Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture Readings

Our Gospel reading this morning opens in the space between two significant events in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Jesus has just finished feeding over five thousand people, starting with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. Now it is evening and Jesus seems eager to set the stage for the next scene in the drama of his ministry, sending the disciples off in the boat, dismissing the crowd to their homes, and going up the mountain by himself to pray.

Just as Jesus had looked to heaven before distributing enough food for all the people, so he absorbs himself in prayer before rejoining his disciples in a way that will further expand their sense of who he is. In accord with the biblical tradition of a God who makes a path through the mighty waters, Jesus walks across the stormy sea to the struggling boat. He then calms his disciples’ fear by identifying himself in the words of God: “Take courage. I am.”

jesus walking on water
(Image by Chil Vera from Pixabay)

I wonder what it was that prompted Peter to respond to Jesus in the way that he did. What possessed him to think that he could do as Jesus did? Whatever it was, how wonderful that Jesus responds to Peter with encouragement rather than derision: “Come” is all Jesus has to say. And, for a while at least, Peter’s faith in Jesus is enough to support him across the water … until he realizes that what he is doing should be impossible for him.

Jesus wants Peter’s faith to hold him up, but Jesus is immediately there for Peter when Peter’s faith gives out. When we cry out, the Lord hears us, is another part of the biblical assurance about God. God wants us to be able to do what God does and to speak as God speaks, and God will support us if we fail when we try.

This is not to assume that God wants all of us literally to walk on water, as much fun as that might be, but God does want us to act as God would act while caring about what God cares about. God cares about justice and peace for all people, and God will support us when we try to bring about an increase in these things in whatever way we can … and dare to try even beyond what we think is possible for us.

jesus rescues peter
(Image by Deb Radeka from Pixabay)

Peter’s faith failed when he paid more attention to the storm than to the presence of Jesus, and his fear overwhelmed his love. The prophet Elijah likewise found himself overwhelmed in his efforts on God’s behalf when he could see only the difficulties and opposition and feel only his seeming aloneness. He needed to find God again, not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the sheer silence of God’s most intimate presence, beneath and beyond all the noise.

We too have many storms in and around our lives. Massive corruption and violent oppression and economic inequity bring harm and misery to so many people, and anger and fear and insecurity too often drive out love and compassion and kindness. Jesus stands in the midst of our storms and invites us to come to him and learn again from him, to call upon him in our need.

How can they call on One in whom they have not believed, asks the apostle Paul? And how can they believe unless someone is sent to proclaim so that they can hear? The prophet Elijah needed a fresh encounter with the stillness of God in the midst of his emotional storm so that he could be sent once more to proclaim God’s will to those who needed to hear.

We can easily find ourselves overwhelmed by the needs around us and within us. I believe God knows how each of us can best care and act as God would, to extend God’s loving kindness into a stormy world. Jesus invites us to come to him and be calmed by him, so that he can send us where we can best proclaim and bring about an increase in God’s justice and peace among those who receive and hear us.

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