August 13, 2017

10th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Matthew 14:22-33

Audio available above right at the microphone icon.

It was Sunday at 8: 15 a.m.  I knew the prelude was about over. The procession would be lining up.  All of you were in the room. Where was I?  Strapping on a life jacket to go water skiing.

Those of you who know me, know that I struggle with the Minnesota summer church attendance dynamic.  Why does it have to drop so dramatically in the summer?  Yet, there I was, preparing to go water skiing because another member of Gloria Dei, also on the same lake, was picking us up for water skiing at 8:30 a.m.  She snapped a picture, which she titled, “Pastor Bradley walks on water.”

Normally, I would have posted that picture on social media.  It was a funny title, and I would have been glad for the world to know that this body can still get up out of the water. But it was Sunday morning.  It was church time. I had complained about Minnesotans skipping church.  I was officially a hypocrite.  Maybe it would have been better to be a public hypocrite, instead of a private one.

But even more so, I know I don’t walk on water.  I know only too well the ways that I fail myself; fail those I love the most; fail you.

(Start walking from chancel down into aisle.)

I don’t think I would have been Peter on that stormy day on the Sea of Galilee.  Would you?  If I came walking down the aisle, would you jump at the chance to be part of the sermon? If I came up, took your hand and said, “Come out into the water.” Would you come into this storm?  Or would you be, like most of you this very moment, looking straight ahead, hoping not to catch my eye.

But for you Peter types, first imagine that this aisle is the place of the storm,the place where the wind is blowing against us, the place where everyone is looking to see what you’re going to do; the place where you need faith to survive. This is the place where the bully is waiting, or the place that tells us that we’re not smart enough. This is the place where we have to face our bodies and our diagnosis.  This is the place of our inner storms that we pray desperately no one will ever see. This is the ambiguous moral and ethical world that most of us live every day.  This is the place awash with fear and weapons, a place of fire and fury.

This is Charlottesville, USA in the 21st century.  What a dark cloud, a shock that so many young faces can shout hate.  Those tiki torches were no light in the darkness. If you’re a brown or black body, don’t take it in.  Listen to Jesus, not to these men, not to this culture. Don’t let those words name or define you.  You are precious, a child of God, beautiful because you breathe with Holy Spirit.  If you’re a white body, link arms against this.  But be cautious in your moral outrage, careful not to point only to the “other” voices as evil, or blame some politician for creating this context.  For those of us who are white, we have to consider how we’ve been part of all this.  If we say that the evil is only out there, and not within, all of us will continue to sink like a stone. How have we absorbed the racism that is like a dark cloud over our culture?  How do we in little ways, not so blatant and ever so subtle, commit micro-acts of racism?  What have we said, or not said?  Some of us have experienced more tailwinds than headwinds, not because we deserved it but just because we were born in the right place, the right neighborhood, the right resources? Do we understand that, not so that we can feel guilty or ashamed about it, but so that we can use to make a way for someone who didn’t get what we did, who never gets what we get?

I don’t mean to make waves, and maybe I’m saying this all wrong.  If you’re disturbed, let’s talk about it.  But we have to talk about this.  The church is a boat in this storm.  We could batten down the hatches, shut the doors, and ride it out.  Even if we close the doors, one of us is going to see Jesus in the storm and want to join him.  Jesus is out there in the storm.  “Come, Come into the storm.  You can walk on water.”

This aisle, this storm, is also the place where we are called to be faithful to the gospel.  This is the place where we are called to love, and repent, or forgive, to be honest, or compassionate, an activist of grace, no for one political party or for one nation, but for grace.

This is the place where we know we’ll sink, and we’ll be shown up for who we really are.  Maybe, we have enough faith to take a few steps, but then we all notice how strong the winds are, how deplorable the world seems, how despairing we are of what can change or even what impact our tiny steps might have.  We’re all afraid that the things that face us will drown us, or that we won’t do it right.

Jesus seems to confirm that when he says, “Oh, you of little faith.”  I wonder if we hear that in the wrong way, because the primary message of the Bible is that God is love.  If Jesus is the total and pure embodiment of love, then his affect, his tone, his words must be infused with love.

Oh, you…  You, of little faith, did you think that I wouldn’t be there for you, you knucklehead?  Maybe we need an LOL next to the sentence in the text to communicate Jesus’ reaction.  Because, of course, Peter demonstrates his deepest trust when he says, “Lord, would you just save me?”  “Pull me out of the water.”  Take my hand, and get me through the storm.”

At a meeting of pastors and deacons this week, the presiding bishop of our church, Elizabeth Eaton, preaching on this same text said, “We make so many of these texts about us when they’re really about God. Maybe this text isn’t about a command to come into the storm.  Maybe it’s a text about Jesus’ coming through the storm to us.

We’re in the storm, for sure.  We don’t have to be called into it.  We live it every single day

The good news isn’t that Peter jumps out of the boat.  The good news is that Jesus gets in the boat with his disciples.   My friends, we’re in this boat together, with Jesus, who will, without condition or shaming or cost, offer us his hand.  He will save us.

Maybe that salvation is for eternal life. Maybe that salvation is just enough of a calm for us to prepare to go back out into the storm. Maybe the salvation is a deep sense of peace that God is in charge, even when it doesn’t look like it.  Maybe salvation is the courage to face the news, or the mirror, or the neighbor.  Maybe salvation is simply feeling the presence of Christ around us, held so close that we can hear the voice of Jesus over the din of the storm.

On that Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I am, indeed, happy to tell you that this body can get out of the water.  However, you should know it was no power of my own.  It was the boat.  And the spotter (here’s a metaphor!), was Grace—Grace Raymond. It’s always a power that’s bigger than me. What saves me again and again is the one who comes on the waves.

Every day his voice sounds in the wind, whether we’re sinking or just wading in the water, waiting for it all to begin, “Take heart.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”