This is the sermon preached by the Rev. Canon Linda Taylor at the diocesan worship service for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 9, 2020.
10 Pentecost – August 9, 2020
Proper 14: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6,16-22,45b; Romans 10:5-15;
There they are.
This has been a long day. There was feeding all those 5,000 people—plus the women and children—there was tidying up afterward, picking up all the leftovers—and people back then were probably no tidier at picnic time than we are now. I would imagine that the disciples planned just to kind of camp out that night—just to stay where they were—talk about the day and think about what had happened. But Jesus had other plans. He said, “Get in the boat and go to the other side.”
So they did. And now it’s deep in the night—dark in the night—at the darkest point that comes just before the dawn. They are tired. The storm has kept them from moving forward as they wanted to—as they thought they could. The wind is so strong that they can’t move forward, and they’re perhaps unwilling to return—or perhaps even unable. They are stuck out on the sea.
And it’s dark. It’s night, and we know what happens in the night. All our fears come into play. It’s hard to recognize anything. We get lost in our own houses in the night because nothing looks like it usually does. And all of a sudden, they see a figure way out in the water—walking toward them. And it’s night, and it’s dark. They’re afraid, and their vision narrows and all they can hear is their pulse in their ears. And they’re calling out in their fear. And Jesus answers. Immediately—as soon as he hears their voices—Jesus answers. He says, “It is I. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.”
Now, the next logical step at that point would be for them to call for help—to ask Jesus to come help them. That’s not what happens. Peter steps to the edge of the boat—maybe a foot away—and says, “If it’s really you, give me a sign. If it’s you, let me know. If it’s you, command me to walk out there on the water toward you.”
Now Jesus has patience with Peter—almost as much patience as he has with me—and he says, “Come on down.” So Peter gets out of that boat and starts walking across the water. Wow! Walking on the water out to the Lord! It could not get much better than this, could it? He’s walking out there, and there’s Jesus right in front of him, and he’s walking toward him, and all of a sudden, he notices the wind and he notices the water and he realizes what he is doing, and he starts sinking. And in his faith and in his fear, he calls: “Lord, save me!” And Jesus is right there. He’s right there. He reaches his hand out to him, and then they’re at the boat.
So, whatever made Peter think that walking on the water out to Jesus was a good thing? He’s just seen Jesus feeding 5,000 people with a handful of bread and fish. He has seen healings of Lord knows how many people. He sounds like one of the people who were always asking Jesus to prove that he’s the Messiah. Peter—who’s been with him all this time. Where did that notion come from? Did he want to imitate Jesus? Did he believe that following Jesus means doing exactly what he’s doing? Or perhaps he needed to affirm that he had special status—that he was one of Jesus’ favorite kids—that of all the disciples, Jesus would want him to walk on the water with him.
Now, Peter was special, but he was not called to walk on water. He was called to be a rock. Rocks don’t walk on water. Rocks give stability to structures. Rocks give strength for building. Rocks provide a center point for growth. Rocks are a place where people can gather. Peter wasn’t called to imitate Jesus but to be a central part of the growth of the small community that’s gathering around Jesus. His real walk happened when he stood firm in faith as a leader of the young community in full defiance and opposition to the Roman authorities.
So you know what the next question is. What about us? Each one of us is special. Each one of us is unique. Every human on this earth is a unique creation out of God’s goodness, God’s love and God’s energy. Each of us is special and, at one time or another, has acted out of that specialness in a way that may not answer God’s call to us. I speak from my own experience; perhaps you’re different. When we’re in that space of needing to be special, it’s hard to see what’s happening around us. It’s easy to forget who and whose we are, and sometimes it ends us with us doing things that make other people—and even us in retrospect—wonder what in the world we were thinking.
Those of us who have been around for a while know that it’s easy to get pulled off course—to lose our way—to fail to see the Holy that’s standing right in front of us. Especially in these times when the darkness gathers around us—when there is no certainty—when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring—where we’re concerned for our world, for our families, for our country, for ourselves. It’s easy to lose our way—it’s easy to lose sight of the Holy that’s right there in front of us. And so we gather. We gather in whatever ways we can—whether it’s like this—whether it’s across six feet of distance in a grocery store—or whether it’s outside where we can more freely. We gather in whatever way we can to listen for the voice or to reach for the hand—to remember that we are part of community—to remember that we are rocks—each of us—in our own special way. We gather to remember that God holds us, loves us and empowers us to be Christ’s hands, feet and voice in this world. We gather to share the presence of the Holy with each other.
This is our call, and the very Good News is that we don’t have to do it alone. We have each other, and Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of the age.
And to that, I say thanks be to God.