Walking on water

File:Bril Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee.JPG

Watching for the Morning of August 13, 2017

Year A

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 14 / Lectionary 19

We know it’s not possible to walk on water. At least for those of us in the modern western world, our perception of the nature of reality excludes that possibility. Tragically, we can therefore only see the story as nonsense or fairy tale (or, more charitably, as metaphor). But the ancients didn’t share our somewhat limited understanding of reality, and we will miss the power of this narrative if we focus on physics (or the suspension of physical laws). This is an account of a profound experience. Throughout the world and throughout history most people have understand visions and experiences such as this as decidedly real – more real than everyday life. We need to understand this possibility if the narrative is to work God’s work in us.

The followers of Jesus have an experience in the face of one of the sudden squalls that sweep powerfully across the lake. They inhabit a world in which such storms are the products of spiritual forces rather than material ones. These are forces and powers that are not subject to human control but reign over us. So they face a hostile wind, a malevolent spirit, a transcendent power threatening to drown them. Imperiled and fearful, they then see another spiritual reality: Jesus striding across the sea, untouched by this inimical power, treading it underfoot. But until they hear the voice of Jesus, they fear they see only some other spirit, a ghost.

Peter, recognizing that they see Jesus, asks to come to him. He trusts himself to Jesus’ authority over the powers that beset them. Stepping out of the boat, however, the wind grabs his attention and he loses confidence in Jesus’ mastery over the hostile forces at work in the world. He sinks, but the hand of Jesus takes hold of him. And now Jesus is with them in the boat upon a calm sea. The wind has yielded, and the disciples prostrate themselves declaring, “Truly you are the Son of God” – truly you are the anointed one who reigns at God’s right hand.

Like the account of Elijah at Mt. Sinai, this is an encounter with the truth of God. Above all the mighty forces threatening human life – above the storms of war, racism, hatred, fear, hunger, poverty, political instability, famine, rains and fires, sorrows and diseases and the troubles brought by shame and shamelessness – Jesus walks as Lord. And battered as we are by fear and doubt, he says to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

So Sunday we will hear God speak to Elijah in the stillness. The psalmist will sing about the God who speaks “peace to his people.” And the apostle Paul we will speak of this living message that calls us from the storms of life into the peace of God – all of us, across every boundary in human society, summoning us not by the words of a legal code, but the voice of the one who raised Jesus from the grave and leads the world out from bondage into freedom.

The Prayer for August 13, 2017

Gracious God,
in the storms of life you bid us come to you
and sustain us by your word.
Grant us confidence in your command,
and clarity in discerning your voice;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 13, 2017

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9-18
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” – Threatened with death by Queen Jezebel for his attack on the cult of Baal, the prophet has fled to Sinai. There God encounters him in the silence and commissions him to the next stage of his prophetic ministry.

Psalmody: Psalm 85:8-13
“Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” – The poet expresses his confidence in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Second Reading: Romans 10:8-15 (appointed: 10:5-15)
“There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – It is through fidelity and trust in God’s mercy (manifest in Christ), called forth by the proclaimed message rather than by observance of the law, that all are saved.

Gospel: Matthew 14: 22-33
“Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’” – Following the wondrous provision of bread in the wilderness, Jesus comes to his disciples upon the sea – saving Peter when he begins to sink.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABril_Jesus_walking_on_the_Sea_of_Galilee.JPG Paul Brill [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I am. Stop being afraid.

Friday

John 6:1-21

File:Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, c. 1907.jpg19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

I remember reading this as a young person and hearing it to say that “Jesus can do anything.” I saw in it a demonstration of power. I didn’t have the experience yet to recognize the true power of the imagery.

I didn’t know yet what it was to be cast adrift in the storms of life. I didn’t know yet what it was to be battling rough seas in the dark. I didn’t know true fear or chronic anxiety or what it was like to be in distress and wondering why Jesus is not with us.

All of this is in this story.

I didn’t yet know about the turbulent times in which Mark’s community lived – with brutal war and ideologies raging about them. I didn’t know that storms at sea were understood to be spiritual assaults rather than natural forces.  I didn’t understand what it means that these stories are stories about a community not individual faith. And, most of all, I didn’t yet know that the words we translate “It is I,” are deeply significant words that, translated literally, say “I am” and bespeak the name of God given to ancient Israel.

The message of the story isn’t that with enough faith we can walk on water. Nor is it that Jesus is a man of power (and can do anything for us if we believe firmly enough). The message is “I am. Stop being afraid.”

“I am.” Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called forth the world from the chaos of the primordial sea. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called Abraham and Sarah to go forth on the promise of a new country. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the holy one who met Moses in the burning bush. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the mighty one who divided the waters of the Red Sea and delivered both Egypt and Israel from slavery. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the voice that spoke at Sinai commanding fidelity to God and one another and directing a people to live justice and compassion.

Though we are beset by storms, though we dwell in darkness, though Jesus seems absent, he is yet the living presence of the faithful one who does not abandon his people or the world he has made, but gathers all things to himself.

In the midst of life’s chaos, in the midst of life’s sorrows, in the face of life’s evils, God is yet God. Christ is yet Lord. The hidden one has shown his face. His faithfulness is sure. His promise abides. And with him we will reach the far shore.

He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 

Painting: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One bountiful table

Watching for the Morning of July 26, 2015

Year B

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

File:Pan asturiano.JPGSunday we begin a five-week excursion through the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John that relates the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent conversations about the meaning of that sign. As we have been reading through Mark’s Gospel, the next portion would have been the feeding of the crowds (who were like sheep without a shepherd). But the lectionary pauses in order to hear the rich development of this event in the Gospel of John.

So Sunday is about God’s wondrous providing. During a time of famine, a poor man brings to Elisha his offering of first fruits (barley is the food of the poor, since it grows on poorer soil). Though these twenty small loaves would not normally feed even twenty, it is more than enough to satisfy a hundred. The psalm sings of God’s faithfulness in his care for those in need and his gracious providing for all. And Jesus takes up the five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand with twelve baskets left over.

Providing a kind of soaring descant to these wonderful texts is the majestic prayer by the writer of Ephesians that we may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” and “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Each of the gospel writers pick and choose which stories to tell in order to reveal the meaning of God’s work in and through Jesus. In a rare unity, all four of them include this story of the five loaves and two fish. It is not a story about Jesus’ wonder-working power; it is a witness to the dawning reign of God when our wounded earth is healed, all war and divisions overcome, and all people gathered to one bountiful table.

This is why this story is paired with the account of Jesus walking on water. For the God who spoke over the primal sea and brought forth his good and bountiful creation has spoken again in Christ to restore the life of the world. As we will hear in John these next Sundays, God has provided not just our daily bread, but the bread of life for the world.

The Prayer July 26, 2015

Merciful Father,
you stretch forth your hand to feed those who hunger,
grant us a share in the banquet that is to come,
and the faith to live according to your promise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 26, 2015

First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack.” – Elisha feeds a hundred people with twenty small loaves with food left over.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:10-18
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”
– The poet praises God for his goodness and faithfulness in providing for all.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
– The author prays for the community to be rooted in the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit.

Gospel: John 6:1-21
“’There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’” – The feeding of the five-thousand with twelve baskets left over.

 

Photo: By Tamorlan (Photo taken by Tamorlan) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons