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Pentecost 9 Proper 14A RCL August 10, 2014

Genesis 37:1-4,12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

In our first reading, we are continuing the story of Jacob, who has become Israel. Israel now has twelve sons. His beloved wife, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and of Benjamin, their youngest son, has died. Joseph is Israel’s favorite son. He helps his brothers to tend the flocks, and he has just given Israel some negative feedback on the work and behavior of his brothers.

Joseph is a dreamer. He also has visions. Some of those visions indicate that he is going to be more powerful than his brothers. As we can imagine, this does not exactly make him popular among them. On top of that, Joseph has been given what a later musical called his “amazing technicolor dream coat.” His brothers do not like that at all.

Israel sends Joseph out to see how things are going with his brothers, and, as they say, the rest is history. They want to kill him, but Ruben prevents that. Finally, they throw him into a pit and sell him to some traders. They dip his wonderful coat of many colors in goat’s blood and tell their father that Joseph is dead. The traders take Joseph to Egypt, where he reaches the highest position in the land. He becomes the chief assistant to the pharaoh. We will pick up the story next Sunday.

These stories, which go back so far in history, are fascinating because we know about these family dynamics, and they are timeless. Younger brother takes on airs and ambitions, seems to want to lord it over older brothers. Older brothers get mad and do something awful to him. Sibling rivalry is alive and well, and people don’t always behave the way God wants us to. We will tune in next Sunday for the amazing way in which Joseph deals with his brothers.

In our gospel, Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He makes the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which, as we know, is a big fresh water lake. We can think of Lake Champlain or maybe Missisquoi Bay. When the winds and storms come up, the Sea of Galilee, like Lake Champlain, can be a terrifying and treacherous place.

Jesus dismisses the crowds and goes up the mountain to pray. What a wonderful model for us. He has been working hard. He has been ministering to these people, healing them, feeding them. Loving them. He knows that he needs to spend time with God. He needs to renew his energy. As the song implies, we cannot be a light to others unless we keep putting oil in our lamp. Jesus constantly turns to God in prayer.

Meanwhile, out on the lake, the wind has come up, and the boat is being battered by the waves. They are far from the land and the wind is against them. Jesus comes walking on the water. What is their response? They are so scared that they do not even recognize him. Have you ever been so afraid that you couldn’t even recognize God, or recognize the help that was coming to you? Sometimes, when a person is drowning and a rescuer comes to save the person, he or she will flail about and fight the rescuer. As strange as it may seem, sometimes we do not recognize God’s presence and God’s willingness to help us. They actually think Jesus is a ghost. They scream in fear.

And then Jesus speaks those words, the words we so need to hear: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.” How many times have we gotten caught in heavy seas and called upon Jesus to rescue us? How many times have we felt overwhelmed with problems and scared out of our wits. We struggle and struggle and finally we remember to pray. Always that strong arm is there. Always that loving face is there. Our Lord is always with us to help us.

That is the point of our epistle today. God is always near us. On our lips and in our hearts. God is Lord of all. If we feel that the boat is sinking, Jesus is right there with us, calming the storm.

Today’s readings are a call to renewed faith, especially in the face of things that we know are beyond our control, things that are terrifying. Like the situations in the Middle East and in Ukraine, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the suffering of so many people around the world, and the pain and suffering of those close to us. We can pray, and there is help. Our loving God does care about these situations and these people.

Loving God, help us to remember that we are all in the same boat, and you are in the boat with us. Give us the grace to pray, to recognize you, to seek your will, and to help you to build your shalom of peace and
harmony. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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