Pentecost 10 8.13.17
1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85: 8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Our readings this morning illuminate the mystery of faith in God, and the characters involved are two paragons of faith: Elijah on the run and Peter on the water. Both of them struggle with faith, seeking something other than what God offers. Their struggles are, I suspect, struggles we all share.
I sometimes think that the biggest obstacle to faith is the word “faith” itself, a word which in English means trust, but with strong overtones of confidence and belief. We use “faith” and “belief” as synonyms, talking about “faith” and “THE faith,” meaning a system of belief, in the same breath. But scripture, it seems to me does, not use the words in quite the same way. Scripture almost never means a system of belief and does not always connote confidence. What scripture talks about is a relationship with God that fosters trust.
Elijah is on the run. His demonstrations of God’s power have killed the prophets of the Ba’al, the fertility gods, and have made him a persona non grata. Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen of Israel, seek his life, and he is afraid. He’s hiding in a cave.
God’s first words to Elijah frame the issue. “What are you doing here?” The simple answer is that Elijah is running for his life. But the context is that he has just defeated God’s enemies with the power of God. Why is he afraid? Why does he not trust God?
God invites him out of the cave to stand on the mountain top, and then God again reveals God’s power. First there is a mighty wind, then an earthquake, and then sheets of fire. And God is in none of these. Why? Because these are acts of God, not God. God is not wind, not earthquake, not fire.
Then, in sheer silence, Elijah rediscovers God’s presence with him. And in that renewed trust, God sends him right back to Israel, right back into the firestorm.
The dynamics of Peter’s story are much the same. There is a storm on the Galilean lake. The disciples are terrified, fearing death. Then Jesus comes to them walking on the water. At first they think Jesus is a ghost, but he speaks to them. Peter, representing all of the disciples, impulsively asks to walk on the water, and Jesus says, “Come ahead.” Of course, immediately on stepping on the water, Peter again fears the storm, and he starts to sink. Jesus catches his hand and brings him to the boat, and chides him, with I think great affection, “Why didn’t you trust me?”
I think it is common for us to associate “faith” with “security” and to associate “security” with “power.” We want the confidence that comes from feeling safe from the forces that could harm us. We want to be protected, to be secured. We like those displays of power that cause our enemies, real or imagined, to step back. Faith becomes for us an investment in some sort of irresistible force, some overwhelming power.
God we know is capable of that. God created the universe. God parted the Red Sea. God, in Christ, overcame the power of death. THE faith attests that God is omnipotent.
Yet God’s power is chiefly revealed in an invitation, an invitation into relationship with God and an invitation to join God on a journey. God invites us to share with God in God’s care for the world.
That was God’s invitation to Elijah, to share the news that only the God of Israel is God. That was God’s invitation to the disciples, to share the good news of God’s love. It is not a guarantee of protection from the world, but a guarantee of companionship in the world. I will be with you always, until the end of the world.
As the Letter to the Romans puts it, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” The companionship of God is within us, in our very hearts, inseparable from our lives and from all that happens on our journey.
For me, this truth requires my constant attention. I’m easily distracted by the wind and the waves, by the busy-ness of my daily schedule, and by the needs of the clergy and people I care for. It’s very easy for me to rely on my own strength or to seek signs of power to keep me from sinking. I must remind myself everyday that God is already with me, right here, right now. God is walking this path with me – and I can trust that, I can rely on that. The hand to lift me up is already extended, already reaching for me, no matter how rough the water. I need only remember.
We all like the wonder of miracles. We all want miracles. And miracles do happen. But what God offers is a daily walk, God’s constant companionship, a reliable relationship to help us face life’s little murders. May today’s lessons invite us into a reflection of God’s silent presence within our hearts, God’s offer of a hand, God’s request for trust. And may we reach back…