Power Walk - Reflections 8-9-17 - UPDATED

 Texts for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost
 Sunday, August 13, 2017

 1 Kings 19:9-18 
 Psalm 85:8-13
 Romans 10:5-15
 Matthew 14:22-33

 Are you getting worried about growing international tension? Or maybe climate change, with the increase in floods, severe storms, wildfires and droughts?  Or maybe the whole “back to school” scene is enough tension right now? Or maybe you are walking through the chaos of cancer, or grief, or Alzheimer’s or mental illness?  Maybe you are drowning in relationship conflicts or burdens?

Monday morning, August 14:
I originally wrote this piece in the middle of last week when the threat of war with North Korea was the big news. Since this weekend, the spotlight has moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis clashed with those who came out to protest against these hate groups. 

I want to be clear that “empire” that Jesus confronts doesn’t only include government and official ruling entities. Jesus steps into all the places where power is used against others.

In Charlottesville, we clearly saw the growing division, hate, chaos of our present time.  There is something afoot in our country, and it seems around the world, that is working to create confrontation, discord, conflict, and violence. 
From my early years, I pull this description from the King James version of Ephesians 6: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.  In other words, chaos.

I know all that sounds dramatic, but it does feel dramatic. That “something” just feels so big and overwhelming, I feel battered by chaos and hate.

Jesus steps into the chaos to bring God’s kingdom/empire. God’s kingdom is a realm of love rather than hate, of community rather than division, of peace rather than violence. Our mission as followers is the same. Jesus invites us to step out of the boat where we will face strong winds and fears to help bring about the kingdom.

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Today’s story from the Gospel of Matthew is one of the stranger miracles by Jesus. Really, it is hard to see the point. Jesus sends the disciples off in a boat. They run into windy weather, which is common on the Sea of Galilee. It says the wind was against them and that waves were “battering” the boat, which can’t be pleasant. On the other hand, at least 4 of these guys made their living on that lake; they know what they’re doing. They just need to ride it out.

Then Jesus walks on the sea toward the boat. Freak out! My Greek source says they “squawked” in fear. So much for dignity. Once they realize it is Jesus, Peter wants in on that action so Jesus tells him to step out, which he does, which is amazing right up until Peter thinks “this amazing” at which point he starts to sink. Jesus snags him. The two get into the boat and the wind stops. 

So…Jesus walked on water to …. show he was the Son of God?  Or stilled the wind to do so? Or maybe he saved the disciples from a watery death? Or maybe the miracle was that he could inspire 30 seconds of confidence and faith in Peter?  

It is a strange story. 

I think taking a step back to look at the bigger picture of this story might help. Jesus had gotten word that Herod had Jesus on the radar because John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod. Herod worried that maybe Jesus was John back to haunt him. Herod and worried are not a good mix.  So, either because of the news of John's death or maybe the news of the threat, Jesus immediately withdrew to a deserted place to be by himself. Unfortunately, 5000 + of his closest friends decided to join him there and we had the “feeding of the 5000” from last week.

This week Jesus sends everyone on their way.  Jesus actually forces the disciples to get on the boat. After the crowd leaves, he does get his time alone to pray. In the morning, after prayer, he takes the short cut across the lake, over the water, and joins the disciples in the boat. 

This bigger picture reminds us that Jesus’ story is about the constant struggle between the Roman Empire and the kingdom of God. John’s death is a clear signal that the struggle is not easy.

Another one of my remembered “seminary learnings” is that water equals chaos. So, the wind and the water could/does represent the chaos and struggle with the Empire.  Things are moving. Pieces are coming together. Disciples are struggling, are battered. Peter starts to take it on, but falters. Jesus, however, continues to walk calmly (powerfully?) right into the eye of that storm. 

Maybe this story is about a "macro-miracle" that demonstrates the whole mission. Jesus will not back down now or ever. He will head to Jerusalem and take on the Roman Empire.

I think that’s a good thing for us, as Jesus’ present-day followers, to reflect upon. We are floundering against empires, battered even? What is our response?

Maybe the fact that Jesus did this power-walk across the sea after prayer is instructive?

What do you think? Is it time to jump out of the boat?

What storms/chaos are you facing? 

What does this story say to you?

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245