10th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 19:9-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in the midst of the storm. Amen
The disciples were terrified
They cried out in fear
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said
“take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
Fear is at the heart of our gospel story from Matthew this morning,
this story turns on the presence of fear
and what Jesus does
and how the disciples respond.
has been particularly present this week in our nation
on display for the world to see,
between escalating rhetoric involving the use of nuclear weapons
to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia,
part of which surrounded a church
where a prayer meeting was taking place
it was part of a counter protest of clergy and other faithful people
and the pictures of a mob with torches
surrounding this place of worship feels unreal to me,
but this was not fake news and the root of all this is fear.
The truth of the world
is that fear begets fear,
evil coaxes fear to blossom into hatred
and hatred turns to violence
and this is the opposite of what God wants for all creation.
It was evil at work in Charlottesville on Saturday
that gathered people to decry the beautiful diversity of God’s creation
particularly as witnessed in our black and brown brothers and sisters.
And no this is not something new,
evil has been working a long time on this project
this is just the latest manifestation.
we have the ultimate check on fear and evil,
the prince of peace
who is love incarnate
who through our baptisms
has joined us to his death and resurrection
freeing us from the fear of death,
calling us to be agents of peace in the world.
Easier said than done right?
As we see in the disciples’ journey with Jesus
there are times of fear,
as we know from our own lives
there are times of fear,
so it’s important for us to take time to consider our gospel story,
to notice the fear and how Jesus responds.
Last week we heard of the crowds who gathered seeking Jesus’ healing
and how he fed them all,
today, Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him
to the other side of the sea of Galilee,
significantly, this is the first time in the gospel of Matthew
that the disciples are sent forth without Jesus,
Immanuel, God with us.
Now I want to make a distinction here,
there are two types of fear,
fear that is cowardly
and fear that is courageous,
is fear that creates boundaries,
separates one from another.
Fear that is courageous
is fear that crosses boundaries,
it is not knowing how the other will react
but reaching out our hand anyway.
The life of a disciple of Jesus
is marked by courageous fear,
of knowing something different lies on the other side of the sea
and going all the same.
Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him
to the other side of the sea
time passes and Matthew tells us
that Jesus is alone on the mountain
while the boat with the disciples
has moved far from shore
the wind is against them and the boat is getting tossed about by the waves.
Crossing boundaries is risky,
and sometimes storms come up,
storms that are not our fault,
are out of our control
and yet we get stuck in the middle of anyway.
Separated from Jesus while crossing the sea at his request
the disciples are in trouble
and what does Jesus do?
Our translation says “early in the morning”
but a better rendition is “the latest and darkest part of the night,”
Jesus comes to disciples walking across the water
When we hear this part of the story
we marvel at the impossible physics going on
but for the ancient people, the disciples
this was more than Jesus defying the laws of nature
it was a symbol of his ability to do what only God can do.
In the ancient world, water, the sea
and most creation stories
started with the creator god
defeating the chaos monster of the water
we see a little of that in the creation story in Genesis
where the first thing that happens
is a wind from God sweeps across the waters.
So the disciples are out in their boat
and chaos is threatening to overwhelm them
and here comes Jesus
treading upon chaos,
moving across it,
overcoming its power.
And now they are afraid for another reason
because they think it is a ghost,
a supernatural being coming toward them,
in the midst of storms
Jesus often comes to us in unexpected ways,
ways that are not obvious at first glance
but often end up revealing more of God to us than we ever expected.
To the fearful disciples Jesus calls out
“Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”
and in the “It is I,”
we hear echoed the great I AM
that came from the burning bush
when Moses asked for the name of the God he was speaking to
and this is what reveals to the disciples
that Jesus is the Son of God.
But of course it’s not that simple
we have this business with Peter,
good old rocky the block head
upon who Jesus will build his church,
who often says what we’re all thinking
but have wisely kept to ourselves,
who rushes into places angels fear to tread,
in response to Jesus’ “take heart, do not be afraid”
Peter’s first instinct is to test Jesus
“Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”
and Jesus who gives the same authority he has to the disciples
and Peter steps out of the boat
and starts walking on the water,
treading on the chaos,
Closing the gap between him and Jesus
and all of a sudden he looks up
and he notices the strong winds still blowing around him,
that he’s alone on the water,
he becomes frightened
and the chaos begins to take over again,
he begins to sink.
The only thing that has changed is Peter’s fear,
when he was focused on crossing the boundary to Jesus he was fine,
but fear made him notice all the obstacles
it threw him off his course
he cries out “Lord save me”
and Jesus reaches out and catches him
and here he admonishes Peter
“You of little faith, why did you doubt”
he’s not referring to Peter’s ability to walk on water
but his testing of Jesus
even after Jesus had identified himself,
and here’s the important part,
even though he admonishes Peter,
he doesn’t let him go,
together they make their way to the boat
That’s the other thing about fear,
it isolates us from those who are in the “same boat”
it is much easier to weather a storm
when there are others with us to share the experience,
we get into the most trouble when we strike out on our own.
And notice it is only after they climb in the boat,
rejoining the other disciples
that the winds cease and Jesus is worshipped as the Son of God.
As in our reading from 1 Kings,
God is fully revealed in the calm after the storm.
It is a truth of life
that storms will come up and we will be afraid
and sometimes it might seem like Jesus,
God with us
is far away on a mountain
while we are in a little boat
being tossed about by strong winds
in these times we wonder where God is,
people have been wondering this for ages,
and honestly we’ve never been able to come up with a good answer,
it’s part of the mystery of God,
but what we do know
is that at the darkest part of the night
Jesus will come to us,
often in a surprising and unexpected ways
treading on the chaos
saying “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
and when we don’t quite believe
because it’s all so fantastic
and we leap out of the boat and rush toward Jesus
until fear takes over again,
Jesus catches us and brings us back to our community
to ride out the rest of the storm.
And when calm comes
we realize that in the midst of our fear and foolishness,
Jesus, Immanuel, God with us,
was right there
and we give thanks to God.
Jesus has called us to follow him by crossing boundaries set up by fear,
In these times the call is particularly strong
As well as particularly challenging,
It’s going to take courage to answer this call
And stand against the forces of evil at work in racism, bigotry
To reach out our hands not knowing how the other will respond.
And know this:
When we are afraid and in trouble Jesus comes to us at the right time
When we seek understanding Jesus beckons us to come to him
When fear changes our perspective and we begin to sink Jesus catches us
When we strike out on our own Jesus brings us back to our community
In the storm and in the calm Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.