoon drew to its end,
the people were hungry –
(In their hurry to keep the boat
          carrying Jesus in sight,
they had made no provision for food.)
Taking the disciples’ meager store
of five loaves and two fish
and blessing them,
Jesus provided more than enough
          to satisfy everyone . . .
“about 5,000 men,” the story goes,
“besides women and children.”
Much power had gone out of him that day.
He was exhausted
when he dismissed the crowds
and sent the disciples away in the boat
          back to the other side of the sea.
Alone at last,
he went up the mountain
to pray.
Later that evening
when he looked out over the sea,
he saw the little boat battered by waves
          and far from land,
the disciples struggling
          against a fierce wind. 
It seems he let them struggle for a while,
for it was early morning
before they saw him
          come walking toward them
          on the sea.
On the sea!
An aside:
I don’t think it’s particularly useful
when engaging the miracle stories –
          - jars of water turned into wine,
          - 5,000 men (besides women and children)
                   feasting on five loaves of bread and two fish,
          - walking on water,
not useful
to spend our time trying to
fit them into the rational, scientific world-view
          of our age
or to dismiss them as illusions
          or delusions . . .

Our idea of what is possible
is so minimal
          compared with the expansive possibility
                   of God.
For as the angel said to the questioning Mary,
she, wondering how on earth
          she could be the mother
                    of God’s Son,
“With God, all things are possible.”
“All things.”
Back to the
struggling disciples . . .
clinging to the sides of their tossing boat,
beneath them the cold, dark, mysterious, hungry sea,
which might, at any moment,
swallow them up . . .
when the One through whom all things were made,
the Lord of wind and waves,
came striding toward them
on the waters
of his own creation.
Only they didn’t know
that was who it was.

First a vague grey outline barely discernable
          through windblown foam and spray,
then a solid shape gradually materializing,
a human-like form drawing ever nearer,
          its identity obscured
                   in the pre-dawn gloom . . .
a ghost . . .?
or a demon rising from the depths
          to drag them under to drown . . . ?
They cried out in fear.
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Not a demon,
not a ghost,
but Jesus . . .
Several of the men in the boat were fishermen,
familiar with and dependent on the sea
          for their livelihood,
familiar also with
          its unpredictable moods
          and its dangers.
The landlubbers among them
must already have been terrified
by the wind and waves.

Not only that,
but in the world-view of that time and place,                 
          a raging river in full flood,
          an all-enveloping deluge,
          the unfathomable depths of the sea
                    and the power of its
                   wind-driven waves . . .
          waters out of control
          represented all the forces of chaos and evil
          that we can’t control,
          forces that threatened
          the order and safety and peace
                   of human life.
Time and again
in the Hebrew Scriptures,
God’s power to subdue the waters was affirmed:
          - in the ordering of creation out of the watery chaos,
          - in the covenant with Noah after the flood,
          - in the deliverance of Israel from Pharaoh’s army
                   at the Red Sea,
          - in the crossing of God’s people
                   through the flooding Jordan into the Promised Land,
signs of God’s sovereignty
          over all.
And now
Jesus came striding across the
tumultuous waters of Galilee . . .
like a god.
Who was this man
with whom they ate and drank,
slept and woke,
travelled the Galilean countryside . . .
who just that evening
had fed a multitude
with food barely enough
for lunch for one?
Were the men in the boat
more afraid of the storm,
or of a ghost or a demon . . .
or of the deepening mystery
of the one they thought of
as teacher and friend
now revealed
as sovereign over
          even the winds and the waves,
          even over Chaos.
With equal amounts
of courage and foolishness,
Peter decided to test the vision.
“Lord, if it is you,
command me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” said Jesus.

A tentative step,
and another, and another . . .
then he took his eyes off Jesus,
looked around and saw
everything that was against him . . .
Wind! Waves! Water!
(I’m always reminded of the cartoon
in which Wile E. Coyote chases the Roadrunner
          off the edge of a cliff,
keeps right on running on nothing but air
          until suddenly he realizes where he is,
          screeches to a stop,
                   looks around, looks down . . .
                   and plummets out of sight.)
The saving hand of Jesus
the one at the same time
fearsome in his otherness
and loving in his nearness
reached out . . .

I wonder if Peter was having
the quintessential experience
of discipleship:
The enthusiasm for the idea of following Jesus,
          no matter where he might call us . . .
the wild thought that anything really might
          be possible for us with Jesus . . .
Then we lose sight of Jesus
          and suddenly
the second thoughts,
the self-doubt,
the fears . . .
the awful sinking sensation . . .
Do we really want to give over our selves to this?
Do we even have what it takes?
What if it turns out all wrong?
Have we ventured
          too far from the boat . . .?
we take a risk,
we flounder, we falter,
we cry out for help,
the saving hand of Jesus
reaches out, takes a firm grip on us,
raises us up
          to try again.
I think of a baby learning to walk,
taking those first wobbly steps,
          beaming with pride,
abruptly losing her balance,
          and sitting down hard . . .
the shocked surprise on her face, and the tears . . .
then her parent,
following close behind,
          reaches down, stands her up,
          dusts her off, dries her tears,
          sets her on the path again,
                   to wobble on with glee
                   each time a little farther,
                             and a little farther.
The boat in this story,
the disciples’-ship,
is like Christ Church
sailing into the future God has
in mind for us . . .
sometimes it’s smooth sailing,
sometimes the waters are rough,
now we are running before the wind,
          now beaten back by it,
          while we,
          the crew,
                   try not to panic . . .

What is our direction,
what our destination,
what course should we set?
Will we remain afloat
or be swamped by our
cares and concerns:
          managing our own lives,
          tending to this place and the life we share here,
          while the troubles and needs of the world
                   seem only to increase,
          and our national life
                    grows as turbulent
                   as the stormy sea of Galilee.
The sea is so big, and our boat so small.
When Jesus brought Peter
back to the boat,
the wind ceased
and the waves were stilled.
The light-bulb that occasionally
went on over the heads of the disciples
lit up once more . . .
“Truly,” they cried,
“you are the Son of God.”

Disciples being what we are,
human beings,
the clarity of that vision,
the sharpness of that realization,
fades, dims,
in the press of day-to-day activities . . .
We can forget who it is
          who has our back.
we don’t all forget at the same time . . .
we are, for each other,
carriers of the revelation.
As we proclaim God’s word in Scripture,
pray for the church and the world,
break bread together
and share the cup,
we know once again
that God in Christ has been with us all along,
will be with us always
as we navigate this life
and follow him in service.

Running through the Gospels
is the story of the disciples’ coming to believe . . .
and finally,
to trust.
To trust that the power revealed in Jesus
is God’s power to save,
available to all who call upon God.
And still that thread runs through our lives.
If you are the Christ, we say,
with both hope and trepidation,
command us to get out of the boat
and come to you
          on the water . . .
because with you,
all things are possible.