Sunday 7 August 2011
Year A. Pentecost 8. Sunday 19. Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33. Green.
(Note: because of a mis-print in the lectionary I've been using, Sundays have been mislabelled until now - hopefully corrected now.)
Call to worship
When two or three are gathered in Jesus' name
he is here with us.
But he is not the guest
he is the host, and we have come as his guests.
We are here at his invitation
to take part in the worship which all creation
owes to our creator.
Let us worship God.
Hymn Together in Song 442 All praise to our redeeming Lord
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
You made earth and sky
Sunshine and rain
day and night
things that fly and things that swim,
things that crawl and things that walk,
and you made us.
You made human beings,
creatures of the earth,
sharing th esame elements of the soil
but also creatures of spirit
made in your image,
made to know you.
And throughout our history,
you have watched over us,
you have showed yourself to us,
you have reached out to us.
Our earliest ancestors chose to deny you,
chose to push past the limits you had given them.
And we also, deny you,
we deny you in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions.
Yet you still reach out to us in your love.
You sent your own son Jesus,
the ruler of all creation
to live a life in the poverty of human existence
to experience our birth, our childhood, our maturity,
to experience our joys, our sorrows, the crises of our lives,
to be the victim of our hatred, our prejudice, our anger
to suffer the absolute worst humanity is capable of
and to take those things to the cross out of love for us -
to leave those things at the cross,
and to offer us a new life,
an eternal life, in real relationship with you,
a life free from all of the evils
which lurk in human hearts, minds and souls.
We give you praise and thanks for your goodness,
for all your works, and all your gifts,
especially for the gift of Jesus.
We are sorry for the evils which we have allowed into our lives
and ask that in Jesus, you set us free from them,
and work in our lives to bring about your truth.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Declaration of forgiveness
Kids' time -
Hymn Together in Song 260 He walked on earth (we learned this last week)
I don't know if it ever came about, but about a decade ago, an Israeli entrepreneur had planned to build a bridge, just under the surface of the lake, so tourists could “walk on the water” where Jesus had done. To do so would take money, and of course faith – in Israeli engineering and bridge building. (Those of you old enough might also remember the the disaster with a bridge collapsing at the world Jewish games happened about the same time as this – so that faith might not have been so easy to come by.)
As I said, I don't know if it ever eventuated – but if I ever had the money to visit the holy land, I don't think this would be high on my list of things to see and do. While I'm sure it would make great photos, I wonder what the point would be. Would people going to Israel really want to stand on a bridge, ankle deep in water, and what? Imagine they are walking across stormy waters? Wonder if they could have as much faith in God as they did in the bridge that was holding them up?
What was the point of the original event?
Jesus had sent the disciples on in the boat, while he went away alone to pray. Remember, this still follows on from last week's reading. Jesus had the horrible news of John's death, set off into Gentile territory to get some peace and quiet while he grieved, found the crowds already waiting when he made it across the lake, and spent the day healing and feeding the multitude.
So at last, Jesus had his time alone to pray, to grieve, to deal with his relative's death. And he sent the disciples on ahead of him in the boat. Apparently they had not planned how they would meet up again, because the disciples really were not expecting what happened next!
They were out on the sea. The sea was a symbol of chaos, of the unknown, for people of Israel. The Jews had never been great sailors – most of their country was dry land, very dry land. Not even fishermen who made their living on the water tended to be very strong swimmers. So the sea was the unknown, and people suspected it was full of sea monsters and hidden dangers.
It was also the home of a very well known, and not at all hidden danger: a storm at sea. Storms could wreck ships, cause injury and loss of life.
The disciples went on ahead in the boat. They left Jesus behind, but some of them were fishermen, they would have the skills to manage the boat without their leader there.
As they set out on their own, the wind blew against them, so they made little headway. The waves battered the boat. And they struggled throughout the night to keep the boat upright, and going.
Early in the morning they were surely exhausted. The previous day had, along with Jesus, heard the news of John's death, and dealt with the multitude. Then after a night of struggling in the chaos of a storm at sea, they must have been tired and disoriented enough to doubt their own eyes And they saw a figure of a person walking out to them over the water.
Either they were halluncinating, or there was something very strange going on They opted for something strange, and decided it was a ghost. In the midst of the storm, the tiredness, the chaos, they apparently assumed things had gone from bad to worse! Ghosts were something to be feared indeed.
A ghost might not be the most logical thing to think of, but what does one think, as a person walks on water through a storm? If you'd never heard the story, if you were in the same situation, what would you make of it? And they did the expected thing: they panicked.
At this point they heard the line the Bible reserves for the most terrifying of situations: “Do not be afraid.” Seriously, this line's usually reserved for things like angelic visitations – the stuff guaranteed to cause nightmares. “Don't be afraid. It's me.”
“It's me” - the word here is the verb to be, “I am”. Recall that in the Old Testament, the holiest name for God is based on the Hebrew verb to be: “I am” It was more than just their friend, companion and leader coming to them in the chaos of the storm – it was God present with them.
Depending how you look at what happened next Peter was either one of the most courageous or one of the most stupid men in history. He decided to test the situation – by putting his own life in even more danger than it already was. “If it's really you, you can order me to come out to you.” If it was really Jesus he could tell Peter to come out, and he would be safe. If it wasn't Jesus, Peter would not be safe.
We don't know what Jesus made of this: whether he was annoyed, or amused, or curious to see whether Peter would go through with it... But he said “come on out.” And Peter got out.
Peter began to walk on the water – but he looked at the storm and the waves closing in on him, now without the protection of the boat. He felt the water and the wind, and became frightened and began to sink. Peter's test backfired on him. “If it is you...” Yes, it was Jesus. But Peter needed not only for it to be Jesus, but to trust Jesus. His test of who Jesus was, and Jesus' power, proved to be an even bigger test of his own faith – a test that in the reality of the situation, he failed.
Jesus rescued him. Peter failed his own test – but Jesus did not leave him to the consequences of his actions.
Once Jesus was in the boat, the stomr subsided, and everything was calm again. All of creation is, after all, subject to God, and will obey God's power in Jesus. Jesus' words “Don't be afraid, it's me,” were the truth that they couldn't see because of the distraction of the chaos – that no matter what the situation, God, in Jesus, was in contol.
We all get caught in the storms of life at times: emotional storms, financial storms, relationship storms, work-related storms, actual natural disasters.
Sometimes the storms blow up out of nowhere. They're unexpected, and unavoidable Sometimes we see them up ahead but sail straight into them, thinking we have the strength, skills, whatever to weather the storms.
In the storm we discover, that we are not in control. Whatever the crisis of the particular storm, we find ourselves at its mercy. We can't control it anymore than we can control a real wind and rain storm. Whether it's the death of a loved one, and argument with a friend or family member, or being unable to balance the family budget- the reason for an emotional storm is that we are not in control of what is happening.
When we are out of control, we become afraid. We do not know what will happen next. We can't forsee the future, and we can't be sure it will work out well.
Sometimes in the storms of life, we discover that we have left Jesus behind. We have gone out on our own, so confident in out own abilities, that we have forgotten to ask for God's help, and forgotten to rely on God's provision. We can become like the self-made businessperson, who claims to have achieved everything alone, forgetting everyone who helped along the way.
And sometimes, when we do hear the voice that says: “Don't be afraid, it's me.” we are so caught up in our own distress that we don't recognise the voice at first. Sometimes God comes to us through people or events which we don't expect, which shock us, shake us up, but that is what it takes to draw our attention, to put the immediate crisis into perspective.
And when we do have Jesus “on board”, often the storm eases. Whatever has caused the emotional storm may not have changed, but we change. We regain our focus and see what is important. We can let go of things we can't control, rather than struggle to take charge. And leaving Jesus in charge, we can find that the storm does pass. And when the crisis is over we can find peace.
The storms will come, in every person's life there are crises. But if we subject our lives to God's power in Jesus, Jesus can bring us through the crisis, through the fear, and into peace.
Hymn Together in Song 589 Jesus calls us o'er the tumult
Prayers of the people
we pray for your people,
all of the people of your creation.
Those who know you,
and those who do not
We pray for them all
in the storms of their lives..
Those for whom the storms area physical reality
who are facing, or recovering from disasters.....
Those for whom the storms come in the form of wars
who suffering because political disputes,
are fought with weapons instead of words...
Those for whom the storms come in the form of
who just don't know how to cope....
Those for whom the storms come
as they find they are more and more limited
by bodies and minds growing older....
Those for whom the storms come
as an unknown future -
who cannot control their own lives....
God, our Creator,
the storms come into the lives of all your people
they are beyond our control.
But you are the God of all things,
even the God of the storms.
And so we bring these things to you
And wait to hear your Son's answer:
“Do not be afraid: It is I.”
We pray in his name and use his words...
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 595 O Jesus I have promised