Hi all! I hope you are enjoying this beautiful weather, despite the continued craziness of our world right now.
I mention in my sermon that I sent out a letter to my congregation this week with regards to our covid-closures. Unfortunately, we will not be resuming in-person worship in the fall. If you would like to read the letter in it’s entirety, you can find it here on our website. We hope to continue to move what we can online and resume some of our in-person programs and activities, with strict social distancing protocols in place.
Here is this morning’s website. What a time to be preaching about storms!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 9, 2020
Jesus Will Carry Us Through
I swear I am not recycling my sermon from two weeks ago when I start off by saying this, but I had a moment this week.
And not one of my finer ones.
But here’s the thing – I think we have all had some of our not-so-finer moments lately. Today is August 9th, which means it has been five months and one day since we last gathered for worship in person. COVID-19 has completely turned our world upside down for nearly half the year and I think many of us are now coming to the grim realization that we will likely not return to a semblance of “normal” anytime soon. Unfortunately, what we need now is time for science to work and, in the meantime, for people to collectively follow public health recommendations in order to reduce community transmission.
This is certainly not what we envisioned back in March when we shut things down for two weeks.
And the thing is, everyone’s hard is hard in this. Living through a pandemic with two small children is hard, but so is living through a pandemic with school-aged children. Or being an essential worker. Or being a teacher or a school administrator. Or being a small business owner. Or not being able to see your grandchildren. Or living alone. The list goes on. Everyone’s hard is hard in the midst of this storm we are living through right now.
Which makes this week’s scripture reading where the disciples are caught in a storm all the more relevant for us right now.
When I first starting looking at our scripture for this week, I thought to myself, “Well this is ironic timing considering we have a tropical storm coming through.” I have to admit, after a somewhat harrowing drive through wind and rain on Tuesday afternoon with both my children in the car, I cannot really blame Peter for being frightened by the strong winds.
But let’s back up for a minute and figure out how we found ourselves in a boat during a storm.
For the past couple of weeks we have been following the lectionary and toggling back and forth between the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Romans. The passages in Matthew, which is where this morning’s scripture reading comes from, have followed a pretty linear trajectory, so, essentially, we have traveled the journey with Jesus and the disciples to get here.
A few weeks ago, Jesus was teaching the disciples in parables, using analogies about growth and vegetation to talk about the kingdom of God. People started to take notice of Jesus – some good, some bad. He was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth and then – as I talked about in last week’s sermon – John the Baptist was beheaded at the hands of the family of Herod the ruler. The disciples had buried John’s body when they and Jesus were met with a large crowd of people who needed to eat. In my sermon last week, I talked about the fact that the disciples were grieving the loss of a friend and partner in ministry and very likely “over it” when Jesus said they still had work to do and blessed morsels of food to create a meal of abundance.
And this week, already “over it” and probably wondering to themselves if they have not already been through enough, the disciples encounter a storm.
A storm that batters their boat.
A storm that creates large waves.
A storm that blows terrifying winds.
In many ways, I actually feel like we are walking something of a parallel journey to this stretch of Matthew right now. I do not want to speak for everybody, but I would wager a guess that most of us are kind of “over it” and wondering if we have not already been through enough already – so the tropical storm we encountered this week was icing on the proverbial covid cake we have all been served this year.
Actually, when I read Peter’s words in verse 30, “Lord, save me!” I thought to myself, maybe we should put that on a tshirt, because if ever there was a battle cry for 2020, that might be it.
Or maybe that is the seventh stage of covid grief that we started talking about last week – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, “over it” and “Lord, save me!”
There are a lot of “preachable” tidbits in this story:
- Jesus walking on water.
- Jesus reassuring the disciples, saying to them, “Do not be afraid.”
- Jesus commanding Peter to come off of the boat.
- Peter initially walking on water, but becoming frightened and beginning to sink.
- Jesus reaching his hand out and catching Peter before he sinks.
- Jesus asking Peter why he doubted.
- The winds ceasing and the disciples recognizing Jesus.
I want to look specifically at the fifth tidbit that I talked about – where Jesus reaches his hand out and catches Peter before he sinks.
Because I think we all need to be reminded right now that Jesus is not going to let us sink.
This story – Jesus walking on water – should not be confused with the one where Jesus calms the storm (which actually happens much earlier in the Gospel, in the eighth chapter). It is most important to recognize in this story, that Jesus’ presence is not what stops the storm.
I am going to say this again, because it bears repeating: Jesus does not stop the storm. Jesus simply carries the disciples through it.
When Jesus sees the storm raging and the boat battered out at sea with the disciples on it, he does not calm the storm and then go save them; he saves them amidst the storm. He walks out to them, commands Peter to get out of the boat and then reaches his hand out to Peter when Peter starts to sink.
Jesus does not stop the storm. Jesus simply carries the disciples through it.
We have to believe the same thing is happening to us, today.
We are in the midst of a pretty harrowing stormy right now – and I am not just talking about the cleanup efforts from this week’s tropical storm. I sent out a church-wide email this week, one that I admitted I dreaded writing. The email said that we would not be resuming in-person worship in the fall; that, quite frankly, I do not know when we will resume in-person worship. At this point in our journey with covid, we have to be patient, be kind and – well – be safe.
And while I do not have a lot of answers right now, I do have faith. Faith that we will, eventually, pull through this and find ourselves on the other side.
But, more prevalent right now, I have faith that Jesus is carrying us through this.
I think we all know by now that having faith will not shield us from bad things happening in our lives. Faith in God through Jesus Christ does not give us a “get out of bad stuff for free” card – this is very clear to us right now.
But what our faith does give us is a steadfast presence that meets us where we are in the storm and carries us through. Our faith gives us the promise that we are not alone. Our faith gives us hope that the winds will cease.
This story does not falsely reassure us that we will never experience storms in our lives. In fact, this story does not even reassure us that when things are already hard, we won’t find ourselves in the midst of a bad storm.
But it does show us how Jesus meets us in those storms; how Jesus commands us to get out of the boat and keep going, even when it is scary for to do and, perhaps most importantly, how Jesus reaches his hands out to us and catches us before we sink.
This has not been an easy year for anyone. We are weathering storms on global levels, national levels, community levels and individual levels. But, as Christians, we believe that we are not weathering these storms alone. We believe Jesus is meeting us where we are; we believe that Jesus will guide us through this storm, however long it may be.
Friends, close your eyes for a moment, and picture yourself in a boat with the storms of 2020 raging around you. Visualize what you have been experiencing this year and let yourself feel all the feelings.
And then picture Jesus walking towards you – reaching his hand out and catching you before you sink.
We are not alone in this.
No matter how bad this storm gets – Jesus will guide us through it.
There are storms raging around us right now – some more literal than others. But I think, as people of faith, in the midst of these unprecedented times, we must hold fast to the promise that 1) Jesus is with us, 2) Jesus will not let us sink and 3) the winds will cease.
We just have to weather the storm.
Friends, take heart.
It is Jesus who is here.
Do not be afraid.
Thanks be to God!