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What in the world were those boys thinking? They’d already enjoyed one stormy day with Jesus on the sea. That time they had to wake him so he wouldn’t miss the fun. Today he sends them on without him. He’ll catch up with them later. Night falls and a storm bears down on them – wind, waves. For hours they search for land. About 3am someone spots a figure walking across the stormy waves toward them. Like silly children these grown men shriek: “It’s a ghost.” “It is I – be not afraid.” It’s Jesus. And Peter, doubting and scared, maybe relieved and hoping, challenges: “If that’s really you, invite me to walk to you.” Why does Peter not ask for some other proof, like: “If it’s you, stop the storm.” Or, “How many did you serve dinner to last evening?” “Come right ahead, Rock,” says Jesus. And Peter hops out, walks a few steps until a gust of wind gets his attention. He looks down. I’ll bet his wonderment smacks him like a wave, “What the heck am I doing out here?” He starts to sink. Moral of the story – “Keep your eyes on Jesus and you can walk on water.” Simple enough – not really. The point is – we can try, but we can’t save ourselves. External circumstances often are beyond our control. Jesus lets Peter fail and falter. Jesus doesn’t say, “Nice try – too bad you lack enough faith.” He saves him, doubts and failure, and a mouth of sea water. I hear a twinge of humor in Jesus’ voice – “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And that’s the point of the story to me. Jesus is there, because that’s who he is, and we need saving. He saves us, not as we want, but as we need.
You’ve probably heard this Gospel reading a few times in your lives, especially since this is the only miracle that is recounted in all four gospels and it is thought to be an anticipation of the Last Supper and of the Eucharist. That makes it even more challenging to tell you something you may not have considered when reading this passage.
Just to set the stage for this gospel reading, Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist had just been beheaded by King Herod. When Jesus heard this he withdrew by boat to a quiet place to reflect on what had happened to John, and maybe to spend some time grieving for his cousin, but the crowd followed him on foot, and would not leave him alone. The Gospel says, Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick.
I’m yet to see the movie or read the book, Heaven is For Real. The subject does interest me. A child has a near death experience, travels to heaven, encounters Jesus, and relatives he never knew. He returns to tell his story. Dad writes it into a bestseller. Many skeptics and even some Christians dismiss it as fairy tale. I like the title, though, and I imagine Jesus would, too. For the past weeks Matthew has fed us a diet of Jesus’ take on heaven’s reality.
Some thought Jesus is out of touch with religion, reality and the ways of the world. That would be the religious leaders of his day. Many in our day, still think he’s out of touch. Frankly, he is – because of how we try to structure reality. We try to fit God into our ways. And God doesn’t fit. God wants to fit us into God’s world. A lot of people may say otherwise, but don’t want that.
When Fr. Steve asked me to preach this Sunday, I breathed a great sigh of relief that I escaped Trinity Sunday preaching yet another year, but then I read the Gospel reading…and was no longer so sure this was an easier option…
Some of you may know that Karen and I recently attended adult summer camp in North Carolina. To be clear, think Folk School – training in arts. You need to know what an adult summer camp is. After lunch one day, a new friend and I talked about word series that contain truth, like “Ready, Aim, Shoot,” which amateur photographers confuse for “Shoot, Ready, Aim.” After a Christmas Eve service years ago, a mother told me her kindergartener was muttering aloud during the ever-popular singing of “Silent Night” as candles were being lit. Eyes wide open, staring at his flame, he is saying, “Stop, Drop, Roll! Stop, Drop, Roll!”
The June Apostle has been post…check it out…click on News then on the Apostle icon!
I’ve said that the dead don’t get up and walk around. I stand corrected. Last Sunday evening, at the Billboard Music Awards, Michael Jackson was up from the dead, singing and dancing. MJ died in 2009. And I have since learned that Elvis sang a duet with Celine Dione in 2009. He died in 1977. I thought you people like me? Why didn’t someone tell me these two guys are back?
Jesus is into an extended discourse of parting words to his disciples in today’s gospel. Storm clouds are rolling in. Jesus will be dead in less than 24 hours. You’ll often hear these words read at memorial and burial services. People listen closely and politely. Death gets our attention like little else. Life eludes us.
In addition to Mother’s Day, today is Good Shepherd Sunday. I thought I’d try to work Mother’s Day into the sermon. About all I came up with is that I’m sure my mom would’ve agreed with Peter – “That boy of mine sure can be like a straying sheep. I hope the Good Shepherd gets ahold of him before he drives me crazy.” I don’t know why she’d say something like that – I did go to seminary, after all. Anyway, in today’s gospel, Jesus is not a shepherd. He’s a gate. Today should be the Good Gate Sunday. But a gate doesn’t relate as warmly to us as a good shepherd does.