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Pentecost 10 Proper 14A RCL August 13, 2017

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

Last Sunday, we had an interesting and unusual event in our lectionary. When a feast of our Lord, such as the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, or, the Transfiguration of our Lord, comes on a Sunday, that feast supersedes the normal lectionary. This past Sunday, in reading the lessons for the Transfiguration, we skipped the lessons for the ninth Sunday of Pentecost.

So I am going to fill in just a little of the story of Jacob and his family. Last Sunday’s readings described Jacob sending his two wives, their two maids, his eleven children and all his possessions to go ahead of him so that, when they got to his brother Esau and Esau asked them whom they belonged to, they would say, “Jacob,” and Esau would know that his brother was returning home. It was Jacob’s sincere prayer that seeing his possessions and wives and children might inspire mercy on the part of Esau and prevent him from killing Jacob.

Meanwhile, Jacob stayed back and had his wrestling match with God. This left him with a dislocated hip and a new name, Israel. Esau did indeed have mercy on Jacob, and now we see how large the family of Jacob, now Israel, has  become.

But that old sin of envy and jealousy is running rampant. Envy is defined by my mentor David Brown as, “The inability to rejoice in the blessings and good fortune of others.” Joseph is loved by his father. He has a special cloak, that coat of many colors, that “amazing technicolor dreamboat.” He has a special place in his father’s heart, and his brothers want to kill him. Fortunately, Reuben persuades them to throw Joseph into a pit and at least leave him alive. Then, when the Midianite traders come by, Judah comes up with the bright idea of selling their brother to them for twenty pieces of silver. Thus Joseph is taken into Egypt.

In our epistle, Paul is quoting Scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 30:11-14. We do not have to go to great lengths to find Christ. We do not have to bring him down from heaven, and we do not have to bring him up from hell, where he descended to share his love with everyone and every part of the creation so that no one will be separated from him. The writer of Deuteronomy was referring to the law when he said, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” But Paul is extending that wisdom to our understanding of our Lord. He is near us. We do not have to go far to find him. He has come to earth to find us and to heal us and forgive us and give us grace to continue on our journey to him, and he is walking with us every step of the way.

Jesus is God walking the face of the earth. God has come to be with us. God loves us so much that God would come to be one of us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus has just fed the five thousand. He tells the disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake while he dismisses the crowds. And then, what does he do? He goes up to the mountain to pray. He goes to be with God, his heavenly Father. Jesus did this whenever he could. He went to God for guidance, sustenance. He went to his divine Father for feeding, refreshment, true peace, true direction. This is something we need to do each and every day, several times a day. The great moral theologian Kenneth Kirk said that this habit, recollection, going into the presence of God and reordering our hearts and lives, is the practice of the presence of God, and he said that recollection is “the habit of referring all questions to God.” That is what Jesus did so often, and that is what he is doing at the beginning of this gospel. He is so deep in prayer that by the time he comes back to what we are pleased to call reality, the boat is way out in the lake, the waves are high, and the boat is being battered by wind and waves.

Early in the morning, Jesus comes walking across the water, and they think he is a ghost. You know how the mist can sit on the water early in the morning. Everything can seem quite other-worldly, ghostly. They cry out in fear.

And he says those words that we can carry like treasure in our hearts: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.”

Dear impetuous Peter imposes a bit of a test,”Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter jumps out of the boat into the water and he is doing just great until he notices how very strong that wind really is, and, just like that, he sinks like a rock. But he calls out to Jesus and Jesus reaches out his hand and grips him in that strong loving handclasp, asking him why he doubts. And they all know who Jesus really is.

This gospel has at least two very powerful messages for us. The first is that we need to spend time with God. We need to make time in our busy days to “be still and know that God is God.” We need to bask in God’s presence and let God’s love and healing seep into the depths of our being.

The other message is about fear. It is important to remember that fear is not always a bad thing. If we start to climb up a sheer mountainside with sharp drops on all sides and we feel afraid, that could be a helpful message that perhaps we are not quite up to that level of mountain climbing. So, on the positive side, sometimes the feeling of fear can be a helpful warning on behalf of our self-care.  

Then there is the other aspect of fear, and that is that fear can get in the way of our faith. Wise people have said that faith is the other side of the coin of fear and that faith is fear that has said its prayers. For me this means that sometimes we forget the message of our epistle and gospel today. We forget how close God is. All we have to do is reach out and the loving and steadying hand of Jesus will be there.

There are many scary things in this life and in this world, but we can’t let them stop us in our tracks. We are here to help God build God’s shalom, and we have to be about that work. Sometimes it can feel like a storm with ten foot waves and winds of fifty miles an hour out on the lake. But God is always with us. Amen.

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