SERMON 8/9/20 Pentecost 10A St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Oklahoma City, OK
1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Caught in a Storm
“Lord save me!” In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the miraculous account of the time Jesus’ disciples were crossing a body of water in a small boat and out in the middle of a terrible storm. Suddenly, as the storm begins to achieve its full strength and fear fills their hearts, a figure is seen, walking on the water. The group misidentified the figure, thinking that they were seeing an unknown spirit, a ghost per se. Then bold, brazen, overconfident Peter takes a chance, and with the power of a little faith, or arrogance says, “If it is you Lord, command me to come out there with you.” Then Peter gets out of the boat and starts literally treading water, that is until the water gets rough.
One interesting point about this story is that it represents how we many of us deal with our own storms; our own fears. The story shows us how we struggle to trust God in ominous times, and how sometimes we will step out in faith in the middle of the chaos, only to find ourselves still in the storm sinking in despair. Despite being first-hand witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5000+ people, and all the other miracles of healing enacted by Our Lord, most of the disciples were paralyzed by fear in the midst of a squall. Peter on the other hand was like us, who step out and trust, but when the waves still crash around us, we lose faith and believe we can do it all alone.
Do you live in fear today and want to cry out, “Lord are you really are here with us in this stormy pandemic? If so, I will walk with you in this storm!” Then the waves start to crash and with every evening newscast, every Zoom meeting, and the ever-present face covering we all wear, we realize the entire planet is in the midst of a storm. Fear sets in and then despair, paralyzed struggling to face the day. “Save me, Jesus,” Peter cried. The Lord did just that and pulled him from the depths of despair. Beverly Gaventa in her Christian Century article Doubt and Fear writes, “Not only does Jesus have the power to control the turbulent waters and even to walk on them, but he can bestow that power on others and rescue those in distress.” (3) These crashing waves and clapping thunder crashes is just noise that challenges us to take courage, to be willing with great caution and mitigating protective measures, to step out in faith again, to step out and walk toward Our Lord. We need to face this storm, trust God is with us, and reject paralyzing fear. At some point, our faith needs to lead us to realize who, in this situation, is really in control.
Takeoffs and Landings – Moments of Terror
Psychology Today describes fear as “a vital response to physical and emotional danger that has been pivotal throughout evolution. If people didn’t feel fear, they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves from legitimate threats—which often had life-or-death consequences in the ancestral world.”(1) Fear is a natural emotional, physical, and psychological reaction to a threat, which results in actions that facilitate our ability to survive.
As an FAA Flight Instructor, I have been teaching people to fly airplanes for nearly 20 years. Some student’s fear of flying, especially during certain training maneuvers can bring moments of sheer terror. Sometimes a student forgets their training, they freeze up, and with little time for reaction, the instructor has to take the controls in order to save the aircraft and occupants.
When I teach someone to fly, there is a sacred safety rule we follow. When the student is of control and needs some help, I merely call out, “I have the controls.” The student responds, “You have the controls.” And just to be certain there is a clear understanding who is flying the craft, I repeat, “I have the controls.” This rule is non-negotiable, because a misunderstanding at that moment, can result in a life or death choice. Fear of flying can keep you on your toes and facilitate reactions that can save your life. Fear of flying can also paralyze you and keep you from reaching your dreams.
Fear can move us forward and cause us to make survival choices. Fear though, when experienced without hope, without being grounded in love, with an overconfidence of self-sufficiency, without recognizing that God really is in control, it can lead not to survival, but death. Like learning to fly, when fear strikes, when we face ominous times, there comes a time when we need to let go and let God take the controls.
Life is so different now, and what has been comfortable and normal seems to be a fleeting memory. We long for interaction beyond the video screens that we live behind today. We long for a hug, a handshake, a dinner out, a movie, an extended hand to receive bread and wine, body and blood. We may ask, “Where is our hope in the future?” We may even find ourselves in “doubt, a sense of loneliness, as well as fear of failure before God, (which seems to be) left to fester and grow into a difficult form of unfaith. (2). We are in a new kind of storm and like the apostles that came before us, we too cry “out in fear.” But just like them, “Jesus speaks to us like he spoke to his first disciples in the middle of their storm, and says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
With Jesus’ comforting words of hope, he is not offering some sentimental encouragement, “don’t be afraid, just take heart.” Just be happy is certainly not helpful in the midst of a global pandemic, but maybe what he is saying to us really is what we all need right now. Maybe we need to accept that right now, we are not in charge and we are not in control. Maybe we need to admit that we are afraid and then, know that our fear is not a failure, but it is a part of the nature of being a follower of Jesus. Like Peter, we all cycle between bold hubris and cowering denial, but neither reaction is a sign of our inability, to be lifted from the depths by our loving Lord, Emmanuel, who is with us in all things.
Even now, when fear grips us all, when life is not what it was only a few months ago, we need to be drawn now more than ever, to trust the true Son of God. Even in the midst of all the noise, where the wind, the chaos, and uncertain fear threatens us each and every day, we still need to trust God. We can with assurance know that nothing comes between us and the love and God, not even this tempest all around us, not even death. “All will be well, and all will be well,” said Julian of Norwich. “All will be well,” even for we people “of little faith.” The Psalmist also offers us encouragement now when we need to he hear it most, but we must listen to, ” what the Lord God is saying, * for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.” Maybe it is time for us to turn off the noise for a few minutes today, and listen then closely, so we might hear what Jesus is trying to say to us right now, “Don’t be afraid. It’s ok, I have the controls.”
(2) Raj, A. R.Victor, et al. “Homiletical Helps on LW Series C–Old Testament.” Concordia Journal, vol. 33, no. 2, Apr. 2007, pp. 185–212.
(3) Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. “Doubt and Fear.” The Christian Century, vol. 110, no. 21, July 1993, p. 709.