Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, August 13, 2017, Pentecost 10, Proper 14, Year A, Matthew 14:22-33
“It is a ghost!”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Amen.
Today’s sermon is brought to you by the motion sickness medicine: Dramamine. Powerful, fast relief from motion sickness when you need it most.
Trust me… Dramamine will really knock you out. Makes you fall right to sleep. And now we know the rest of the story from Mark 4 when Jesus was sleeping in the front of the boat while the storm tossed the boat around… Only Dramamine could make a person rest so easily in the middle of a storm.
My first experience with Dramamine was back in 1997. My brother, Josh, and I had driven my Dodge Omni to Gulf Shores, Alabama, during Spring Break. There were many adventures to be told from that trip, but those are for another day.
He was working as the youth director at a church in Zeeland Michigan. I was working in a furniture factory.
We were both happy to be going on vacation.
We stayed on a sleeper sofa with a family from his church. They were also vacationing in the warm sun for a week.
This was the best way to vacation because the family covered the lodging costs and would feed us for the entire week.
The only thing that could have made this scenario any better would be if the family decided to pay for a charter fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico… and that’s exactly what happened.
It seemed that the entire cosmos was working for the benefit of the Baron brothers.
So, we loaded up our coolers with lunch for the day… took a Dramamine the night before and the morning of… and we were ready to fish….
We had nearly arrived at the spot where we would be fishing when my brother started to throw up from being sea sick….
He never even got his line in the water.
I lasted much longer.
I may have fished for 5 minutes before I began to get sick.
Soon enough we were both in the cabin of the boat with a bucket next to us.
For the next six hours, we were miserable.
Feeling sick was bad, but listening to the hoots and hollers of the success of the anglers was extra painful. The son of the family we were staying with, caught a Kobia shark.
What was intended to be a day to remember, certainly turned out to be memorable but in an ironic and negative way.
Our bodies sensed danger…. Sensed chaos…. And responded accordingly. Our bodies resisted what was going on and put us physically out of commission until the conditions changed.
Our gospel passage for today also includes similar veins of irony. The disciples would have been feeling ecstatic about the work they had been included in…
In the passage before our gospel lesson for today, they had fed more than 5,000 people… certainly a miracle, and were now sent ahead of Jesus. They would have been riding a wave of optimism, awe and renewed passion.
I can only imagine the number of high fives and fist bumps in that boat as they shoved off.
I can hear one disciple saying, “That was amazing! I can’t believe we got to be a part of that! This is the best messiah ever!”
And another replying, “The food just kept showing up… nothing ever ran empty. I was personally stuffed and couldn’t eat another bite. There is no way to account for that. Together we will set the people free from the Romans!”
They were doing so well, they maybe figured that Jesus was just one of the guys.
What was there to be afraid of anyhow?
Several of the disciples were fishermen, after all.
In Matthew, this was the first time that Jesus has sent the disciples ahead, alone. The first time he was separated from them.
In the first century, the sea, the water, were symbols of chaos… representations of danger and fear and of ominous possibilities.
And the author wants the reader to see this… Expects that the reader will have this context.
We have the disciples away from Jesus for the first time in the story, in the gospel, and they are out on the water…
The waves have beat the boat and separated the friends of Jesus farther and farther away from Jesus.
The crowds represent the constant and building pressure of the changes happening because of the ministry of Jesus. Because of the birth pangs of a coming Kingdom.
On the heels of one of the greatest miracles in the biblical text, the author wants to remind the reader that not all is well.
Things are getting bad.
John the Baptist had been executed right before the feeding of the 5,000.
The crows are continuing to press in all around them.
There is a lack of justice in the land, The Roman oppressors are cracking down on the Jews… The Religious elite is in collusion with the Romans… And there is no justice for the common person. except for… the miraculous ministry of Jesus. A ministry that offers to heal the sick and proclaims equality status for all of humanity. A ministry that proclaims a new kind of Kingdom…
A storm is brewing in the text and there isn’t a motion sickness pill that can cure the problem.
And the disciples look far off into the distance… they strain their eyes and they see… a ghost.
They see a ghost walking on the water. Walking out of and on top of the chaos of the water… they see the walking dead. They see an apparition… they see “Death,” what they think is a ghost, walking on the water.
They have been haunted by Jesus the Christ. They are haunted by a new Kingdom and a new king. A king that will turn their lives and words upside down.
But maybe… this story is difficult to connect with…. Maybe…
Anybody out there feeling like we have been placed right in the middle of chaos?
Anybody out there feeling a bit tossed around like a ship that has lost control?
Anybody else feel like things are spiraling? Have you turned on the news in the last while? Read the news recently?
I’m honestly not trying to assert that narrative into your context, Maybe I am projecting that anxiety into your life. Maybe you aren’t the least bit worried. But I do know that National and global anxiety is high. Folks are nervous. They are concerned. Folks feel alone and isolated. Especially people of color. Many of you were alive during the civil rights movement. Many of you have already watched this kind of news on your television. This kind of hatred and violence. And so maybe you have already experienced this kind of anxiety back in the 50s and 60s.
I have been feeling anxiety and stress too. I have been very concerned for the future for my own children. I have felt helpless and hopeless… And so, I have been on the lookout for hope.
I have been on the lookout for goodness… I have been on the lookout… for Jesus.
And for a couple of days, I had been straining my eyes… and I found some hope… I found some goodness… I found Jesus… I found those things in the words of an author that I am very fond of… In the words of Anne Lamott…
Get outside, even just to the front porch, and look up into the sky and into the tree tops, and say the great praise- prayer: WOW. Listen for the sound of birds–or bird. Surely there is one lousy bird somewhere in the vicinity. Close your eyes and really listen. If birdsong was the ONLY proof we have that there is a bigger deeper reality than what transcends what we are seeing on the news, it would be enough for me. Eyes closed, breathe, listen: secret of life.
And lastly, take care of the poor–right now. In my book Hallelujah Anyway, I wrote that when I got sober, I was taught that happiness lay in going from big shot, to servant. If you want to feel loving feelings, which is hope, do loving things. Send a donation to a group that feeds and shelters and clothes people, in your neighborhood, or Syria. Don’t tell yourself you have no money–pack up clothes and shoes to take to a shelter. Or cash in the money in your laundry room change cup, and give it to people on the street. Give away three dollars to moms on the street with kids, and give the kids colored pencils and journals, or index cards, and say,”It is good to see you,” even if you have tiny tiny judgment issues involving bootstraps and combed hair.
Later she suggests that you and I take a nap.
That we take a nap and then participate in acts of kindness for ourselves and our neighbors.
This advice… these action steps are not intended to avoid reality or to put our heads in the sand. No, they are ways to pull ourselves together and to gain strength to carry out the mission of God. To remember what goodness looks like.
So, if you are feeling down… feeling helpless and hopeless…
Give something away… Take a nap…
Give something away, take a nap, and then make plans to have coffee with a good friend.
Take a deep breath.
Tend to an old relationship through a phone call… Make dinner plans with somebody this week… plans with somebody that you have been WANTING to gather with for weeks or months or years.
Be brave and reach out… Call your children or an estranged family member…
This is how we can usher in the Kingdom of God… even in times of trouble and anxiety….
This is how you and I can offer hope in the circles that we are a part of.
This is how you and I can make room in the boat to be haunted by the ministry of Jesus. Haunted by a Kingdom and a King who is counter intuitive… By a Kingdom and a King that spends time feeding the hungry and by ushering in justice and peace.