Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 13, 2017

2017.08.13 “Anybody Scared Yet?” – Matthew 14: 22 – 33

Central United Methodist Church
Anybody Scared Yet?
Pastor David Haley
Matthew 14: 22 – 33
August 13th, 2017

Christ & Peter

Christ and Peter

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.  And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.  But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  – Matthew 14: 22 – 33, from The New Revised Standard Version


Anybody scared, yet? I never thought – and never wanted – to see it, but this week some of us got a nostalgia trip to our youth, which began when President Trump began using language like “fire and fury” to respond to equally descriptive threats by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which has made many of us downright jittery and some absolutely fearful. North Korea has been using such bombastic language since the end of the Korean War; what’s new is – for the first time – we have a President responding in kind.

Most scholars and statesmen – including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis – have assured us that war – especially nuclear war – is not imminent, that we all should “sleep easy at night,” which we are trying to do. However, the language being used (locked and loaded) is not making it easy. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping – the adult in the room – has called President Trump, calling for calm.

I want to acknowledge this is a difficult issue, with many variables. It’s not even clear that North Korea has the capability to fulfill their threat, although most experts agree they are moving closer, and likely will be capable in a few years. Most military leaders think military options are risky, because of the risk of escalation to a regional war. But what makes it particularly risky is the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, which – for good reason – have not been used since they were used against Japan in WW II.

While a couple of generations have grown up ignoring this threat, the rhetoric of this week took some of us back to our youth, when – during the height of the Cold War with Russia (anybody remember that?) – we prepared for nuclear attack, in our homes and schoolrooms. Those of you who are older will remember when we were all knowledgeable about bomb shelters and ICBM’s (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). With macabre humor, we watched movies like Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964), or “War Games” (1983).

We also know about The Doomsday Clock, which is run by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in which midnight represents the danger of nuclear disaster. For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock has stayed set at three minutes before midnight, the closest it has been to midnight since the early 1980s. In 2017, we find the danger is even greater, with the hands advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight. The Clock is ticking, and global danger looms. Are we scared yet?

And now, just yesterday, we have Charlottesville, in which we go back not just to our youth, but the Civil War.

OK, so let’s all take a deep breath. As we know, while this threat of nuclear warfare has our attention right now, we know that life is full of threats, to our safety, our sanity, or health, and there are many things that make us scared, for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, especially at night when we are trying to sleep. What are we to do?

For Christians, who follow Jesus, today’s Gospel suggests what we should do in times of fear and high anxiety.

Needing some time to get away, some prayer time, in the evening, Jesus sends his disciples on ahead across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. The winds blow, the waves rise, threatening the boat and its passengers. The Sea of Galilee is not that big – you can see the other side – but by early morning they have still not made it across, and are beginning to fear whether they will. As with us, the mood is FEAR: the phrases “terrified,” “cried in fear,” “do not be afraid,” and “became frightened,” all occur in eleven verses. In the night, when the wind and waves are strong, when our bodies and souls are tired, we fear; sometimes even despair.

Throughout the history of the church, time and again the Church and the people of the Church have found themselves fearful:  filled not just with existential fear, but genuine “wondering-whether-we-will-survive” fear: whether of disease, persecution, or war. So is it any wonder this is such a beloved story, inspiring both art and music. Time and again, we are those disciples, in the ship of the church, rocked by the wind and waves, scared for our future and our lives.

Just then, the story takes another turn: just when they are ready to start singing the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, suddenly they see a ghost, walking on the water toward them. “And they cried out in fear!” But then, out of the darkness comes a voice: “Take heart – buck up, pull yourselves together – it is I; don’t be afraid.”

What happens next is perhaps the strangest story of all. While Matthew, Mark, and John tell this story (Luke doesn’t include it); only Matthew adds this part about Peter.

When it says they cried out in fear, what do you think they cried? “Jesus, we’re sinking here. Stop fooling around out there, walking on the water, and get over here and save us. (In Jesus’ name; Amen.) That’s what I would say (and pray), wouldn’t you?

Except Peter; who comes up with a brilliant idea: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” If you’ve tried walking on water lately, without water skis, or at least knowing where the stumps are, you know this is not going to end well. At first, at Jesus’ invitation, it works, as long as Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus. But then, when Peter hears the wind whistling in his ears and sees the waves surging around him, he sinks.

Is it any wonder that Christians have used this story, not about how to walk on water, but for lessons in discipleship? The moral of the story is obvious, right? “In the midst of our fear, in the midst of the storm, as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’re OK; but if we ever take them off Jesus, to note what’s happening around us, we sink!”

But that’s rather simplistic, isn’t it? At some time or another, most of us have tried that and failed, especially at those times when the storm within us or around us was too great.

Instead, I like what Father Michael Renninger, the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia, says about the strange thing Peter did. All Peter wanted to do, says Father Renninger, was not wait for Jesus to come and save him, but to go to Jesus, in order that he might do what Jesus did. Says Father Renninger:

“Is anybody scared yet? I am. Are there lots of storms brewing in our world? You bet. But like Peter, we can make a Christ-centered decision that fear is not going to control us; exhaustion is not going to constrain us, that the darkness is not going to dictate our behavior. We do not have to hide passively in the boat waiting for Jesus to show up and jump in. We can listen when Jesus says come, and I understand that I will only get closer to Jesus, I will only triumph over the storm, if I do what Jesus did. Doing what Jesus did; doing what Jesus does. Isn’t that the vocation and call of every Christian, doing what Jesus did? . . . For Peter that meant leaving the security of the boat and walking on the water.” (Father Michael Renninger, “What are You Afraid Of,” August 13, 2017, A Sermon for Every Sunday. You can see Father Renninger’s excellent sermon here.)

So – in the midst of our fears, in the midst of the storm – answers begin to emerge. If we want to walk on the water, we’ve got to get out of the boat. If we want to do what Jesus did, we might want to pray more, as Jesus did. We might want to forgive those who wronged us, to be peacemakers, even to love and pray for our enemies, as Jesus did. And – in the ugly times we live in – we might want to resist: to be more vocal and courageous for love and peace and justice in the world, sorely needed right now.

Anne LamottDuring these scary times, I’m thankful for those who – like Jesus – speak out in the dark and extend a hand in the waves. For example, this week, the author Anne Lamott said on her Facebook post (of which I share only excerpts) – what many of us feel:

“We are so doomed. There is nothing we can do. We are at the mercy of two evil ignorant syphilitic madmen, the two worst people on earth. I mean that nicely.

“Where do we even start? We stop trying to figure things out. “Figure it out” is not a good slogan. We practice trust, and surrender, and attention to what we know is beautiful: dogs, art, the Beatles, each other’s eyes. And we don’t give up hope. Emily Dickinson said that hope encourages the Good to reveal itself. We need all the Good we can summon in these Locked and Loaded days….”

“How do we get to hope in these dark ratty days? We don’t think our way to hope. We take the actions, and then the insight follows. The insight is that hope springs from awareness of love, immersion in love, commitment to love….”

“Get outside, even just to the front porch, and look up into the sky and into the tree tops, and say the great praise-prayer: WOW. Listen for the sound of birds – or bird. Surely there is one lousy bird somewhere in the vicinity. Close your eyes and really listen. If birdsong was the ONLY proof we have that there is a bigger deeper reality than what transcends what we are seeing on the news, it would be enough for me. Eyes closed, breathe, listen: secret of life.”

“And lastly, take care of the poor, right now. In Hallelujah Anyway, I wrote that when I got sober, I was taught that happiness lay in going from big shot, to servant. If you want to feel loving feelings, which is hope, do loving things. Send a donation to a group that feeds and shelters and clothes people, in your neighborhood, or Syria. Don’t tell yourself you have no money; pack up clothes and shoes to take to a shelter. Or cash in the money in your laundry room change cup, and give it to people on the street. Give away three dollars to moms on the street with kids, and give the kids colored pencils and journals, or index cards, and say, “It is good to see you,” even if you have tiny, tiny, judgment issues involving bootstraps and combed hair.’”

“If you have time, register a few voters. Also, maybe a ten-minute nap; the writer Robyn Posin says rest is a spiritual act. Father Tom Weston urges, “Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.” Ram Dass tells us that ultimately, we are all just walking each other home. Let’s get started.”

“Am sending you love, whoever you are, and as Pastor Veronica says, ‘God bless you good.’” (These are excerpts, for the entire post check out Anne Lamott on Facebook, posted, Friday, August 11, 2017)

Are we scared yet? You bet. Get out of the boat, keep your eyes on Jesus, do what Jesus does, and as Pastor Veronica says, “God bless you good.”


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