Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 9, 2020
And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
Last Sunday toward the end of our cacoffonee time after church, Jim Kirkwood sent us off with a fundamental question. If, as we sang in the old hymn that morning, if God is the ruler yet, what do we think God is doing about the mess we are in – the mess of environmental degradation, and global pandemic, and political disarray? Or are these things the dross that we sang about this morning, that God the ruler will soon consume to refine our gold? Well, of course I guess it depends what kind of a ruler you think God is.
No matter what the words of our hymns, I would imagine that not too many of us picture God as an old-fashioned king in the sky, directing everything on earth, from the weather to the traffic, to the number of our days on the green earth. It’s probably half a century or more since that kind of God was preached in either Bloor Street or Trinity St Paul’s. We know full well that there are other ways to think about it. For example, in the creed we say, God works through us and others by the Spirit – although that may be almost as hard to believe. I mean, unless you are awfully self-righteous and self-important, it’s strange to think of yourself as doing the work of God. And just now, in the midst of all the challenges we face for achieving safety, and justice, and peace in our society, we probably feel more inadequate than God-like.
Indeed, there are times when it would be refreshing to be part of a lovely summer miracle, like the feeding of the multitudes as we heard last week, or this story of Jesus walking on the shimmering water. To just let God solve the problems – problems of hunger, problems of being battered by the waves, far from land, the wind against us, as in our gospel story. It might be nice – no it would be great – great to have a miracle for covid, and for racism, and for poverty, and for the environment. And most of us have areas in our own lives where we could use a little miracle. Or a big one.
But what seems to happen to the disciples when they do witness these mysterious events, is that it terrifies them. They get a glimpse of the reality that is beyond our daily reality and realize that they might as well be living on the lip of a volcano. Jesus approaches them, dancing on the water. Peter, ever-willing, plunges in to test this new reality, but he is overwhelmed by it and loses his footing among the waves. O ye of little faith Jesus chides them. And perhaps here he is really saying, o ye of little imagination. See that God’s world is larger than your world. God’s time is longer than your time, God’s love more encompassing, God’s power more mysterious.
The Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder suggests that God is neither a despot nor a puppet-master. “If there is a God, he writes, [God] is not only a wizard at leaving clues behind. More than anything, [God] is a master of concealment. And the world is not something that gives itself away.” God’s work toward healing and justice is often hard to discern – in Gaarder’s terms, concealed perhaps. God’s power is usually more subtle than a summer storm.
In the presence of Jesus that day on the lake, the disciples are getting a glimpse of it. But they soon arrive at the shore and are surrounded again by the sick and the sorrowing. Surrounded by the unending needs of the world. The invitation that Jesus makes to them and to us is to take heart. Find the ways and the hidden places that God’s love is at work in the world and put yourself and your energy there. Take heart, knowing that, as Tyrone read to us, and Emily sang, Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Take heart, remembering that the one who walked on the water is the one who will cheer you on. And for this we give God thanks. Amen.
Image Credit: North Cove, Brough, UK – Paul Cusick (unsplash.com)