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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Proper 14.A and 19 in Ordinary Time

"We must sail even through mighty tempests, and Christ will never forsake us, so that we can go wherever he has commanded us to go."

John Calvin's Geneva Notes.

Prayer
Strong and faithful God, your outstretched arm governs the mighty forces of creation, and your gentle hand cradles event he smallest of creatures.  Strengthen our "little faith," and open our eyes to your presence at every moment of history and in every circumstance of life, that we may face with serenity times of testing and turmoil, and walk with Christ through every storm toward safe haven and true peace.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts


There is a lot occurring in this passage from Matthew.  Not unlike the work of Jesus Christ as co-creator shining through the miracle of the loaves and fishes we now continue on to see God's hand at work as the lord of the seas.

At first glance we see here in this passage the miraculous acts of Jesus holding up Peter's faith walk, walking on the sea himself, and stilling the storm.  While miraculous in their own right we must also pay close attention to the notion that these are acts reserved for God; these are literally acts which throughout the narrative of the Old Testament are work reserved for God alone.  So, the story is on the one hand a story of miracles but as preachers we must not loose the notion that the story also reveals the holiness, the other-ness, the God-ness of Jesus Christ.  These acts reveal Jesus as the divine Christ.

Not unlike the creedal faith soon proclaimed by the church we see in this story that the Godhead shares with the divine Jesus his nature as creator.

Allison and Davies (the Matthean scholars) point out that Matthew is quick to address the theological for evangelism purposes while at the same time delivering a teaching on the nature of following Jesus.  The Gospel for this Sunday is as much about who Jesus is as it is about whom we are to become if we choose to follow Jesus.

Christians must have faith in the face of difficulties.  As Christians try and follow Jesus and try to enact or make real his commands we know we will have difficulties.  Get out and come to me....is not as easy as it may sound.  The idea that when we step out in faith we step out upon the deep water itself.  The metaphorical teaching of the Gospel lesson is clear: Jesus will not abandon his church (those in the boat) and will come to our aid when we tread the deep water for Jesus sake.  Jesus does not promise there will not be storms but does promise to be there in the midst of the storm.

There is still something more here though. We cannot forget that the Gospel voice of Matthew is one born out of a continuing Jewish context of Jesus followers.  Here in this passage we move from a general understanding of the kingdom to the specific building upon the shoulders of Peter a new community ( a specific Matthean community) of faithful followers.  The insight offered is not one of perfection (after all Peter sinks and will fail again at the passion).  The insight rather is one of understanding the difficulty of faithful following itself.  The apostolic witness of Peter is one upon whom the community will be built. He represents the continuation and tie with the ancient faith ancestors of Israel, and also the willingness to step out and bring the revelation of God in Jesus Christ into the messianic age of community.  A community of continuing Israel's faith in a Messiah who does not leave us but continues to engage the storm of community life and faithful attempts to bear witness to his divine nature and kingdom.

I have to admit that I fail.  That is not something we aspire to in the United States. Failure is not an American option.  It has led us to hold leaders up to a perfection unattainable. At the same time our aspiration for success has also led us to be unwilling to bend or fail; in turn this has led us to not even try.  It is the not trying that is the greater sin. As I reflect upon Peter's walk I think that the reality is that the greater sin is not found in his faith as it falters for there is enough grace for all.  The greater sin would have been not to have tried.  The greater sin would have to not believed in the grace of Christ such that we would have stayed in the boat.

I believe the issue with the church isn't so much that we don't believe in Jesus Christ, but that our real sin is that of perfection.  If it can't be perfect then we should not try.  The Episcopal Church (and my guess is all churches) today is being challenged to get out of the boat. We are being challenged to take a faithful step out into the world. We are being invited and challenged to step out upon deep waters and we are being challenged to fail gloriously.  When an institution and a culture no longer has the ability to tolerate failure the organization is dead.

I hope you will challenge people to get out of the boat.  I hope you will challenge the church to leave the building.  Most of all I pray for you and for me the gift of toleration to allow people to fail gloriously for the sake of the kingdom of God and the Gospel of Jesus.  In such grace we can hear Jesus' words to us:  “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”



A Little Bit for Everyone

Oremus Online NRSV Text



General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Textweek Resources for this week's Gospel


Some interesting articles on this passage:

Chris Haslam's clippings blog


Working Preacher


William Loader's First Thoughts

The Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33

22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

The Kaleidescope Institute has reworked the questions somewhat and can be found here.

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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