You can join this week’s worship service by visiting: https://youtu.be/WgqIK0oRIkE
Thank you to Michelle Collins for reading scripture and to Andy O’Neill and Brenda Barnes for sharing the gift of music this week.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week. In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 14: 22-33
Music: River, I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Musicians: Andy O’Neill and Brenda Barnes
Just a few weeks ago, my family and I were finishing up a glorious day on the beach at my parents’ home in PEI. We were just about to sit down to supper when we noticed that the winds and the tide were combining to create wonderful, playful waves. We agreed it would be best to postpone supper and enjoy the waves while we could. We body surfed and splashed, and pretty much tired ourselves out. When we sat down to supper half hour later, the waves were gone.
There’s something mysterious about the ocean. We’ve been sailing the seven seas for millennia, and have been doing so ever more safely as the years pass. We play in it as children and find our restoration by it as we grow older. And yet, the sea can also roil and rock, and those upon it can be tossed about, and often with little warning. I read recently that scientists know more about the surface of the moon than they do about the ocean floor. The seas remain mysterious and, at times, forbidding.
Where we read that Jesus walked on water, we should actually read that he walked “on the sea.” It might seem like splitting hairs, until we realize that the Gospels do not report that Jesus crossed a small creek, but that he walked on the swelling and heaving sea. Some ancient peoples believed that the tempests which raged on the ocean were the result of evil spirits which inhabited the deep. To the disciples, then, the peril of open water was probably not just physical drowning, but spiritual destruction.
For Jesus to walk on the waters was miraculous, not just because it was dangerous or impossible, but because it threatened to overtake his soul. In fact, the disciples were afraid first because they thought they were seeing a ghost, an evil spirit tricking them. Once he spoke, however, they felt assured that they were in fact seeing him, and that they should not fear.
As when facing abusive crowds and authorities which sought to undermine him, and when facing the terrible power of Rome, so on the stormy waters: Jesus was the picture of calm. But this calm is not merely bravery or courage; it’s the outward appearance of Jesus’ inward and unshakeable trust in God. He trusts that God is more powerful than the armies of Rome, more authoritative than the whims of society, more constant than the storms of life.
So, when Jesus calls to Peter to walk with him on the water, Jesus is not inviting him to share in a conjurer’s trick, but inviting Peter and the disciples to share the trust in God that anchors his soul. He is inviting them to step out into unknown waters, and trust that God is with them.
The story has it that Peter cannot. He begins to walk toward Jesus, begins to trust that God is with him in the storm, but then he loses sight of it, and falls. Some people have interpreted this story as a lesson to “keep your eyes on Jesus”, lest you stumble and fall. The implication is not subtle – if something goes wrong, it’s probably because you lost your way, took your eyes off the prize; sinned, stumbled, fell.
But that’s not what this story is telling us. Notice that it says “Peter began to sink.” Now, I don’t about you, but I’ve never seen someone trying to walk on water beginto sink. You either walk on water, or you don’t. The author obviously has something else in mind with these words, probably something along the lines of “Peter began to lose his footing,” or “his life started to go pear-shaped,” or “he lost the sense that things were getting better, and now were getting worse.”
Peter hasn’t lost sight of Jesus at all; in fact, he cries out to him in his distress. What happened to Peter is what happens to us all the time: there was a moment when he thought he could ride out the storm, and then in the next moment, he became quite certain that he couldn’t.
He thought he could cope with the uncertainty of sending his children back to school, could rationalize the baby-steps of risk in the midst of a pandemic, but then he found he couldn’t. He thought he could abide another terrible headline about bigotry and ignorance, but then he started to lose hope that things would ever change. He thought he could endure losing another loved one to cancer – this time, he knew what the stages were, knew how to handle the phone calls and the hospital room and the funeral – but then his sorrow overtook him.
What happened to Peter is what happens to us. There are times when our lives are stormy, and the night is dark. There are times when we try our best to face it, to walk with our heads high. And there are times when the storm overwhelms us.
The truth in this story is not that we are weak, though at times we may feel that way; and it is not that, if we only have enough faith, we’ll enjoy a life free from trouble and loss, exhaustion and grief. This is a story about trusting that, throughout all our life, good and bad, certainty and anxirty, we are not alone in the storm.
Peter stumbles and begins to sink, but Jesus, and all of his friends, are there to help him. His eyes are entirely consumed by the roiling waters of doubt, but he does not fall all the way down with those hands holding onto him. This trust is what we seek to foster together, in community, for each other and for those who are hurting. In different language some people call it a safe place to land, or an environment that accepts failure as just another part of both living and growing.
That’s what we try to be a congregation – and we need it now more than ever. We all have different perspectives on what we should be doing and how. Difference of opinion is good, it brings richness. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with each other, or taking different paths, as long as we continue to treat each other with respect and afford each other the dignity we all deserve. That has been my experience with you, and I trust it will continue to be the case.
I would like you to hear very clearly this week, that whatever you are facing right now, you are not alone. There are people who love you, and God is the source of that love. On the waters of uncertainty and fear, and during the storms within and around us, God is with us, just as certainly as we are here for each other. Amen.
Holy One, in Jesus you bring good news to your people. To those who live with doubt, you bring a word of hope. To those who live with fear, you bring peace borne of your abiding presence. You remind us that, in every moment, you are there: your Spirit whispering Love in our ear; your people gathering around us to help us in our need; your vision, calling us to reach out to our neighbour – the work of your church, the work of our hands. God of Hope, guide us in your way of relationship and trust, with you and with each other. Inspire us to live out your good news in our thoughts, words and actions.
Today, we hear the call of Jesus to step out of what we know onto the waters of an unknown future. Give us the courage, O God, to speak with grace and to listen with humility. As we discern our way forward, help us to create an environment of safe failure, to be a community that honours creativity initiative and enthusiasm. May we take delight in the challenges ahead, that we may meet them and each other with hearts grateful for our abundance of love.
We pray that your light of love would shine in the dark corners of our lives and world. Where there is conflict, may there be peace. Where there is suffering, healing. Where there is grief, hope. We pray especially today for the people of Lebanon and for those who work to help restore the lives of those affected; for those facing illness and death during this pandemic, and for those who work to treat and heal them; for those giving their time and resources to aid in the search for treatments and vaccines. Speak your word of peace to all your people, O God, and help us to voice our thankfulness.
As members of this family of faith, we pray for all those who are ill in body and in spirit; all those who worry this day, or who are afraid; all those who struggle with addiction and the lingering effects of trauma; and all those who feel alone in their struggles.
God of Healing and of Hope, breathe your Spirit into us again, that we might feel your presence and know that we are never alone. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father…