Pentecost 10 – August 13, 2017

Rev. Lyle McKenzie      Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria

Genesis 37:1-4,12-28; Ps.105:1-6,16-22,45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

 

– We began worship singing the “Naval hymn” – “Eternal Father Strong to Save” I know it has a history and meaning for some…

– At a music planning meeting, we discussed this song and especially the refrain: “…for those in peril on the sea.”

– We acknowledged it can seem strange to sing this, not being ourselves or knowing of others who are in peril on the sea.

– Or do we, are we ourselves, this world, in peril on the sea?

– Stan shared a story with me some time ago. I checked with him this week, and asked if I could share it…

– He was crossing the Atlantic from England to Canada on the Queen Elizabeth II, in December, 1960. The Captain or First Officer, Stan wasn’t sure, was out on a main deck, and began singing this Naval Hymn, and others who knew it began to quietly join in. But when it came to the refrain, the officer raised his arms to the heavens and in dramatic gesture and voice sang out the refrain so few others could be heard. Stan said he never forgot it. I asked him if the sailing was particularly difficult or if they felt in peril at all. And he said, “No, not really.” But then he related that the purpose of his voyage was returning to Canada for his Father’s funeral. I said, “Then it was a rough voyage for you.” And he said, “I suppose.”

– Another song we will sing is similarly well known to many, “When Peace like a River.” It speaks of “when sorrows like sea billows roll.” It’s a tune and text that can seem a little romantic and sentimental. But the history of the song tells a different story. Its author, Horatio Spafford wrote the song as he crossed the Atlantic, following news that his wife and four daughters who had sailed before him were in a ship wreck and only his wife survived. As he passed the place where the Ville Du Havre went down and daughters were lost, he wrote this hymn. It changes how we hear the words, “when sorrows like sea billows roll,” or “…though trials should come, let this blest assurance control,“ and particularly the refrain, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

– the story’s we tell, the songs we sing, betray our knowing seas of peril and sorrow and trial, and that we and others would know too God’s promise that all would be well, well with our souls and ourselves and this world.

– Can we sing these songs this Sunday and not think of the thousands of refugees and hundreds again this past week who out of desperation continue to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, from war and oppression in search of life and freedom for themselves and their families…

– “oh, hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.”

– right now, and on every sea, desperate to reach safe land…

– Is it a world in stormy and dangerous seas that captures our attention, even our fixation, and our fears?

– the list is long, and changes quickly in the news cycle…Kenya or Venezuela, the US over racial clashes or people walking into Canada seeking a new, safer home;

– or is it two world leaders and their rhetoric threatening war and even the unthinkable use of nuclear weapons, and all the fears that invokes… so that as a son visits his grandparents before going off to university, one topic of conversation is their memory of the Cuban missile crisis… could we have imagined…

– “when sorrows like sea billow roll, …though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

– The well known Gospel story today of Jesus walking on water to his disciples in peril on stormy seas offers both this acknowledgement of very real and imagined struggles and fear, and the assurance of God’s saving presence in Jesus.

– Water is central to the story as in other parts of the Bible;

– as source of life and God’s saving, like in the flood, crossing the sea, and the wilderness;

– and of chaos, struggle and fear, like in the first of creation, and stories of Jonah, Job and even Paul’s sea going journeys.

– the waters of Baptism are storied waters like this, of drowning and death, and saving and new life, all by God’s grace in Jesus.

– the surprise that Jesus comes to the disciples in their danger and fear is central to the story. One person I read this week wondered if Jesus walking on the water is not so much the image of a leisurely stroll just al little above the chaos…

– but Jesus straining against the wind and hip deep through the waves to reach and help his friends in trouble. You wonder…

– Jesus words to them in their fear are: “Take heart” – that can equally be translated, “take courage” from the same root word;

– heart, courage is what Jesus invites us to take from his presence, his walking on or through the watery chaos for our and other’s sake and saving, as his friends…

– “It is I,” Jesus says, like the “I am” words of God to Moses, and of Jesus elsewhere, identifying God’s presence is with them, us;

– and “do not be afraid;” How often does Jesus say these words to his followers, to us, to live not in fear but assurance and hope, and even confidence and peace and joy… it is well…

– And so the story acknowledges the very real dangers and fears of this world for so many, and God’s very real presence to save those in “peril on the sea…”

– The unique part of Matthew’s story is Peter asking to join Jesus on the water;

– much has been written and said about this being an example to us of faith and doubt,  that we have to take the risk of “leaving the boat” to join Jesus on often stormy seas… keeping the faith and not being distracted by wind and waves, doubts and fears…

– all of this is fair reading and understanding… especially as encouragement in the midst of life’s storms,

– not! to induce guilt over not having enough heart or courage or faith… God has, Jesus has enough for us all;

– but encouragement to go on and out, and especially for the sake of joining others in trials and peril on the sea… Yes…

– But the focus remains on Jesus, and God’s grace and power to save in Jesus, for all “in peril on the sea.”

– And so it is the immediate outstretched hand of Jesus to save! that we see in this story… that pulls Peter from drowning into peace, that pulls each and all us, from drowning in any circumstance, into peace and wellness… “it is well with my soul.”

– and so the disciples worship Jesus, and say to him, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Because that is, Jesus is, their salvation.

– This is so in contrast to the story of Joseph and his brothers that we hear today, in jealousy and anger throwing him into a pit, without water… but then “compassionately” deciding to sell him instead to passing foreigners, who took him to Egypt…

And we heard in the Psalm, and will hear next Sunday what God will do through Joseph, offering an outstretched hand to his family in famine and without water, to save them in return…

– As most of you know, in the midst of last week’s and the ongoing rhetoric between North Korea and the United States, a small Canadian delegation was in North Korea and secured the release of Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim after 2 years of detention…

– Pastor Lim is to speak for the first time today at his home church of Light Presbyterian in Mississauga, ON…

– In contrast to everything else being said, here is an outstretched hand to save one person and potentially build some bridge of diplomacy for the sake of the world…

– we pray, and sing, and trust in God’s faith and faithfulness in Jesus’ outstretched hand to do just this… again and again…

– “…though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, It is well, it is well with my soul.”  “…thus evermore shall rise to thee, glad hymns and praise from land and sea.”

Amen.