Sunday, August 10, 2014

Into the Storm - Mt 14:22-33

“Out into the storm”
Mt 14:22-33

Trust Exercises - part of Children’s sermon

This morning’s sermon is about trusting God even when we find ourselves in the midst of a storm.

As I mentioned last Sunday, many of the stories I will share with you in our lives together come from my experiences in the Southwest.  

One story is about a woman who gets too close to the edge of
the Grand Canyon, loses her balance, and slips over the edge.  
Just before falling 1000 feet, she grabs on to a root sticking out from the
edge.  "Help me!"  She screams.
"Is there anyone up there?  Help me!  Save me! Anyone up there?"

A voice answers, "I am the Lord.  I can save you. Do you trust me?  
Do you really want me to help you? "

"O, yes, Lord, I trust you!  Please help me."

"OK," the Lord says.  "I'll save you.  Now, let go."


"Just let go of that root you're holding on to, and I'll save you.  You
have to trust."

The woman pauses a moment, gulps, and then shouts out,
"Is there anyone else up there who can help?!"
Falling 1000 feet is a much more scary prospect for most of us than falling into a lake.
If we’re able to swim, it’s likely most of us don’t worry too much about falling into a lake.  
And that’s all really the sea of Galilee is is a big lake.

So why was Peter, an experienced fisherman,
so frightened when he began to sink into the water?

Let’s step back a bit and look at what’s going on in this fascinating story told by Matthew in chapter 14.
First Jesus and the disciples have feed over 5000 people..
Wayne Moncrief, Miriam’s husband told me it may have been closer to 20000 fed.

And Now...Jesus is walking on water; Peter is trying to walk on water….
there is night there is day, there is a storm and there is calm.  

This painting by 19th Century Illustrator Gustave Gore that may help us imagine what is taking place as we look at this story...   

As a story-teller, this is one of Matthew’s more choppy narrations,
perhaps intentionally so:
First, it is evening when Jesus sent the disciples away on the boat and dismisses the crowd. Then, Jesus goes to the top of a mountain to pray.
The boat carrying the disciples is pushed far from the shore from the wind…
an important aspect: apparently these skilled fisherman who know how to navigate a boat, didn’t want to drift far, but the wind was overpowering.
Was this wind at night?
Does this mean the disciples tried to sleep out on the boat in the stormy sea?
Did Jesus fall asleep on the mountain before going down to meet them;
or did he go down after praying only to find them out at sea;
maybe he slept on the beach?

Either way, at dawn, he’s waited long enough,
they haven’t come back for him--
a little impatient?
“I’ll show them, not coming back to pick me up,”

Jesus decides to display a new power to his sea weary disciples,
he walks on the waves;
and by doing this, his already sleep deprived disciples are freaked out even more…

The way Mark tells the story, Jesus intends to walk past the boat…
almost like he’s trying to pull a little joke on them….

Imagine the foggy-eyed guys on the boat; who saw him first….

“Hey, Andrew, you’re not going to believe this!?? Look!”

“What is it, John?”
Apparently they don’t think: Aw, it’s just Jesus…
They turn to each other and scream...GHOST!!

The walking on waves figure speaks: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
such a noble line:
Have any of you ever had a chance to say this line to a frightened group…
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

“It is I.”
By presenting himself in this way, Jesus draws upon the ancient identification of YHWH,
who at the burning bush self-identified to Moses as, “I am who I am.”
It is I, Jesus says claiming the divine nametag.  

Of course, Peter doesn’t believe him.
But, does it seem kind of weird that out of his disbelief he’s like:
“I don’t believe it is you, but if it is, command me to come to you on the water.”
That’s not the first thing I would have asked for for proof.  
At the risk of poking a bit of fun at Peter, (forgive me Peter…he stands at the pearly gates)

The scene reminds me of interaction between my 5 year old and my two year old.
Ruby sometimes will do some remarkable athletic display, hanging on high bars or jumping great distances from a least remarkable compared to what a 2 year old can do…
But, the two year old is not deterred.
If she sees Ruby do something,
even something impossible for her to do
...she still says, “I wanna do that!”
And she goes for it! Often getting hurt in the process!

Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and says, “I wanna do that!”

So Jesus says, “Come on!”

Still, this shouldn’t be that big a deal for Peter to to try and walk on water toward Jesus.
If he sinks, he swims right?

But something deeper is going on here,
psychologically and metaphorically and spiritually….

First there is the storm...waves are crashing all around the boat…
swimming in a lake is one thing when the water is calm,
but it gets a bit more challenging, even for an experienced swimmer when there are big waves crashing and pushing you all around....  

Second, and perhaps more significant:
In the time of Jesus, people are terrified of the deep waters.
Deep water is the complete unknown,
it is where the Leviathan and other dangerous sea monsters dwelled.  

When Jesus says “if anyone causes a little one to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea, “this is more than about drowning, this is about going into the deep threatening darkness.   

Also, all of this takes place at dawn, that in-between time, that thin space when it has been thought there was a portal between the world of the natural and the supernatural….So when the disciples think it is more likely a Ghost walking toward them on the water than Jesus, this would have been a most common suspicion.   

So by Peter challenging Jesus,
If it is you, command me to come to you,
he’s taking a pretty big risk.

Which is probably why he freaks out when he starts to sink instead of just swimming…
Save me Lord Save me. Save me!  

Quite a confession

Ok, I’ve taken a fair amount of time trying to help us have a clearer image of what may be taking place in this story…

Now I want to take the image and see it as metaphor, as we seek meaning for our own lives…

The disciples are on a rocking boat, filled with fear and doubt; tired and battered by the storm...
What happens when we find ourselves caught in a storm…
not a literal storm,
but times when we feel like things are out of control,
when there is significant conflict and tension,
when we think that just when things are bad, they only get worse…
The storm was bad enough for the disciples….now there’s a ghost walking out to get them!
Walking on water wasn’t difficult enough for Peter, now he is sinking!

What are those difficult challenging times you’ve had? Painful times?

Maybe you’re in a storm right now...

A  relationship that’s falling apart…and it seems impossible to pick up the pieces...
And addiction that just won’t let you go…
A conflict at work about which no resolution is in sight...
A concern about a loved one that is becoming all consuming.    

How do we respond when our world is being rocked?
When things are out of control?  
What do we want to do?

Physiologically, our lizard brain is what dominates in these difficult situations,
our tendency is fight, flee or freeze….

I know, I want to run.
Or maybe, I get mad and want to fight!
Sometimes, I pray….
Why won’t it just  go away?!
Can I go back in time to try and do something different or try to fix it….as the scenerio plays itself over and over again in my head...
Why me, Lord, Why me???  
Sometimes, I wonder if God is even there!
This has happened with relationships.
with choices I’ve made.
It’s happened around circumstances which I didn’t choose.

I love this image of Jesus walking on the dangerous waters out toward the disciples….
The disciples are in trouble, and Jesus goes out to meet them…
Does God comes to meet us in our troubled times?
Even if God is there, do we recognize God with us?
When we look at the interaction between Jesus and Peter, there’s really something remarkable going on…
Peter, as the model disciple, already in the storm, wants to go even further…
He volunteers to go out.  
His community is with him; he has support.
Jesus didn’t invite him into the storm until Peter was ready.
Nor did Jesus prevent him: Jesus doesn’t say…
stay back, it is too dangerous. I’ll take care of you.  
He doesn’t say, you can’t do it!

he says, Come.

And wisdom teachers are this way.
They tell us, do not run from that which scares you.
Do not hide from that which frightens you.
When there is tension in our lives.
When there are circumstances that make us uncomfortable, or upset us,
situations which challenge us more than we think we can bear,

When you are ready, and perhaps with some trusted people behind you,
move toward whatever it is that is causing you fear.
Embrace it.
Look at at whatever it is from deep within, and
seek to discover why you find it so troubling…
Grab hold of it, see it for what it really is….
It’s as risky as walking on water as waves are crashing all around...

And then, from a power beyond our own, whatever it is begins to lose power over us…
we learn about ourselves and are able to move away from our fears and doubt into a place of rest and calm..

Peter was ready,
Jesus calls peter out into the storm, move toward his fear, walk on the water….
Peter he moves out of the boat into the rough waters…
and when he begins to sink, Jesus is right there with him.
They move to the boat, and calm overcomes the storm.  
It’s really a beautiful powerful image.  

In the midst of the storm, Emmanuel, God is with us....

On Tuesday Trasie and I go for a doctors appointment for Zia.
When Trasie was 6 months pregnant with Zia a tumor about the size of a golf ball was discovered in the ultrasound.  Of course, we thought the worst.  
In our panic, in our fears, we thought the best thing to do was to move from New Mexico where we had been living for 5 years at the time,
to be closer to family and have access to some of the best doctors in the world at Children’s in Atlanta….moving was something we eventually planned to do anyway….this had to be the sign it was time...
In haste, I applied for a few positions and had a few offers from churches willing to hire me;
I announced my resignation to the congregation.  They graciously understood.
We were all heart-broken.  
But, something didn’t seem right.  
Five days after announcing my resignation, Trasie and I went to a monastery to spend time in silence, in prayer and reflection.
Shortly after lunch that we met together to check in.
Both of us said to the other: The move doesn’t feel right.
We need to face whatever this is with our baby, here, in this place with this community.  

The next day, I called all the elders of the church to let them know of what had been revealed to us….and fortunately they were happy to hear the news…
We experienced calm...
Still, the storm wasn’t over.

When Zia was born, we weren’t sure if she was going to have to be operated on immediately, or if she could wait.
After the initial analysis...the decision was made to wait until she was seven weeks old.

As we waited doubts resurfaced...did we make the right decision?
Is our best option in Albuquerque?
One of my parishioners in Santa Fe was a physician in Denver his whole career;
he spoke highly of the pediatric specialists there and had connections.

We met with the physician in Albuquerque, and she was confident in her abilities.  
We agreed on a plan to simply extract a sample on which a biopsy could be performed to see what kind of tumor we were dealing with.

A 9:30 pm the night before the surgery was scheduled, a Sunday,
the surgeon called Trasie and said, she knew that I was a minister and that she would not typically tell her patients that she had revelations from God but that she felt God was telling her to remove the entire tumor.
She had been doing research and felt that it was malignant, she wanted to excise as much of it as possible; as it could be life threatening.

Trasie got off the phone pale faced..
While it had been a possibility, this was the first time it had been said by the physician that this could be life threatening…
Our world was rocked…
In our panic, we thought about canceling the surgery and driving up to Denver that very evening to get another opinion.  
Ironically, almost at the same moment we considered this, a snowstorm hit Santa Fe and the surrounding region….
We were stuck….
We felt trapped.
It was a long night….
We had to remind ourselves of the peace we had experienced months ago about our decision to stay…
We had no other choice but to embrace our fears and doubts…
and to trust

The surgery was partially successful.  
Thankfully, the tumor was benign,
but the surgeon was not able to remove it entirely due to its fiber structure….
it is such a rare type and little is know about it
only around 100 have diagnosed worldwide,  
so we continue to have it monitored through routine exams.

We feel fortunate about how things have come about;
Zia is a healthy, bright almost 3 year-old who says, “I wanna do that!”

We know that many have experienced far worse situations with their children….
and I am always amazed by the faith of those who have had to endure more difficult trials than I can imagine, who have experienced an even greater storm,
and had to courage to go out and walk on water,  trusting Jesus out to there with them...

Going back to the image of water in this story of Jesus and Peter and the disciples.
Yes, part of the ancient myths about water was the threatening danger of the deep dark unknown that emerged
But there is are even more ancient stories told about water….
In the beginning there was watery chaos...and the spirit hovered over the waters...and out of the watery chaos, order and life came into being.
God parted the waters of the sea, the people of God found liberation.
In the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s own...

Difficult storms come in life,
may we learn from our fear and our doubt,
and when we’re ready may we trust that Jesus may be calling us

Come out, into the water,
Is that you there, Jesus?
Come, and see;
see that out of the chaos, God can bring forth life like we never imagined.  
Out in the storm, we may come to experience a closeness with God like we’ve never experienced before.  

So, let us stand as we are able and affirm our faith claiming the promises from Psalm 139:

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