August 9th: Proper 14, the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, August 9th, was preached based on the below manuscript . The gospel text was Matthew 14.22-33.

After Jesus directs the disciples
to feed the 20,000
he makes it possible for everyone to have enough.
We heard that last week.
This week he tells them to get into the boat
and go ahead of him.
Jesus finally gets some time alone to pray
and meditate
and process his cousin’s recent execution.

While he is taking some time
to reconnect with God
and center himself for his earthly mission,
the disciples aren’t having as great a time.
They used boats because they had to,
but large bodies of water weren’t their friends.
Oceans were places of chaos
like at creation
and places that trapped you
like in the Exodus,
requiring God’s power to part it.
The disciples have gotten in the boat,
and they’re very far from land.
The sea is not their friend.
Matthew writes clearly
that the waves are battering them,
they have gotten farther from land than they meant,
and the wind is against them.
This is chaos,
and it’s not the first time in Matthew’s gospel
that the disciples have experienced chaos
while on the sea.

Between Brandon reading the Times app
and my listening to NPR’s UpFirst
I feel like every morning is chaos.
We all sheltered in place for 13 weeks.
We did what we were supposed to do.
We’re wearing masks,
you’re all distant from one another,
the doors are open,
you’ve had your temperatures checked
and answered questions about your health,
we sanitize hands on the way in and don’t touch much once we’re here
then sanitize surfaces after you leave.
Yet there are at least 162,000 Americans
dead from COVID19

The trend doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon.
Not with schools opening against across the country,
and a rising expectation
that people return to work
even though it’s not safe.
Unemployment bonuses for the virus
expired last week and now
if they’re restored it will be a lower level.
Rent is past due,
eviction proceedings have started in some states,
and the president who said in March,
“I don’t take responsibility at all”
said in an interview last week,
“It is what it is” about the rising American deaths.
This is chaos,
but it’s not the first time our country has experienced chaos,
and it’s certainly not the first time that the Church,
Jesus’ body on earth,
Has lived through chaos.

As the boat —
likely also a metaphor for the church Matthew was writing —
is being tossed by the waves
Jesus walks to them on the water.
Jesus is coming to their rescue.
He sent them ahead,
but he isn’t leaving them alone.
This is some time between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
and the last thing the disciples need
is a ghost to add to their harassment.
They’re terrified
and crying out in fear.
This is chaos.
Jesus says to them
Hey, it’s me.
Calm down.
Don’t be afraid.

Peter —
who later professes that Jesus is the Messiah,
who wants to stay on the mountain at the Transfiguration,
and who denies even knowing Jesus —
calls out “If it’s you, call me to you!”
In following Jesus,
Peter is willing to take a risk.
If Jesus can walk on water,
surely he can also tell his followers and friends to do it
and give them the ability to!
And he does!
Peter is able to do something miraculous,
when he keeps his focus on Jesus.
When he looks away
and focuses on the chaos around him,
he starts to sink,
and Jesus leaves him to his own devices
and lets him drown.

Obviously not.
Peter cries out for help.
Jesus comes to Peter’s rescue.
Peter isn’t abandoned because of his little faith.
He’s saved in spite of his doubt.
When Jesus gets into the boat,
the wind ceases
and the disciples worship him.
When they focus on Jesus,
together or out in the water like Peter
the chaos dissipates.

We’re gathered together
to worship Jesus.
Outside is chaos.
Listening to the news is chaos.
Having no idea what’s going to happen
any time in the near future —
nothing being predictable —
is chaos.
It can feel like the world is against us,
especially when we’ve done everything
that we’re supposed to do.

Following Jesus means taking risks,
like Peter asking to walk on the water.
Following Jesus comes with doubts,
and noticing when the world all around us is chaos.
Our passage today
reminds us that when we follow Jesus,
he will always come to our rescue.
If we’re sinking in a storm,
this passage reminds us
to not be afraid.
Jesus will reach out
and pull us up.

After things settle down,
for an hour on Sunday mornings
or a week of unplugging,
Jesus expects us to get back to work
Following Jesus isn’t just taking risks
and getting rescued —
it’s living like him,
which he empowers us to do.

Outside is chaos.
Listening to the news is chaos.
Having no idea what’s going to happen
any time in the near future —
nothing being predictable —
is chaos.
Here comes Jesus,
in the dark when things are terrifying,
to rescue us.
Here comes Jesus saying,
Hey, it’s me.
Calm down.
Don’t be afraid.

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