Sunday, August 13, 2023

11 Pentecost, 2023-A: In every joy and every storm

Lectionary: Lectionary (Proper 14): Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.

Look up. What do you see?

Most churches are intentionally constructed to be an ark, like Noah’s ark, a vessel that protects God’s people, keeping them from harm and destruction. This building is our ark, our boat, and we are the disciples in it.

Storms will happen. They are not our fault or of our own making. It’s the reality of a world that is in the “almost but not yet” time, the New Age, the New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus.

We will be tossed by storms, but when that happens and we are afraid, we remain together in the boat and watch for Jesus who will walk towards us, hand outstretched, ready to save, because Jesus is coming. Jesus is always coming.

It is our nature as humans to seek stasis. We like things to be comfortable and predictable, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our worship rituals are an expression of this.

The challenge comes when the world doesn’t cooperate, when storms arise out there, or even in here. Storms toss us into deep water and like a child learning to swim, we turn and grab for the side of the pool, thrashing if we have to, to get ourselves to safety.

That’s what I picture when I hear this story and think of Peter out there on the water – sinking. Peter… thank God for Peter! He’s so us!

The story goes like this: Jesus has just finished feeding the 5,000. Imagine the spiritual high an experience like that would create in the disciples. When the crowds are gone, Jesus compels the disciples to get on the boat without him and set out. Jesus goes off by himself to a mountain to pray.

When it was evening, Jesus returns from his prayer and sees that the boat has been carried far from land and is being battered by a storm. Aware of his disciples’ predicament, Jesus waits until morning to act. They must endure this storm through the darkness of night.

Do you hear this symbolism? Matthew is a genius writer.

Most of us have experienced nights like that. Whether it’s an earthly circumstance that we must suffer through or a dark night of the soul that envelops us, those nights can be terrifying and seem endless.

When I divorced my first husband who was terribly abusive, we had to establish a visitation schedule as all divorcing parents must. My ex used the exchange time as an opportunity to threaten me, so the court established that our child must be exchanged at my aunt’s home and someone had to be present to protect me and witness the exchange.

On one occasion, I was waiting at my aunt’s house for my child to be returned. The deadline time came and went with no word. This was before cell phones so figuring he was en route, I waited, getting more and more distressed as the time ticked on.

Finally, my ex called my aunt’s house to tell me that he was not going to return our child. He said he decided I needed a break and was doing this for my own good. I reminded him that the order required him to return her and his violation would be considered kidnapping – a stipulation of our agreement since he had previously threatened to kidnap her.

It was a Friday afternoon at 4:30 so he knew I couldn’t reach the court to enforce our agreement. There was nothing I could do until Monday morning, so I went upstairs, knelt down on the blue-black, indoor-outdoor carpeting of my cousin’s bedroom, and prayed.

I hadn’t prayed in a long time and wasn’t sure God would hear me, or that God was even there. I was completely broken, helpless, and had no clue what to do. I had no words to pray with either. I just stayed there on my knees, hoping God would show up and guide me - and God did.

I “heard” in my soul that I should wait; that my daughter would be returned to me and all would be well. A peace fell over me and though I was still terrified, I obeyed. It was the longest two days of my life. I felt like Peter sinking on the water.

I called my parents to let them know what happened. My father wanted to jump into action, hire a private investigator to find my child, contact my lawyer to get an emergency hearing, and other things I couldn’t hear because I tuned him out. I couldn’t manage his storm while I was being tossed about in my own.

I told my father that we would wait until Monday and ask the court to enforce the order. He responded by shouting that I was crazy; that by Monday they would be long gone never to be found again. My fear exactly.

I stood firm trusting in the peace that still wrapped my soul. On Monday morning, I called my lawyer and told him what happened. He called for an emergency hearing, for which my ex was late, and I had my daughter back in my arms by lunchtime.

There is no terror, no storm, no dark night of the soul that we ever go through alone. Jesus is there so we need not be afraid, his hand outstretched ready to save.

To “save” is not to direct our soul to eternal bliss and away from eternal damnation, despite what some Christians have said for so long. To be saved is literally: to make sound, to preserve safe from danger, loss, or destruction. That’s what Jesus did for Peter then and it’s what Jesus does for all of us now.

When God is acting, it will often defy our ability to understand or explain. The laws we’ve discovered or developed to calm the chaos of our world are helpful, but incomplete, and easily overcome by the love of God in action. What shouldn’t be able to happen does happen.

Once a man came to me for prayer. They found a mass on his esophagus, and he wanted me to offer prayer and a blessing ahead of his surgery the next day. He said he was terrified because he was now the same age his father was when he died of esophageal cancer.

We met and I offered healing prayer, anointing with holy oil, and a blessing ahead of his surgery. As always, we asked God to remove the mass, knowing that God’s plan may or may not be to remove that mass, but Jesus said to ask for what we needed, and that’s what he needed.

The next day, I met him and his wife at the surgery center to pray before they took him back. They told us it would take about four hours, so I went back to work. His wife assured me she would let me know when he got out of surgery so we could pray and give thanks.

An hour later, the wife called me to tell me they were bringing him to recovery. I rushed to the surgery center to find the man and his wife happily chatting. Seeing my surprise, they told me that the doctors opened him up and found no mass at all, so they closed him up and sent him to recovery. They were both on a spiritual high having received a truly miraculous answer to their prayer.

Sometimes the love of God in action can’t be explained, only accepted with thanks. This man and I continue to share this story – to confess the Good News we know, not so that we will be saved (Paul got that wrong), but because we are saved, we have been made sound, preserved from danger, loss, and destruction by Jesus. All of us have.

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves or anyone else. Only God can save and Jesus, who is God, already did it – once for all (Paul got that one right).

So, let’s be brave and share the many ways God’s love has acted in our lives and in our world, to remind people that we are already saved and that we are loved beyond our comprehension by God in Christ who is always with us, in every joy and in every storm. Amen.