Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 09, 2020

Posted on August 10, 2020, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

August 09, 2020

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:22-33

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[1]As I studied the gospel reading in preparation for today, I found myself thinking a lot about fear – the things I’m afraid of and the things other people are afraid of. Things like:

  • We’ll be in lockdown again soon, and that it will last through the holidays.
  • Things won’t ever be the same again.
  • Things will be just like they were before, and we won’t have the courage to move forward with changes that need to happen.
  • The needed economic relief will take too long for some people and small businesses and they won’t be able to recover.
  • People experiencing mental health crises and domestic violence won’t be able to get help in time.
  • More people will stop caring about the effects of Covid-19.
  • The current movement toward racial justice will lose momentum.
  • Parents will reach their breaking point because they’re being asked to do too much with working their jobs and homeschooling their kids.

The list goes on.

There are some who say that fear is the opposite of faith. That being afraid means your faith is weak or that you aren’t faithful. Not only is that bad theology, it’s just dangerous. There’s plenty of reason to be afraid in this world, especially now. The things I listed barely scratch the surface.

It isn’t a stretch to say that we’re in a storm. And storms can be scary – especially when they seem to come from nowhere and you don’t know when they’re going to end. Like the one the disciples were in in today’s gospel reading.

They’d gone to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus sent them there after feeding the crowd and then he went off to pray by himself. The Sea of Galilee is prone to sudden and severe storms, and the disciples were right to be afraid when they found themselves caught in one that night.

It was well under way when Jesus started back toward them; but he walked right across that stormy water like he owned it – and I guess he kinda did. And as the disciples fought the waves and the wind they looked up and saw him – but people don’t just walk on water, so it must have been a ghost, right? So they got even more scared than they already were.

But Jesus didn’t stop. He kept moving toward them. And when he got close enough for them to hear his voice, he said, “It’s okay. It’s me.”

As far as we know, eleven of the disciples said nothing. But Peter, it’s almost always Peter, right? Peter tested that theory, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” So Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter stepped out of the boat and started walking toward Jesus.

And then he realized what he was doing – he noticed the wind and the waves, and he began to drown. “Lord, save me!” he cried. And in that same instant, Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter, and brought him to safety.

On the face of it, this story might seem to say that fear is the opposite of faith. That Peter would have been fine if his faith had been stronger. But nowhere in the Gospels does it say we have to prove our faith by taking risks that threaten our lives, or by ignoring situations that can sometimes paralyze us with fear.

What’s at play here isn’t whether we’re right to be afraid, but rather how we respond to God’s presence when we’re afraid. What’s at play is what we say and think and do when Jesus comes to us in ways that we don’t recognize.

The first place Peter’s fear leads him to is suspicion and distrust. He had a very human response. Instead of taking it at face value when Jesus identified himself, he questioned Jesus’ identity. How many of us have done the same? I know I have.

Having faith in Jesus is about trust. It’s like any other relationship. And to truly trust Jesus is to hold two pictures of God’s realm in tension with each other. One picture is that sometimes Jesus demonstrates his power in miraculous, visible ways. And the other is that sometimes we have to trust that simply his presence in our lives is sufficient for the circumstances we face.

But whether our fear leads us to suspicion or absolute trust, Jesus always moves towards us. He always moves toward the ones he loves. And he loves us deeply.

Usually when we hear this story, we’re encouraged to be like Peter and step out of the boat into the raging waters. But the power of this story isn’t in Peter’s actions. It’s in Jesus’ steady approach toward the disciples in the midst of the storm.

And yes, in this story, the storm was physically calmed when he got to them, but so were the disciples’ spirits. And I would venture to guess they would have felt calmer even if the storm had continued to rage simply because Jesus was with them.

In the weeks following George Floyd’s murder, protests and demonstrations have been in many of the headlines. But what’s lesser known is the work that many churches and other organizations have done in the midst of those protests. The ways in which Jesus moved through those storms and toward the people in them.

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is located a few blocks from where George Floyd was murdered. When the protests first started in Minneapolis, and that neighborhood was on fire, Holy Trinity opened its doors and became an emergency clinic so that first responders had a place to treat people who needed medical attention.

In the weeks since, Holy Trinity has become one of many food distribution sites in that area because their neighborhood is now a food desert. The storm there has calmed somewhat, but it isn’t over. And Jesus is still there, moving through that storm toward the people who are in it.

There are many storms raging in our world today. Some we face collectively as a society – like the pandemics of racism and Covid-19, natural disasters, and economic inequality. And some we face individually – like illness, the end of a relationship, isolation, or grief.

There’s a lot to be afraid of. And if you are afraid, it doesn’t mean your faith in God is weak – it means you’re human. And feeling afraid sometimes is part of that.

But whatever storm, or storms, you find yourself in, Jesus is moving toward you. Sometimes he arrives as a nurse or a doctor; sometimes as a person handing out food; sometimes Jesus is someone who advocates for you; and sometimes he’s a friend who shows up at just the right moment.

Whatever he looks like, Jesus reaches out his hand to lift you up and bring you to safety.

Whether your fear is completely paralyzing or has left you scrambling to survive, in even the most violent of storms, Jesus is moving toward you. He always moves toward the ones he loves. And he loves you deeply. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] This sermon inspired by and based on: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2709 and http://dancingwiththeword.com/jesus-walking-towards-us-in-this-storm/