19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 9, 2020
I Kings 19: 9-18, Romans 10: 5-15, Matthew 14: 22-33
I love stories like the one Matthew tells in today’s Gospel. It is an intriguing story … and that may be an understatement … because we hear about how Jesus is walking on the wind-lashed sea. He’d dismissed the well-fed crowds, ordered the disciples into the boat, and went up to the mountain by himself to be alone in his grief at the death of his friend John and to pray. Then early in the morning, in the midst of a storm, Jesus walks on the sea. Amazing, miraculous … but that’s not the reason I treasure this story. The blessedness of this story comes in the responses of the disciples. First of all, they were terrified in the storm…a natural response! And secondly, Peter’s bold response to the invitation to walk to Jesus, but frightened from the storm, he began to sink into the drink. This great Bible story, an example of terror not trust, is similar to the story of Elijah in the first reading in that it connects the vulnerabilities of their lives with mine, and maybe with yours also. Elijah the great prophet of God, was hiding in a cave immediately after he’d defeated the prophet’s of Ba’al. Elijah went and hid in a cave because his life was threaten as he’d made Queen Jezebel angry by defeating her prophets. Elijah, seemingly forgot about God’s promise to protect him, He was terrified for his life. And the disciples, hours after the loaves and fishes, well-fed 1,000’s miracle of Jesus, were terrified for their lives. These stories grab us because they exemplify the very behavior, thoughts, feelings that very well could have been ours.
The stories of the Elijah in the cave and the disciples in the boat provide a helpful structure for our thoughts as we consider our own lives, our faith, and our response to that faith:
First … In life, the storms will come….
Literal weather-related storms of course, such as the one that struck the disciples’ boat on the sea…but also health-related storms such as the covid pandemic, or a personal medical emergency or a dreaded health diagnosis. There can be emotional storms caused by economic circumstances, family situations, political drama or personal doubts and regrets which are known only to us. And there are spiritual storms which sometimes churn within us leading us to the point of despair and dismal doubt about our future or about the future of our planet. No doubt about it…in life, there are storms. But like Elijah in the dark cave, like the disciples in the storm-besieged boat, we are not alone.
In life the storms will come, but in the storms, Christ will come. I don’t know about you, but when the world is feeling like it’s alien territory, when all that’s happening seems to point to being overwhelmed by the storms…sinking deep into that water in which we drown …Christ comes to us. This story where Peter is sinking and Jesus reaches out to grab him is Gospel. Jesus comes to us … as we are overwhelmed by the all that would terrify us we remember Peter didn’t come to Christ, Christ came to him as he yelled…’Master, save me.’ But Christ comes to us even when we are unwilling, or unable to cry out. God came to Elijah not in the earthquake, wind, or fire but in the sound of sheer silence.
There is a 16th Century poet from northern India named Mirabai who writes of her experience of how God comes to us. Her poem is entitled ‘The Heat of Midnight Tears.’ It’s translated by Robert Bly: She writes –
‘Listen, my friend, this road is the heart opening,
Kissing his feet, resistance broken, tears all night.
If we could reach the master through immersion in water,
I would have asked to be born a fish in this life.
If we could reach the Master through nothing but berries and
then surely the saints would have been monkeys when they
came from the womb
If we could reach the master by munching lettuce and dry
Then goats would surely get to the Holy One before us!
If the worship of stone statues could bring us all the way,
I would have adored a granite mountain years ago.
Mirabia, the wise woman, says: ‘The heat of midnight tears will bring you to God.’”
In the heat of midnight tears, God in Christ comes to us! But it’s more than that. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a ‘How My Mind Has Changed’ piece for the mid-July edition of Christian Century magazine. She writes….’Last Sunday I passed a little country church with a sign out front that said, ‘Come on in. God has been waiting for you here.’ It is hard to think of anyone who believes that anymore. If God is waiting anywhere, God is waiting everywhere. That is a big change for someone who once believed God’s address was the church. Now I believe that churches are where people go to learn rituals, stories, songs, and ways of being together that help them recognize the divine presence wherever else they go. They are wherever people practice the way of life that makes all life holy.’
Rev. Taylor’s words helps us, I believe, to envision a future beyond the storm in the presence of God in Christ. In life, the storms will come, in the storms Christ will come, and in Christ hope will come. Christ within us draws us out to practice a way of life that makes all life holy.
God uses people to be Christ to the world. In the violent storm of racism, God called John Lewis to bring that Christ-like hope to us. In the storm of environment devastation of our planet, God called Greta Thunberg to speak the difficult, prophetic truth about our need to change our behavior. In the storm of sexism, Susan B. Anthony, as well as many other courageous women, who fought for women’s suffrage. In the storm of the corona pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci gives wise guidance to our nation’s leaders and to all who would listen. We can all think of people who have brought a Christ-like presence into a stormy circumstance to bring hope. God uses us to be Christ to the world…sometimes in remarkable ways such as John Lewis, Greta Thunberg, Susan B. Anthony or Anthony Fauci. But God also calls people to Christ-like action in small, everyday ways such as I experienced a few summer’s ago in a boy named Spencer.
It was a Saturday morning. I rode my bike to the community garden where Sue & I had two plots of vegetables. I did some weeding and checked to see if we had any vegetables ready. There were a lot of weeds but there also was a perfect-for-a-salad Zucchini squash…not too big or too small, but just right. Mid-morning, as I was preparing to ride back home, two small children, each on bicycles were riding up the sidewalk next to the garden, Their mother was encouraging a third child who was some distance behind them to also peddle up the slope of the hill. There was a boy of six or seven who was leading that bicycle parade, who saw me and asked, ‘Do you have any zucchini?’ I said, ‘Yup, I just picked one.’ Then he said, ‘How much money do you want for it?’ Surprised at his cheekiness, I told him it wasn’t for sale and that I planned to have it for lunch. He continued up the hill. I was going their way up that same hill to get back home and I passed him again. Again he asked, ‘How much money do you want for that zucchini?’ I said, ‘Wow, you must really like zucchini.’ He replied, ‘No, I don’t but my mom really does!’ I rode a ways farther and thought….’why not.’ So I turned around and rode back and told him I’d give the squash to his mother (she had the basket on her bike). I gave his mother the squash, and asked what her boy’s name was…she told me ‘Spencer.’ Everyone needs a person like Spencer in their life…an advocate for good, a person who wants the best for others.
In life the storms will come, in the storm Christ will come, in Christ hope will come. And, to quote from the last stanza of our Gathering Hymn, ‘In these tumultuous days, so full of hope and strife, May we bear witness to the Way, O Source and Goal of life.’