Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church: open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Gracious Father, revive your Church in our day, and make her holy, strong and faithful, for your glory’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Holy Father, who gathered us here around the table of your Son to share this meal with the whole household of God: in that new world where you reveal the fullness of your peace, gather people of every race and language to share in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’
1 Kings 19:9-18
8 I will listen to what the Lord God will say,
for he shall speak peace to his people and to the faithful, that they turn not again to folly.
9 Truly, his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth are met together,
righteousness and peace have kissed each other;
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth
and righteousness look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed give all that is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him
and direct his steps in the way.
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 9
Walking on water – that is something we all dream of, isn’t it? It is something all the superheros do. When we realise that we are ordinary mortals, we are bitterly disappointed – we are not able to do this miraculous feat – it is so far beyond our own mortal capabilities. So whenever we use the phrase “walking on water”, we are talking of the impossible for ourselves. Such a perambulation is for the gods who might walk among us. Don’t we, after all, know that no one can walk on water?
Peter was in that boat floating on the waves which had battered the boat about and had driven it far out onto the lake. He cried out in fear because he saw Jesus approaching: Jesus was “walking on the lake”. The disciples in the boat thought they were seeing a ghost. Wouldn’t you? After all, who do I know who walks on water? But Jesus told them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” It really was Jesus walking toward them on the surface of the lake. He was not swimming, nor was he up to his waist in the water wading, but he was walking normally toward the boat – Jesus was walking on the water. Wouldn’t you think you were seeing a ghost and cry out with fear?
But, if they listened, there were words of comfort as they screamed their terror. “Take heart.” Jesus declares, “It is I.” He explains, “Do not be afraid.” He assures them. There was no ghost on the water. It really was Jesus. There is no reason for fear. After all, their friend and teacher, Jesus, approached them. Don’t we all know this, here in this boat as we float together in the confusion of our lives? We do if we listen to this voice, this voice which calms us and the stormy lake so that we can look at things as they really are.
And, lo and behold, Peter is saying to Jesus, “If it is really you, command me to come to you on the water. After all, you are my miracle worker – I should be able to do anything you ask.” This is the sort of thing we might say, isn’t it? I might say, ‘Well, I can’t possibly do this sort of thing, but if I have to,
if you command me
, then I will do it.’ Peter is saying that it is not in his power to walk to Jesus on the water, but he will do it because he will surrender himself to Jesus. He will do what is required of him. Don’t we all want to do that? We all march to the beat of the drum, the crowd’s fascinating rhythm or maybe the beatnik’s bongo. Peter takes up Jesus’ cadence on the water, and so can we.
So far we have only looked at the first part of this miracle story. Our faith, our trust, in the one calling us to him is the import of this part of the story. Jesus commands us in a very different way. He does not coerce us to obey. He does not compel us to do anything. Instead Jesus draws us out of ourselves to do something we don’t think we can. Jesus calls Peter to walk to him. In itself, this is nothing, but the path is not one he would choose for himself, because it leads over the deep and disturbed water of that very large lake.
Walking on the water, this is well beyond our ordinary capabilities, isn’t it? Why, I am not sure it is even within my powers extraordinaire. After all, I am not the superman of legend, neither of Marvel comics nor of Nietzschean imagination. I am a mere mortal called to do something I fear I will not be able to do. I am called to walk toward Jesus.
That is something no one admits to. Do we ourselves even within these four walls admit that we have tried to walk on that water which separates us from God? So, what is this miracle story all about? We don’t know about walking over that abyss between ourselves and that ultimate other – why, often we cannot close the gap between our lovers and friends – let alone spring from the precipice of our doubts into the arms of God!
So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.
Haven’t we all done this at some point in our lives? Haven’t we all got out of ourselves and started towards Jesus? We have all started walking on that symbolic water, walking over the abyss of doubt.
But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out,
What we don’t note in our steady walk toward Jesus is the strong wind blowing about us nor the waves billowing about, for we are focussed on our goal. Nothing distracts.
However, Peter gets distracted – he starts to notice everything about him and he loses his way. Peter begins to sink below the surface of that water. Peter has lost his way. He now roams a stormy and most dangerous place, where we could be lost forever. In terms of psychology, it is the unconscious, where all the unknown of life is stored. It is no wonder, as Peter sinks into the sea, he cries out in fear.
No wonder Peter calls out, “‘Lord, save me!’” We understand this, don’t we? Aren’t we all afraid of that collective unconsciousness? Should we dive into the darkness of ourselves? I think we are afraid to do that. However, it may not be necessary, especially if we allow ourselves to be caught up by Jesus as Peter was. “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” – Let us not be distracted. We do not want to sink into that abyss below our pathway. We do not want to be castigated for unfaith as were the disciples. Peter here is asked, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’
We are asked the same question – why are you listening to the distracting noise of the wind and the splashing of the waves? The path is clear, but you have no faith. Do not concern yourselves with the storms around you! Jesus says. Concern yourself only with that goal, those hands which will raise you up out of the chaos of distraction. You only have to return to the boat with that other of supreme worth.
When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
I hope we can say with the disciples, “Jesus is the Son of God”. I hope we can stand in that boat floating on the deep of doubt and trouble and be calm. Jesus’ voice calls to us through all the turmoil of life, that foaming sea into which we sink if we become distracted away from that voice of conscience. That is the voice that has been speaking through the whole of lockdown. We must not lose the ears to hear.