Season of Pentecost, week 8 (Â 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time), Common lectionary year A
Trouble in Ordinary Time.Â (Matthew 14:22-33)
By Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones
Itâ€™s a phenomenon common to many congregations in the United Church that ministers begin work in a new pastoral charge during the summer months, which in the liturgical year is known rather unimaginatively as the Season after Pentecost, or even less inspiringly, as â€œOrdinary Time.â€
There are 33 Sundays of Ordinary Time, and most of them fall in the summer months. Now, the Time may be Ordinary, but the texts for today certainly arenâ€™t! They are both full of Trouble! (Didnâ€™t we pick a great week to start!!)
The reading from Genesis 37 was more like an episode of the Sopranos than a Bible passage designed to inspire and uplift: a dysfunctional family that even SuperNanny couldnâ€™t fix, (and not to be remembered by any siblings seeking biblical license to head dunk their sister in the wading pool at the family reunion!)
The Matthew reading isnâ€™t a whole lot better really, what with storms, ghostly apparitions and a rather crazy leap from a boat that doesnâ€™t end so well.
Trouble in Ordinary Time.
â€¦..Thatâ€™s when troubleâ€¦ does comeâ€¦ in ordinary timeâ€¦ doesnâ€™t it?
Ordinary Time doesnâ€™t come with a Jaws sound track, signalling the imminent danger.Â Few of us plan or schedule trouble into our agendasâ€¦ (except maybe elective surgery or dental work)â€¦Most of us hope that if we do things just right, follow the agenda, Trouble will leave us alone.
Peter and co. were following the agenda.Â In the verses before we pick up the story, Jesus had just fed 5000 people on the shoreline. The hum and buzz of that crowd was almost deafening, and hangers-on and autograph seekers and paparazzi were crawling the hillside like ants at a tea party.Â
Jesus told his disciples â€œGet on out of here, take the boat, get away from the crowds, get some downtime. Iâ€™ll catch up with you later, but I have things to do first.â€
So thatâ€™s where we find them, sticking to the plan, sitting out the night on the sea of Galilee.Â Â An ordinary windy night.Â Perhaps not so windy that it classed as a storm to these seasoned sailors, but enough to rock the boat during the darkest hours of the night, so that just before dawn, Peter and co. were awake to see Trouble walking towards them across the water.Â
Have you ever seen someone walking on water? No, I havenâ€™t either. Walking on water is not ordinary, not part of the known plan. Not surprising then that these men conclude that this â€¦ thingâ€¦ walkingâ€¦unrealâ€¦. unknownâ€¦.unrecognizableâ€¦ must beÂ a ghost.
Â â€œTerrifiedâ€ is the word Matthew uses to describe them.Â Trouble does thatâ€¦.the trouble that comes like a ghost in the nightâ€¦the lump in the bodyâ€¦ the pain that wonâ€™t go awayâ€¦the long-distance incoming phone call at 2:30 amâ€¦.the interruption of regularly scheduled programming to report the massacre of 77 peopleâ€¦ or the collapse of office buildingsâ€¦ or overpassesâ€¦.whatever the troubleâ€¦.it terrifies.
Usually it takes us some superhuman effort of will, or profoundness of heart, to stare trouble in the face and make some sense of it.
Peter stares Trouble in the face. He wondersâ€¦.. can it be?… is it?Â Heâ€™s not sureâ€¦.â€œHe can feed thousands,â€ he muses, â€œ Maybe he can walk on water tooâ€â€¦.â€œHey, are you Jesus? He calls out to the figure on the black water. â€œIf you are Iâ€™m coming out there too!â€
Â Now, freeze the frame for a moment.
Why? What on earth (or in heaven) possessed him to think that stepping out of a boat onto a wind-tossed sea is a sane thing to do? Leap out into the drink because this terrifying trouble on the water might just happen to be Jesus? Is that what this story is about? Is that what weâ€™re supposed to take from this Gospel reading today?
Take a leap of faith!Â
Step out of the boat!!
Stare Trouble down with a caffeine jolt of Red Bull courage and blind faith!!
Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you can walk on water!!
Keep your eyes on Jesus and no trouble will ever come to you!
Â Trouble with this sort of theology is, life simply isnâ€™t like that. People who keep their eyes on Jesus do sink, they do get cancer or heart disease, do get into all sorts of human trouble just like the rest of us. To be sure, people who have experienced some extraordinary encounter with the holy,- healing from illness, reconciliation in a broken family, have felt like Peter that they could walk on water, for a moment at least. For Peter, it started out well, those first few steps, determined to conquer fear with faith, trouble with triumph.
Until those pesky waves splashed his face, made his feet wobble and sink. Like a rock. Me too, if it comes to that. Maybe you too.
We see Trouble coming and we try everything in our power to meet it halfway,â€¦and many of us, like Peter, get our feet wet, we trip up on the trouble, and we sink.
But perhaps weâ€™ve spent a bit too much time watching Peter in this story. Thatâ€™s typical actually; most of us like Peter, heâ€™s real and human and he messes up like we do. Heâ€™s easier to look at than Jesus who in this story at least is at first terrifying, like a ghost, surreal, beyond the disciplesâ€™ comprehension, let alone ours. So instead of watching the thrashing of Peter, we might do well to look at what Jesus does when Peterâ€™s troubles catch up with him.
â€œJesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.â€
Â Have you watched a mother with her baby when heâ€™s learning to walk? (Here Rev. ERJ made reference to Sue and Jacob Finn, who has just learned to walk. Godâ€™s blessing today was that we could see the following words in people we know and love.)
Holding back long enough for the child to make oneâ€¦ twoâ€¦ three/four/fiveÂ wobbly steps towards her smiling face â€¦As soon as the wobble becomes too much, her hand immediately reaches out to catch him, hug him, hold him close, delighted at his courage and determination.
Â When Trouble comes, in Ordinary Time, as it always does, itâ€™s not just what we do that matters. We may try our best to take a leap into the unknown,and we may sink, or trip, but watching Jesus in this troublesome tale, we get to discover, yet again, that Godâ€™s nature, which we see enfleshed in Jesus is to â€œimmediately reach out and catch us.â€
When Trouble walks across the night time towards us, you can be rock solid certain sure that God is coming too, to reach out and hold us safe while troubles last and billows roll.