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August 9, 2020

Pentecost X, Proper 14

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28

Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b

Romans 10: 5-15

Matthew 14: 22-23

Sermon by The Rev. Fr. Robert L. Hart

+In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two stories from the Gospels have over time found their way into everyday jokes, comic one liners, and cartoons. One is Jesus turning water into wine. The other is Jesus walking on water. Jesus walking on water and Peter’s attempt are this morning’s Gospel. This account is anything but funny. It certainly speaks to us and our current situation. We are in a boat called the church, and we and indeed our whole society are sailing on a fearful, turbulent sea.

All this—the story of Jesus walking on water takes place after the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sends the disciples at night in a boat back across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus then dismisses the crowd while he goes up a mountain alone to pray.

Meanwhile the disciples in the boat face strong headwinds and stormy waters. They are far from shore and making no progress.

No doubt early Christians hearing this story and facing opposition and outright persecution often felt like the disciples—out on a deep sea, getting nowhere, fearful of what might happen.

This fateful year, 2020, seems like stormy weather in a small boat on a deep ocean: pandemic, social unrest, political deadlock, and lack of moral leadership. Even at our local level Mother Eileen has retired—we can feel like a ship at sea still far from shore.

No situation in this present moment makes us feel secure because the world around us, in fact, is a stormy, fearful place. And that’s why today’s Gospel is good news.

For at the loneliest hour of the night Jesus comes to his disciples. Jesus walks across the very danger the disciples see and feel. Jesus walks over that which is the threat, the cause of the disciples’ fear.

And fear is an important part of this story—fear of the storm, fear when they see Jesus on the water (is it a ghost?), Peter’s fear when invited to walk on the water.

In the midst of our fear of the present, we hear Jesus speaking to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Jesus summons us like Peter to walk on water—stormy seas. Two things Jesus tells us. He is with us. “Take heart, it is I.” And because he is with us, trust him. “Do not be afraid.” Remember when Peter gives way to fear and doubt, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. Trust, faith—this is what allows us to move across the turbulent waters.

How can we walk on water? How can you? How can Christ Church?

First, don’t look back at the receding shoreline behind you. There is no turning back in the life of faith. If we look to the past, we start to sink.

Second, don’t look down. The water is deep and dark. The waves are high. We start to think about danger. So we keep our eyes up. We look to Christ and the far shore ahead.

Finally, we keep on moving forward. Let our boat sail on. Or, as in Peter’s case, we walk towards Christ, who summoned him and us in the first place. As we move, we pray. As we pray, we gain confidence.

The world around us is uncertain, difficult, and dangerous. Jesus the Christ calls us to be a people of faith who do his will. He calls us to walk on water. And when we get back in the boat, remember the story—the wind ceases. Jesus is on the water. Jesus is in the boat. For he is truly the Son of God.