Grace Presbyterian Church 113 Hargrove Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 205-758-1193

Grace Presbyterian Church Blog

If it is You

If It Is You

A Meditation on Matthew 14: 22 – 33

Rev. Cathy C. Hoop      Grace Presbyterian Church    Tuscaloosa, Al 35401

 

Last week: scarcity and abundance. Today: fear and wholeness

 

 

The party is over. The hungry guests have been fed – all five thousand plus. Jesus has dismissed his crew of disciple-waiters, and sent the tired guests home with their leftovers. Little children, resting in a parent’s arms, fall asleep with fragments of the most wonderful bread held tightly in their hands. If you or I had been the host, we would have replayed the evening’s events, reviewed conversations, tried to remember poignant comments and repeatable jokes. Which foods ran out and which were left over. Who wasn’t able to come and when we could plan the next get-together.

Jesus does his own variation of this: he finds a place to go and have conversation with God. He talks to God about the person at the party who was weighed down by grief, who was hording food, who was about to give birth. He talks to God about the one who seemed so alone, the one who felt left out, the one whose feelings were hurt. He debriefs with God the immense needs he encountered, and then he heads out to find the disciples.

The quickest path seems to have been across the top of the water. If you were the God of the universe, would you not have chosen the same path? Not to instill fear or to show off, but simply because you can? To feel the waves beneath your feet, as delightfully as we would experience a carpet of grass or a warm, sandy beach. Of course you would.

In the early morning hours, that liminal time between darkness and dawn, the disciples do not recognize Jesus. We can’t fault them for this. He most likely didn’t tell them to be watching for him to come walking across the waves. He didn’t tell them what time to expect him. He just appeared. Even though they had seen him work healing miracles and feeding miracles; even though they had witnessed him calm a storm, commanding the wind and rain to stop being so mischievous, they still didn’t recognize him.

The God of surprises.  The God of surprises who also happens to be the God of practicality. It was the quickest route, after all. It was also the scenic route: a  stunning path across the water with the stars and moon reflecting off the waves. The practical route, the scenic route, but also, the route of truth. Jesus’ walk across the water was a demonstration of the life of faith, a life which by its very nature asks us to do the impossible.

We are told that these stories of the disciples, sailing across stormy waters, are metaphors for the life of the early church. Being a follower of the Way was dangerous business in those early days. The early Christian community was buffeted by raging winds and storms which threated to capsize it. It is no coincidence that the word “nave,” the word which describes this central portion of a sanctuary where the congregants are seated comes from either the Latin word for ship, “navis,” or for boat, “navicular.”  The rafters, which resemble the hull of a boat, inspired this term. We can see that reflected in our architecture. Rev. Mark Ralls, writing in a Faith & Leadership blog, argues for navicular over navis, emphasizing that these two water craft are not the same thing!

Imagine a cruise ship, says Ralls. On a ship like that passengers are participating in all kinds of activities at any given time. They eat when they want, sleep when they want, never worrying about how the ship navigates from port to port. But think of a boat in Jesus day. That’s a different story. On a fishing boat, for example, everyone is working together, eating together, coordinating their efforts so that they may safely reach the shore. A much more apt description of the life of a faith community.

I have a problem, though. It is something that has always bothered me. Look up at the ceiling. Our boat is upside down. It’s the only way it works architecturally. I get that. But maybe there is something more to this. I’m not trying to say our boat has capsized. That would be an abandonment of my faith and trust in God’s dreams for God’s church. Still, it always makes me pause. An upside down boat. What do we do with that??

Here’s where it takes me: I can imagine God saying to us, as Jesus said, to Peter, “get out of the boat.” If you can’t get out of the boat, here, I’ll tip it and just slide you right out into the water. I’m probably making a symbol much more complicated than it needs to be, but let’s look at Peter. Peter wanted to walk on the water with Jesus. I don’t believe he was trying to be like God; I believe he wanted to be immersed in the miracle just as he had participated in the miracle of the feeding of the multitude or the healing of his mother-in-law. I believe in this risk taker, Peter the rock, who lived up to his name, in multiple ways. He sank like a rock, yes, but he also became that rock upon which Christ’s church was built.

He didn’t do that by staying safe in a boat. He did it by daring to believe in a God of impossibility. When Peter starts to sink, Jesus reaches out a hand to him, and says something about Peter having “little faith.” In the Greek, Jesus says “little faith one,” like a nickname. It’s not a put down. It’s just a statement of truth. At this point in the Jesus experience, Peter’s faith is still small. If you want to get into a comparison game, it seems enormous compared to the guys who stayed in the boat!

Oh, “little faith one,” Jesus says, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you and I will never leave you orphaned. I will not allow you to drown in the waters of the world’s chaos.” Perhaps Jesus is even saying, “Oh, little faith one, you can do it! Don’t give up!” And Peter didn’t. He took risk after risk. He made a fool of himself. He humiliated himself by denying knowing Jesus when Jesus was at the brink of execution. Even when Peter was drowning in his own humiliation and regret, Jesus reached out to him after the resurrection, and said, “Oh, little faith one, I’ve got you. Now go out and do what I have taught you to do. Feed. Clothe. Visit. Reconcile. Heal. Teach. Forgive. Show mercy. Have compassion. Share.” Peter did these things. He would lose his life for doing these simple things.  John 15:13 (CEB) No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.


 

We, like Peter try to do what Jesus taught whenever we recognize Jesus calling to us from the waters. But sometimes we don’t recognize Jesus. Even when everything inside us tells us that it is Jesus calling us out into the chaos, we rub our eyes, and tell ourselves it is a trick of the light. Because sometimes Jesus calls us out into waters that are absolutely terrifying and we simply don’t want to go.

I think of all the truth tellers, the peacemakers who showed up in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday, the ones who gathered to denounce white supremacy, racism, discrimination of all forms. They looked out from their boat and recognized Jesus calling to them. They stepped out onto those wind swept waves to pray and to keep vigil and to try to offer an alternative presence to the hatred and bigotry which came marching down the streets of that city.

They sought to represent a God who is a God of every color of the rainbow, whose greatest dream is to see people of every hue living together in harmony. They voluntarily stepped out of the safety of the boat, to walk into a sea of hatred. Who does that?? Disciples do. Disciples must.

And those of us who are white must take a stance in God’s name; we who have been safe in the boat for so long. I’m not saying that just because you are white your life has been easy. Every life has its share of sorrow and pain and challenge. Some of you have known too much tragedy. Sorrow is colorblind. But those of us who are white must acknowledge that we have been safe in the “race boat.” We continue to downplay or ignore the systems that oppress people of color.

  • Our broken public school system –and not just here in Tuscaloosa – the same truth plays out over and over across our country, an inequity along the color line.

  • Our broken justice system and our predisposition to arrest and incarcerate and/or kill people of color over white people.

  • The reality that we still have to say “Black lives matter.” My personal reality that I don’t have to worry if one of my three sons is pulled over for a traffic violation.


Sadly, we could go on and on. God desperately needs us to step out into these chaotic waters.

There’s an old hymn my brother used to play on his guitar. There are, as with many old hymns, several variations, depending upon how you want it to rhyme.

Here comes Jesus, see him walking on the water.

He’ll lift you up and help you stand.

Here comes Jesus, he’s the master of the waves that roll.

Here comes Jesus, he’ll take your hand.

 

But someone decided that instead of rhyming “stand” and “hand,” they would rhyme the last two lines. Then, you get this:

 

Here comes Jesus, see him walking on the water.

He’ll lift you up and help you stand.

Here comes Jesus, he’s the master of the waves that roll.

Here comes Jesus, he’ll make you whole.

 

Truth both ways. When our faith is small, God will rescue us and enable us to stand. God will lead us back into the boat when we need its shelter and protection. But God will call us back out, time and again, to face our fears. God will tip us back out into the waters because that’s where disciples belong, because in the midst of all that chaos, when we are relying upon God, we experience wholeness. Wholeness leads to peace. Peace within and peace without.

 

Do you desire the wholeness that will set you free to walk on the water with God, to walk on the water and bring God’s wholeness to fruition? God’s wholeness for all people?

May it be so for each of us, for all of us, most especially this day for Charlottesville, and for God’s church throughout the world.

Let all God’s people say, “Amen.”