Monday, August 14, 2017

Don't Be Afraid

an installation from "Quilting the Lectionary 2014-2015"

Matthew 14:22-33

Last week we heard the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 with loaves and fish.  It begins with “when Jesus heard this, he left Nazareth by boat and went to a deserted place to be alone.”  (I wasn’t here, I was on vacation, so forgive me if Pastor Steve brought this to your attention, but) I noticed that the lectionary doesn’t say what Jesus had heard that made him leave Nazareth.  Jesus had just been told that his beloved cousin, John the Baptizer, the one who proclaimed his coming into ministry, the one who had baptized him had been beheaded.  And he had been rejected his own community in Nazareth.  “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometowns”.

Jesus was going away to grieve.  

But 5000 families followed him(!), and that was last week’s story.  This week, we continue…after the 5000 families were fed with plenty of leftovers, Jesus put his disciples in a boat and sent them ahead while he climbed a mountain by himself to pray.

And to grieve.

In the middle of the night, as a storm was brewing, Jesus walks across the water toward his friends.  They see him, and, predictably, they are terrified.   These disciples.  Always terrified.  Jesus sees their terror and calls out…the most repeated phrase in the whole Bible…Jesus shouts, “Do not be afraid”

Peter, quicker to believe in ghosts than in the supernatural powers of Jesus, throws out a challenge, “if it's really you, Jesus, tell me to walk to you.”  And Jesus says, “come on!”

But then the wind really picks up, and Peter gets scared again, and he begins to sink.  So he throws out his hand, and he shouts “save me!”

And of course, Jesus does.  He throws out his hand and catches Peter, and they both safely make it into the boat.  

Jesus says, “you have so little faith!  Why did you doubt?”  And of course, Peter doesn’t say anything, or if he did the gospel writer didn’t think it worthy of writing down.

And so generations of priest and pastors have tried to preach this lesson with no answer.

I have heard some mighty fine sermons preached about how we have to “get out of the boat”…step out of our comfort zones, serve our neighbors.  And I’ve heard some excellent sermons about how this story shows that we just have to keep our eyes on Jesus and all will be well.

But this week, I heard a former professor of mine (teachers, we students really do listen to everything you say…that is both a compliment and a directive to say good and holy and helpful things)…I heard a former professor of mine say, “if this is primarily a faith story, where exactly does Peter loose faith?” 

It’s not when he becomes frightened, because many of us do things through our faith even when we are terrified.  Rather, my professor contends, it’s the moment Peter cries out, “save me!”  He begs for help…as though he didn’t already believe that Jesus would do the saving without being asked.

I’ve struggled with that this week, because I think of all the things I assume people will do for me that I ask them to do anyway…especially with my kids “let the dog out,” “replace that toilet paper roll,” “put away your laundry”…and I think about how i’ve always just sort of viewed it as conversation…but maybe they receive it as lack of faith…nagging as lack of faith?  

But is that even the same thing?

I don't know for sure.

But what I do know is that I wish I had witnessed that walking on water event, because I feel like there are so many details left out.  Like, how determined was Peter to walk to Jesus?  Did he hesitate?  Or did he just hop right out of that boat?  As he sank, did he keep trying to walk?  Did he stay still like they tell you to do in quicksand?

I wrote an outline for this sermon before I left for vacation…did the text study…thought it all the way through…figuring I’d write it Friday night on the plane or yesterday morning before our women’s retreat…easy-peasy.  I even sent Pastor Steve a text message about how confident I was about how easy it would be.  We’re talking about the saving work of Jesus, our role in faith or belief, and then our union with Christ.

But then I heard the news from Charlottesville, VA.  And I had to start over.

An alt-right rally was scheduled to be held last night.  It was repugnant, for certain, but it was constitutional.  We do protect a right to free speech in this nation, whether we agree with that speech or not.

But then Friday night, Christians gathered in church to pray ahead of the rally and sang “Wade in the Water”…with verses rewritten to reflect the history of racial injustice and the slow steps toward racial reconciliation, members of the KKK with torches marched through the campus of the University of Virginia, surrounded the church, shouted chants from the Nazi regime in Germany along with other hate-filled chants and slogans and slurs so that Blacks, Jews, and queer folk were and are terrified.  

Yesterday, a white supremacist has driven into the crowds.  So far, one person has died and nineteen others have been hospitalized due to that act of terror.  And two Virginia State Patrol officers have lost their lives in an effort to maintain public safety.  

I have friends who are there.  One in particular a Lutheran pastor.  I have seen photographs of folks with head injuries, respiratory distress due to chemical inhalation, and faces of children trapped in that church Friday night who know this hate is directed at them.

They are terrified.

And less you think this is something that only happens “over there”…as we are all want to do…yesterday in Travis Park, folks rallied in defense of the kinds of statues that continue to glorify this hatred…statues that belong in a museum but not in the public square.

In the last month, I have heard more anti-semitic/anti-Jewish language than I have heard in decades right here in San Antonio.

And I am terrified.

Because people that I love beyond measure are Jewish, are Black, are Queer…and their sanctity, their value, their belovedness is not dependent on their relationship with me.  It is from the One who created them, loves them, calls them “good.”  And what I have learned is that hate breeds hate and that acceptance of hate toward one kind of person invites hate towards all kinds of people.  

And if we live in union with Jesus, we cannot tolerate hate.  Because we recognize that all people are made in the image of God.

So, even though you may be terrified about what folks might say if you call out hatred, even if you are terrified that someone might not like you, or might not frequent your place of business, or might egg your car…or worse…speak up.  Do it anyway.

And for heaven’s sake, this week if you know someone who is being subjugated or terrorized by the hate in the world, in this nation, in this city…call them.  Ask how you can support them.  That will help ease their terror…or a least let them know they have an ally and someone praying for them.

Get out of the boat.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  And don’t be afraid.

In our union with Jesus, we are called to bear witness to the sanctity of all people.  And we are called to shout out “Don’t be afraid!”  And we are called to do the hard thing even when we ARE afraid because we know that God is with us…in us…in each of us…in all people.


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