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Posted on Sep 10, 2017

Shared by all—sermon for 10 September 2017

Shared by all

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Last Supper in Letter ‘C’, Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, c.1395

Sept. 10, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18):

Exodus 12:1-14 & Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14Matthew 18:15-20 

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

“Wherever two or three are gathered…”

That’s it. That’s all it takes. Just two or three (and Jesus in the midst…or Christ, or God in the midst…or the Divine presence…a higher power…however you define that mysterious and Holy reality). But that’s it…just two or three of us…and the Eternal Living Sacred. And a community is formed. From such small seeds…

This section of Matthew (that we sort of drop into the middle of here—that Gospel was like walking into the middle of a pretty intense conversation, wasn’t it?) Well, that conversation is all about community…It’s all about how we as disciples are supposed to get along with one another…how we are to live in community.

How we are to live in common.

Notice anything about those words? Community…common…communion…those words are all related…and all have the same root which literally means “shared by all” Which got me thinking…what is it that is shared by all? Not just by the people in this room…but by everyone? What do I have “in common” with you? What do we share with everyone else?

The specifics of this conversation Jesus is having with the disciples today give us a clue…

I recently finished reading Waking Up White, by Debby Irving (I commend it),  and in it she tells a story of a school meeting where parents were asked to write down on a piece of paper “something that weighed on them daily but that they would not be comfortable sharing publicly within the school community.” The pieces of paper were then collected, passed back out at random, and read out (so the comments were completely anonymous). What do you imagine was written on those cards? What would you write, if you were asked: what is something that weighs on you daily, but you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing in public?”

Maybe some of you remember the video for the REM song “Everybody Hurts” where the camera pans over a group of people and their inner thoughts are shown on the screen. That’s what was on the cards. That’s what this exercise revealed.

“I’m worried about money.” “I feel too old to change careers and am unhappy with the one I’m in.” “I struggle with an eating disorder.” “My friend drinks too much. I’m afraid, and I don’t know what to do.” “I think I’m about to lose my job.” “I feel like I’m a terrible (friend, parent, child, fill in the blank).” “How am I going to manage this?”

No matter what our social status is. No matter what our stage in life. The one thing we all share is that we are broken…we hurt. We have good days and bad days…we all have worries…and we can all feel pretty powerless about any number of things that are happening in the world and in our lives. And we’re all trapped in certain ways of thinking and behaving…certain ways of interacting with those around us…And the reason Jesus gives us these very simple, and very good, steps for addressing hurts and wrongs…is that he knows that we’re going to need them.

He knows this about us. We’re hurt…and we are going to react out of that hurt place…we’re going to do things wrong. We are going to hurt one another…sometimes maliciously…but much maybe much more often inadvertently…without meaning to…maybe without even knowing that we’re doing it. We’re all going to be hurt, by things others have done, by things we have done, and by things left undone.

What we have in common…the one thing that is truly shared by all…is that everybody hurts.

And All Saints is a place where we can show that hurt—that common and shared weakness—to God. Where we can risk…giving it over to God….and where we can start to find some healing…and some hope.

Here we can risk being open (and it only takes a tiny opening) for God to get in and begin to work. That’s why we say that we all participate in the service…because even if you think you’re not doing anything…you think you’re just sitting and listening to me or to a hymn or an anthem…just settling into the quiet spaces we try to build in…you are actually participating if you allow yourself to be open (just a bit or quite a lot) to the transformative and healing power of God.

One of the thin spaces where I never fail to feel that divine presence slip into the cracks in my soul is in the simple act of receiving Communion. Opening and reaching out my hands…indicating that I am in need…that I can’t do this all by myself…that I lack something…a gift…that someone else has…and that’s all it takes…just that one, small gesture…for God to swoop in and fill that void…to feed that emptiness…to give me with the only thing that will fill that God-shaped hole in my heart. That can happen during Communion, or during an anthem, or a hymn, or at any time, really…any time you allow that crack in your soul to appear…”that’s how the light gets in.”

It doesn’t take much. Just a crack. Just two or three…and God.

It’s great to see many familiar faces…It’s wonderful to see a number of new faces. As we’re all welcomed into this new academic year…I think it’s worth reminding all of us that this is a place where you don’t have to be perfect. We will try our best to be open and inclusive, and welcoming of all, but we’ll get it wrong sometimes. We’ll try our best to value you more for who you are than for what you do…we’ll try to be clear that you are treasured for the gifts you bring to share more than anything you have or have not been able to accomplish in this life. We won’t always get it right. And when that happens, we have this really great process that Jesus outlines for restoring right relationship.

And as we continue this journey together, I’d encourage you to think about where else in your life is there a place like this? A place that takes seriously the problems and the reality of the world, and also offers sustenance and hope to carry on? A place where if you risk being just a little bit vulnerable with two or three others you’ll begin to discover that not only that’s is where your greatest strength lies, but also that just being a little bit open, and humble, there’s no limit to the transformations (in you and the world) that God can bring about.

Amen.

 

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Posted on Sep 6, 2017

Parish Quiet Day on 16 September

The Daughters of the King will be hosting a Quiet Day of Prayer and Reflection on Saturday, 16 September 2017, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Come encounter many different ways to pray, whether you stay for 20 minutes or four hours. The sanctuary will be open with multiple self-service prayer stations, including rosaries, journaling, and icons. Group prayer activities will take place in the Guild Room


9:00 am — Morning Prayer
10:00 am — Lectio Divina
11:00 am — Praying with the Body
12:00 pm — Centering Prayer
1:00 pm — Noonday Prayer

The labyrinth will be available in the dining room from 11am to 1pm. Also, there will be an opportunity to practice prayer in daily activity, as well as provide a community service, in helping chop chicken in the kitchen at 10am in preparation for the Manna meal service. DOK members will be available throughout the Quiet Day to assist with prayer stations and to pray with you individually if you wish. If you have any questions, please contact Monica Burden.

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Posted on Sep 3, 2017

The shared world—sermon for 03 September 2017

The shared world

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“Wonders are still able to be done in the city by our hands of compassion, mercy, humility, and justice.” — photography by Len Matthews. Unidentified. Wonders by Their Hands, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55766 [retrieved August 31, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/67953162@N00/7999088559.

September 3, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17):

Exodus 3:1-15 & Psalm 105:1-6,23-26,45c
Romans 12:9-21Matthew 16:21-28

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

I want to do something I don’t normally do. I want to tell you a story. It’s a story we sometimes use in our Geography of Grace series that starts next Saturday (and there’s still time to sign up).

It’s a piece by Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, called Gate 4-A. So, sit back and listen.

[Read]

Gate 4-A, by Naomi Shihab Nye

This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. This is the world Paul describes in his letter today. The kind of communities he strove to build across the Mediterranean. Communities that rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Who live in harmony, rejoicing in hope, patient in suffering, persevering in prayer.

This is the world I think a lot of us want to live in…the shared world. It’s the world we experience and point to each time we gather around the altar for the Sacrament…

It’s the world that we see often when disasters hit…people rallying to help…sending donations…sacrificing for the good of others…and as one wise woman here at All Saints said on social media this week, “I keep wishing that we’d remember that we’re all people the rest of the time too, and not just during disasters.”

That’s what Paul, and Jesus are encouraging us to remember, too. That we’re all people the rest of the time too…and if people are hungry they should be fed, if they’re thirsty they should be given something to drink…doesn’t matter if we consider them friends or not.

Of course, they also remind us that living this way is not easy. Following Jesus will demand things of us…Living this way requires that we respond to the call…whether it’s a call from a burning bush, or a call over an airport PA system. It requires that we “hold fast to what is good,” while always naming evil for what it is, while still responding to it with a greater good. It’s not easy. But then, Jesus never promises that it will be easy…just that he will be with us…and lead the way.

But that’s the world that I want to live in…the world that I want to live and work for…the shared world. And I do believe that it can still happen anywhere…and not everything is lost. How about you?

 

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Posted on Aug 27, 2017

Authority—sermon for 27 August 2017

Authority

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Thorvaldsen, Bertel, 1770-1844. Christ gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55928

August 27, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16):

Exodus 1:8—2:10 & Psalm 124 or 
Romans 12:1-8Matthew 16:13-20

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

I don’t know how many of you ever watched the TV show South Park. You might remember seeing images of one of the characters—Eric Cartman—riding around on his big wheel screaming, “Respect my authority!”

Cartman was always trying to get people to respect his authority. It was comical because as perpetual 10 year old he had no real authority. He was a bully and a blowhard who constantly led the other kids into all kinds of trouble. He seemed to be utterly incapable of learning anything. But he demanded authority and occasionally got acquiescence in place of it.

Questions about authority—where it comes from, who has it, and why or why not—are all through today’s readings.

A new king has arisen in Egypt…that’s an announcement of authority…it’s traditional, hereditary authority, mixed with religious authority since the Pharaohs mediated between the gods and humans, and oversaw all state religious activity.

This new king wants people to respect his authority, but clearly that authority only goes so far…because things don’t go as planned…“the more the Israelites were oppressed,” we’re told, “the more they multiplied and spread.” “The more he tightens his grip, the more they slip through his fingers.” And Pharaoh’s increasing oppression leads some Egyptians to some not-so-subtle acts of resistances.  The midwives say: “Oh, you know how those ‘foreign women’ are…they give birth so vigorously we just can’t get there in time.” It’s a classic form of resistance…publicly going along with it, but in private not really doing the work, or only doing the bare minimum, or dragging your feet—those of you who have raised teenagers are undoubtedly familiar with these kinds of resistance… (those of you who have ever been a teenager, might remember those techniques as well).

Pharaoh exerts power to claim authority, but authority isn’t the same thing as power. They’re related but they’re not the same. Authority might sometimes be claimed, but more often it is something granted—authority is relational—it’s “a legitimate or socially approved use of power.” The reason I get to stand up here in these lovely and odd clothes is because you all, in calling me, and the church at large, in ordaining me, has granted me a certain authority: the authority to preside at the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, the authority to pronounce the church’s blessing, the authority to absolve sins…but I can’t do any of that on my own or by my self. Any real authority emerges from a relationship and must be enacted within a community.

I imagine that those of you who grew up in a Roman Catholic tradition know this passage as the primary support for the authority of the papacy. For a very long time, Roman Catholic teaching was that Jesus, in saying “on this rock I will build my church,” and giving Peter the keys to the kingdom, was establishing the papacy, with Peter as the first Pope and all the authority that came with it was transferred down to each succeeding Pope.

Those of you who grew up in more Protestant traditions, might have heard this mentioned, but were then told that the Catholics got it wrong, and Jesus wasn’t talking about Peter himself, but about Peter’s faith (or his testimony that Jesus was the Christ) and THAT was the rock upon which the church would be built. And still others are probably wondering why any of this matters…isn’t this the kind of arcane theological stuff that makes people want to run away from church? The point is, we ascribe authority differently depending on our relationships and our communal commitments.

But there’s something else really interesting about the way Jesus’ authority as the messiah, the Son of the Living God,”—and Peter’s authority as the designated spokesperson—gets articulated here. It’s important to note that this conversation with the disciples takes place in the district of Caesarea Philippi, in other words, this is the regional headquarters of the Empire…the place where the power and the authority of the emperor…is strongest. And it’s in the heart of this imperial authority that Jesus starts probing about this Son of Man figure…the Messiah…who do people expect this figure to be? And there’s naturally some disagreement, Elijah, John the baptist, Jeremiah or another prophet…then he asks “But who do you—the disciples—say that I am?” And Peter, speaking on behalf of all of them sort of blurts out, …”You are the Messiah. The Christ.” What’s interesting…is what Jesus says next: “Blessed are you Simon son of  Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven.” See, everyone, especially the religious authorities, have been trying to figure out for months where Jesus’ authority comes from, but it’s not something you can figure out…Peter hasn’t deduced this…it’s a response that emerges from a revelation…it bubbles up from the deep trust born from a long standing relationship within a community. Jesus’ authority is not conferred, or ascribed, or passed down, it is revealed. It is revealed to each of us in time.

Suzanne Guthrie, an Episcopal priest who writes the wonderful blog called “at the edge of enclosure” wrote of her own experience of this revelation in her reflection this week.

She says, “I raged. I paced. I muttered under my breath and aloud. I sat in the back pew of church with a dark cloud over my head. I left. I came back. I muttered some more.

What kind of a Christian can’t fit Christ into the landscape? I had no problem with Jesus the rabbi, walking “the dusty roads of Galilee.” But after the crucifixion? Resurrection appearances? Ascension? The Christ of the Church? The Cosmic Christ? No. I don’t think so.

And yet. And yet. Something drew me to Christianity. To church. To community. To prayer, now getting quite intense. To study […]

I met the Divine Presence in solitude and silence. In dark, loving, holy nothingness. Without words, images, agenda.

I stole those moments. I used to pray after dropping the children off at day care and the church nursery school. I had, say, twenty minutes to meditate in silence in the sanctuary before taking off […] to go to class.

But once, a set of words floated up from deep inside.

“Who do you say that I am?”

I knew the answer.

You are the Christ.

“One day,” she concludes, “in the most mundane way, the question comes from beyond bone and marrow from the depth of the soul: Who do you say that I am? [And] When this moment of consciousness comes, this utterly surprising breakthrough, you are given the keys to the kingdom.”

It just happens. Sometimes when you least expect it. Probably Peter didn’t expect it…I imagine Peter might have been the most surprised one of all. After all, what authority did he have to make such pronouncements? None. Except this deep, ongoing, never-quite-what-you-think-it-is relationship with Jesus.

What authority do we have to speak the Gospel…to spread Good News in this world with so many Pharaohs and Caesars demanding our attention and our allegiance? What authority do we have to act as Christ’s hands, and heart, and feet in the world? None. Except what has been revealed to us in the breaking of the bread, in the hearing of the Word, in the gathering prayer of the community.

The powers of this world…the princes and the potentates…they often confuse power with authority. They have power to be sure, but their authority is always limited, time and term bound, and often easily resisted or rejected. God on the other hand has authority that is absolute, eternal, and utterly irresistible. As Christians we don’t need to insist that anyone respect our authority, we must simply be open to the irresistible authority of God as revealed to us, and ready to respond when that question bubbles up from the depth…Who do you say that I am?

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Posted on Aug 20, 2017

Uncovering demons—sermon for 20 August 2017

Uncovering demons

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Photo Credit: Tristan K. Flickr via Compfight cc

August 20, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15):

Genesis 45:1-15 & Psalm 133 or
Romans 11:1-2a,29-32Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28 

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

The line that really arrested me this week was that first line from our Psalm. “Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!” Or let’s update it with more inclusive language —Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when kindred live together in unity! It got to me, probably because with all that we’ve seen and heard this past week, this image of living together in unity seems impossibly unrealistic. Like a dream… It IS a dream… It’s God’s dream… and it’s our dream…It’s the goal of our shared journeys together… but it’s certainly not where we are right now. Many times this past week—well, for much longer than that really—I have felt like crying out, like the Canaanite woman,“Have mercy on us, Lord; because WE are tormented by a demon.”

We are possessed by the demons of racism… and white supremacy. And these demonic forces have been especially active in the past few weeks… and months. So this idea of us all sitting around and getting our Kumbyaya’s out seemed pretty dreamlike.  But then also this week, I came across the words of writer and activist Adrienne Marre Brown who reminded me that “things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered.”

Things are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered.

This possession has had us in its grip for a very long time.  And what feels like

an upsurge in hatred and violence is really the unveiling of structures of oppression that have been active for centuries …but are now nakedly on display in ways that we haven’t seen for a while.

Things are being uncovered.

Several years ago, I read a wonderful book by Tony Horwitz called Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. In it, Horwitz traces “how poisonous and polarized memory of the past [has] become” in the US. Because, we hold on to very different versions of the past depending on whether we’re black or white, northern or southern, upper class or lower class.  And these glaring and seemingly irreconcilable  differences are beautifully highlighted in an exchange Horwitz (a white man) has with a black female basket weaver at the Market in Charlestown, South Carolina.  In the midst of a Confederate Remembrance Celebration, Horwitz asks her what she thinks of all of the white people around her celebrating what is known in the south as “the war between the states,” (or even “the war of northern aggression”). And looks at him fixedly and replies, “They can remember that war all they want. So long’s they remember they lost.”

The demons that possess us have ensured that for far too long, far too many people have continued fighting that war by other means. The failure of reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, lynching, voting restrictions, stop and frisk… on and on… Help us Lord, we have a demon.

The demonic system of racism changes and morphs but continues to exert itself …continues to possess and torment us.  “so, what feels new,” says Marre Brown, “is [this] unveiling; [and] the heaviness [that we might feel]is the increasing weight of the truth becoming undeniable as more [and more] people believe it,” she says.

Things aren’t getting worse. They’re being unveiled. And more and more of us are unable to look away… or stand idly by (and by us, I do mean people who look like me… people of northern european descent… who have been raised and conditioned to think of themselves as “white”  …To think of “white” as not just “a category”…but as the universal category…“the norm.”

But “white” is just one category among many with both a particular and a shared history….with its own cultural assumptions and values…its own successes to celebrate and its own sins to lament and repent of.

Things aren’t getting worse, they are getting uncovered…but so what?

What are we to do? What is our faithful response in this moment when we are increasingly aware of the demonic both among us and within us?

Crying out, “Have mercy on us, Lord, save us,” is a good place to a start.

As is remembering (what we heard last week) that God is not far away… but right here with us… in the boat… hovering over the deep… in the midst of the storm.  And if we can remember that, and remember what Jesus tell us in those times: “don’t be afraid,” we might begin to act; trusting that with God’s help we can continue and even extend the work of exorcising these demons from our bodies, and dismantling the racist structures in our communities.

The conversations we need to be having about systemic race and violence look an awful lot like the conversation between the Canaanite woman and Jesus…these conversations will be full of missteps…and corrections…full of hard truths and glaring realizations. Full of faith.

But unless you’re Jesus, one conversation won’t be enough. This is ongoing work. 

What has helped me this past week is remembering that the work of becoming aware of my own complicity in racism, and working at actively being anti-racist is a long, slow process. It is not something that one conversation, or one rally will achieve.

No single march, no one-day anti-racism training, no book-study or webinar No removal (or even transformation) of any particular confederate monument…not even a single sheet cake…as positive as those things are—none of them—by themselves—will suddenly exorcise the demons of racism. Doing the work of reconciliation —which is our Christian duty—and especially racial reconciliation— means first of all, being brave enough to become aware of our own unconscious, internalized racism.

And that requires: a safe space where honest and hard conversations can be held.

It requires courageous vulnerability to speak and hear uncomfortable truths.

It requires humility and wisdom to proclaim and confess clearly the things we (and again by “we” I mean “people who are white like me”) the things we have done and the things we have left undone.The evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.

It requires a community to hold all of this…A community committed to practicing the way of love…the way of non-violence…not committed to being perfect, or “getting it ‘right’” but simply being committed to continue coming together and remaining active in the work… of awareness and dismantling.

Being committed to the process… Being committed to repenting and returning WHEN (not if, but when) we fall again into sin.

That is work that, like many of you, I have been personally involved in for a long time, and now I want to be very clear that I am openly and actively committed to continuing it. It’s work that I hope others will join me in. Because I believe that All Saints is the kind of safe space where this essential, faithful, and courageous work can take place.

We have many, many resources in this diocese to facilitate these types of conversations, and if you would be interested in exploring with me how we might engage some of those resources here at All Saints, in the coming months and years, please let me know.

Talking about race, and racism is hard. Like the conversation with the Canaanite woman, it is fraught and frightening. But it’s also essential to revealing the faithfulness underneath.

Remember: “things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered.” And in this time Adrienne Maree Brown concludes, the thing to do is “we must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”

Amen.

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Posted on Aug 13, 2017

Adrift—sermon for 13 August 2017

Adrift

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Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937. Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55904 [retrieved August 10, 2017].

August 13, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14):

Genesis 37:1-4,12-28 & Psalm 105:1-6,16-22,45b
Romans 10:5-15Matthew 14:22-33 

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.

 

How do you know that it’s Jesus?

How do you know, when you’re in a storm-tossed boat in the middle of the night?

How do you know when you’re in the middle of a crisis—a death, an illness, a turbulent time?

How do you know when you’re in the midst of a transition—going from one shore to another…from one place to another?…one stage of life to another?

How do you know that it’s really Jesus who is coming to you? Who is leading you, reaching out for you? How do you know?

We’re not very good at recognizing God at work in our ordinary, daily life. And, this story suggests, we might not be very good at recognizing God during the crunch times either.

The disciples have just participated in the feeding of the 5,000. Seen five loaves and two fishes turned into enough to feed the multitude with twelve baskets full of broken pieces left over. And then they are told to get in a boat and head for the other side.

And Jesus goes up the mountain by himself to pray…to be with God…to commune with God. That’s part of the problem…because that’s where we assume God is, right?…up on the mountain top. Far away…out of reach…Not down here with us.

So there they are…in the boat…alone…battered by the waves and far from shore…far from Jesus…

Completely without the one whom Matthew makes a big deal out of  calling “Emmanuel,” “God with us.”

The disciples are literally (but also) figuratively, “at sea.” Far away from the presence of God.

Is that a familiar feeling? Being far from God…or maybe feeling like God is far away from us?

If you spend time practicing the disciplines of prayer (private and corporate),

receiving communion, being grateful, studying scripture, working for the common good, resting—observing the Sabbath—

if you dedicate time to practicing and becoming skilled in those disciplines you do gradually become more aware of God’s presence around you all the time.

But I suspect most people, even most Christians, in the midst of our busy lives, probably feel separated from God more than we feel connected to God.

We feel spiritually adrift most of our days.

But because we’re generally so competent in every other area of our lives (or we like to pretend we are), and because we can generally rely on our competencies to get us through whatever we need to get through, we hardly notice how much “at sea,” we are in our spiritual lives.

Occasionally we might wonder, and maybe check our heading, correct our course a bit, but mostly a lot of people are drifting, and hoping, and trusting that, “if we don’t mess up too badly,” we’ll get to where we think we’re going.

I wonder if that’s what Jesus means by “you of little faith,”…relying on our own abilities to get through our daily life, rather than becoming aware of God’s presence in all of it…maybe by “little faith” he means more like “shallow faith.”

The shallow faith of only sensing, knowing, and turning to God when the chips are down. Jesus calls us to something deeper than shallow faith. Not walking on water, but walking with God every day of our lives.

We usually become acutely aware of how shallow our faith is—become aware of being adrift—when the storms come…

When the crisis starts

When the stress start to mount…

Then those low-level feelings of separation from God—and each other—can turn into unbearable feelings of alienation, depression, fear…

But are we any better at recognizing Jesus—God—in the midst of a storm than we are in the midst of our “normal” life?

This story today suggests—not really.

Where were you God?

Where are you God? are common laments during times of crisis. Very often, the more “at sea” we are, the further away from God we feel. And the more we turn to relying on only ourselves.

That’s certainly true of the disciples. They are not afraid of the storm. A few of them are experienced fishermen…They’ve been through storms…they know the drill.

They are relying on their own ability and getting by—just like all of us who struggle through the rough seas of our lives. Sure, they’re cold, and wet, and miserable, and maybe feel like they’re at the mercy of forces they don’t understand and can’t control; but they’re not terrified…they’ve got it together. At least, until they see Jesus.

And then…”It’s a ghost!”

Well, what would you think?

What could possibly do such a thing? What in the world could move over the water like that?

For the ancients, and especially for Jews, water represented the chaos that opposes creation.

And the only thing that can and does tame it…that is continually shown as triumphing over it…is God.

Moving over it in creation, unleashing it during the Flood, drowning the Pharaohs’ army in it. God “tramples the waves,” and “walks in the recesses of the deep” according to Job.

So, for the disciples in that boat, there is only one thing that can move over the surface of the water like that…God.

But they don’t recognize him.

Because they knew God was far away. They knew they were on their own. And they were doing fine…until they weren’t.

But they weren’t really used to seeing God in their every day life, so they don’t recognize Jesus—Emmanuel—God with us. When he comes to them as only God can.

To make this really clear, Matthew has Jesus say, “Take heart. It is I,”

Now, “It is I,” is perfectly fine, very mundane translation, but it doesn’t reveal the full impact of that statement.

The Greek for “it is I” is “ego eimi”… which is how the Hebrew phrase YHWH is translated into Greek. When Moses asks God at the burning bush what should we call you, God (in Greek) would respond, “ego eimi”—I AM.

In other words, what Jesus says here isn’t “Take it easy, it’s just me.” He says—while hovering over the deep in the dead of night… “take courage, I AM, do not be afraid.”

But they still don’t get it.

Peter immediately throws out this question…the same kind of question that Satan asks Jesus in the desert when he puts God to the test…”IF it is you…” “IF you are the Son God”…turn these stones to bread, throw yourself down, command me to come to you on the water.” He’s testing God…testing his own unbelief…

That’s the doubt. That’s the shallow faith. Not noticing the strong wind, and becoming frightened. The message of this story is shouldn’t be “if Peter had had enough faith he could have walked on water.” That is a shallow and harmful interpretation because it encourages us to link faith only with the miraculous—the supernatural. And it’s especially harmful because when that shallow faith runs hard up against the very real storms of life…aging, disease, accidents, death…and we start to sink, we can start to feel guilty that “we just don’t have enough faith” to overcome these things.

But that’s not the message…Peter’s lack of faith isn’t that he can’t walk on water…it’s that he fails to recognize and believe that Jesus is—in the midst of the storm—mediating and revealing the presence and reality of God with them. Always.

As one commentator puts it: “Faith is not being able to walk on water—only God can do that but daring to believe, in the face of all the evidence, that God is with us in the boat, made real in the community of faith as it makes its way through the storm, battered by the waves.” (New Interpreters Bible.  V. VIII p. 329-330).

May we have that faith…to see and know God’s presence with us not only during the stormy times, but every day of our life.

Amen.

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