Friday, August 11, 2023

Pentecost 11A

three boats on water by eddie fouse
Original boat photograph by eddiefouse via

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, …

24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I {I am}; do not be afraid." 28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"

31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

So Far

We come to today's nautical scene after the violent death of Jesus' cousin John the Baptist, followed by last week's account of Jesus and his disciples feeding a throng of 5,000+++ hungry, needy people late in the day in a lonely locale.

Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:15-21 describe very similar versions of Jesus walking on water, but only Matthew includes Peter's attempt to walk on water at Jesus' invitation.

Walk on Water

Walking on water is a well-known buzz phrase. What does it mean to you? I usually think of Neil Diamond's:

Walk on water, ain't it like her
She leads the children
Ain't it right
And ain't it wondrous
The way she does it
Gives love and loves it…

How do these words connect with this gospel reading?

Walking on water / Peter afraid again is another one we've heard countless times. It's good to move deeper than "you need to get out of the boat if you want to walk on water … you need to keep your eyes on Jesus all the time" interpretations to more substance, although those behaviors are essential.

From the angel instructing Joseph (1:23) to name the baby Emmanuel, "God with us," (although verse 25 says Joseph named him Jesus), to the risen Christ's promise always to be with us (28:20) at the end of his gospel, God's presence is one of Matthew's pervasive themes.

14:27 Most translations tell us Jesus said something like "it is I; this is me," yet the Greek reports he only announced "I am." Ego ami duplicates Yahweh's response when Moses asked, "Who shall I tell my people sent me? What shall I say your name is?" (Exodus 3:13-14) Moses needed to know because there apparently was a new god he didn't recognize in town. Jesus echoes and he identifies with the God of the exodus, God of freedom, of promise, God of unmediated presence.

It's fascinating that Matthew uses Mark's typical connector word "immediately" several times in this passage. We also get a qualifying "but" a few times

Where We Live

In the ancient near east, untamed water was an symbol of disarray, chaos, and absence of divine oversight. You recall Genesis 1 when God's Word and Spirit tamed chaos into an orderly, interdependent world.

A familiar metaphor views the church as a boat. Many worship areas have been constructed in the shape of an upside-down ship. We even refer to the section of the sanctuary where worshippers sit as the nave—same source as the word "navy."

Chapters earlier, in Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus is in the same boat as the disciples, stilling the waters and the storm: "Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" That incident and today's both demonstrate Jesus as Lord of creation. They reveal Jesus acting in ways God usually acts.

As people formed in God's image, what about our loving care and stewardship of water? Do you visit your nearest river, lake, or ocean? Do you know your watershed? The Environmental Protection Agency's How's My Waterway can help you locate it and connect you with water-related resources. With water covering about 70% of planet earth's surface, our everyday lives are ongoing nautical enterprises.

A few weeks ago we heard Romans 8:19, "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God." Creation yearns for humans who reflect and embody their divine image by caring for the natural world the same way God does. God calls us to cherish and protect creation, even in ways that help reverse climate change and prevent more species extinction.

"Keep your eyes on Jesus," is simple yet remains essential. Jesus gave us the church as a ship with all of us in the boat together. With its "I believe," the Apostle's Creed is the baptismal statement of faith, but then we live we, us, our, and ours as the baptismal pronouns.
wind and waves

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