10 Pentecost, Proper 14 – August 9, 2020
Oh my, what a week. The storms causing more problems for many of us, on top of our already pandemic wearied souls. But we have some interesting timing with our lectionary….this morning we hear a story about Jesus and a storm.
There are so many interesting details in this story. First, Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead without him. He made them get into the boat. He took some time for himself to pray – it seems that he knew he needed to refresh, to reenergize. And then the disciples were afraid of him when they first saw him. Peter became frightened when he was on the water walking toward Jesus.
So, this morning I want to talk about that little detail called fear. Let’s recognize the power of fear in our scripture today and the power of fear in our own lives. Let’s also recognize the power of promise in our scripture and in our lives.
Peter doesn’t just flounder because he takes his eyes off of Jesus, but because he grows afraid. And, quite frankly, that fear is justified. It’s a storm, for heaven’s sake, raging powerfully enough to sink the boat, let alone drown a single person. He has perfectly good reason to be afraid.
And, so do we. Whether it’s a fear of a serious illness, of the stability of a fragile relationship, of loneliness after loss, of financial stresses, of whether we’ll fare well in a new chapter in our lives, of what future our congregation has, of the direction of our country…. You name it, there is a lot in our individual, congregational, and corporate lives that can make us afraid. And that fear can be debilitating. It sneaks up on us, paralyzes us, and makes it difficult to move forward at all, let alone with confidence. Fear is one of the primary things that robs the children of God of the abundant life God intends for us.
That same Jesus who drew near to the disciples in that tiny fishing boat also draws near to us when the storms come. Author Robert Capon says that most of us would like to think of Jesus coming to the rescue in some heavenly tow truck, offering us hot chicken soup as he tows us to safety. In reality, Capon writes, Jesus does come to us in the storm, and he sits and suffers with us until the storm has passed. Jesus draws near to those who are hurting. He got into the boat with the disciples. He gets into the boat with us.
Another detail is that Jesus calls to each of us to step out in faith, just like he called out to Peter. Even when faith seems unreasonable, and even when we can’t see any possible solution on the horizon, he invites us to not be afraid to trust in him. Peter may have been an impulsive character, but his faith was bold whenever Jesus called to him to follow.
And, sooner or later, every storm ends. We may be going through a difficult chapter in our life right now. The wind is against you, and it’s been that way for a while, and you are weary, or discouraged, or lonely, or afraid. The storm will not last forever. It will pass, and the sun will shine again, so don’t give up.
Notice that when Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out and grabs him, saving him from drowning and restoring him to his vocation as disciple. And so it is with us! Jesus will not let us go. Jesus is with us. Jesus will not give up on us. He will grab hold of us when we falter and restore us to where we can be of service.
This is the promise at the heart of this story, that God will never give up, that God is with us and for us, that God, in the end, will do what we cannot. And this promise is the one thing that can help us cope with and transcend fear. Transcend, not necessarily defeat. Because fear is a part of our lives, and we should take care that being fearful is not equated with faithlessness. Courage, after all, is not the absence of fear but the ability to do what needs to be done even when we’re afraid.
But there’s more to this story. Our story isn’t over, there is more to it than has been seen so far, that the past doesn’t determine the future, that our faults and failings don’t disqualify us from love and acceptance and hope.
When the disciples are terrified, Jesus calls for them to “take heart,” and when Peter flails and cries out to be saved, Jesus reaches out and grabs him. The future is open, for God is with us and for us. God will do what we cannot. Nothing that we have done or has been done to us can erase God’s desire and ability to save and restore us. God is not done with us yet.
Yes, we have real and understandable and too often debilitating fears, but the good news is in God’s promise and action to overcome our fear and send out us armed with courage and confidence to live and share God’s abundant life. For while fear is a powerful part of our lives. God’s promise and vision is more powerful still.
May all who struggle and all who hurt this day take heart and not be afraid; Jesus has come to share the storms with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.