Get Out of the Boat Matt. 14.22-31 Rev Dr Robert Griffin Sunshine Cathedral MCC, Executive Minister Sunday, June 29, 2014 Our gospel reading today presents us with an old but very familiar story. Matthew is retelling Marks metaphorical story that is set at the 4th hour of the day, between 3 and 6 am, which […]
Get Out of the Boat
Rev Dr Robert Griffin
Sunshine Cathedral MCC, Executive Minister
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Our gospel reading today presents us with an old but very familiar story. Matthew is retelling Marks metaphorical story that is set at the 4th hour of the day, between 3 and 6 am, which would have been about the time of the morning for the Roman soldiers to change the guard watch. It is a story about Jesus being on shore and spotting his disciples in a boat, “in the midst of the sea” about 3 to 4 miles out from shore.
But, before dealing with this story, we need to understand how our cast of characters gets into this situation. So let’s rewind to the beginning of chapter 14. A couple of chapters back in Matthew 14, we read that the one who had baptized Jesus was killed, in fact the story says, he, John the Baptist, was beheaded as a result of a birthday wish.
King Herod had placed John the Baptist in prison because he was preaching against the king for divorcing his own wife, an Arabian princess who was an obstacle to his marrying his sister-in-law, so he divorced her and unlawfully took his brother’s wife. And still, some have trouble with the concept of Marriage Equality! But something was usual about this particular marriage arrangement because that is what landed John the Baptist in prison.
Regardless, on the king’s birthday, his niece by marriage to his sister-in-law, now his step-daughter, danced before the king and the king in his drunken state promised his step-daughter/niece that she could have whatever she wanted, even up to half of his kingdom. Now, that must have been some kind of dancing (just saying).
So, step-daughter/niece asks her mother, “what should I ask for” and the mother said to her, “ask for the head of John the Baptist.”
One might think that an odd request, well, it really is odd, but nonetheless, the request was made of the King. The wish is granted, and the next thing that pops up at the wedding instead of a cake is the head of John the Baptist.
At this point of the story we find a grieving Jesus. The King has just killed John the Baptist. The disciples and Jesus were basically thinking, “you know, we preach the same message as John and we might need to get out town for a little while and let things cool down before they come after us; we all agree that our heads look better on shoulders than on platters!”
So, now we have a grieving and possibly even fearful Jesus, a Jesus and friends who need rest and time to think about all that has just happened. So it makes sense that they would want to withdraw to a safer place.
Matthew says that when Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist he withdrew by a boat to go to a deserted place, but the crowds heard that Jesus was going from one side of the sea to the next and the crowd met Jesus there. Jesus and his friends are basically running for their lives, but still take time to feed others in need along the way. Whatever your problems are, you have something to share, and you will lift yourself up as you try to bless others.
These two stories, the story of John being beheaded and the story of Jesus and his buddies getting out of Dodge and feeding some folks along the way, are the stories that lead into today’s story of the boat and storm and walking on water.
There are some things that I believe that these two stories point out about Jesus. He grieved, he felt fear, and he got tired. There is no shame in having human emotions and there is no shame in needing to rest and heal when feeling battered and overwhelmed. But then what do we do next? That’s the question of the story.
In today’s story we are told it is evening. Maybe the disciples were exhausted after fleeing from the king and finding resources to feed those who had followed Jesus. So they find a comfortable spot and they fall asleep in the boat. The tides begin to rise, the mooring lines come undone and the boat floats out to sea. Apparently, about 3 or 4 miles off shore, the boat begins to be battered by the waves of the sea. The winds were against them. And yet, with no lights to cast reflection on the water, maybe the moon was even covered by clouds, Jesus spots a boat being battered by the waves and the boat just happens to be carrying his friends.
Many of us have encountered storms in our lives. We may have been battered, bruised, hurt and overcome by the high seas and strong head winds. There may have even been moments when it felt like we were drowning and there was on no one around to even throw us a rope to pull us to safety.
There comes a point when we must reclaim our own Courage to believe in ourselves when no one else might.
“We may be tempted to believe that somehow more faith may be the key to a miraculous victory over our problems.” (Rev. DeWayne Davis) I do not discount the role that faith plays in our lives and yet I cannot count the number of times that someone has said to me, if I just had more faith, then this would have gone the way I wanted. What they don’t seem to realize is that faith is trust in the process of life, not a guarantee of personal satisfaction.
I have more faith in what I have learned from life situations than expecting God to do everything for me. Waiting for God to show up hasn’t always prevented a loved one from dying, medical diagnoses from being pronounced, job loss, home foreclosures, countries from going to war, a young teen being dislocated from their home for coming out as gay, lesbian, transgendered, queer or questioning, but what my faith has allowed me to believe and affirm is that regardless of the situation or circumstances, God was right there in the midst of every situation. Comfort and courage was possible even when outcomes were uncertain or unpleasant.
To lean and depend on God is one thing, but to make God be a crutch for everything in our lives keeps us from taking responsibility for our lives and living them fully. We read in the book of James that “faith without works is dead”. (2.17)
When Peter believed in himself, he was as mighty as the storms…the storms were real, but Peter was equal to them. When Peter doubted his ability to cope, to adapt, to survive, when he doubted his sacred value then the storms overpowered him.
Rather than faith being the magic fix to problems, faith is the energy that motivates us and empowers us to take wise action, and we then are the ones to find hope and courage, to share encouragement with others, to navigate difficulties, and to make a difference in our own lives or others. As our senior minister often says, “What God does for us, God does through us.”
Faith is the trust in our ability to cope, to change, to adapt, to get through, to overcome, to begin again. It isn’t the promise that there will never be challenges to endure. Faith is trusting in our own goodness and in our own strength, perhaps even trusting that God is in us so we always have reserves of hope and courage to draw on; but faith isn’t a denial that healing is needed, nor is it a promise that healing will happen on our time table or exactly as we would prefer.
We hope. We do what we can. We believe that miracles are possible and we allow them unfold as they may. Faith isn’t being in control; it’s trusting that we don’t need to be in control.
We read that Jesus walked out onto the sea; I am more apt to believe that maybe Jesus walked out on a sand bank toward his friends. But regardless of what Jesus walked on, the miracle of the story isn’t that Jesus or Peter walked on water.
Maybe, the miracle of the story is the revelation that the very human Jesus is seen as reaching out to his friend in need as an example of the Divine being with us in our moment of need. When we show kindness, when we offer comfort, that his how God, divine Love, the power Life, touches others; our hands are God’s hands and it is through us and as us that God makes a difference in people’s lives.
Peter dared to believe in himself and he did the seemingly impossible.
When we forgot to believe in himself, Jesus reminded him; gave him a hand and challenged him to not stop believing in his own sacred value.
In The People’s New Testament Commentary it says: “Faith is not being able to walk on the water … but daring to believe, in the face of all the ‘evidence,’ that God is with us in the boat, made real in the community of faith as it makes its way through the storm, battered by the waves .” That’s faith!
Getting out of a boat in the middle of the water may seem courageous, but courage doesn’t stop there; that’s where it starts. In the words of Rev Dr Mona West, “to break life-draining patterns and let the story of our lives unfold…to choose compassion over judgment, love over fear, the courage to withstand the tension of opposites and to give up what no longer works in order to stay close to what is sacred”…that’s courage; that’s faith.
The disciples are in the boat, maybe hiding from the Roman soldiers (which is, remember, why they are where they are to begin with, and the political climate of fear and danger may actually be the sea in which they feel they are drowning!).
Walking on water isn’t about the water, it’s about daring to stop hiding, to face the truth of who we are, to believe in ourselves. Once we do that, we may have recurrences of doubt and feel like we are sinking, but we can be lifted back up and challenged to believe in ourselves again, and more than ever before!
The boat can be that place that holds us back for whatever reason.
The boat can be that place where we stay with our habits or addictions.
The boat can be that place where we are a slave to fear, shame, doubt.
The boat can be that place where we are told that we lack self worthy and dignity.
The boat can be that place where we are told that our relationships don’t matter.
Until we are ready to make a change in our lives the boat can be that place that holds us back.
It is time that we find courage to believe that we can Get out of the Boat.
If we want to make a change in our lives for the better, we have got to get out of the boat.
If we want to make a change to make sure all people are cared for, we have got to get out of the boat.
If we want to make a change so that there is equality for all, we have to get out of the boat.
If we want to help Sunshine Cathedral grow and thrive and bless lives nearby and far away, we have to continually get out of the boat.
God is not unfamiliar with the heights of the seas or the roughness of the waves that we have and will endure on our journey. But we can affirm today this: that God will continue to meet us where we are and with the courage to believe in ourselves, we never have to be stuck in the boat. All things are possible.