We might feel like hiding in fear, but God is calling us to step out of the cave and out of the boat for the sake of our neighbors, to bring Christ, in us, to the world.
Vicar Kelly Sandin
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 19, year A
Texts: Matthew 14:22-33, 1 Kings 19:9-18
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We learn to fear through our life experiences, and each one of us has a different story. And while we all have fears, we try to hide them from most everyone. Being vulnerable doesn’t happen much in our society. This is why I take great comfort in the characters of the Bible. This basic human condition of being afraid isn’t kept hidden, but is openly shared throughout its pages.
In fact, fear is the first human emotion mentioned in Genesis. Adam and Eve were pretty happy go lucky until they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Then, everything changed. After doing that God called out, “Where are you?” And Adam replied, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid…so I hid myself.”
I relate to this theme of fear because it’s not new to me. For much of my life I’ve been followed by a shadow of fear in one form or another. Fear of failure. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of being ridiculed. Fear of an accident. Fear my child will be harmed. Fear of standing before all of you with the task of speaking a word from God. And then, there are all the other fears I have from simply living in the world today.
And do you know what Jesus says to that? “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” More precisely, “Be courageous because I AM present. Do not fear.” I’m with you always.
The disciples had a great amount of fear in our gospel story today, but this isn’t the first terrifying boat and storm scene in the gospel of Matthew. There seems to be a progression of learning experiences Jesus puts his disciples through to get them to realize that following him wasn’t going to be smooth sailing and they were going to need some practice to work through their fears and gain trust in him.
The first time this happens, the disciples follow Jesus into a boat. In this scene there was an incredible storm. The boat was being filled with water and the disciples were panicking. Meanwhile, Jesus was fast asleep! “Lord, save us!” they cried. And Jesus responded with a simple question, “Why are you afraid?” Can you see Jesus slightly shaking his head and saying, “Look, I AM right here in this boat with you.” But, Jesus calmed the storm and the disciples were completely amazed by this. And they began to wonder who this Jesus really was.
Fast forward to this morning’s lesson. This time Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat without him and their boat gets battered by the waves or, better translated, tormented by the waves. But, interestingly, the disciples aren’t described as being afraid of the storm. Perhaps they already worked through this fear. In this scene, though, Jesus isn’t asleep during the storm. He’s up the mountain praying, but awake, and fully aware of where his disciples are and what they’re going through, like watching your kids from afar, ready to step in, if needed, but wanting to see how they’ll handle things when the playground gets a little rough.
And then, at about three or four in the morning, Jesus decides to walk toward them on water. Certainly not something you see every day! And even scarier in the dark! But Jesus seems to keep pushing the discipleship envelope. So, of course, they cry out in fear.
And what does Jesus say, “Be courageous because I AM present. Do not be afraid.”
And I love Peter’s response. He’s bold. He knows after all he’s experienced with Jesus, all the miracles he witnessed, that if it is, in fact, Jesus, he could do anything with his help. He wanted to trust. He wanted to believe. He wanted to be more courageous with his life. And so, Peter wasn’t testing Jesus as much as he was begging Jesus to command him to do something that he knew he would never do or could not do on his own.
If you think about who you are today, was there someone who encouraged you or inspired you or believed in you to do more than you ever thought you could? And with them in your life, you gained confidence. You stepped outside your comfort zone. You tested the waters and found out you could do it, and with them in your life, you did.
Jesus was that person for Peter. His life was changed the day Jesus walked along the shore and saw something in Peter that made him say, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
In the time spent with Jesus, Peter gained confidence and started believing in himself and knew if he tapped into Jesus’ power there would no limit to what he could do next. So, what Peter was asking Jesus might have been more like “Lord, I really want to be more than I am right now. Please help me to live into the potential you have for me and command me to come to you.”
The drive in Peter to overcome was greater than his fear. And, although things didn’t go perfectly, Peter learned that when his fear got the best of him, Jesus’ hand was right there to catch him and pull him back up.
These experiences helped shape the disciples for their future life without Jesus. A life that promised to be filled with persecutions and fears they had yet to encounter. So, they had to go through these discipleship challenges with Jesus in order to move from the place of simply wondering who Jesus was, to making the claim that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God. If Jesus could get them to proclaim that he was the Messiah, like Peter eventually did, then maybe their fears wouldn’t paralyze them from the work God was calling them to do and calling us to do.
Because right now, beyond the shadow of my own personal fears, the media coverage every single day brings me great fear. We live in a world full of violence and hate. But, I am also frightened and shocked at what’s happening in our own country, like what took place yesterday in Charlottesville, VA. And I’m still coming to terms with the bombing of the Dar Al Farooq mosque a half mile from my house. This hate and disregard for human life is in my neighborhood and in yours. We need to come together in solidarity to confront evil with our collective love. God will be with us. It takes courage, but imagine the fear of the specific groups being targeted regularly. We, as God’s people, are called to work for justice and peace – to carry out the disciples’ mission. We might feel like hiding in a cave like Elijah or in the garden, like Adam and Eve, but hiding in fear will not end it. God is calling us to step out of the cave and out of the boat for the sake of our neighbors. To come forward one frightened step at a time, being seen, in numbers, and bring Christ, in us, to the world.
Let us end in the prayer that seems perfect for today and one I’ve come to love.
“O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (ELW, page 317, from Vespers)