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The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the 10th Sunday After Pentecost — with food for thought on fear, faith and walking on water … Gnaw away!

10th Sunday After Pentecost: Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus insisted that the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side. Having sent the crowds away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray, remaining there alone as night fell. Meanwhile, the boat, already a thousand yards from shore, was being tossed about in the waves which had been raised by the fierce winds.

At about three in the morning, Jesus came walking toward them on the lake. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified. “It is a ghost!” they said, and in their fear they began to cry out.

Jesus hastened to reassure them: “Don’t worry, it’s me! Don’t be afraid!”

Peter spoke up and said, “If it is really you, tell me to come to you across the water.”

“Come!” Jesus said.

So, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was, he became frightened. He began to sink, and cried out, “Save me!”

Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and caught Peter. “You have so little faith!” Jesus said to him. “Why did you doubt?”

Once they had climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat showed great reverence, declaring to Jesus, “You are indeed God’s Own!”


The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?

The stakes for Jesus rise considerably in Chapter 14 of Matthew. Herod’s murder of John the Baptist leaves no doubt the potential consequences to one who sets himself against the power of the state. And yet immediately after we learn of John’s death, Matthew tells us the story of Jesus taking the role of God and Moses, literally providing manna for the people of Israel in the desert. The combination of these stories point directly to the cross — because there could be no clearer sign that defying the government means death and that Jesus whole
being stands against the powers of this world.

Like Moses, Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray, leaving his people behind. But then Jesus comes to his disciples walking on the stormy seas, once again confounding their expectations of what is possible and impossible. Then Jesus goes one step further. With his face set firmly toward the cross, Jesus invites  those who would follow him to join him there. He calls Peter out onto the turbulent waves – stepping out of a boat in a storm is an invitation to almost certain death. For him and all the disciples it is a taste of what is to come
for them. An invitation to follow Christ to the exclusion of all else and all others, and to let his gaze matching theirs be the antidote to all fears.

Peter’s fear and sinking are not failure so much as a reminder of how difficult (and crazy, in the eyes of the world) the call of discipleship is. His saving by Jesus is a reminder of how much we need not fear — and the enormity of
what is possible if we have but even a little faith to step out of a boat onto a stormy sea.

A few things to chew on:

This is a story of choice. Jesus chose to come to the disciples. Peter chose to step out of the boat — and then chose to give in to his fear when he did. Jesus chose to reach out his arm and save. The element that was without choice was the storm on the water. The disciples had no choice but to be in the storm. The storm rose up and there they were, tossed on the waves. The choice was what to do with it. Do they cower in fear of the storm or do they view it is a moment of great and adventurous potential … a chance not just to survive but to do something truly extraordinary. We have no choices of the storms that rise up among us — whether they be economic crises, job loss, illness, and countless others. However, we can choose whether to use them as excuses to be fearfully preoccupied with safety (maybe I’ll step out of the boat when the weather gets calmer) or opportunities for a great adventure.

*Whether Jesus walking on the water constitutes a miracle depends on our perspective — and so does our belief of whether we can do the same. Poet and naturalist Wendell Berry says one of the casualties of our increasingly mechanistic and analytic mindsets is that we see creation as machine and not miracle, which immediately negates one of the great gifts of creation, which is imagination. “To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it,” Berry says. All creation is miracle. That we are here and breathing and thinking and loving and living is miracle. Walking on water is just one more miracle in a miraculous world. So little has changed since Jesus’ time. We still define ourselves by our “cant’s” — be they the sound barrier, the four-minute mile or telling our dad we love him. And we are surprised beyond measure when these “unapproachable barriers” fall. Yet they can and they do … so it will ever be.

Try this:
Notice when Peter begins to fear. He doesn’t begin to sink and then becomes frightened. He becomes frightened and then he begins to sink.

Fear is the great captor. It binds us and lies to us and prevents us from being the extraordinary, miraculous images of God we were created to be. In inviting us onto the water — and, really, in inviting us to the cross — Jesús is inviting us to crucify our fear. To keep our eyes on the Christ and know that as long as that gaze holds there is nothing we can lose or pain we can suffer that will truly hurt us.

This week, spend a little time at the beginning of each day and take your fear temperature. What in the day ahead are you anxious about. Where do you think you will be tempted to shrink back in fear and be less than the image of God you are created to be?

Each day, pick one instance and offer it to Jesús. And when it arises, keep your eyes on Christ and be bold and brave and step out of the boat. And see how long you can hold the gaze — and what amazing things happen when you do!

Write this

Peter says “If it is really you, tell me to come to you across the water.” We know it is Jesús because – if we aren’t there already — Jesús always calls us right into the heart of the storm where there is nothing firm under our feet. And if we are there already, Jesús reminds us that we are never alone.

This week in your journaling, if you are living in a storm write about where you need the presence of Christ to be present with you – what that might look and feel like … or if you already feel it, what it does look and feel like. And if you are living in a boat, write about what it might be like to step into the storm. Where are your fears? Where do you imagine Jesús calling you and meeting you?

Three Years Since…

The last time this reading came up in the lectionary cycle was Sunday, August 10, 2014.

I remember that because it was the day after.

I remember it because it was the day after Michael Brown, Jr. was walking unarmed in the street by the Canfield Apartments in Ferguson, Missouri when he was murdered by Officer Darren Wilson.

I remember it because it was the morning after a community who gathered to mourn and march was met by police with riot gear, automatic weapons, tear gas, pepper spray and attack dogs.

I remember it because I can divide my life into two parts – Before August 9, 2014 and after. Before Mike Brown and after. Before Ferguson and after.

Wednesday, it will have been three years since Mike’s body lay in the street for four and a half hours. Three years since his mother, Lezley, began to wail because she had joined the sorority too many of her sisters had joined – the sisterhood of mothers of those lynched by the state. Three years since amazing young black women, men and gender nonconforming people stood up and refused to sit back down – who answered their own question “Whose streets?” with a resounding cry of “OUR STREETS!”

Three years since…

Three years since…

Three years since…

The last time this reading came up in the lectionary, I woke up to a text from my sister, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, asking me to join her at the Ferguson PD that afternoon. And then I took her advice and tore up the sermon I had planned for that morning and instead preached how “We were born to walk on water … but we have to step out of the boat.”

I preached:

My sisters and brothers, St. Louis is waiting. St. Louis is waiting for someone to do something extraordinary. Someone who is willing to step out of the boat and show us who we truly can be, who we truly are, show us the greatness of which we are truly capable. Show us that this storm, of whom Michael Brown is only the latest victim, is not more powerful than God and God’s people.

St. Louis is waiting. Waiting for us. Each of us and all of us. To risk and to trust. To show that love is greater than fear. To listen deeply and speak plainly. To demand justice and to build bridges over divides that are deep and wide.

I cringe at that sermon now. I cringe because it came from a place of believing that I and others like me were the ones being anointed by God to do the work of repairing the world. That the wound was waiting for those of us safely tucked in our boats to step out and heal. That the world was just waiting for some more white saviors to make everything OK.

What I have begun to learn over these past three years is that we don’t step out of the boat to do something but to join what Jesús is already doing, to become one with the Christ. Jesús already lives on the water. Jesús lives in the storm. Jesús lives in the place of greatest vulnerability. And I know because as those of us who had spent much of our lives safely tucked in our boats terrified of the storm took tentative steps out we met incredible images of God who had been living out there all along.

We met Jesús.

Jesús is Mike Brown, lying in the street.

Jesús is Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton and so many other young, black, queer justice warriors, putting their bodies on the line screaming for justice.

Jesús is Lezley McSpadden mourning the son she loves.

Jesús is the queer black teen who fears for their life every time they go to school.

Jesús is, as Becca Stevens says, all those who have known “the underside of bridges, the backside of anger, the inside of prison walls and the short side of justice.”

And all those of us who because of our privilege are not on the water already. All those of us who are crouching in our boats terrified of the storm. Our call is to step out of the boat. Not to be heroes. Not to be saviors. Not to “do something extraordinary” (God help us). But to join Jesús there.

To meet Jesús there.

To trust Jesús there.

To follow Jesús there.

To put our bodies on the line with Jesús there.

To be changed by Jesús there.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings: The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday  – just click here.

Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live  according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns  with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Want to read more?
The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.

Gnaw On This is a weekly publication by Mike Kinman, the Rector of All Saints Church.