SCRIPTUREMatthew 14:22-33 (NRSVUE)
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.
[Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side [of the Sea of Galilee], while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer
If you’ve flown in the past several decades, you’ve heard the flight attendants’ safety announcement that, if there is a sudden loss of cabin pressure, you should put on your own oxygen mask first and then help those around you. It’s good advice. You can’t help others if you can’t breathe.
While we are instructed to put on our mask first, we also need to look out for others who need help to make sure that they can breathe and survive as well. The readings appointed for this week tell of two fatigued masters who first got what they needed and then were able to help their disciples.
Let’s start with Elijah. After Jezebel and Ahab threatened him (again), Elijah fled to the wilderness, seeking to end his life. God sent messengers with snacks and instructions to sleep so that Elijah could go on to the ministry to which God had called him. There is a popular meme going around that references this episode, saying that sometimes all a fatigued, burned-out Christian needs is a snack and a nap. But notice that Elijah’s outlook didn’t change after his rest. This weekend we hear Elijah came to a cave and told God that everything was hopeless and people were still trying to kill him.
In the wilderness Elijah witnessed a wind, earthquake, fire and then silence and a quiet voice. He wrapped his outer garment around his head to prevent from seeing God and gave the same complaint. You see, snacks, naps and miracles weren’t what Elijah needed. He was still tired and burned-out. He was ready to be done with ministry. He was certainly ready to stop being a target of assassination.
Then God gave Elijah his oxygen mask: Elijah should anoint three men—Hazael, Jehu and Elisha. They would take over the fight so Elijah could rest and take a breather. Interestingly, Elijah didn’t anoint any of the three, but that’s another message in itself. Instead of fulfilling God’s three commandments, all Elijah could manage was to literally place a prophet’s mantle on his successor Elisha. Elijah was exhausted, and the promise of a respite was the only thing that allowed him to carry on as long as he did.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus was tired too. Word had reached him earlier that his relative, John the Baptizer, had been executed. He sought to be alone, but crowds followed him. Jesus had compassion on them, and fed and healed them. But after all this, he was profoundly in need of some alone time. Jesus ordered his disciples into a boat and to go ahead of him to the opposite side of the sea. Finally, after terrible news and an exhausting day, God gave Jesus his oxygen mask: time to pray, alone.
Yet, like Elisha, Jesus’ disciples immediately needed help to become like their master. Jesus had seen the storm blow up and, perhaps still somewhat fatigued, decided to take a shortcut across the lake. When the disciples saw him, they were understandably terrified. Peter, bravely and wisely, decided to test the vision to see whether it was Jesus, Peter began to walk on water, and Jesus’ identity was confirmed.
As we know, that wasn’t the end of the story. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the wind, becoming frightened. He began to sink and called out to Jesus. Jesus, of course, brought Peter up out of the swirling water and planted him safely in the boat, calming the storm in the process. Although some say Peter “failed”, but I think he succeeded…because Peter got out of the boat!
This week the two stories are of exhausted masters helping perplexed students. Elijah didn’t just need a snack and a nap. He didn’t need miracles. He needed helping partners and some time off. Jesus had all the food and miracles in the world at his fingertips. What he really needed was some time alone to pray. Only after they recuperated from their fatigue were they able to help their disciples grow in faith and power.
So what are we to make of these stories as modern disciples?
Do we fail to recognize Jesus when the going gets tough and the storms of life rage about us?
What “other side” of the metaphorical lake does Jesus send us to, and what chaos ensues?
Are we ever actually afraid of Jesus?
I wonder if we might just be terrified that this Jesus, still loose in the world today, really is going to do something through us and with our rag-tag gifts, pitiful efforts and worthiness issues. Just what madness might really come of all this (and what will it cost us)? Oh, and then there’s always the distinct possibility that the folks on the other side, those others and strangers, will recognize Jesus and make a mess of our neatly organized party.
I know from personal experience that I do have a tougher time seeing Jesus when chaos closes in and things aren’t going so hot. Like Peter and the others, I am too easily consumed by my own fears and insecurities. Me, walk on water? Right! I can’t even walk on ice without falling and hurting myself.
But here’s the grace of it all. There is no storm of uncertainty, no chaos of conscience, no dark waters of despair that will prevent Jesus from responding to our frantic and fading cry for help. We are not outside of Jesus’ reach—even me and you and all of little faith who would bargain with God in our moments of doubt. Like those first disciples with their faltering faith and stubborn doubt, we keep on putting one foot after the other. We follow Jesus, trusting the promise that all who call on his name, who are touched by God’s Word, will be saved.
So again, what do these stories tell us modern day disciples at GSLC? I think 2 things: 1) We should not be afraid to get out of the boat. 2) If we do, Jesus and others will be there to help us through the tough times.
I’ve mentioned before I did not grow up thinking of being a pastor. As far back as I can remember is was going to be an Architect (9-5 job); then an Occupational Therapist (they did a wonderful job with my grandmother); after a year of medical school I went back to college to be a Chemical Dependency Counselor to use my alcohol addiction to help others; then before graduating college after all the denials, excuses, and worthiness issues I decided to “get out of the boat” and answer the call to serve the Church (although I still wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do that.)
This is the time of year, as we prepare for the Annual Meeting, to recruit new Council Members and Commissioners. We have 3 commissioners who wanted to be relieved of duties last year, and thankfully stayed one so the ministries of GSLC wouldn’t suffer or fail to happen. We have leadership that are fatigued and need an oxygen mask and a break from daily service. So I asking some of you to be like Peter and get out of the boat and answer the call.
Whether you’ve never done something like this before and worried you have nothing to offer, or whether you’ve done it before and it did’t go how you thought it would…get out of the boat! Take the chance to answer the call of the Lord and you will not be alone. God is there to support us in the ups and downs. The Leadership and I are a close group of people, who support each other through the ups and the downs. The congregation is here to support the ways we move forward. We are never alone.
So get out of the boat and help lead GSLC into the future.
If you don’t think you have anything to offer because you’re new or haven’t done it before, get out of the boat because you do have insights and experiences to offer right in this time of need.
If you’ve done it before so it’s someone else’s turn or you didn’t like the experience, get out of the boat and give us your new insights and experience and be supported the rest of us.
If you don’t think you have anything to add to the conversation, we all have different gifts and opinions that add to any conversation.
These texts remind us all that we are never alone, we have God and each other. Peter got out of the boat and some thought he failed the test, but I believe he passed the test just by getting out of the boat to answer the call. So I’m hoping that some of you will also be willing to get out of the boat too; to answer the call to be on leadership, or to work with leadership to do other ministries we are currently doing or do new in the future. We have all been named & claimed as Children of God in our baptisms, and gifted by the Holy Spirit to answer the call and the time is now to get out of the boat and serve the Lord to the best of our abilities.