(Proper 14A) Matthew 14: 22-33
Good morning, on this summer morning, and grace and peace. First Sunday of August, and somehow turning the calendar page from seems to mark a milestone in the course of the summer—the long season beginning to roll on downhill toward September and the fall. Still time for warm evenings on the front porch, certainly. But the newspapers are beginning to run the back-to-school advertisements, and certainly around the Church Office we find ourselves more and more thinking about Round Up Sunday and the season of life that begins with renewed energy after the Labor Day weekend. In all that, I hope that this season continues to be an enjoyable one for you.
We have a couple of friends up in Massachusetts with sailboats, but Susy and I didn’t get out on the water while we were up there last month. Nonetheless, the gospel reading from Matthew 14 does connect for me to the experience of being out on the water. How often what seems to be a pretty quiet day on the shore turns out to be something more challenging out on the water. I’ve never been on the open water in any kind of serious weather, but even just having had a taste of it can be helpful in catching what’s going on for the disciples and Peter. Dark skies. Waves rolling one after the other. Roaring wind.
Of course, you don’t need to be a sailor to get the scene. Norway and the debt ceiling, stock market pyrotechnics, wars and rumors of war, terrorism, global economic dislocation, political turmoil. And all our personal lives. Highs and lows. Triumphs and failures. Marriage and family, parents, kids, medical issues, career. Sometimes feeling like one of those circus jugglers, with balls and bowling pins and flaming torches all in the air at the same time.
The disciples set out on their own across the lake, leaving Jesus alone in his prayers. But as the wind and waves become more turbulent they catch a glimpse of him out on the water. And we know the story. Peter, who is always the impetuous one, swings over the side of the boat and begins to walk toward Jesus. Then all of a sudden he realizes just where he is. He takes his eye off Jesus. In his fear he begins to sink. But then at the last minute remembers, he cries out. “Lord, save me!” And Jesus approaches, reaches out, lifts him up, brings him into the boat. “O ye of little faith—why did you doubt?” And there is awe-filled worship, the disciples in the boat anticipating the words of the Centurion at the Cross on Good Friday, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Like the scene just before of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, as we read that story last week, the "sermon" is preached by Jesus not with words, but in action. About how when we look down, in doubt, in fear, in self-centeredness, when it is all about us, the storms will overwhelm us, and we will begin to sink beneath the waves. But to see here so vividly that when we keep our eyes on Jesus and place our faith in him, we will begin to participate here and now in the triumphant life of the Kingdom of Heaven.
A powerful, eye-opening, heart-opening moment in the lives of those on the boat that night, and for us and for Christians telling this story and living this story, living this story, again and again, over two thousand years. The dark night, the storm, and Jesus.