In the light of the pandemic situation, as in most churches across the country, the minister and elders of Immanuel URC have taken the difficult decision to close the building for all activities including Sunday worship. This decision will hold until further notice.
However, each week we are creating a ‘reflection’ for personal devotion.
Reflection for Sunday 9th August 2020
Matthew 14; 22-33
I guess we have all asked the question at one time or another “When are things going back to normal?” I can also guess that by “normal” we really mean – what was before all this COVID19 stuff started. I don’t believe we will “go back to that normal” – we are working towards a “new normal”. To help the churches, the United Reformed Church produced a very interesting document some time back called “Emerging to a ‘new’ normal”. And this shouldn’t surprise us really, because if there is something that characterizes our Christian faith it is that we are always on the road to the “new”. And that is how it should be.
Grasping exactly what the “new” is to be, has never been easy, even from the beginning; I mean the early beginnings – sort of Moses leading the people out of slavery in Egypt and crossing through the Red Sea, and manna every morning, and quail every evening. Or like the Old Testament reading for today (1 Kings 19; 9-13) where Elijah hides in a cave for fear of his life, and there was a hurricane, an earthquake, fire – all one after the other, but God was in none of those, God spoke through the gentle and quiet whisper. Stop for a moment and think – what is normal in all that?
Our faith journey is one of always discovering the new, these times have shown us that a problem on this journey is when we get too used to the ways that were, and don’t want to try to discover the new. This is what goes on in the Gospel reading today. Are you ready to discover the “new normal” for the early followers of Jesus? Are you ready to discover what this might have to do with us now? It’s a risk but it also might be fun. In discipleship the equation is faith over normality, faith leads to the new, the different, to the surprising and often through the unexpected, the strange, the quiet or the storm.
After the feeding (last Sunday’s reading), Jesus sends the disciples ahead in a boat while he will dismiss the crowds. Each of the crowd will leave alone to their place, wherever that is. The boat will cross over to the other side and the other side is outside home and security, it is to a place where there will meet other people. Jesus goes in another direction: he goes up the mountain to pray. He is without the disciples, the disciples are without him. And while all this dispersing takes place one massive storm breaks over the lake. And don’t forget, ever since Genesis 1, lakes or seas have always represented chaos. The absence of God.
And in the midst of such a chaos the disciples see this figure walking on the water. Does that bring them peace? NO – they are terrified. Who are you? they cry out. As in Genesis 1, it is only the presence of God that puts order into that chaos. But the disciples can’t see that. All they see are waves, feel the wind, and this ghost figure. Till the figure simply says “It is I”, telling them not to fear. But who is this “I”? Similar to God and Moses at the burning bush where God only says “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). And then Peter speaks – if you order me to do so, I will get out of the boat, in the midst of this massive storm and go to you. And the voice says a sort of So be it, Come. And Peter does get out and does walk on the water. Peter is doing the same thing Jesus is doing. He wants to follow the divine, and can do so – BUT, he sees the effect of the strong wind -those waves are terrifying, and he starts sinking. Peter does not begin to sink and then become frightened, but becomes frightened and so begins to sink.
From early Christianity the boat has always represented the church. It still is the symbol of the church in so many ecumenical logos. And in this boat you find all sorts of people. And outside the boat you encounter all sorts of climate and particularly the storms that rock the boat. This is why this reading is so apt for this time, when many churches are beginning to meet for worship. But it is still a stormy time. What are the waves that have been rocking your life in the last months? How did you feel you were coping? Did you feel you would be willing to walk out, and find yourself realizing how strong the storm was and started sinking? I have. And more than once.
Peter calls out and Jesus doesn’t say a word. Why Jesus wont you just say a word? Any word would help. All Jesus does is stretch out his hand and grabs hold of Peter. Sometimes silence is the strongest sense of presence we could ask for. And only then they both get into the boat and the storm stops. Jesus has pointed out Peter’s doubts, after holding him. Jesus doesn’t condition his help. Peter has asked for help, and Jesus helps.
Strange that only then, the disciples seem to realize who this is: Truly you are the Son of God. Didn’t they think that before? They were desperate to find what normal was, but what is normal in all this? Have you realized that in spite of the storm, the wind, the sinking and all that the boat continued its journey and would reach the other side. To foreign land. Read verses 34-36 and see what Jesus does.
Has it taken a storm such as this one to “open” the disciple’s eyes and heart to the real meaning of what it was to believe in Jesus? And that Jesus will not limit his ministry -his hand stretching out to all who call- only to those he knows. The boat has reached new territory, new people. So as I mentioned at the beginning, we too are heading in a new direction, one that has to be the “new normal” after the storm we have called COVID19. Who will we meet there? How are we going to live faith in these new times? Is this “new normal” something that fills us with fear or with hope?
This reading shows us that when a community looses track of its horizon, when fear of what is going on takes over, there is only one thing that will stop us from sinking – faith that gives us peace in the storm. Going back to Elijah, as he hid in the cave, peace came in the quiet. Faith can move mountains and allow us to walk on water. But our humanity sometimes lets fear take over.
May our prayer then be that as members of the Body, our doubts don’t take over the place of our faith so we can respond to Jesus’ call and reach the other side and live as followers of Jesus wherever we are.