Getting Out of the Boat

Kenora             Proper – Ordinary 19A            Pentecost + 10             Trinity + 9

9 August 2020

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28

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

Romans 10:5-15

Matthew 14:22-33

God beyond all seeing and knowing, we meet you in the night of change and crisis and wrestle with you in darkness and doubt. Give us the will and spirit to live faithfully and to love as we are loved, through Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

As we begin, this morning, I would like to invite you to remove your shoes, or at the very least to imagine that you are standing in cool, shallow water, and to feel the cool water on your feet.  It’s so refreshing, isn’t it? After all, like all of creation, you’re on holy ground.  

We are surrounded by it.  Can’t you feel it, washing over your hot, tired feet? 

Water.  It’s all around us, as we sit in the boat, a tiny floating island surrounded by the chaos of the storm and water, with the disciples; as we watch, from the midst of the storm-tossed waters, with apprehension at the approach of Jesus Christ walking across the waters toward us. 

We see him, Jesus.  He’s’ walking across the storm-tossed waters of the Sea of Galilee, as if it were a calm, bright, sunny day instead of the middle of the night, with the wind and the waves of a storm raging on all sides.

“25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’”

Did you hear?  He said “Come.” 

In this one word, he speaks to each one of us.  He spoke to us when we were each called by name in the waters of baptism.  He calls us each by name, still today. 

In Jeremiah, we’re told: “4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ 8Do not be afraid … for I am with you … says the Lord.’” (Jer 1:4-5, 8)

And still, he said “Come.”

God calls us by name, God has a plan for each of us, and God knows what it is that God envisions for us, for our lives, for our vocations, for our associations as we can see in the reading from Genesis when Joseph’s life is preserved by his being sold into slavery in Egypt, only to be a blessing to these same brothers, in the future.

Our seat in the boat was one of hard work, but it wasn’t unfamiliar to us. It was a hard seat, but not overly uncomfortable, in many ways; and yet Jesus calls to us. 

We are being called out of the boat? 

Do you remember the steps you took, in your life, when on that dark and stormy night, you first got up off your seat, you gripped the gunwale, knuckles white with apprehension, but still following where God leads you swung your feet over the edge of the boat, feeling the cold of the water lap at your soles, your toes, your ankles, to take that first tentative step on the water? 

What was your life like when you first felt the cool of the water on your feet, the gunwale still firmly in your grip as the boat rises and falls with the motion of the waves, amazed that you’re standing on the water? 

And when we did that, our focus was on our Lord Jesus Christ; and it still is, as we let go of the gunwale and take that tentative step forward.

But that’s not the only time Jesus has called us out of the boat, out of our regular routine to follow where he leads, calling each of us by name to come to him, on the waters.

When we are challenged to try something new, to begin a new adventure, in Christ, again we hear the Christ say “Come”.

Like when we try a bible study for the first time, or those who have been coming out to confirmation classes and learning of their faith in Christ, and how to incorporate that new knowledge into their day to day lives.

Or even something to do in the community – volunteering, joining a social cause, standing up for the rights of the oppressed are all things that we as Christians are called to do, not occasionally, but every day.

In new and sundry ways, we are able to feel, to hear Christ calling us into new life on the waters of the lake. Maybe you’re called to be an acolyte, lighting candles, and carrying the processional cross? Being that ‘jack of all trades’ that a worship team needs? Or maybe you’re called to read the lessons, on a Sunday? To sing in the choir, join the Ushers, or even the Altar Guild? Or maybe Christ calls you to become a Lay Reader, a Deacon, or even a Priest?

How is Christ calling you to live out your baptismal promises?

And still, he says “Come.”

At such times, we let go of the gunwales, and we take another step toward him, as we follow where Jesus calls us to step out of that boat.  And we know that the storm rages on all sides.  But our focus is on Christ, and on Christ alone, and the peace and the love that is found there. 

When we keep our gaze on Christ alone, then we are upheld, and we are able to walk on the water.  “30When [Peter] noticed the strong wind,* he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”

Every step we take toward Christ, away from the safety of the boat, and these are not comfortable steps, rather we’re surrounded by all of the distractions that wind and storm-tossed waves can muster. 

When I was working on my doctorate, I remember my first summer in Chicago. I was in my first week of residency, and I remember going up to my advisor and telling him that I didn’t think I was cut out for this program.  I had hit rock bottom, and my confidence was missing.  I didn’t think I could grasp the concepts being taught much less teach them or employ them.  And his response to me was “Nonsense, if you couldn’t do the work, you wouldn’t be here!”

He pointed out my focus was on the wind, it was on the waves, it was on the turmoil in my heart, and he gave me back the strength, the reminder to focus on our Lord and Saviour, on Jesus Christ, alone. 

My gaze was renewed.  The storms in my heart were quieted by the confidence and faith that was found all around me, from my advisor, from my fellow advisees, from my classmates, and from you, here, and so my heart learned to gaze on Christ, and on nothing else.

And this lesson is a great reminder of that, as well, as we look at the restrictions, at the lists of what we cannot do instead of the abundance of what we can.

We look at the world with the language of lack, of scarcity in our lives and hearts instead of at the surplus that surrounds us and our actions. We look at the storm instead of focusing on the one who brings us peace.

We all face similar storms, both in our hearts, and in our lives, both with the way life is and the potential that God sees for each of us, every day. 

But that doesn’t mean the storm doesn’t rage all around us.  That doesn’t mean that the demands of life, vocation, and family don’t tug at our sleeves demanding that we look at them, and only at them. 

But, still today we hear him calling us, we hear the voice of Jesus calling each one of us, to join him on the Sea of Galilee.

And when we focus on Christ, we discover that we are standing on the water. 

We find out that we’ve let go of the gunwale, and like toddlers learning to walk, we’ve taken those first tentative strides away from the safety of the boat.

The other disciples are looking at us with fear and awe and even terror as we follow Jesus direction to “Come!” but we don’t see any of this. 

Rather what we see, before us is the Christ, standing there like a Father urging his infant child to walk for the first time, arms outstretched, urging us to take that next faltering, tottering step toward him, as we let go of the coffee table, our eyes on him and him alone. 

And sometimes we, like the infant, like Peter stumble and fall.  We take our eyes from the goal, from our Father, from Jesus, and we notice the storm, the wind the waves, the fact that ‘Hey, we’re nowhere near a safety net and we’re standing on how many feet depth of water?!’

Paul says the wisdom of God is foolishness to the wise.  Well, the wise are still in the boat, compensating for the action of wind and wave on the vessel, calculating how to move forward safely in the storm-tossed waters that have held the boat in thrall most of the night, while they bail out the water that splashes over the side.

The foolishness, then, is to get out of the boat because Jesus has called us. He’s called each one of us by name. 

And sometimes that worldly wisdom strives to intrude; to tear our gaze off of our Lord and Saviour, to remind us that we’re surrounded, as in a storm, by wind and wave, and, oh by the way, did you notice that we’re standing on the water! 

And when that happens, it causes us to begin to sink.  But even in that moment, we are not alone. 

Rather, “31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught [us], saying to [us], ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

And at such moments, when the wind and the waves cease, even the wise will rejoice. 

But we know we’ve been called. We’re called out of the boat. We’re called to walk on the water by our Saviour, our master, our teacher, Jesus Christ who is waiting for us to trust, and to believe that with God all things are possible.  

Climb out of the boat and we walk on the water toward Christ, our Lord and Saviour who calls us by name and teaches us to follow; and the Holy Spirit who upholds us on the depths of the water, and provides the calm in our hearts, as the storms of life rage around us, who are considered foolish by the very wise.

Did you hear him?  He said “Come.” 

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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