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Called into the Storm 

Pentecost 9, Common Lectionary Year A

Matthew 14:22-33

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

You know how it is when something you think is familiar is suddenly strange?  When you notice something for the first time, when it’s been there forever? How it stops you in your tracks, and you say “Wait up…. has that always been like that?”  For me it was the wallpaper on the stair way in my grandparents’ house. How many times as a kid had I run up those stairs past it, slid (illegally) down that gorgeous shiny oak bannister past it? A whole childhood I’d spent running up and down those stairs when we visited Nana and Granpa’s house.  Then one day, the day we were helping Nana move out to a seniors’ apartment, I was carrying a box of books down the stairs, and I saw it for the first time.  One panel of the wallpaper was upside down. “ What?  How?  How long has it been like that?”  My Nana, who was pretty teary that day, suddenly burst out laughing, and said, “Since your Granpa hung it that way by mistake in 1954! Boy was I ticked with him, for years!  I think it sticks out like a sore thumb, I can’t believe you’ve never noticed!”   Well, the wallpaper in this text has been there for nigh on two thousand years, and I’ve never noticed it either until now.  And now that I see it, it sure sticks out like a sore thumb!

Let me set this up a little; Matthew’s in full narrative and theological flight by chapter 14 of his Gospel. This is the section where he goes out of his way to show Jesus  as the new covenant of God – God’s Son, God’s promise fulfilled and enfleshed in sandals and homespun….. Matthew tells of Jesus’ travels around the Galilee, teaching, healing, casting out demons, living and breathing the kingdom Dream of God And every story he tells, he makes sure we understand the connections between what Jesus is doing, and what God has been up to throughout Israel’s history; the feeding of the multitude in the wilderness a deliberate echo of God’s feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. And even today’s reading, of Jesus calming the storm and conquering the waters, – to the savvy Palestinian Jew of Jesus’ day, this would call to mind the ways in which God conquered the waters of primordial creation, and God’s rescue of Noah from the flood, and Jonah’s safe landing from the belly of the fish. Every word Matthew uses, every speech he puts into the mouth of Jesus, is deliberate, considered.     So, here’s the wallpaper:  “….. all were fed, and they gathered 12 baskets of leftovers, and about 5000 men were fed, as well as women and children.  Immediately…” – breadcrumbs still fresh on the ground, and “immediately” “Jesus insisted, told, commanded the disciples to get in the boat and cross to the other side of the sea, while he sent the crowds away to their villages, and then went up the mountain by himself, to pray.”

Do you see the upside down wallpaper? It’s not the going up the mountain to pray.  We expect Jesus to do that. It’s not the sending the crowds away to their villages.  That’s sensible. It’s the “insisted the disciples get into the boat out onto the lake,”  bit.

Not obvious, really, yet, is it? After all, boat was the quick way across the Sea of Galilee, and to his fishermen disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, John, boats were their livelihood. An ordinary, ho-hum thing to do. Except that in Chapter 13,14,15,16, NOTHING Jesus does or says is ordinary. This isn’t  some literary bridging from one scene to the next; it is the next scene. And the wallpaper pattern is most definitely upside down from what we’d expect.

Jesus commanded them to get into the boat to cross the lake. He sent them into the storm.

Now, I personally prefer to be a preacher of a Gospel slightly more benign than that: I am okay reading this text as a gentle, even strong, encouragement to us that when the storms of life come and find us, God will be there, as Jesus was, walking across whatever turmoil, walking on water, through chaos and hell, with an outstretched arm, to rescue us from slipping beneath the waves. In fact I did preach that, three years ago, in my first sermon here as your Minister. I’d preach it again, and again, for I believe it to be absolutely true, not just because the Bible tells me so, but because I have lived it, experienced it personally, more times than I can count.

But today, this time, all I can see is upside down wallpaper! Matthew has this Jesus sending disciples into the storm! All of a sudden, gentle Jesus, meek and mild, looking upon us little child (ren), is far more steely, more demanding, of his disciples than I’d like him to be!

Are we really to be sent into the storm? Is that what we signed on for at baptism? When we came to church today? Didn’t we come for a word of hope? Come to listen, be fed at the table of God’s grace, and  to be sent on our fitfully faithful way, to live as light, and life, and love in the world? Sure!

Except, God knows, all too much of the world is caught in the throes of a Hurricane-strength storm, battered by winds of hatred, darkened by small-minded bigotries, drenched in fear, the power of justice cut by partisan self-interest. So bless him, Jesus IS sending us – disciples – into the storm, to be the outstretched arm of Jesus, reaching to those falling victim to the storm’s rages.

The storms we Canadian disciples face may look like an April shower compared to the storm that rages for Iraqi Christians in Mosul and Qaraqosh, or Indonesia, or Nigeria. But those same storms are the ones into which the Gospel  of Jesus Christ calls us to speak daring truth, to urge those in power to not stand idly by while the humanity of others is in peril. In other words, being sent into the storm means we are not allowed to sit in sanctuary from the politics of hatred, or fear, when the Gospel of love and hope is so desperately needed. I’m sorry, Stephen Harper, but faith, being a disciple of Jesus, is political. It’s about being found in the midst of the world’s storms.   Another storm much closer to home is the one we progressive disciples are sent into; to advocate persistently in word and deed for the full human, political, economic, educational, marital and spiritual rights of women, children, those living with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community. Not a storm that is over by any means.

Not all storms are geopolitical or global in scope. As disciples of Jesus, we may be being sent into family storms, personal storms, spiritual storms, where we, following Jesus’ walk-on-water footsteps, are being called upon to hold out a hand of peace, to speak a word of calm, to reach in rescure toward the hurt, or angry, to be present in the darkness and the storm of another person’s anguish, grief, or pain. One thing that is certain, in this upside down Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s these storms into which he insists we go, as he did, full of grace, courage, strength, truth, and love.

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