August 13, 2023
Genesis 37. 1-4, 12-28. Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery. (The lectionary skips Joseph’s dream of his brother’s subservience.)
Psalm 105.1-6, 16-22. Praise God for God’s wonderful deeds. The story of Joseph, sent ahead of the people of Israel to save them.
Romans 10.5-15. Righteousness is not obeying laws, but being attuned to the presence of God. All who turn to God will be made whole. So we are sent to convey this good news to others, who would otherwise not know.
Matthew 14. 22-33. The disciples in a boat struggle against a storm. The sight of Jesus walking on the water terrifies them, but he reassures them. He then invites Peter to walk on water as well.
This tale continues the Bible’s work as the chronicle of dysfunctional families. From Cain onward we hear family members (that’s us) saying “Am I my bothers keeper?” And God answering yes, and us saying no anyway. In God, our loving parent, we are all one family. We are all Joseph’s siblings. All whom we resent, abuse or mistreat are our siblings. Joseph will encounter his brothers again, but much later. Often the truth—that we are all one— comes to us only after a long time.
“The word is not far from you, but in your heart.” Faith isn’t something we have to go get; a relationship with God isn’t something only certain pious people possess. God is in us all the time and all of us are always only partially aware and trusting of that. This passage is often turned into a requirement: “If you confess with your lips you will be saved,” implying that if not, you won’t. But it’s a promise. Sometimes we feel like we’re not good enough for God. But we are. All we have to do is trust that. And the same is true of others, including people whose faith we might be temped to judge. God is in them, and you can’t judge their trust level. Just work on your own. But how are they to believe if they haven’t heard? That’s where we are called—not to proselytize, but to show love. Love is the only thing that will convince folks that Love is real.
Note the story begins with Jesus making for himself the solitude he didn’t get when the crowds interrupted him.
When we’re “battered,” when the “wind is against us,” we tend to revert to fear. Again and again God’s Word is, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.” In our troubles God is with us. Jacob wrestling with the angel, Joseph’s brothers, the disciples facing a crowd of thousands of hungry people, or caught in a storm: they’re all learning to trust God’s presence and God’s grace. A challenge is that sometimes we’re more terrified of God than our troubles! Maybe something in us knows that even our troubles are actually about God. It’s not that God causes our troubles, but that our troubles in life expose our trouble with God. Our real struggle is to trust God is always present, and to let God be God. Notice that when Jesus and Peter get into the boat, when the disciple’s inner struggles resolve, the outer struggle disappears: the wind ceases. Sometimes our troubles are external manifestations of inner struggles. But not always—so don’t use this to blame yourself or others for suffering!
While the disciples are wondering if they’re seeing a ghost, Peter knows the test: the real Jesus would ask him to do something risky, scary, seemingly impossible and requiring deep trust (like feeding 5000 people). So Peter launches the test: “Ask me to walk on the water.” Ah, good ol’ impulsive Peter steps right into this own trap. He’s right, of course. Jesus asks us to do stuff that’s risky, scary, seemingly impossible and requiring deep trust.
Peter begins to sink— Matthew says “he became frightened.” He was probably already afraid, but focused on Jesus—until his fear took over. Fear is natural; but faith is acting with courage even when we’re afraid. Peter noticed the strong wind. He focused on what was against him instead of what was for him, what he lacked instead of what he was offered. (Remember the measly little loaves and fish?) And he focused on how he was doing. He judged himself. He measured his performance. That sinks us every time. What saved him was his belovedness. Never mind if you’re good enough. Just love, and let Jesus hold you up. None of us knows how to walk on water as we ought. But the Spirit intercedes for us. When we talk about believing in Jesus, it doesn’t mean having certain opinions. It means reaching out for him. Literally giving him your heart, or, sometimes, giving him your hand.
The image of Peter in the water is a great image of baptism. Sinking in the waters of baptism, we acknowledge our need for Christ—who hold us and gives us life even in the harshest storms.
Call to Worship
Leader: In all our troubles, God,
All: you are there to save.
Despite all our fears
you give us courage.
When we are sinking
you hold us up.
We thank you. We praise you. We worship you.
Leader: Loving God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
You are with us in our troubles,
and your hand holds us through every danger.
Alleluia! Hold us now, O Divine presence.
Holy Spirit, come and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: Eternal God, we cry to you, lost and alone.
All: Faithful yet unseen, you are present.
Wind and waves beat against us.
Jesus calm and steady, you are there.
Fear and doubts rise up in us.
Spirit of peace, you are herewith us and within us.
In awe and gratitude, we that you.
We reach out to you. We worship you.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, your Word is not far away, but near us. It is on our lips. It is in our hearts. Grant us stillness this morning, that we may be mindful of your presence and open to your Word. Help us always to know that you are near, in stillness and in turmoil, in calm and in storm. Help us always dwell in your presence, listen for your Word, and reach for your hand. Amen.
Loving God, in danger you are our salvation. In loneliness you are our companion. In fear or uncertainty you are our courage. We thank you. We love you. We trust you. We reach for you. Hold us, and lead us to life. Amen.
Faithful One, as Jesus walked across the stormy sea to the disciples, so you come to us in our troubles. Come to us now, walk across all our fears and doubts, bear to us your presence, and and give us your peace. Amen.
Holy One, give us the patience of Joseph to trust your presence. Give us the faith of Peter to reach out for you. Amid loneliness and betrayal, amid storms and struggles, give us the grace to give our our hearts. We pray in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
Loving God, you are our life.
We reach out for you,
for you are here.
Hold us, and give us life.
Walking on water
Years later the curious would ask,
“That night on the lake, really and truly,
did Jesus actually walk on water?”
And one of the disciples might reply,
“Yes. But the curious thing
that nobody ever mentions is that
every day of his life, wherever he went
his feet were always wet.”
Another disciple says, “No, that’s just a story.
But another time he did.”
Or, “I don’t recall. All I remember
is how afraid I was to see this apparition,
how relieved to see it was him,
and how afraid when he looked at me
as if I could do the same.”
One says, “Not at first. That was just
a metaphor. But as the story spread
so many went there looking for him
that he walked out there often to meet them.”
And one: “Oh, yes, it was very real, more so
than you think. The story has him floating
like a cloud. Actually, the waves were pretty choppy.
It was hard. He fell a couple of times.”
One time a disciple simply replied,
“He is still there, every night.”
Another says, “Honestly, I don’t remember that morning,
but all the mornings since then.”
Another: “My heart is a deep and unpredictable lake.
And he always walks toward me, never away.”
But usually they just look at you and say,
“Why are you asking me?
You must go and see for yourself.”
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) By your Word you calm our stormy hearts and call us to greater risks in faith. You grant us your presence and strengthen us to serve you. Give us the faith always to hold on to you as we serve you in all circumstances. Send us now into the world to spread your grace in the name of Christ and the power of your Spirit. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Keep on walking
In the beginning: water and the Spirit. “Let the light shine through.”
Always a beginning, Spirit and the water: God makes all things new.
Chorus: Keep on walking, step into the water,
God will bring us over with an outstretched hand.
Remember our history: through the pain and mystery
runs the way to the promised land.
We have been walking, walking through the water,
walking through the great Red Sea.
Pharaoh once bound us; chaos now surrounds us:
that’s how Gd sets us free.
We have been walking, walking on the water,
walking on the storm-tossed sea.
“I will give you power to live, to do great things. Follow me.”
We have been walking, waling by the water, baptized in God’s name.
Dies in the water, born in the water, we will never be the same.