Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Romans 9: 5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
August 9, 2020 in prayer garden
17 months ago, Julie and I were on a boat in the very sea where today's gospel story took place. As we've reported in Bible Study and other occasions, the sea of Galilee is not a massive body of water by any stretch of the imagination. But with that said, it is long and fairly narrow, set in kind of a valley which evidently allows the winds to create massive storms.
The day Julie and I sailed was beautiful. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, the birds were singing... (a day like today?). We were out for a pleasure cruise; we had no destination in mind, we weren't fishing (although the crew threw a net over the side of the boat as a demonstration), and our boat was bigger and probably sturdier that what the disciples were crossing in.
We can imagine that the man Jesus was exhausted. Between the bad news, the healings, the teaching and the miracle, he'd put in a long, hard day. He would have been exhausted. So what did he do? He sent the disciples and the crowd away. He went away alone, up onto the hills. He may have found a spot somewhat like this prayer garden. Trees giving him shade from the early evening sun. Flowers providing beauty and a sweet scent. The green bushes and grass the sign of life. Even some rocks to perhaps sit on for his prayer time.
One thing we can take from today's story—Jesus was aware of, to use a modern term, self-care. [This is a constant refrain in clergy circles--guard against clergy burn-out. It is easy to as a pastor to think it all depends upon us. Jesus was the center of attention. All those around Jesus have realized his special nature; not understood it--but recognized it, and wanted to be a part of it. That could mean bringing people for healing, it could mean sharing in the feeding of the 5000, it could mean just sitting at his feet and learning.] But Jesus realized as a human being, he needed time to recharge. I am blessed here by a session and congregation that do a great job watching out for me. From golf to trips to Arizona to time with the grandkids, I am getting self-care.
But despite what some of my commentaries said, I don't think self-care was the point of Matthew sharing this series of events. It suggests several points. First is faith. There is also the idea of empathy, understanding how life affects us together. And the call of and the presence of Jesus in our lives.
I draw on the insight of Max Lucado on faith, “'They saw Jesus walking on the water and they were terrified.' Faith is often the child of fear. Fear propelled Peter out of the boat... For nine hours he'd tugged on sails, wrestled with oars, and searched every shadow on the horizon for hope. Look into Peter's eyes and you won't see a man of conviction...look into his eyes and see fear—suffocating, heart-racing fear of a man who has no way out.”
That's not the way we usually look at this story, is it? We look and see the great faith of Peter who steps out of the boat, who puts his money where his mouth is. But is that what happened? Look again at what transpired. Peter's words to Jesus? “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “If it is you....” this is not the only time we hear Jesus approached this way. At the start of the ministry of Jesus, Satan tempted him in the desert, remember? How did he address Jesus? "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." And again on the temple top, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down." Satan was putting Jesus to the test, and in a way, so was Peter.
Two more times Matthew records this type of statement, at his trial, the high priest Caiaphas demands, “If you are the Messiah, the Son of God, tell us.” And even when Jesus was dying on the cross, the doubters mocked him, saying, If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” So Peter asking for this sign was not so much faith as fear. If this had a occurred on a calm day like the day Julie and I rode on the sea, do you think Peter would have walked out to Jesus? Probably not. “But give a man a choice between sure death and a crazy chance, and he'll take the chance ...every time.” (Lucado)
So while I'm not celebrating Peter's faith here—acknowledging that Peter's faith becomes something worth emulating after the resurrection, it is commendable that he knew where we all need to go when things get frightening. That may be the most important lesson for us this morning.
Max relates a story told by his friend Paul. His story took place on a spring day in West Texas during tornado season. Paul says he was 3 or 4 the day a tornado hit their small town. His father hustled the kids indoors and had them lay on the floor while he laid a mattress over them. But his father didn't climb under the mattress. Paul peeked out and saw his father at the window, watching the funnel cloud approach. “When Paul saw his father, he knew where he wanted to be. He struggled out of his mother's arms, crawled out from under the mattress and ran to wrap his arms around his dad's legs. 'Something told me,' Paul said, 'that the safest place to stand in a storm was next to my father.' Something told Peter the same thing.”
We know well that Peter's faith was not perfect, and yet he is venerated as a great leader of the early church. Faith is not always about doing the right thing, it can be simply knowing to whom we can go when doubts and fear arise. When we are in situations that seem unmanageable, that fill us with doubts and fears, that honestly frighten us, we are invited to do what Peter did: Call out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”
One of my commentaries made the simple statement that Peter and Jesus were not in the same boat. An expression heard often at the beginning of our COVID situation was, “we're all in the same boat”. Well, not really. I found this on facebook and copied it, quite sure I'd never use it because the pandemic would certainly be over very soon. It isn't.
WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT ...author unknown
“I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it's not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.
For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.
For some that live alone they're facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.
Some want to go back to work because they don't qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine (or don't wear masks).
Some will be at home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others will spend 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.
Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don't believe this is a big deal.
Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.
So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.”
Peter felt very vulnerable staying on the boat so in a kind of leap of faith, stepped out onto the sea. He felt even more vulnerable once he was out in the storm and took a true step of faith by calling to the one who saves, “Lord, save me!”
Mitzi J. Smith in her commentary put it like this, “Sometimes faith is seeing the boat for what it is—a shared experience and the opportunity to lean on one another, to encourage each other in the storm while waiting on God. Peter was eager to leave his shipmates and to join Jesus, rather than to wait for Jesus to join them in the boat. Sometimes we want our own miracle at the expense of others who are in the same boat as us. Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter, and they both got into the boat with the other disciples. It is when they are all in the boat together with Jesus that the winds calm down.”
In the storms of life, we call out to Jesus, “Lord save us”. But in truth, we can cry out to Jesus because Jesus first calls us. Our hymn says Jesus calls us over the tumult of life's restless seas. In that sense, we are all the same boat because each and every one of us need the mercy and grace of Jesus in our lives. And we gather in fellowship to get in the boat of the community of faith. And Lucado describes the message of faith in this sentence, “Faith is a desperate dive out of the sinking boat of human effort and a prayer that God will be there to pull us out of the water.” I'll add these two things: Call to Jesus and he will lift you up; respond to the call of Jesus and follow him. Let's sing,
Jesus Calls Us o'er the Tumult
Lucado quotes from In The Eye of the Storm, chapter 22, “Fear That Becomes Faith”