Walking on Water 8-13-17

I find though, that I have to change what I’m talking about today because of the events in Charlottesburg, VA. I wish we didn’t have to, but we just have to address these things today. Listen for the word of the Living God for you today from Matthew.

Matthew 14:22-33 Jesus insisted that the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side. Having sent the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray, remaining there alone as night fell. meanwhile the boat, already a thousand yards from shore, was being tossed about in the waves which had been raised by the fierce winds. At about three in the morning. Jesus came walking toward them, on the lake When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. they were terrified.  “It is a ghost!” they said, and in their fear they began to cry out. Jesus hastened to reassure them:  “Don’t worry, it’s me!  Don’t be afraid!” Peter spoke u and said, “If it is really you, tell me to come to you across the water.” :”come!” Jesus said. So Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus

But when he saw how strong the wind was, he became frightened.  He began to sink, and cried out, “Save me!” Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and caught Peter.  “You have so little faith!” Jesus said to him.  ”Why did you doubt?” Once they had climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Those who were in the boat showed great reverence, declaring to Jesus, “You are indeed God’s Own!’

Let’s reflect for a moment on times when we have doubted God’s presence with us, and when and how we have found that connection again.

August 13, 2017

Walking on Water

“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”

The news yesterday of a woman being killed by a car driven into a crowd by a white supremacist terrorist shook me yesterday, and has shaken all of us, I dare to say. I had been invited to go down to Charlottesville a week or so ago, to stand vigil with other clergy against what people were starting to sense was going to be a dangerous gathering of hate groups, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. One friend said, “If you wonder what you would have done during the Civil Rights movement, notice what you are doing now.”

I knew I couldn’t go down there, but I do have some mixed feelings of desire to do something, fear about doing something, fear about what is happening in our country, and concern for the best way to respond. So let me take a few minutes this morning to give some preliminary thoughts at the end of a stormy and scary weekend.

First let me address directly the problem with President Trump’s response to the calamity. He made a statement condemning in the ‘strongest possible terms’ the violence on all sides. That would be ok if the violence was being initiated by all kinds of people, and if it was specific about the ways in which the violence is being initiated.

Notice how a similar statement from the United Methodist Church sounds fairly similar to President Trump’s statement, but has a quite different impact, “The United Methodist Church condemns in the strongest terms racism, white supremacy and violence.” Social Principles 162 A  That statement can also challenge the violence which is being used to respond to violence, but you first have to be clear where the violence is coming from.

And I don’t think you can be really clear about where the violence originates if you’re first goal is to gain political points. I don’t mention President Trump’s weak response this morning to imply that if we got rid of one person or a few people, this problem would be solved. That would be seriously naive. We are confused when we divide everybody into right and left, us and them. We don’t solve things by dividing everybody right and left. It’s only when we get clear about right and wrong.

The truth is that all of us are caught in the storm of white supremacy, even if we are unaware of it. If we are pointing fingers at someone else and not noticing how our own lives are complicit in the systematic ways in which people of color are oppressed, then we are part of the problem. Let me put it even more pointedly than that – as Dr. William Barber puts it,, our country has a heart problem. White racism has been all tangled up in the way our country operates from the very beginning, and it’s not just a few people, it’s all of us taking part in that original sin.

I know that’s a pretty strong way to put it, but I don’t think we can cover this over. It’s a spiritual problem in our country, not a political problem. It requires soul work.

 

So let’s turn to the Gospel and see how the Word of the Living God gives us some help today. The story we read from Matthew today, of course is the story of Jesus walking on water to save the disciples who are scared to death because of a storm. Jesus had gone off by himself to pray and sent them on ahead. As they are scared they are going to capsize, Jesus catches up with them about three in the morning – walking across the water.

That scares them even more. They think he’s a ghost. Jesus has to reassure them, “Chill out guys. It’s just me. Don’t get even more scared!” At that, Peter, (and this only happens in the gospel of Matthew) decides to test the situation, and, still unsure it seems if it’s Jesus, says, “If it’s really you, tell you to come out there with you.”

Jesus chuckles, “Sure, go ahead and try it.” And Peter gets out of the boat, takes a few steps and starts to sink. Jesus has to grab him and save him, still chuckling about his daring and his incomplete faith.

 

I read a poem this week that I was going to use for my growing older sermon, that I think is still relevant to this passage and this message. It is by William Stafford and called “The Way It Is.” It’s how we came up with the idea of throwing the string around this morning.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

 

As I was reading that poem and thinking about our reading today, I imagined Jesus saving Peter not just by grabbing him, but by throwing him a rope – the thread if you will. “You don’t ever let go of the thread.” Why? Because you can’t. Love has you. Love is you. Love, and your deep need for love, recognizes Love itself. Remember that you already are what you are seeking.

We get confused in the storms of our lives, we so easily get scared to death in the turbulence of our seas. We think that we are lost when we see the storms of racism and violence, and it’s even more scary when we realize that we are in the storm, as much as we try to avoid it.

God bless Peter who steps out of the boat. The key to faith and fullness of life in Christ is to trust the thread, to trust the connection to the Living God, to step out in the storms of life, to leave the comfort and security of our carefully protected boat, to head into the troubled waters of this chaotic world to proclaim the love of the Living God, trusting in God’s community of love, trusting in the thread that connects us all. You don’t ever let go of the thread – because you can’t. The thread is always there, connecting all of us to the love of God, even if we are unaware of it.

I saw several colleagues on the news down in Virginia yesterday, stepping into the middle of the storm – confident of the thread that connects them to God’s love, confident that their peaceful spirit would make a difference somehow as a few confused people spew hatred and violence, knowing that they had to be there, knowing they had to witness to the thread that connects us all.

 

Responsive Hymn 512      Stand By Me