Like a Rock
Riding the stormy seas of Corona emotions, some days we float, some days we sink like rocks. When we’re in the depths, God is with us, offering us a helping hand, pulling us back up.
Jesus 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 toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, 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.”Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when Peter 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 Peter, 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 worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Be Like Jesus: Serve.
We didn’t know he was coming, and when I saw him, I reacted as though I’d seen a ghost. While helping my church serve lunch at an AIDS hospice in midtown Atlanta, we were visited by our congressional representative John Lewis. This is extent of my meeting with John Lewis. I turned around, there he was, and as I broke into an uncontrollable sweat, I said, brilliantly, “You’re John Lewis! You’re John Lewis?” He laughed, “Yes, I am.” He shook my hand, and we went back to serving lunch.
Earlier in Matthew 14, Jesus and his disciples feed, quite publicly, a multitude of people whom the Empire kept hungry, a tactic old as Empire itself. Cultivate in the people a feeling of scarcity. Make them afraid, and watch them turn on one another.
Empire still behaves this way. Let the unemployment insurance dry up and force people to reenter the workforce in the middle of a pandemic. Withhold aid, withhold unemployment insurance, withhold the funding, send in the paramilitaries, conjure more conspiracy theories. Keep the people divided.
Jesus calls us to break down the ungodly dividing walls. Jesus showed us how to love unconditionally, to feed everybody who shows up and send them home with leftovers. He healed the sick indiscriminately giving away healthcare, casting out demons.
So, this is the context. This is where we are in Matthew 14. This is how we are right there resonating with the people in today’s reading. You will not read this in much of the news, but true biblically-grounded Christianity stands is at odds with Empire.
Be Like Jesus: Process Emotion.
Just before Jesus fed the multitude, King Herod indulged the whim of Salome, his spoiled-rotten daughter, the influencer. Had Jesus seen the shaky phone video posted everywhere showing his cousin John’s beheading? How could he not be drowning in grief when the multitude shows up—hungry and insistent for miracles? Maybe Jesus needed a retreat, a break from people, disciples included: everyone’s demands and expectations, and, all the while, the privileged scribes and Pharisees trolling him in the comments section, mocking all that is good.
In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle writes that
Ridicule is a terrible witherer of the flower of the imagination. It binds us where we should be free.
All of the derision we take in has to effect us: the violence, the pain, the systemic racism, the xenophobia. How is the flower of your imagination holding up? Hold on. Don’t wither just yet. There’s good news.
Be Like Peter: Step Out on Faith.
Matthew 14:22: dismissing the crowds, Jesus makes the disciples get in the boat. He pushes them out. Did Jesus trick those disciples into the boat? He waves bon voyage, and takes a hike. Uphill. Our spiritual ancestors thought God dwelled up the mountain, on higher ground where’s human interference, no wifi, cell service.
Quinn Caldwell writes:
[Jesus] eventually gets his retreat. Climbs the mountain, silences the notifications, fights off the impulse to just check his device one more time real quick. Sits a while with his head between his knees. Doesn’t let the news close over his head. And then when he comes back to the people, he comes walking on water.
Be Like Peter: Sink Into God’s Loving Hands
Grinning slyly, he calls from the stormy sea, “Come on in, Peter, the water’s fine.” Jesus calls every one of us to step out and walk on water. What if we don’t do it right and get embarrassed? Peter resists that impulse. He puts his faith into vulnerable action—while white-knuckled disciples watch his sandaled foot touch the waves. Vulnerability is Peter’s superpower. Are you willing to be vulnerable to Jesus Christ? To God? To Love in general? Thursday, in his final published essay, John Lewis urged us
…to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe…
I want you to go back and re-read today’s scripture substituting your name for Peter’s. Get in the boat with the disciples. What does your first name mean? Think of that as you read aloud. Madeleine L’Engle:
When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability.
Peter was brave enough to be vulnerable. No wonder Jesus called Peter the Rock upon which I will build my church and the very gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 
Peter’s name means Rock. Let his name remind you of his walking on water and the way he sank like a Rock. Remember the hands that caught him and pulled him up.
Though the storms keep on raging in my life
And sometimes it’s hard to tell the night from day
Still that hope that lies within is reassured
As I keep my eyes upon the distant shore
I know He’ll lead me safely to
That blessed place He has prepared
But if the storms don’t cease
And if the winds keep on blowing in my life
My soul has been anchored in the Lord
I realize that sometimes in this life
We’re gonna be tossed
By the waves and the currents
That seem so fierce
But in the Word of God I’ve got an anchor
And it keeps me steadfast and unmovable
Despite the tide
But if the storms don’t cease…