Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 19)
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
It was late in the afternoon. I had walked west out of Provincetown to Herring Cove Beach. I had been walking for about 45 minutes half until the last bit of the walk over the dune and then, finally spread out before me was Cape Cod Bay. As I walked towards the still water, down onto an empty beach, the sun dipping low in the western sky, I felt the presence of God in a real and unique way. It was as if I walking into God’s presence. As if the cares of the world melted away behind me, and before me was an embrace of God’s love. I think it was the silence, the solitude, the peace and quiet.
Silence is often a powerful way to experience God:
- As I’ve mentioned before, I love the silence of early morning, especially cool summer mornings – I love to write my sermons in that quiet place.
- Years ago, as a voting member of the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, the assembly took time to pray before every vote. In the silence of prayer, we cast our votes. It was in the silence of prayer that we discerned the Holy Spirit leading and guiding the ELCA and we trusted that our votes reflected God’s will for the church.
- A couple weeks back, Pastor Margaret Payne, former bishop of the New England Synod, suggested in her sermon here that contemplative prayer, prayer rooted in abundant amounts of silence, is a crucial grounding and first step in antiracism work.
In today’s First Reading [1 Kings 19:9-18], Elijah experienced God in the silence. Now, it must be said, Elijah was not in a quiet place. For whatever reason, the cave in the mountain on which he hid was one hyperactive meteorological and geological area.There was a mountain splitting and rock shattering wind … a ground trembling earthquake … a skin singing fire …
What caused these events is unknown, but scripture records that God was not in them – no matter how powerful they might have seemed. Instead, the Lord was in the sheer silence that followed. It was in the sheer silence, that Elijah experienced God and in which God spoke words of direction, commission, and purpose.
In our Gospel reading today, we also can imagine silence – it was the silence of Jesus by himself in prayer. The Gospel reading [Mathew 14:22-33] today starts with Jesus sending the disciples off by boat and dismissing the crowds – the thousands just fed in the miracle of the two fish and five loaves. When everyone had left, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. Remember, that’s what Jesus had intended to do before the crowds followed him – Jesus had wanted to be by himself to process the death of John the Baptism, but the crowds intercepted him.
In these two stories, we see God speaking in silence, in solitude, and in prayer. Perhaps you, too, can recall times of “sheer silence” in your lives in which you’ve experienced the presence of God? Perhaps you can give thanks for times when the demands of life are set aside of a time for a moment of rest, relaxation, and reflection? Perhaps you long for such a time?
And yet, our scriptures this morning present a bit of a contrast. If Elijah experienced God in the sheer silence, for the disciples in the boat, they experienced Jesus in the midst of the wind and the waves.
Scholars point out the sea stands in for chaos. The waves pounding the boat is an image of the changes and chances of life pounding against us as individuals, as a congregation, as humanity. But there, in the midst of it, was Jesus walking on the water towards them.
It’s worth noting, scripture doesn’t say these disciples, some of them fishermen, were afraid of the wind and waves, they had experienced those things before. They were afraid of the figure they saw walking towards them on the water – they had never seen that before – was it a ghost? But there, as the wind blew and the waves roared – there was Jesus, a presence of stillness, peace, and hope in the midst of a scary situation.
Unlike in the first reading, when Elijah experienced God AFTER the wind, earthquake, and fire subsided … in the Gospel, the disciples encountered Jesus AS the wind and waves lashed out at them. This Gospel story invites us to consider the ways Christ meets us IN the midst of the storms of our lives.
Several years ago, I attended Advent Evening Prayer at a local Congregational Church on a cold night in December. The prayer service included 10 minutes of silence. We had just started the silence, when the heating system kicked in forcing hot water through cold pipes that produced a banging noise that echoed through the church – it sounded like someone was banging on a pipe with a hammer.
Our silence, was serenaded by that knocking. And while I initially found it annoying, I realized it was a clear example that we do not command silence so that we can hear God. But rather, we keep the silence, in the midst of the noise, so that we can hear God’s word of life speaking to us.
That day when I experienced God on the beach years ago, I realized that God was not sitting there waiting for me at the beach. God was every much present, active and alive in the city I had left behind. The thing was, in the city, surrounded by sights, and sounds, and calls to action, and suffering, and people living their lives – it was easy to get distracted from seeing Christ precisely in the midst of it all.
Isn’t that what happened to Peter? Peter boldly insisted that Jesus command him to walk out of the boat onto the troubled waters to stand with Jesus. And when Peter set out of the boat with his eyes on Jesus he was fine – he walked towards Jesus. And then, he looked around. He realized, based on his experience as a fisherman, he shouldn’t be doing what he was doing. When he turned his focus away from Jesus and to the waves – he started to sink.
Whether we experience God in the sheer silence like Elijah, or in the presence of Jesus in the midst of the winds and storms of life, Theologian Melinda Quivick, commenting on today’s scriptures, says the point is less about how we experience God, and more about what God speaks to us in those experiences. In the silence, and in the storms, God speaks in Jesus.
Quivick writes… “The experience of God’s power … is how we live our responsibilities toward our neighbors and ourselves. The Lord sends Elijah to anoint new kings and a new prophet. Peter and the disciples are given a clear portrait of how easy it is to sink under the weight of fear and to doubt that God’s power will save us. Obedience to God’s command to go out with hope and trust is the pitch of this day.” [End Quote]
Obedience to God’s command to go out with hope and trust …
Whether we experience God in silence, solitude, and quiet places …or, whether we experience God in the midst of noise and the changes and chances of life, the point is God speaks! God speaks words of life to lead us more fully into faith in Christ and into relationship with one another.
There are times God speaks to us like Peter, calling us out onto the water. To place our very lives, decisions, and actions into the presence of God as we walk on the waters and storms of life. God speaks faith to us in those times, inviting to set out into places we’ve never been before, trusting in Christ’s power alone to save us and preserve us.
There are times God speaks to us like Elijah in the sheer silence. There are times God speaks to us like Elijah to anoint kings and prophets – to actively participate in public life: to participate as neighbors, citizens, residents, voters in order to enact God’s will and purpose in community. There are times God speaks a word of direction to lead us in our vocations in the world – our vocations defined as all the relationships we are in – to live them out in ways of love and service.
There are times God speaks to us like to the disciples in the storm-tossed boat, speaking to us in the presence of Jesus for us precisely in the midst of the loud volume of daily life. We don’t have to hear this voice in some deserted or quiet place, but we can trust that the calm and still center of Jesus Christ is available for us, and with us, even as the wind and the waves send us spinning.
The Good News today, is that God both speaks, and God hears.
In those times when we are like Peter, when we look around and sink beneath the waves of fear, sin, anxiety, guilt, and shame, we can cry out like Peter, “Lord, save me!”
In faith, we are invited to believe, that when we cry out like Peter, that Jesus will respond to us like he responded to Peter. That he will reach out his hand to catch us as we sink. Not necessarily calming the wind and waves of life, but in the midst of them, leading us into the calm, stillness of faith, trust, and hope.
Whether in the silence of solitude, or the in the midst of the storms and waves, may the Holy Spirit grant you the ears of faith to hear God’s voice speaking to you. As a gift of faith, may God grant you the trust to know, that all who call upon the Lord are saved. In faith, may you call out for the Lord in the midst of the storms of life.
AMEN. Indeed may it be so.