The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
13 August 2017
Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today, living in our technology filled, rational, post-Enlightenment world, many of us find it hard to take miracle stories at face value. We still like them, though. They are exciting and colourful. They teach lessons about how we are to understand the power of God. Nevertheless, on the face of it, it is hard to believe Jesus and Peter walked on water. We find ourselves wondering whether there was a sand bar or if it was a trick of the light or a particularly low tide? It is easy to think these stories are for simple folk who are easily duped by a tall tale.
The mind set of the people who first heard this story, however, was different from our own. And they weren’t just simple folk who didn’t know better. Educated people living in the diverse and cosmopolitan milieu of the Roman Mediterranean who studied the natural world, who spoke several languages, and had seen many different parts of the world still took it for granted that the unseen, divine powers of the cosmos acted in time and space.
They had seen God act. They had experienced the transformation wrought by the events of the Jesus’ death and resurrection and pre-figured in Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. As Peter wrote, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Upon hearing a story about Jesus walking on water, therefore, these people would not have wasted a moment wondering IF Jesus had actually walked on water. Their question would have been about whose power made it possible for him to do so. Jesus’ walking on water was another manifestation of his power, of his authority, of his true nature as being one with the source of all that is.
Peter saw someone or something coming towards him and called out to him, wanting to make sure it was actually Jesus and not some ghost or apparition. Knowing then that it was Jesus, the one with whom he had travelled, whose power he had already experienced, with whom he was already in relationship, and in whom he trusted, which is the very definition of faith, Peter asked to join Jesus out on the water. He was granted his request.
Peter did not question the possibility of walking on water. Of course that was possible. The question was from whence would the power to do so come? Peter needed his faith in Jesus, in Jesus’ power. It was Peter’s belief in Jesus, his relationship with Jesus that was the key, and a moment’s wavering caused him to sink. By putting his trust in Jesus’ power he was able to do something miraculous. When they got back in the boat Jesus seems to have quietened the storm. The disciples took this, along with his and Peter’s walking on water as a new sign of Jesus’ divine power and made the pronouncement that "truly you are the Son of God."
Peter and the disciples recognised that Jesus’ power came from God, the one true creator of all things, who delivered Israel from Egypt and led them through the desert and into the Land, who sojourned with Israel in the difficult years and who sent prophets to teach that a messiah, an anointed one, would come to usher in a new age, the age of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ power did not come from Ba’al or any of the Egyptian or Greco-Roman gods or goddesses, but from his father, the God of Israel
This story, and the excerpt from the Jonah’s tale, are not merely stories about fantastic events. Rather they model for us where and to whom we are to look in times of trouble, when we are in the belly of the beast or on storm-tossed seas. We have a relationship with this God of Israel, this God who did extraordinary things for our ancestors, who sent Jesus to expand God’s reach, who is unfolding the Kingdom even here and now. We have a relationship, we have faith in and with this God who hears our cry of distress and answers us, who knows what it is to suffer as we suffer, who never leaves us alone, whose loving purpose will eventually triumph. This is where we turn, to whom we reach out, rather than to the false gods of self-interest and greed for wealth and power.
I fear that as a nation we are now in the belly of the whale, upon storm-tossed seas on a dark night. The events in Charlottesville over the weekend and the increasing boldness of the forces of racism, bigotry, and violence that were on display are indicative of the point to which we have been brought. Many of us feel powerless in the face of these rising tides of corruption, hate, and war and we do not know where to turn. Yet, Jonah shows us where to turn: “I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice.” And the message he gives us is a reminder that “those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to thee; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
We know that “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” But that does not mean we sit on our hands and wait for God to swoop down and make it all better. We have a choice, we can act. We are, of course, the very body of Christ. We know that we will find the solution not by meeting violence with violence or hate with hate, but by following the path of love that God in Christ sets down for us. God’s power is infinite, God’s cosmic power beyond our understanding and when we seek to replace our trust in God’s power with trust in something else, something not based on love and justice, we make a grave mistake contributing to the darkness and to the storm. Jesus asks us to have faith on the storm-tossed sea. Jonah tells us to look not to false idols, but to God.
The story of Jesus walking to his disciples on the water in the midst of the storm is a powerful sign to us of God’s power cutting through our fear and uncertainty. God comes to us in the storm, God hears us in the belly of the whale and reaches out to us, offering the same love and compassion that we are asked to return to the world. Let us reach out, take the step out onto the water in response to God’s constant presence and live lives transformed by this manifestation of true divine power.
Andrew C. Blume✠
Jeremy Taylor, 12 August 2017
© 2017 Andrew Charles Blume