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Worship for August 9, 2020
We think we know this story, right? Jesus walks on water. Peter doesn’t have enough faith. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of weak faith – Jesus will chastise you. You will sink.
But maybe Peter is the hero of this story. Maybe Peter didn’t have much faith, but he had enough. Well, he had enough to step out of the boat in the midst of a storm and walk toward Jesus, even if he didn’t have enough faith to trust Jesus would catch him when he fell. Because he did fall. Of course he did. That’s what happens when we step out in faith. We can expect to fall. But faith is about stepping out of the known, into the unknown, and trusting Jesus will catch us every time we fall.
See, those disciples in that boat in that storm on the Sea of Galilee are battered. They are worn out from hours of wrangling this boat in a storm, at night, in the Sea of Galilee, trying to make headway when the wind just keeps pushing them backwards. That sounds familiar these days, as we keep trying to make headway in a pandemic. And their boat is hit by wave after wave, and they are just trying to stay in the boat and not get swept into the raging water. They know how dangerous it is, and they are tired of it all, and maybe some of them are even feeling seasick. And they don’t know how this will end, because when Jesus shoved them off he didn’t tell them when he would see them again. He didn’t tell them what was coming next.
We don’t know what is coming next. We’re right in the midst of a doozy of a stormy period of history – who knew it would feel like this, and it would go on and on, and we’d be hit by wave after wave, and we wouldn’t be able to predict what is coming next.
I asked Wayne Barnes to tell me about a time when he was out on the water, in a boat, and saw a looming storm:
When Wayne and Polly saw those storm clouds on the horizon, they pulled down their sails, and as he said, they headed back to where they came, not the closest shore. When those storms of life come, it’s human nature to pull in tight, pull in our sails, try to go back to where we came from, back to how it was. We batten down our hatches, focus on getting ourselves and our loved ones through this storm as safely and sanely as possible. And it feels impossibly hard, the more uncertain the future and the more the waves knock us down and wash away what we thought we knew and threaten to toss us overboard.
These pandemic days, we’re having to adjust and rethink and learn so much so fast. When all we want to do is go back to where we came from. So much of what we thought and believed is getting washed away, swept overboard.
Maybe your faith in the goodness of other human beings is being tested. Maybe the balance between individual rights and freedoms and the needs of the common good is shifting for you. Maybe your assumption that everyone is equal in this country is being challenged, as you hear yet another story of a Black person being treated differently for no good reason – As we heard this week of young mothers yanked to the ground, separated from their little kids, because it looked suspicious, them driving that nice car. Because they are Black.
Maybe you’re wishing you’d paid more attention in American History and Government class, as we watch the small print of the constitution play out in real time. Maybe your beliefs about when and how we should vote are shifting. Maybe today is causing so much anxiety you can’t even think about tomorrow; maybe all you can do is worry about tomorrow. We surely are in uncharted waters. And those waters are stormy and this night is dark and the wind is high, and where is Jesus?
Well, no wonder no one recognized Jesus walking across that sea –They were exhausted; it was a dark and stormy night, who but a ghost would approach on foot on the sea? That’s not where or how or when they expected to be reunited.
And he reassures them – Here I am! Don’t be afraid! And the storm keeps raging, and they keep holding on to that boat for dear life. Everyone, except Peter, the one whose faith is supposedly “weak.”
He’s the only one who heard Jesus say, Here I am! Don’t be afraid! And decided to trust it.
Those other 11 didn’t respond to Jesus’ reassurance. They didn’t take a risk. They white-knuckled the sides of the boat as it was tossed in the water. They were going to keep themselves safe, pull down the sails, batten down the hatches, and hold on tight.
But Peter – Peter took a few steps toward Jesus, before the fierce wind grabbed his attention, before the storm scared him. And then, when he’s most scared, Jesus catches him – reaches out his hand and holds him up. I think about all the times little kids have stood on the side of the pool, or on the diving board, or on the high dive, and stared over the edge, to see someone promising them: Don’t worry. I’m right here. I’ll catch you. I won’t let you sink.
It is human nature to want to feel secure, and safe, to believe life is predictable, to trust the reality we’ve always known. And when the storms of life come, and when our boats start rocking in the waves, we cling so tightly to what we know, even if what we know doesn’t help under these particular circumstances. We don’t want to let go of what we know, of what we believe about how the world works. We want to go back to where we came from; at least that’s familiar territory.
And now here we are in the middle of the sea, in the middle of a storm, that no one can track, or tell us how it will turn out, or when it will end, or just how many more waves are coming our way. And all we can do is step out of the boat – step into the unknown future – let go of how things used to be and how things should be and how we want things to be – And go deeper into the storm. Apparently, that’s where Jesus is.
Peter stepped out in faith, not sure Jesus would catch him. But he did, and together they got back into the boat and that’s when the storm ceased. Not when Jesus showed up. Not when Jesus told them to not be scared. Not when Peter took that step of faith. It’s not like we step out in faith and it’s all okay. No, we step out of our comfort zone and leave behind the reality we’ve always counted on, and we step into a storm. And yes, we will sink. Of course we will. And Jesus will catch us – that’s why we have the courage to step into the storm at all.
We can’t pretend there is no storm. We can’t cling to how it was in the olden days. We can’t long to go back to where we came from. We can’t look away from the storm, hide our eyes, focus just on getting ourselves through the high wind and battering waves. We have to pay attention, to listen for Jesus’ voice saying “Here I am! Don’t be afraid!” in the midst of all the chaos swirling around us. We have to trust that as we reach out to help each other, Jesus won’t let us sink. We can help hold each other up, trust the way of love will see us through. But we have to reach out and ask, how can we help the person who’s in danger of losing their home? How can we help the working parent facing at least one semester of also doing the work of professional educators? How can we help those educators? How can we help? When we step out of the boat, and reach out our hands in faith, we’ll find Jesus holding us up, even in the midst of the storm.
Worship for August 2, 2020
Worship for July 26, 2020
Sermon for July 26, 2020
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
I spent all week trying to find this Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus describes over and over and over again. I even tried to make bread, to show in the Children’s Sermon how a small bit of yeast can change the ingredients around it into bread. That didn’t go so well. I started to understand why it’s so easy to think the kingdom of heaven Jesus is describing is about life after death. Because it’s really hard to imagine right here, right now, this kingdom of heaven he’s describing first to a crowd, then to the disciples.
And then it occurred to me, why was Jesus going on and on about the Kingdom of Heaven? Why does he keep insisting it is right here, right in front of them, right in the every day ho hum ordinary life they were living?
You can’t get much more ordinary than a woman using yeast to make bread, or a seed turning into a tree, providing a home for birds – And a tasty condiment for our hotdogs. That’s not what I think of when I think of the kingdom of heaven. None of that really sounds like heaven to me – Where are the streets paved with gold? The angels in white robes, playing harps? I thought heaven was like all rainbows and unicorns, peace, love, and harmony. Not a treasure hidden in someone else’s field. Not a pearl, something that began life as an irritant to an oyster.
Doesn’t this life, I mean, this life right now – fall rather short of your image of the kingdom of heaven? This life, the one you see on your tv, your “friends” posts on facebook, the one where, need I remind you, we’re in a pandemic that’s been so mishandled our kids are now staying home in the Fall, and you’re still at home watching a worship video. This life where federal troops spent the week in Portland, and are heading to Albuquerque and Chicago and their governors and mayors can’t stop them. This life, where we’re discovering more and more what we weren’t taught in history class and what didn’t make the news – That native American children were forcibly taken from their families and sent to boarding schools and adopted to be made more “white;” where laws were written and enforced sending Black men to jail for petty crimes where they could be “leased out” as laborers. The history of Tulsa, where an entire Black community was wiped out; or Wilmington, where white supremacists forced a peaceful city government of Blacks and Whites out so they could take over.
And in the middle of this, we’re hearing about yeast, and pearls, and treasures buried in someone else’s field? Why? How is this relevant to us?
There’s a reason Jesus went on and on about the kingdom of heaven – It’s not easy to understand, for starters, even though the disciples insist they get it. But they also needed to hear about it over and over and over again, because their daily lives weren’t so great, either.
A government that wasn’t for them, a government that made them so angry, but there wasn’t much they could do about it. Violence, injustice, hate, a sense of powerlessness, a failing economy unless you were a Roman elite. No wonder the disciples assumed Jesus was coming to fix everything for them, that he was ushering in the kingdom of heaven, because life was a mess.
We know all these generations later that Jesus didn’t usher in the kingdom of heaven the way the disciples assumed he would, the way we might be wishing he would about now. So we’re left with something I don’t think the disciples really did understand. Because he’s using parables and similes to describe something that is, at its core, mysterious. We can’t hold the kingdom of heaven in the palm of our hand the way we can a measure of yeast, or a pearl, or a mustard seed. Hidden, but visible. Ordinary, but holy. Insignificant and -powerless, but so powerful it makes all the difference – People are willing to sell everything they have to possess it.
What are you most longing for right now? I doubt it’s something you can buy on amazon. It’s probably something that’s hard to hold in your hand, but something so real, your heart is aching for it.
At our first outdoor morning prayer service, Julie Bertak mentioned how helpful it’s been to think about learning to live with this new reality – Which doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and give up, even though we may be tempted. It means we know the peace we long for, the hope and love and fellowship we so desperately miss and need, is right here. It just might be hidden, and it might take some work and persistence and patience.
So, the bread for the Children’s Sermon didn’t turn out – And I was not so much frustrated, as tired and defeated. I was trying to find, and trying to show, and trying to hold onto a bit of the kingdom of heaven right here and right now, and instead I ended up with bread loaves as heavy as rocks.
And then I realized, there’s a parable there, too – Because that’s what life is like right now, especially when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. We try to uncover it, and it stays hidden. We try to hold it in our hands, and it slips through our fingers. We try to live as though the kingdom of heaven, the love of God, the power of God’s mercy and justice, is right here, right here – And we fail. It doesn’t turn out the way we wanted. We spend all day – all week – all year – on something, and it falls flat, literally and figuratively. And this is the work and the hope of faith. This is what it is to trust in God, to trust in Jesus. And it will wear us out, sometimes. And we’ll want to give up, sometimes. And we won’t be able to see it, and our every effort seems a waste.
But God is the woman kneading the yeast into the flour, enough to feed a neighborhood. God is the mustard seed, growing, growing, invisibly each day. God is the treasure hidden in the field, waiting to be found.
And so, we get up, and ask God to show us this day a glimpse of the kingdom – A rainbow, an act of love. We get up, and ask God to use us this day as the yeast, as the mustard seed growing into a bush where creatures can find sanctuary. We get up and act as though there is nothing more real and nothing more powerful than God’s love, at work in us and through us. Because it’s true. It’s the only truth worth getting up for these days, in Christ.