We pick up this morning where we left off last Sunday in Matthew’s Gospel.
In case you weren’t here, here’s what’s going on:
Jesus has found out that his cousin John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, and he tries to get away from the crowd, by himself, presumably to pray and to mourn.
But the crowds followed him. And they were hungry. And Jesus fed them with 5 loaves and 2 fish, even though there were thousands of people in the crowd.
Now Jesus sends the disciples away in a boat, and he sends the crowd away. And he finally gets to get away for a bit by himself to pray pp on the mountain.
Rest is important.
Now I don’t know if you noticed or not, but our council and all of our committees just did something last month that, to my knowledge, has never happened here before. We took a Sabbath month – There were no meetings for a month. The hope, of course, is that we return to our work this month refreshed, and rested, and with new energy and vision.
Sabbath is important, otherwise God would not have both modelled and commanded it. But let’s be honest, Sabbath is also counter-cultural. Our society is busy, and we value that busyness. People are always on the move. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” is an American cultural Christian idea – not one that would come out of any other culture, no matter how connected that culture might or might not be to the Church.
And I’m certainly not lifting up the value of sloth, or general laziness. In fact, we need more of our members to be more involved in the mission and ministry that we do together here. We need new people to step up into positions as helpers and as leaders across the spectrum –
From Altar Guild, the group that sets up and cleans up before and after worship, among other things
To Sunday school, where we are in continual need of help so that we can effectively pass the faith on to our children and youth
To Property, so that we can effectively steward the gift of this facility, instead of letting it go until we have crisis situations that need to be fixed
To our service ministries, like our various feeding ministries, the clothes closet and, of course, our Sandy Relief Worker Hosting ministry
And on and on and on.
There is no ministry in or of this congregation that couldn’t benefit from having some new members, new vision, new energy.
But, even still, we need to keep our eyes fixed on the things of God. And when God made a list of the 10 most important things for us to attend to, coming in at number 3, was the importance of holy rest – Sabbath. Jesus got it. He knew at this time in his life, when he was overwhelmed by the pressures of work and the stress of having a close relative die, he knew, and he demonstrated for us the importance of taking time to get away, to rest, and to pray – to get centered, and focused again.
But when that time of rest was over, he got back at it. He came down from the mountain and set out across the water to rejoin his disciples as they were making their way across the Sea of Galilee.
Of course, there’s some drama that unfolds at this point, which might seem peculiar to us on the surface. First of all, something not at all peculiar, a storm comes up on the sea. This is a very common occurrence on the Sea of Galilee as I understand it, and, as at least some of the disciples were experienced fisherman who had made their living on these waters, they should have known this and been experienced in dealing with such things. But what happens in the midst of the storm is not at all common. The disciples see Jesus approaching – walking on the water! This they had never seen before! And they’re terrified by it!
Now it might help us to understand that, not only do they think Jesus is a ghost, but there might be something else underlying their fear. Baal, the pagan god, was a storm god. Worshippers of Baal lived across the sea from Galilee – they lived where they’re headed. As Jesus sent the disciples out to cross the sea he, in effect, was sending them into enemy territory, so that when a storm comes up in this instance they might be thinking not so much that this is just a common storm, but that this is Baal trying to stop them from coming across. So it’s very possible that they’re already a little freaked out, and now Jesus appears in this very strange way, and they freak out a little more: It’s a ghost!!!
But Jesus tells them it’s him and to not be afraid.
And after the little side story of Peter, always having to be the center of attention, stepping out on the water until his focus gets off of Jesus and onto the wind and waves – until his focus gets off of his source of eternal security and onto the mess of everyday living – and he begins to sink, and Jesus reaches out and helps him get back into the boat. After this little side story, Jesus gets into the boat and everything calms down. And again, we see the importance of having our focus on the right things. Peter and the others are so busy watching the wind and the waves that they miss the point that Jesus is there and that Jesus has the authority – not Baal, but Jesus! – has the authority and the power to set things right, to keep us secure, to change and to save our lives.
But we just might miss seeing it, if our focus is in the wrong direction and on the wrong things.
Elijah has the same problem in our first reading.
He’s so busy worrying about his enemies, and complaining about how he’s all alone in the situation, that God needs to quiet him down. God comes, not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in the sound of sheer silence – and in a still small voice. And God tells him that there are still 7000 in Israel who have not gone over to the worship of Baal.
Elijah needed to get quiet, though, before he could hear that word.
He needed some Sabbath, some quiet, some rest, then he heard with new ears what God was up to.
So as we come near to the end of the summer season, as we begin to move toward the new program year, as we make plans in earnest for the many important things we do to proclaim God’s saving love in Christ Jesus our Lord, I hope you’ll be listening for that still small voice to see if it’s calling you out of your summer rest and into a renewed time of service for the sake of the Gospel.
Sabbath is good, vital in fact, but there’s a time and season for everything, and we’re coming on time to get busy in the mission that God has given us to do in this time and place in the name of Jesus. Amen