Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
August 9, 2020
Lessons: 1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-23
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people trust Jesus to equip, accompany, and give them voice and words to share the good news.
Key Scripture: The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For this 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.” – Romans 10:11-13
How and when did you first learn how to swim? For me it was a beginner class at the Nashville YMCA. I was terrified and hated wearing that uncomfortable rubber swim cap. Yet I persisted, learned to swim, and even became a lifeguard. My father’s foray into the world of swimming almost ended his life; his uncle believed in the sink-or-swim method. Thankfully, my father came up thrashing vigorously, his worst injury swallowing a goodly amount of lake water. My mother never did learn to swim and is justifiably hesitant around large bodies of water. Our children all swim like fish; we made sure of that from an early age.
Swimming just doesn’t come naturally to most humans. We were created to walk upright on the earth, to breath air rather than water. Even though water is not our natural element, it’s still critical to our existence and more than 60 percent of the human body is water. We can survive without food for about three weeks, but most of us can only live without water for two or three days—perhaps a week or so with the right conditions. Water is beautiful, powerful, healing, nourishing, dangerous, and essential. Sounds a little like discipleship, doesn’t it?
From the moment one is baptized, it’s discipleship game on, even if we don’t fully realize what that means or are too young to grasp the implications of what’s been done to us. Yes, we walk wet and wade in the waters of our baptism every single day. We die daily to sin and rise to another round of new life. Baptism changes things. That means we need tools and equipping to see us through. We need faith. We need the counterbalance of doubt. And, wow do we need swimming lessons!
Like Peter, we need to know that we can call out to our Lord and depend on him. Seems as if Peter went a little overboard in his need for confirmation of Jesus’ identity, but hey, a disciple needs what a disciple needs in the life’s work of following the Christ. We don’t know what was driving Peter when he stepped out of the boat to try his hand at walking on water. Maybe he felt like as if he needed to set an example for his terrified companions. Perhaps he was trying to prove his devotion. Maybe he just needed Jesus—NOW! Whatever the reason, his mistake was not keeping his focus on Jesus. Peter let the storm raging around him break his concentration, and fear flooded in as the waters closed around him.
Maybe you’ve felt a little bit like Peter in recent weeks. With the Pandemic, economic uncertainty, and issues of justice and change bubbling up in repeated protests all across our country, the waves can seem pretty high and our boats awfully small. How do we preach and teach across a divide that’s so loud and entrenched? How do we proclaim the radical good news of Jesus without being “political”? Jesus was “political,” and it got him killed.
You may be hanging on for dear life in your dinghy, but now is definitely the time to refresh your swimming skills. Yes, my friends, we are in some deep and churning cultural waters. And we’re being asked to trouble those waters in a good way, as the late Rep. John Lewis reminded all of us in his final essay, published by the New York Times on the day of his funeral. Click here to listen to and watch Morgan Freeman read it.
Yes, we all need to hone our discipleship swimming skills, but we also need to find prayer and meditation practices that will draw us deeper into the heart of God—no danger of drowning there, just the reality of being deeply loved and treasured. And we need to be honest about our doubt, too. Not processing his doubt got Peter into trouble. Jesus isn’t afraid of our doubt; it’s the flipside of faith, after all. But Jesus also expects us to work on our doubt, to test it, to try it, and to listen intently for divine guidance. Wondering how to hone your swimming skills in this particular cultural quagmire? Take a cue from the popular Nike slogan and “just do it.”
Like Peter, we must “swim” as Christians, entering fully into the chaos and beauty and brokenness of our world. We must keep our eyes upon the Christ and trust the wisdom and accompaniment of the Holy Spirit. As Paul reminds us, “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” (Romans 10:11-13). Now read those next two verses; this is where we come in. Paddle with those beautiful feet, my friends. Dive deeply into your baptism and rise again to share the good news and love that sustains this weary world. Preach it. Teach it. Live it. Walk wet, and keep swimming. God is with you, and will never let you drown.
Invite people to remember how they learned to swim, or if they do not swim, what prevents them? What emotions and realities were/are at play? Fear? Terror? No access to swimming lessons or a place to swim? Now invite them to look up at the ceiling of your church building (or take a photo of it and share digitally). Remind folks that we call our worship space a “nave.” That word derives from the Latin “navis” which means ship. We are quite literally as disciples and faith communities in the boat together when we gather. In a world filled with chaos, change, and calamity, being in a boat together is a pretty hopeful thing. We need one another, and we need the Christ to pilot us safely through this life.
Consider the gospel lesson today. Are you more like Peter or the other disciples? Are you more prone to impulsive decisions, or are you more fearful and hesitant when it comes to the big stuff? What about swimming and boating? What are your experiences? Do you love the water? Are you distrustful of it? Now consider life as a disciple. We’re in this faith community boat together, so how can we make it the best experience and journey ever?
This week’s focus verses are 1 Kings 19:11-12 – “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.
Have you ever wondered how God speaks? Does God have a big, deep voice like the actor Morgan Freeman who played the role of God in the movie Bruce Almighty? Is God’s voice something that should scare us or comfort us? In today’s Old Testament lesson we learn how God spoke to the prophet Isaiah. God came to Isaiah in the sound of sheer silence. How often do you sit around listening for good in total silence? That’s not how most of us try to listen for God. We pray, we speak, we wait, but we’re not very good at listening for God.
Maybe part of the reason is that we don’t have a lot of silence in our world today. We need to practice. Just like swimming lessons, we need listening lessons. We need to put action behind our words, even if that action is sitting still and listening. We might walk silently in a forest or through a meadow. We might sit on the lake shore or on a quiet bay beach at sunset, and listen for God.
Here’s the thing. We have to learn to listen with our whole body—our hearts, our minds, our spirits. Why? Because sometimes we don’t hear God talk with our ears. We hear God in our heart, or see God’s answer right before our eyes as God guides us in the right direction.
Today, instead of our regular way to pray, let’s take exactly one minute of complete silence and listen for God. We might not hear anything, but if we keep trying this—simply paying complete attention—God will speak. This is something you can practice at home with your family, too. For what and whom should we pray? (Write down all answers on a white board or large piece of paper.) Ready? Let’s spend one minute in silent listening prayer.
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Being a steward of all God’s gifts means that we must listen to God for guidance about how to use these gifts. This week spend some time pondering God’s will for your life by spending time in silence, preferably outdoors if you are able. Just listen and appreciate the beauty of God’s good creation. Soon you will begin to hear God speaking to you through this time of silence.
If everyone can be saved simply by believing and calling on God, why do we have to do anything? Won’t God accomplish everything anyway? Of course God will accomplish what God wants, but God also invites us to work alongside the divine and creative impulse. That’s why God has given us “beautiful feet” so that we can share the good news. Paul says, “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? (Romans 10:14). We are sent into the world to proclaim God’s love, to teach and make disciples, and to baptize other. Yes, we are swimming teachers with beautiful feet inviting others to walk wet with us as we follow Jesus.
Practice: Listening for God and sharing God’s love through your life
Spend time every day in silent listening prayer. Start with 10 minutes and work your way up to 15-20 minutes twice daily. Choose a comfortable spot to sit, outside if possible. After you are finished thank God for being with you and guiding you. Notice any nudges, words, images that came to you during your silence. Let these be your guides today as you find ways to share God’s love, often without words, with others whom you encounter. Share your experiences of the week in your family or with friends from your faith community.
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/08/stay-in-the-boat-steward/
2014 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/08/jesus-chaos-fear-doubt/
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