I used to have a mentor who said, “The chaos in your life is represented by the chaos on your desk”. If you had come into my office at any point this week, you would have known that I was in chaos. On the brink of leaving for a little rest time, I was juggling multiple calendars, preparing for upcoming training sessions, recruiting volunteers for projects, organizing my notes for meetings, trying to anticipate answers to Sue’s not yet asked questions, making pastoral visit, and keeping up with my daily tasks. Whew. If someone had asked me to do or think about one more thing, I might have drowned. And the chaos on my desk was representative of the chaos not only in my outward life, but my inward life--my heart and my head--as well. At one point in the week I told Matt I needed to go upstairs and work, not because I had a full to-do list, but because I needed to do some discernment around some things that had been weighing heavy on my heart. I needed time to pray, to sit and listen, and just BE for a moment.
Now I’m telling you all this not so you’ll go “oh, poor Anna, she really does need to take time away”, but because we all have chaos in our lives. To be human means to have moments in our lives when we are overwhelmed, confused, and drowning. And to me, that’s part of what today’s gospel lesson from Matthew is about.
Like the disciples in the boat on the rocky sea, we are often overwhelmed and afraid. And like the disciples, we are not left alone to weather the storm...Jesus is there with words of comfort and peace to not be afraid. To the original audience of Matthew he would have said “ego eimi” or “it is I”...a variation on the same identifier that God used at the burning bush--I am. This simple phrase “it is I, have no fear” is meant to assure the disciples (and us) and instill courage and faith among the chaos.
And that’s the second part of this lesson...having the courage and faith needed to enter into the chaos. So often, Peter gets a bad wrap for being impulsive and unaware. When he sees Jesus walking towards the boat on the waves, he asks Jesus to call him out into the water, but then he sinks. Some have understood Jesus' "you of little faith, why do you doubt" statement as a rebuke for the disciples still not understanding who Jesus is (even though they later say "he is the Son of God"). Some have understood it as a rebuke for those who have little or no faith...that even after all the miracles Jesus has performed, they still doubt. I think what's going on here is an acknowledgment that the disciples were growing in their faith, but they still had moments of doubt. And who among us don't?! Aren't we all on a path of discipleship, constantly growing in our faith, but still having moments of doubts...wondering if God is with us when we are struggling?
Jesus invites us to be courageous and step into life--into discipleship--with all it's unpredictions. And when we start to sink, to fear the unknown, to have anxiety, to be uncertain...we pray the same prayer Peter did "Lord, save me". Lord, save me. Lord, here our prayer. And once again, Jesus is there, offering his hand to pull us up and out.
Matthew Skinner, a theology professor at Luther Seminary, had this to say about our calling to discipleship:
“It is the nature of faith--humble, active faith--to be willing to throw oneself into a disorderly world and expect to encounter Jesus there...to see what possibilities [there are]...[and] even to waiver from time to time, when it has stepped into stressful, unfamiliar terrain”.
This is the life of discipleship. We can stay in the boat...it may be safe, but it may sink...or we can venture into the water with Jesus. A little faith may be all that is needed to follow Jesus into the unknown.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.