Proper 14 (19), Year A
9 August 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
I am about to go on holidays. I will stay in town and explore the beauty that is here. I look forward to some time off.
Holidays, especially those involving travel, are always a bit of a wonderful escape. You don’t have to show up for work, you don’t have to do the laundry until you come back, and you don’t have to worry about paying the bills and those kinds of things. But then you come home and all those things catch up with you.
A few years ago we were in San Francisco and walked on the Golden Gate Bridge and that may have been the first time I saw kite surfers crossing the bay below. I windsurfed in my teens and would love to do so again, but I never walked on water. I don’t desire to walk on water, it’s not something that’s ever really crossed my mind.
Perhaps it has crossed yours, though I doubt it. Healing someone who is sick (like the motor biker I saw flat on his back on the freeway on Friday), paying off the mortgage, relief from financial stress; and more importantly, reconciling with an old friend, taking back something we did or said, becoming a better husband, father, or friend, those things have all crossed my mind, and they have probably crossed yours. But walking on water has never been among them.
There may be a time when we wish we could do the things Jesus did, or do the things that Peter and the apostles did in the Book of Acts. Mostly, I think, because we want to share in God’s salvation. So we’d like to say to someone who is sick, “stand up and walk, your faith has made you well”, or we’d like to bring back someone who has died. Or we’d like to go to places where there is hunger and multiply loaves and fishes.
But turning water into wine or walking on water are not high on our list.
So, isn’t Peter’s request rather odd? Why would he want to walk on water? Why would he need to walk on water? Do we think that Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”, is saying that Peter should have done a better job of walking on water? Do we think that had Peter not begun to sink, all would have been well?
The truth is that Peter doubted before he ever set foot on the water. His very motivation for demanding that Jesus invite him to leave the boat and walk toward Jesus was to assure himself that he wasn’t dreaming. Peter and the disciples were caught in a storm in the middle of the lake, they had lost control over their lives, but knowing that God was in control was not good enough. Peter wanted to be in control of his own life. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
And so, Jesus had to save Peter twice. Once with the rest of them and once by himself.
So, perhaps, when we want to turn the clock back on something we did or said, when we want to heal someone, when we want to multiply loaves and fishes in Somalia, it is not always about others or about God, but it may be about us. We too doubt that God could truly be present in the midst of our messy lives, that God could truly act in and through us, and so we wish and pray for a miracle in order for us to be able to believe.
And we too treat not only God in such a manner that the focus shifts in our favour,
“Lord, if you save me, I will never leave you.”,
but people too,
“I will love you if you do such and such for me.”
“I will love you, if you change to conform to my expectations.”,
or regarding the many little things in our lives that don’t connect with our convictions,
“I will start acting ethically, once I see others acting ethically.”
All of these are ways in which we turn things in our favour; or so we think.
The story could have ended when Jesus came to the disciples and said, “It is I”, when he used the words God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, “I am.” That would have been enough. It was enough to be in his presence.
Reading the story and imagining myself to be there, I think that Jesus was there all along, even when he was on the mountain praying. Jesus was their all along, for when the disciples are in distress he comes to save. Jesus always comes to save, Jesus always knows our distress. God knows what we need even before we even ask.
So the lesson, I think, is not to learn to walk on water, to turn back the clock, or to perform miracles, but to recognize the miracle of God’s presence in the world and in our lives. And recognizing the presence of God: to be content with being saved and with the life of God that always desires to save.
After Jesus and the disciples step ashore, word spreads that Jesus is present, people bring their sick to him, and Jesus heals them. It is not just about Peter, not just about the twelve, but about the whole world.
I have come to love some of the new hymns in our new hymn book. There is one hymn that comes to mind when I think of walking on water and of miracles:
The Lord now sends us forth
with hands to serve and give,
to make of all the earth
a better place to live.
The angels are not sent
into our world of pain
to do what we are meant
to do in Jesus name;
that falls to you and me
and all who are made free.
Help us, O Lord, we pray,
to do your will today. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #538)
We know that we aren’t dreaming. We know that God is among us, saving us, and enabling us to do God’s will today.
1 I am indebted to Luke Timothy Johnson’s insights in “Participating in Revelation”, The Christian Century, August 8-15, 1990, p. 731