Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sermon, Proper 14A, Matthew 14:22-33

Because I haven't done this in awhile:

Matthew is a kingly gospel. Matthew asks us to fuse our faith and ethics. Matthew is a gospel calling us TO action.

Last week we heard the story of the five loaves, two fish and 5000 men. Last week I talked about fact and truth. Last week I said that we need to change our perspective, stop focusing on the facts of our shortcomings and live into the truth of God’s abundance.

This week we hear the immediate follow-up to that story. The crowds have been fed and gone home. Jesus spends some much needed time alone in prayer, and he has sent the disciples by boat across Lake Galilee to Gennesaret.

But while they are crossing the lake, the weather turns nasty and the disciples are caught in a storm that lasts all night. The boat is battered by the waves, tossed to and fro. Wind whips around them so hard they have to yell to be heard. Rain pours down on them adding to their misery and fear. Being on the water in a storm like that is no fun – just watch Deadliest Catch or listen to the words of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

After fighting the storm all night and into the morning, the disciples see Jesus walking across the water toward them. The disciples at first don’t recognize him, who would? They think he’s a ghost. But no, it’s really Jesus. And Peter says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He does – and he does. Peter gets out of the boat and walks on water.

And about this time we hear sermons launch into stories about Jesus mastering the seas, or Jesus calling us out of the safety of the boat, or admonishing us to obey Jesus confidently in storms, the struggles of a divided faith (between Jesus and the world), or the power of Jesus to save even when we fail or something else along those lines. Which are all well and good sermon topics and are all supported by the history and tradition of the church. But let me put something out there that I’ve only heard preached on once before that I think bears repeating.

We are living in interesting times. There’s a worldwide financial crisis. Terrorism has moved out of the war-torn Middle East and into mainstream societies. Those with money, power and control continue to become more rich and powerful, as well as more isolationist and fearful of the Other, whomever the Other may be. The Church in general is facing all kinds of issues from sexual abuse scandals to irrelevancy. And the Episcopal Church in particular is being attacked by a new breed of puritan who simply cannot tolerate a church that strives to respect the dignity of every human being and welcome all into God’s loving embrace. It can certainly feel like we are being battered about by waves.

When Jesus says he came not to condemn but to save, when he says he has other sheep we do not know about, when he says that he came to call the sinners not the righteous, we need to understand that these and other sayings imply a welcome and inclusiveness that we ourselves may find unsettling. When Jesus says to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless, we need to find ways to make that happen rather than blame the hungry, naked and homeless for their plight while looking for ways to cut their support and make the lives of the powerful that much easier.

The church has an obligation and requirement to teach and live the tenets of the orthodox faith. But the church also has a mandate to reflect the love of Christ to ALL people and to respect the dignity of EVERY human being. We need to understand that all means ALL – not just those whom we approve.

If we are radically inclusive, if we welcome all, if we look for those sheep we don’t know about, then we will have helped to build a church not only of great diversity but one that challenges us and has the ability to make us uncomfortable at times. That can be both exciting and scary. It can make us feel like we are being battered about all night by the waves of change. It can make us, like Peter, long to get out of the boat.

In times of storm, we may think we see Jesus “out there,” coming toward us on the water. In times of storm, we may feel that we would rather walk with Jesus on the water than fight the storm in the boat. In times of storm, we may call out to Jesus to be taken out of the boat. So we step out of the boat, taking our own path to Jesus, leaving the others behind. But eventually, like Peter, we discover that we can’t make the journey alone and we begin to sink. And when we sink, Jesus rescues us, keeps us from drowning, and puts us right back in the boat.

For those of us left behind in the boat, we are diminished when someone chooses to walk apart. There is one less person to help assist us. There is one less person to give input. There is one less person to help face the storm. But for those left behind, we carry on nonetheless, assured in the knowledge that it was Jesus who sent us out into those perilous waters in the first place.

We are all in this boat together. No one said it would be easy. We are not on a Carnival cruise ship having our every need and whim catered to. No – this isn’t a pleasure cruise. Instead, we are on a working fishing boat. Think back again to Deadliest Catch. It is hard work. We often seem to be battered by the wind and waves of change. We may not always get along with our crewmates. And we just might lose our life.

There are two things I want you to take from this story. The first is that point about being part of a crew on a working fishing boat. It’s hard work. There are times when we will be battered. But we are also better with each other than without, and we are diminished when one chooses to leave. None of us can say, “I have no need of you,” and expect to walk on water for very long.

The second is that we are fishing for people. Or, rather, we are searching for people in danger of sinking. When we find one, we need to follow the disciples’ example and welcome them into the boat no questions asked. There needs to be room in this boat for everyone who was sinking.

Like last week, there are facts and truths to this story. The fact is that this isn’t always easy and we do get battered about. The truth is that in both today’s gospel passage and in the here and now, unlike the person walking alone on the water, the boat doesn’t sink. Amen.


Anonymous | 4:46 PM, August 07, 2011  

Absolutely grand sermon. I've always been proud of our inclusiveness, but your reasoning is inspired and very clear. Thanks!

Lady Anne, who is still anonymous, for some reason

Reverend Ref + | 12:36 AM, August 08, 2011  

Thank you. I heard a sermon about staying in the boat about three years ago and really liked it. I've borrowed the theme.

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