Sunday, August 10, 2014

Storm Preparation

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
August 10, 2014

Year A, Proper 14: The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Storm Preparation
            If you’ve been in church during the past few weeks you may remember that we’ve been hearing some of Jesus’ parables – these very short stories that contain profound depths of meaning.
            And then last week we heard one of Jesus’ living parables.
            A huge, hungry crowd had followed Jesus to a deserted place. At first Jesus’ disciples try to pass the buck but Jesus tells them that they are to feed the hungry crowd. All they have is a meager five loaves and two fish.
            Yet, everyone is fed. And there were even leftovers!
            The kingdom of God is like a banquet where the little we have to bring turns out to be more than enough.
            And now today we pick up right where we left off last week in the Gospel of Matthew.
            After feeding the crowd, Jesus dismisses the disciples who head across the sea in their boat. Meanwhile Jesus goes up the mountain to pray.
            Finally some alone time!
            Meanwhile, the boat holding the disciples gets “battered by the waves, was far from the shore, for the wind was against them.”
            The disciples are caught in a bad storm.
            And then they see Jesus walking on the water and they were terrified. After Jesus reassures them, Peter asks Jesus to command him to also walk on the water. Which he’s able to do… until he grows frightened by the wind and begins to sink.
            Jesus saves Peter and chastises him for being of little faith, for doubting.
            In his very fine sermon last week, Chris mentioned at first being underwhelmed by some of Jesus’ miracles which seem more like stunts: changing water into wine at a wedding, multiplying bread and fish, and, I bet, he’s add walking on water to that category.
            But, of course, as Chris noted, these aren’t stunts at all. Instead they are powerful symbolic acts.
            The disciples are far from the safety of the shore and are caught in rough seas.
            We know all about rough seas – we know all about bad storms, don’t we?
            In recent years, we’ve watched a great American city get submerged by Hurricane Katrina. We’ve been shocked by the loss of life and angered as the rising waters revealed who matters in our society and who is considered expendable.
            And closer to home, we’ve faced two major hurricanes.
            I was actually between jobs when Hurricane Irene hit. Sue and I were renting an apartment in downtown Jersey City for a few months. I remember the sense of dread as it became clear this was going to be a bad storm. We decided to stay downtown though I moved my car up to the higher ground of St. Paul’s just in case.
            I remember barely sleeping that night as the winds and the rain hit. And then I got up early went downstairs and peered into the basement only to see rising water making its way up the stairs.
            Very scary.
            And, of course, we all have vivid memories of Hurricane Sandy – the property damage, the loss of power, but also neighbors banding together in a time of disaster.
            Yes, we’ve experienced meteorological storms abut we’ve also all endured storms in our own lives, too.
            Some of us are in the middle of a storm right now.
            We’ve faced the storms of illness – our own health scares and the sicknesses of those we love.
            We’ve faced financial storms – the times when we are in danger of drowning in a sea of bills and past due notices – the times when we might – or even do – lose our homes, our businesses, our possessions.
            We’ve faced family and relationship storms, too – probably not as bad as what went on Jacob’s family that we heard about in today’s Old Testament lesson, but still bad enough: family members who are feuding and no longer are on speaking terms – betrayals and disappointments – broken relationships and shattered families.
            We know all about storms. They are, unfortunately, an inevitable part of our lives.
            As a priest it’s my privilege to often be with people in the midst of storms, those times when the waves get rough and the wind is blowing against us.
            Everybody responds differently to these storms but really there are two groups of people. Some people are prepared for the storm and others are not.
            In today’s gospel lesson, we know that Peter and some of the other disciples were fishermen so presumably they knew all about storms are were at least somewhat prepared.
            But, they were prepared in another way, too.
            They knew Jesus.
            Yes, when they first see a man – or it must be a ghost - walking on the water they are frightened, as anyone would be, but then they hear his voice,
            “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
            Peter knows Jesus. He knows that voice. And so Peter takes those few hesitant steps out onto the water. And when he fears, when he doubts and begins to sink, Jesus is there to catch him, to hold on to him, to bring him to safety.
            You all know that I encourage everybody to come to church – to come to church not just once in a while but as often as possible. That’s why we offer all of these services, to create as many ways into the church as we can.
            Of course, I encourage people to come to church because it’s part of my job.
            And I want the church to grow and be as healthy as it can be.
            But, I also know, as somebody said to me recently, “this works.”
            This works.
            Coming to church week after week and hearing these old stories, singing our songs, reaching out offering peace to one another, taking the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and hearts, enjoying each other’s company in coffee hour, being involved in our ministries outside of church, you know what all of that is?
            It’s the spiritual equivalent of storing up on bottled water, canned food and batteries.
            Being here and serving out there is storm preparation.
            Storm preparation doesn’t make us perfect or fearless but it does help us to know the voice of Jesus.
            Peter was sinking and terrified. You know, in their panic, drowning people sometimes reject and even fight off rescuers.  
            But, not Peter.
            Peter was far from perfect. Peter had only little faith.  Peter doubted. But, Peter knew Jesus – he knew that voice - and was saved from the depths.
            When you and I are right here – when we do the ministries we do – we also get to know Jesus. We also get to know his voice.
             And since we’ve prepared, when the waves get rough and the wind blows against us, we will know the voice of Jesus.
            And when we’re sinking into the depths, we, though of little faith and much doubt, can accept Jesus’ love and hold tight to his saving hand.
            We are here for storm preparation.