Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33
Can you imagine being a disciple of Jesus - as in one of the original twelve? They had so many things thrown at them - stories that we’ve heard for years, if we’ve been raised in the church, and may seem like normal, everyday retellings. But these original 12 men who followed Jesus around in his ministry - just in the past weeks, we’ve heard of Jesus preaching about the offensive mustard plant, then feeding a vast multitude of people the disciples tried sending away, and now there’s walking on water in the midst of a storm! I wonder how much the disciples were aware that they were witnessing divine history in the making.
Many of these gospel stories and Jesus’ parables are nowadays (and in western culture) turned into stories of individual encouragement. The mustard seed reminding us that even the smallest bit of faith can grow into something large or the loaves and fish reminding us to be hospitable. And that’s ok - we need a lot of individual encouragement.
And also, I think the modern-day culture we live in sometimes focusing too much on the individual person or household. We need to remember that we belong to a larger community of people - whether through friends, family, our neighborhood, the city, nation, simply humanity!
I think it’s good to read these stories and to see how they speak to us collectively, as well - as a community, as a collective people.
Take today’s boat story. Again, you may be having flashbacks to felt boards or movie renditions of this scene...it’s a popular Christian story. The boat is out on the water, the stormy winds are blowing, the boat is rocking, the disciples are scared, Jesus walks toward them on the water & calms the winds, one disciple, Peter, steps out of the boat and he, too, walks on water.
It can be quite the lesson about stepping out in faith, trusting God through our doubts, and so much more. Especially since it is one person who steps out of the boat, we may often relate this story to individuals.
Kathryn Matthews challenges us to not simply read it with an individual mindset, though, wondering when and how we as individuals may step out of the boat. She challenges the church community to think about this from the perspective of the church body. (Sermon Seeds, ucc.org) How could the disciples, the boat, Peter, the storm all relate to the church, as the body of Christ?
Start with the fact that Scripture says Jesus commanded the disciples into the boat. The disciples were “called” into the boat, if you will, before the storm started. They were intentionally commanded to load that boat. I can’t tell you if Jesus knew about the storm and how this story would go, but I can read that Scripture says there was some intention there.
Have you considered yourself called to this faith community - this boat at Lynnhaven Colony UCC? I know many of you would immediately answer yes, and others of you may have never considered that perspective before. Many have shared that you first visited LCCC more “by chance” because you drove by and saw a welcoming message on our sign...or because you were going to be late to another church you were headed to and just popped in here.
How would it change your interactions with this faith community, if you viewed your participation here as being called - as a place where God has directed you to be - not just by chance - to intentionally be a part of this group of people?
And then, once considering the faith community to be similar to the boat and the disciples in today’s story - what storms does/has the church community weathered collectively? When has the community found itself suspended between faith and doubt in the midst of turbulent winds?
LCCC has certainly weathered storms in the past - from prominent members suddenly passing to uncertainty in a pandemic to what may feel like a storm with my leaving at the end of the month and preparing for a new pastor ahead.
And dealing with a storm as a community requires some cooperation, right? I can’t help but think of a 3-legged race or a similar Field Day competition where you have more than 2 people contained/tied together and they have to run in one direction. If you don’t coordinate and cooperate, you’re all falling over.
I can’t imagine that all the disciples on the boat reacted to the storm in the same manner. And also, assuming that boat was a sailing boat of some sort, they had to cooperate in order to stay upright - to know who was pulling sails or ropes or releasing sails or ropes - or whatever has to be done to keep a sailboat upright in a storm.
Finally, thinking of our collective selves being in the boat - suspended between faith and doubt - weathering the storms - how do we stay focused on Jesus and the guidance he provides? How does the church, collectively, at times turn its focus away from Jesus - losing sight of faith and starting to sink into the water? As Peter was distracted by a strong wind and lost sight of Jesus, how does the church, as a people, do the same at times - distracted by crises or bombardment of information? More importantly, how does the church then refocus?
Months ago a regular visitor of ours, Coretta, asked me simply when did LCCC come together to pray for its unified vision. It was an honest question so that she could join in, and the only answer I had to give was that we prayed together during worship on Sunday mornings...and then shared prayer requests during the week. It was a welcomed challenge to start a unified prayer time to focus. From that conversation and the efforts of Benita, we started a regular prayer line (Mon-Fri, 7pm, number in caption).
This is an example of how the community can gather to weather a storm or, better yet, prepare for any storm winds that may blow.
Right now, the Fellowship Committee is working hard at establishing some fellowship circles, including each member and regular visitor, so that connections are still made while we are not physically together.
The Transition Team and Council have been hard at work tweaking job descriptions and budgets and leadership roles so that ministry details are covered.
Lynnhaven Colony UCC is working to stay focused on where Jesus is guiding the community.
“This story about a storm in the night, about human fear and the reassurance of Jesus, relates to our lives here and now, to the life of faith day in and day out. ….
Jesus is full of commands in this story. But he doesn't simply tell people what to do and leave them hanging there, helpless. "Whatever Jesus commands, Jesus makes possible," Charles Cousar writes. "The commands of Jesus, taken seriously, create miracles; they open an incredible reservoir of divine resources" (Texts for Preaching Year A).” (Matthews, Sermon Seeds, ucc.org)
What Jesus commands, Jesus helps make happen. If you watched the Disney series, Mandalorian, I love one character on there that ends many of his scenes with “I have spoken.” And then there’s just an acceptance of that’s how it will be.
I feel the same here with Jesus’ commands. He is essentially ending with “I have spoken, let it be so.” And it is.
Jesus has commanded love, mercy, justice, and trust in his word. Staying focused on those things will help us - as individuals and as a community small and large - to not falter when the storm winds blow.