by Rev. Ronald Nelson
The Lessons during the summer are so meaningful, I only wish we could have them during Advent and Lent instead of the Lessons we use during Advent and Lent. If I was younger, I might try to turn the church year upside down or move to Australia.
Well, enough of my silliness. We need to start today with the refrain from Psalm 85.
“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.”
Let us look at the prophet Elijah in our First Lesson. After escaping from the wicked
Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, Elijah hunkers down under a broom tree and tells God,
“Just let me die.” Some days are like that, eh?
But what does God do? God sends Elijah on a 40-day hike. Now I do not know about
you but a 40-day hike would surely do me in. In fact, 40 minutes are more than I want to
do. So, Elijah finds a cave and waits for God, expecting a powerful divine event that
would drive the king’s army and chariots to shame. Elijah heard a mighty wind, felt an
earthquake, and saw a fire. But none of those acts revealed God to Elijah. Instead, God
finally came to him in a whisper reminding him, reminding us, that a relationship with
God is never a compulsion but something that comes in kindness and peace.
Today’s Gospel develops a similar theme. After Jesus had broken the bread with the
crowd and the disciples had distributed the food, Jesus sent the people and the
disciples away and went off to pray. While the disciples were in the boat, doing exactly
what Jesus had told them to do, they found themselves in danger. Even today, the Sea
of Galilee is known for its night-time storms. So just like Elijah, the disciples were caught
in the wind and the storm. When it seemed like things could not get any worse, they
thought they saw a ghost. Then they heard the same voice that had recently told them
to share all they had with the hungry crowd.
“Be of good cheer! It is I! Do not be afraid.”
That is when Peter gets into the picture. He is already facing death on the sea in a
storm, so why not go for broke.
“If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
So Jesus said, “Come.” Remember a couple of hours earlier, the disciples had given
away all the food. They had done a good deed and what did they get for it? They were
going to drown; they were going to die. It sure pays to follow Christ, eh?
So what does peter have to lose, he jumps out of the boat, actually takes a step or two
and does what any of us would do, especially if we are not wearing a life-jacket, he
begins to sink. He then screams, the last thing he should have done. What happens
when you are in the water with your mouth open? Think about it. Jesus simply says,
“Why did you doubt?”
You can imagine the jokes around the campfire, after that. “Jesus knew where the rocks
were to step on,” is probably the most favourite one.
Nothing in this story indicates that the disciples thought God had sent a storm or that
God had wanted the king and queen in the first story to try to kill Elijah. [I am sure you
have heard those interpretations.]
Much like the troubles of today, the first was a natural phenomenon and the second was
a result of human failings. [these stories were not/are not teaching us that God tests our
faith.] But the tests of life do help us discover what we believe about God and ourselves.
[I will never forget my first class on the Bible at Augsburg University in 1958. Yes, it was
a Lutheran University so we were required to take a class on the Bible. I was not
planning on the seminary then. Anyway the teacher said, “the world was not created in
six days.” After the class was over or maybe even before the class ended, 18-year-old
students ran to the president of Augsburg saying, “the teacher had just destroyed their
faith.” Dear old Dr. Bernhard Christianson said, “I am sorry but that is what we believe.”
If anything, I think, that is when I began to have ideas, maybe, seminary would work for
Yes, tests in life help us discover what we believe about God and maybe even more
important, what we believe about ourselves. Elijah discovered that God’s whispering
was more powerful than wind, earthquakes, or chariots. Why, because in the midst of a
noisy, violent world, we have to strive to hear God’s whisper. Then, when we hear
God’s whisper, we realize, it demands some intention and attention. The disciples and
Elijah learned that God does listen to our pleas. The disciples wanted an end to the
storm and instead Jesus invited them to walk in the troubled waters of life. Rather than
meeting our expectations, God offers to save us but in ways we might think impossible.
De Chardin said, “what paralyzes life is lack of faith and lack of audacity.” Jesus taught
the disciples that faith is an audacious way to live. A bit like deciding to walk on water,
half-measures simply will not do it. It takes faith to put our whole heart into praying,
“Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.”
You see, every description of Jesus’ life in the Gospels has theological meaning related
to God and the people of Israel. Today’s readings are powerful ones. The first one
reminds us that God’s voice is heard not only in cataclysmic events but in still, silent
moments. Many people are quick to interpret natural disasters like hurricanes, floods,
fires and droughts as messages from God, usually condemning whatever behaviour the
interpreter has decided God should condemn - homosexuality, abortion, birth control,
the list is endless. That is clearly false prophecy, claiming God’s authority for one’s own
prejudices or favourite topic.
What our world really needs is witnesses to the possibility of living the Gospel values.
Much of our world is drowning in overconsumption and media distraction. People are
perishing from irrational violence and intolerable poverty, all in the shadow of
scandalous wealth. Too many human beings, each of whom has a name and a face
cherished by God, languish on the margins of a busy world with no-one to gaze on them
with the tenderness that alleviates loneliness, even if it cannot cure their ills or relieve
the pains of aging. We are not being asked to walk on water, but to act like we believe
that God’s love for us is more powerful than chaos, evil, and apathy.
The Gospel challenges us to take the storms of our day with a love and hope that will
risk going overboard. The headwinds are fierce, but the force of God’s spirit is still
greater. The wonderful thing about these incidents is they are not success stories. They
are salvation stories. It is okay to be frightened in a storm. And to call for help is a real
sign of faith.
We can hide from the storms of today or like the Elijahs and the Peters we can be
drawn out to face life itself. When we do that, we will not triumph with every attempt, but
this is about salvation, not success.
We admire those in the past who have faced crises and have been faithful. Yet our own
immediate crises can seem so different, so insurmountable because now it is happening
to us. We face a divided country, cultural shifts that challenge our institutions. We
witness global conflicts and economic insecurity. We face an unprecedented challenge to
our common good. There are prophets campaigning for every direction and outcome.
We need to show that we trust God to help us face the storms and come through with
courage. A cloud of witnesses, like always, surround and affirm the words of Jesus,
“take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” Yes, today’s readings remind us that God speaks
to us and beckons us in so many unexpected and surprising ways. Some of us, may
respond better to an almost indistinguishable whisper, while others need a wake-up call
that requires great courage on our part – Like Peter’s call to walk on water.
To God we belong,
And to God is our return.