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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 19, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 13, 2017

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Matthew 14:22-33

‘Three in the morning’

How does it feel to be on your own? That simple refrain will serve to draw together some of what’s taking place in our readings today. How does it feel to be on your own? Feeling the absence of love – “at three in the morning” – vulnerable to discrimination, persecution? Lonely, vulnerable to paranoia and despair? God be with you

Matthew’s Messianic-Jewish proto-Christian community is on its own, no longer (after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in the year 70) a part of the Jewish institution, no longer enjoying the security of belonging to Judaism proper, vulnerable to forces of chaos and violence within and without. Economically, physically, spiritually. Including waves of state-sanctioned persecution (in the late 90s).

Matthew’s story likens the situation to that of a boat and its crew tossed about in a storm (a familiar predicament for biblical readers/hearers, familiar predicament for coast-dwelling people). The church as a boat (the Latin word for boat is navis, as in nave) is a prominent symbol in early Christian art. The anchor was one of the first symbols of Christian faith – long before the cross came to symbolise the religion.

The Gospel, in short, is about a minority group out in the open (afraid, paranoid, persecuted – the Greek word translated “tossed about” is also the word for “persecuted”) and Jesus/God appearing as an initially confronting then comforting figure (“Don’t worry, take courage/heart, I Am”).

Peter, representing the church that often misunderstands Jesus, struggles with doubt, and even abandons Jesus in time of trial, feels called to tread upon the chaos. “Come!” Jesus says. For a moment he succeeds. When he fails, Jesus saves him (with a smile we might imagine). His words to Peter are words to the bold and frightened of every time and place: “You have so little faith! Why did you doubt?”

Walking on water ... certainly – it’s about daring to believe ... it’s about daring to trust in a God more powerful than the chaos and violence; daring to trust that this God more powerful than the chaos and the violence is the God of Jesus Christ – the God embodied in a passion for justice, and in compassion – the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

It’s about daring to believe in love – then and now the Gospel describes a faith that is coming to be, a faith that is risk, risky adventure, improvisation, participation in a faith that precedes and exceeds my own.

It’s striking that Jesus is not so troubled by the chaos – though his confidence, it’s important to note, is hard-won, is born of solitude and prayer (the night before – time for prayer he sought upon hearing news of his cousin John’s execution).

Matthew is teaching that there is security in relationship with this God (in the face of chaos and violence) – that it’s possible to cling to love, to nonviolence. It is faithful to resist intimidation, retaliation … A traumatic experience – a three-in-the-morning experience of chaos – may even lead to a new awareness of saving presence …

A contemporary message for small congregations and vulnerable communities.

How does it feel to be on your own? It can be exhilarating, sure. But it is also terrifying. The more so, the more that one is vulnerable to persecution – the poorer one is, or the weaker one’s community or family foundations/supports/ties.

I think of LGBTI people sensitive to homophobic comments in the context of an imminent popular vote on marriage equality.

I think of asylum seekers, pilgrims, you and me, tired, numb, wondering why we’ve been sent to cross what feels like very rough water.

I think of anti-racism protestors, community leaders, you and me, bold, duty-bound, feeling that God is calling us out of our comfort zone.

I think of you or me, exposed, perhaps ashamed (afraid of unworthiness, disconnection), wishing we’d stayed in the boat!

And I perceive this grace: In and through community God is there for you and me, revealing God’s presence, promising comfort, and calling forth courage – calling us to live (as Fr Claude Mostowik MSC said last week) from the heart of Jesus, to trust in the heart as a way to live, lead, serve, heal … to leave fear behind and live what storyteller Dr Brené Brown calls “whole-hearted” lives.

I feel the waves hitting the boat. I am anxious for the world, for the church, for us and for myself. I have a tough time when chaos closes in and things aren’t going to plan. Like Peter, I am readily consumed by fears and insecurities.

In my paranoia, I see Christ as a threat to my self-centred, invulnerable ways – the strange, religious One (from a time and place so very different from my own) who takes time out for prayer (to reflect on political violence and pain), the One not so troubled by chaos, and the One who then makes accessible the healing presence of love (vv. 34-36).

I see this Christ in all kinds of places: in people, in art, in songs and stories. Joseph, for instance, is a Christ figure in that he is the threatening younger son who ends up a saviour – ultimately forgiving the violence of his frightened brothers. Joseph the beloved, in a coat of many colours, is a Christ figure in that his peace-making, his ministry of healing, participates in the Wisdom of vulnerability and self-worth.

How does it feel to be on your own? Sometimes it’s lonely. And yet there is a solitude – prayerful, however that comes about – and faithful – wherein you may hear the words of comfort: “Don’t worry, it’s me; don’t be afraid.” These may also be the most exhilarating words of all, for they call us out, with trembling others, upon the water.

They call us to community service, to life in relationship, to trembling others, to all creatures, to Christ. Where the impossible may be, just may be, possible.

When or where have you heard such words of comfort: “Don’t worry, it’s me; don’t be afraid.” … Amen.