McFarland

10th Sunday of Pentecost August 9, 2020

Readings

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Second Reading: Romans 10:5-15
Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

Prayer of the Day:

O God our defender, storms rage around and within us and cause us to be afraid.  Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us in the faith of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind – ELW #400

My Life Flows on in Endless Song – ELW #763

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me – ELW #325

Calm to the Waves – ELW #794

Reflection on Matthew 14:22-33

by Pastor Kelli Schmit

Immediately, Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat while he dismisses the crowds – the crowds of thousands and thousands that were just fed with some chunks of bread and a few filets form the daily catch.  Immediately after this meal, Jesus sends his friends into a boat, dismisses the well-fed masses, and tries for a little alone time.

This story may be familiar.  Not only is it a fantastic display on the spectrum of unbelievable sights, but this story is in three of our four gospels: Matthew (which we hear today), Mark, and John.  It is not recorded in Luke.  The Feeding of 5000 is in all four, but apparently Luke didn’t think Jesus taking a morning stroll on the surface of the Sea of Galilee was worth jotting down.  This is one of my first pearly gate questions. 

Also, in Mark’s account, it says that Jesus sees the disciples “straining at the oars.”  He goes toward them in the early morning, walking on the sea, and – I quote – “He intended to pass them by.”  Seriously!  Check it out for yourself: Mark 6:48. He intended to pass the by.  What is that about?!?  It is such a hilarious detail and it is my second pearly gate question.

But back to Matthew.  His gospel is the only one to mention the duration of the storm – the length of the disciples’ struggle.  It was evening when the boat was battered by waves and it was early morning when Jesus walked toward them.  They fought against the storm and feared for their lives all. night. long.  They have to squint their eyes against the pelting rain that is soaking them through.  They can’t hear one another over the wind and the thunder.  There’s no motor, so their muscles are burning from trying to keep their little craft upright.  The clouds are blocking any moonlight, so it is pitch black apart from the few cracks of lightning.  They are exhausted physically and emotionally when, hours later, they see…maybe…possibly…a shadowy figure on the horizon.  Wait…it’s walking ON the water.  No wonder they thought it was ghost.  Why wouldn’t they?

And the ghost says, “It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”  But Jesus isn’t just saying, “Hey guys, it’s me, your pal and teacher Jesus,” but he is calling on the diving name God gave to Moses at the burning bush.  “I Am.  Don’t be afraid.”  I Am – the promise to always be with them, even when God’s presence is unrecognizable or unbelievable.

Matthew’s story is the only one to include the duration of the disciples’ struggle.  It is also the only one to mention Peter getting out of the boat and also walking on water.  Scholar Matt Skinner points out that Peter’s request that Jesus command him to walk on the water is not so much about testing Jesus.  It’s not “If it’s you, Jesus, do a miracle for me.”  But more about being near to Jesus.  Peter is terrified and wants nothing more than to be near Jesus.  He needs proximity.  He is desperate for Jesus to be close to him.[1]  Another theologian talked about how Peter, soaking wet and terrified for his life Peter, is willing to get out of the relative safety of the boat, to go into the water and waves, because he trusts it will somehow be safer where Jesus is.[2] 

Our story displaying Jesus’ power over natural forces and his unstoppable determination to be with those whom he loves – this story of God’s unyielding presence with those in fear – is partnered with our reading from 1 Kings.  Now, just in case your memory of Israel’s history during the time of King Ahab is fuzzy, let me quickly set the stage.

Elijah was a prophet of the God of Israel.  King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, was a foreigner who worshipped other gods, who had prophets of their own.  Elijah and those prophets engaged in an epic, supernatural Battle of the Prophets, and Elijah won.  Jezebel is irked that the prophets of her god were made to look like fools – and they were also killed – so she swears to kill Elijah.  He flees and hides in a cave in the desert.  Quite the victory lap.

Elijah throws himself a pity party, sits down under a solitary broom tree, and asks God to kill him.  Jezebel was willing to do so, but that’s not the point.  Elijah falls asleep, an angel wakes him up and brings him some food.  He eats and falls back asleep.  When he wakes a second time, he has the strength to walk for forty days.

Sidebar: there’s something to be said for the spiritual power of a snack and a nap.  I often tell my toddler, “Be like Elijah.  Eat this granola bar and lay down for a bit.  You’ll feel better.”  But anyway, it is here, after forty days of walking, that he arrives at Mount Horeb, or Mount Sinai.  Elijah spends the night in another cave, a this is where our reading picks up today.[3]

God asks Elijah what he’s doing here in a cave.  God informs the prophet that Godself will pass by.  Suddenly, there’s a ripping wind so strong that it breaks even rocks apart.  There’s an earthquake and a blazing fire but, we learn, God was not in any of them.  Then there was silence.  It was then Elijah knew that God was present.  Scholar Joy Moore points out that it is the silence that captures Elijah’s attention.  God’s not in the silence, but the silence is what caught his attention and that’s when he comes out of his cave.[4]

Both our Gospel reading and our text from 1 Kings centers on people who are terrified for their lives and, in both readings, God remains faithful to them and is with them, even when God’s presence seems unlikely or unrecognizable or surprising.

How fitting of a message for us today.  We have been fighting for so long against a microscopic, raging storm from the natural world that we are exhausted.  Just a crack of light reveals new information, but it’s not enough to satisfy our endless questions.  Our throats are dry from crying through our grief and our fears, and our voices are hoarse from screaming in anger and frustration.

We’re afraid.  We’re afraid of losing our jobs, losing wages, losing our ability to pay the rent.  We’re afraid of getting sick or getting others sick.  We’re afraid of not striking that perfect balance between protecting our physical health and protecting our mental health.  We’re afraid of what it means for our kids to go back to school – and what it means for them not to go back to school.  We’re afraid.

And we are frustrated.  We’re frustrated that the virus is spreading and the death-toll just keeps ticking.  We’re frustrated by the emptiness of our guest rooms and the longing to hug loved ones.  We’re frustrated by the recurring sorrow and ache of racial disparity, especially after watching what happened to George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. 

And there’s the storm fronts in our personal lives that don’t take a break for a global pandemic, like domestic abuse, food scarcity, anxiety, strained marriages, addictions, cancer, and grief.

We are tired of battling the storms, tired of the deafening silence of isolation, tired of being afraid and frustrated…we’re tired of being tired.  Like Peter, we are begging Jesus to be near to us – for proximity to him – for the nearness of the one who says he loves us and all of creation.  Maybe Elijah was onto something?  Who wants to go hide in a cave with me for a while?

So where is the good news?  There’s a sneaky, helpful little detail in the Peter story.  Jesus and Peter are out of the boat, and the storm is raging.  Peter is sinking, and the storm is raging.  Jesus reaches out to Peter, is close enough to catch him, holds onto him, and talks to him, and the storm is still raging.  They get in the boat, and the winds cease.  Did you catch that?

Jesus and Peter are together – close enough that they are touching – and the storm was still going on around them.  Just because Jesus is with him, does not make the storm stop.  On the other hand, just because the storm is going, doesn’t mean Jesus is not there.  Jesus is not absent.

When we feel battered by what’s happening in our world, when we are soaked with fears and frustrations, when we are deafened by isolation’s silence – God is near.  God is in close proximity to us and says, “Don’t be afraid. I Am…here.”

The storm may not magically stop.  The storm may not be over.  But that doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t here.  That does not mean Jesus is absent.  The promise of God’s determination to always be with us does not get blown out to sea or pulled under the surface.  The I AM – God With Us – Emmanuel is near, even when we don’t recognize him on the horizon, especially when all we hear from God…is silence.

The disciples were terrified and Elijah was hiding in fear, and God came to them in surprising and unexpected ways.  They did not have to go off on a grand adventure to find God, but God saw them when they were afraid and desperate.  God saw their fears and frustrations, and God came to them.  God drew near to them, so close they could touch.  So close they could cling to God.

During a time when we are exercising the creative muscle of recognizing God when God’s presence seems so hard to find, this story reveals that God is never absent because God is determined to be with us, no matter what storms may be raging.  Thanks be to God.

Amen.

[1] Matt Skinner from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, Joy J. Moore, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave: #737 – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1287.
[2] Thank you to my mother, Sue Wilder, for our conversation on Monday, August 3, 2020.
[3] Rolf Jacobson from: Matt Skinner from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, Joy J. Moore, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave: #737 – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1287.
[4] Joy J. Moore from: Matt Skinner from: Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, Joy J. Moore, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave: #737 – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, online podcast, https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1287.

Let Us Pray

Let us pray: God of life, you are with us through wind and wave, through fear and panic, through faith and struggles to trust.  Find us, wherever we may be, and draw near to us with the assurance that you will never leave.  When we are battered by storms, give us courage.  When the waters our calm, inspire us to support those overcome by storms of their own.  We pray all of this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.