Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 19A
Getting In and Out of the Boat, Pastor Kinsey
My cousins and my brother and sister were already in the water. But I stood on the dock, frozen, in more ways than one. I must have been all of 10 or 11 years old.
I wanted so bad to get in and splash around with them, swim and dive off the raft. But the summer air felt cool to me, and just the thought of getting in made me shiver. I had already gained the nick name, blue lips, for the way my lips turned a purplish hue after being in the clear, cool, spring-fed waters, of our Wisconsin lake, for only a short time. As the clouds blocked the sun momentarily, I backed away, and I wrapped my towel around me. I just couldn’t take that first step. It’s a pattern I repeat to this day – on the edge of the water!
Quite possibly it came from a time I was even younger, when our family was attending my mom’s cousins’ wedding in Springfield, IL. And the last day, as we were getting ready to check out of our motel room, my brother and I were at loose ends. And so we wandered off, and found ourselves by the outdoor pool. No one was there except a couple of maintenance guys, but we didn’t pay much attention to them. Dressed in shirt, shorts, and shoes, we didn’t have time to get in, but as I walked around the pool, I decided to, just step up on the diving board, I don’t know why. I had good balance, and no fear, but unfortunately, as I confidently walked out toward the end, that’s when I discovered why the maintenance men were there, that early summer morning – to attach the diving board to its platform! It had been laid in place, but not yet bolted on. And as my brother describes it, as I walked out to the end, the board gave way ever so gently, and for a moment it looked like I was walking on the water! To me, it felt a lot less graceful, like I was sinking down fast, like everything was out of my control, and the very cold water was about to swallow me up!
So, that could be where my fear of water came from – I’m just sayin’!
Jesus insisted that the disciples get into the boat and cross over to the other side without him. The Sea of Galilee is famous for storms blowing up quickly out of nowhere, and apparently this was one of them. The boat was battered by the waves, for the wind was against them, all night. Jesus had needed to take a breather, and go and pray by himself alone. Like Moses before him, he finds God, by going up the mountain. Finally, sometime after 4, 5, in the morning, ‘in the darkest hour before the dawn,’ Jesus comes looking for them. But he comes not in another boat, but simply, walking across the Lake, and when they see him they start freaking out that he’s a ghost, a bad omen, a grim Reaper of a sort. But he’s just the opposite, he has the power to conquer the chaos of the storm. And Jesus calls out to them, “Take heart, it is I” [or, I Am who I Am – as God told Moses from the burning bush]; “do not be afraid.”
Peter, characteristically, gets all excited, but wants to make sure it is Jesus, so he asks him to prove it: Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water! And Jesus said, Come. So Peter confidently gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water toward Jesus.
There was one way, I learned when I was much older, to conquer my fear of the water. It was when Kim and I moved to the UP, and we swam together, for exercise. Sometimes we went to the beautiful pool at the George Young golf course that allowed lap swimming. But in the summer, it was Kevin Jarvi who told us, in his good Finlander way, “if it gets too hot der, don’t worry you can always jump in the nearest lake and cool down!” It was really hot that summer, when we started going to Ice Lake, just down the road. It was called that, because they used to cut huge blocks of ice off the lake in the winter and store them underground, to sell, long before refrigerators became popular. But our goal was to swim, purely for exercise, and we swam all the way across the lake, and back, maybe a half hour or 45 minutes. And even in Ice Lake, that was ok with me. I got my faith and courage to step in, from the task I wanted to accomplish – something that would be good for me, and our family, because it would help me stay healthy.
Peter, took courage, when he realized it was Jesus. He felt the gift of faith. But then, he noticed the strong wind, and suddenly he remembered he wasn’t supposed to be doing this! Sure, if Jesus was divine, he, might be able to. But Peter, couldn’t remember what the point of it was, and he started to sink.
It’s Elijah, in our 1st Reading, who ran into this very same dilemma, only worse. He had conquered all the false prophets, quite an accomplishment, but now he was obsessed with the threats of just one, Jezebel. So Elijah retreats to a cave to get away, and pleads for God’s presence. This is the lowest point of Elijah’s ministry, he feels like he’s been abandoned, like he’s the only one left with faith, like everyone is against him. Not even the storms of wind, earthquake, and fire, move Elijah to rediscover his faith. So God comes to him in the sheer silence, hoping to provide a transformation of perspective, after all that Elijah has seen and been through. But still, Elijah is not moved. He feels spent and alone, even though, as God says, there are some 7,000 faithful ones, who remain.
But Elijah is not able to recover, unwilling to take the next step in faith and courage that is necessary. He’s frozen in a kind of PTSD fog of fear and inability to cope with everyday life. His ministry is over. But compassionately, God offers Elijah a way out – he can pass his mantle on to his disciple, Elisha.
The church gathering that Matthew’s gospel is addressed to, is having difficult days too. They are frozen and fearful. Where is Jesus for them now? Can they count on God’s presence to pull them through? Should they trust stepping out of the boat?
Here in our gathering, at Unity, we certainly have our challenges too. Is our faith strong enough to step out and go where we need to go? Where is the Spirit of Jesus in our lives, all these centuries later? What is it that God is calling us to do, here in this time, and this place?
After Jesus and Peter got back in the boat, the wind ceased. Some have suggested that Peter didn’t need to get out of the boat to prove anything. The power of the Spirit of Jesus, is in the boat, with all the rest of the disciples – the boat being one of the best and strongest symbols of the early church assembly, and people of God. The boat is where we live together in community. It takes all of us to navigate the rough and challenging waters.
Our faith grows by worship and prayer, hearing the Word and sharing in the Meal. We nurture and support one another in the boat. And even though the night is always darkest before the dawn, we find our courage when we step out, all together, into our neighborhood, and city, and world, putting our faith into action courageously. From our beautiful old boat, we demonstrate the resurrection good news that changes and transforms us, we overcome our mistakes of acting alone, and we find the purpose that Christ promises us, in living our lives.
Who doesn’t want to jump in, and overcome our fears – to play in the lake with our family and friends? What is it that God is calling us to, in our boat, that can ignite our courageous faith, and overcome our fears, and un-freeze our feet, that our joy in the Good News of Christ, may find its purpose?