Proper 14AMatthew 14:22-33
In the name of God. Amen.
I love these moments that seem to come pretty often where the lectionary readings seem to line up so perfectly with real life and current events. Maybe I shouldn’t love it so much – in this year where it seems like so much is going so wrong in the world so often. Sooner or later we’ll get to apocalyptic readings and crucifixions and what not… So maybe the aligning isn’t something I should celebrate so quickly.
But this week, it happened again. When we were once again battered by a tropical storm – when most of us were without power or other connectivity for a couple of days. This week, we hear the story of Jesus coming to the disciples in the midst of a storm.
It’s one of the most powerful images in the Bible – Jesus walking on water – but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. It wasn’t just that Jesus woke up one morning and thought, “I’ve come up with a great idea to blow their minds!”
No, like all episodes in any of our lives, it comes in the context of the rest of the story. There are things around it – seemingly mundane things – that set the stage for the miraculous. In this case, it’s teaching. Jesus had been teaching his disciples and the assembled crowds. It was heavy, spiritual work. He had been pouring himself out to them – pouring God out to them through himself. He was probably depleted. And I say that not just from experience – though we all know what it’s like to give of ourselves so completely that we’re left feeling drained and spiritually empty. But the story lets us in on that, because it tells us that he sent the disciples on ahead of him and went up by himself to the mountain to pray.
It’s helpful in these summer months, when many of our minds turn to vacations and breaks to remember that Jesus modeled that for us. He modeled that we should take some time apart to decompress and recharge, and ideally, to reconnect with God in some way. I know from our own “vacation” these past two weeks that it’s hard to do that right now. It’s hard to leave your responsibilities in the hands of others when so much in the world is amiss. It’s hard to figure out how to disconnect when the most responsible thing any of us can do is to stay put right where we are.
And, as if to beat us over the head with it, our circumstances this week tried to force us to disconnect. With no electricity or television or internet – and in our case here on this property, practically no cell signal – the world disconnected for us. Now – that didn’t stop Michael and me from standing at the edge of our fence after the rain had stopped to find that one little corner where, if we held our phones just right, we could get that “one bar” of cell signal and try to quickly catch up on whatever we’d missed.
We’re not perfect. We’re still striving to meet the ideal of that disconnect to reconnect that Jesus modeled.
But that’s the context of the walking on water. When we’ve taken the time to recharge ourselves internally, and to reconnect with God on a deeper level than we typically can in the hum of our daily lives, we are capable of more than we can imagine. We may not literally walk on water, but we can step out in faith into places that previously seemed unstable and unsafe. We can go places and do things that we didn’t know were possible.
The Christian faith has always been calling us to step into those places, but never more than now – when the world and our futures seem so unstable. The church, like a lot of organizations these days, it venturing forth in new, unstable, and frankly frightening territory. We don’t know if we’ll walk tall, or if we’ll sink. We can look back on the challenges that we faced in years past and remember how naïve we were to worry so much when things were so comparatively easy.
But we’ve been made to disconnect. We’ve been made to focus on our prayer and our connections to God and to each other. Hopefully we’ve used this time well, because now it’s getting to be time to venture out. The pandemic isn’t over – not by a long shot – but our next steps are coming, nonetheless. So we need to step out in faith. Sinking is not an option. The needs of the ministry we’ve been called to fulfill are too great.
So stand in faith. And if your faith can’t hold you up, call out to Christ. Christ will lift you up. But keep stepping out in faith. Because the ministry is never just here, in the safe confines of this boat. The ministry, and the one who calls us into it, is always calling us out. Amen.