We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary, Proper 14, Pentecost 11, Aug. 13

I.Theme –   Confronting our Fears

 "Jesus Walks on Water" – Ivan Aivazovsky (1888)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – 1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm – Psalm 85:8-13 Page 708, BCP
Epistle –Romans 10:5-15
Gospel – Matthew 14:22-33

This Sunday’s readings deal with our need for help. This comes in various forms. It may be out of fear; it may be due to bodily danger; it may be a psychological condition.  

Our faith may be tested in extreme. Each of the readings has a different form and setting where this occurs.

In all of this we have to remember Jesus call to us. Then it is that we feel his hand reach out to ours. Then it is that we know that the power to take one step more—and perhaps only one step more—is ours for the asking when we call on Jesus. How do we keep our eyes on Jesus when our failures and trials obscure our sight? How often do we feel as if we cannot take the next step? We feel ourselves sinking, sinking in our self-doubt and despair. It is difficult to remember this when our situation close to us cloud our vision.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah was active in the northern kingdom of Israel in the middle of the ninth century BC. He was an opponent of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who supported the worship of Baal and other Canaanite fertility gods. Today’s passage follows Elijah’s demonstration that Yahweh is in control of the forces of nature (17:1) and is mightier than Baal (18:20-39). Elijah then flees the vengeance of Jezebel (19:1-3). An angel strengthens him on his journey to Horeb (an alternate name for Sinai).

God’s revelation to Elijah echoes God’s revelation to Moses (Exodus 33:17-23). Like Moses, Elijah receives a revelation and a commission from the Lord. Like Moses, Elijah has gone through conflict with royalty and is fleeing for his life. Like Moses he feels inadequate to the task but is sent back into the fray.

God speaks to the prophet Elijah not in earthquake, wind and fire but in a mysterious silence. This may be an internal communication with him. Elijah thinks that he is already at the limit of his experience and energy, but a “sheer silence” draws him in deeper to the requirements that God has for him.

In the Psalm, this national lament seems to have been composed originally for a particular historical situation of affliction and then to have passed into general use. The original context may have been crop failure before the exile; or more probably, it may have been the difficulties faced by those returning from exile in Babylon. Thanks are given for the return (vv. 1-3), and the lord’s continued help is requested (vv. 4-7). The lord’s answer comes (vv. 8-13), perhaps as an oracle uttered by a temple prophet or priest. Verse 11 reassures the people of God’s gracious care. These four qualities—steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace—spring from God and unite to work for the good of God’s people.

The Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus walking on the water. In many of these Gospel stories we know them by the title but there is another secondary story. This is the case with Peter.

The three miracles in this story are: Jesus walking on water, Peter doing the same (and failing ultimately), and the wind ceasing abruptly. Jesus brings comfort from the outside against the elements and faith inside, questioning the disciples own faith and demonstrating by example a deeper faith.

Jesus demonstrates his mastery over wind and sea (which, in the Old Testament, symbolized the powers of chaos and death) and is near to rescue the disciples when they desperately need help. He identifies himself by using the words, “It is I,” which echo God’s own self-description that became the proper name for God in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10-13).

This story has many similarities to the narratives of the resurrection appearances; the disciples are afraid, they don’t recognize Jesus, they take him for a ghost, and finally they are reassured by him. Matthew adds the story of Peter’s attempt to imitate Jesus, illustrating the themes of discipleship and faith.

The cause of the fear for the disciples this time is not the storm, but the man walking. There is something expected about waves surrounding a boat. The fact that a man is on the water is not even the source of the fear. The fear comes the unidentified nature of the one walking.  

The fear and repulsion are here expressed by the perception of Jesus as a ghost, but they are balanced by his comforting words: “Take heart; it is I; do not be afraid.” The disciples by now know Jesus and trust him, even if their faith remains incomplete. Thus, for him to say “It is I” is to bring the fearful awesomeness of the scene under control by relating it to what is familiar. 

Unlike Elijah, Peter wants to think that he is capable of more. Peter asks for and receives a share of Jesus’ power, but when his attention is distracted he begins to give way In the context of fear and apprehension as the disciples see the figure of Christ coming to them on the water, Peter’s brash attempt seems heroic until he realizes that he is caught in the same trap of fear. He suddenly needs a “rescuer” ( Psalm 85) to pick him up and save him for future adventures of faith. Especially in Matthew’s time, the “boat” of the Church, “beaten by the waves” of hostility and persecution, needed reassurance that the Lord was always nearby.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, writes the following about Peter. “Peter had to leave the ship and risk his life on the sea, in order to learn both his own weakness and the almighty power of his Lord. If Peter had not taken the risk, he would never have learned the meaning of faith… The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. Unless a definitive step is demanded, the call vanishes in thin air, and if [people] imagine that they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics.”

In some respects, Matthew’s account is the opposite of the Elijah story. What convinces Elijah does not convince the disciples and Peter, and visa versa. The wind and wave are heady proofs of the danger and their vision of Jesus over coming them seem to be the seed bed of their faith

The Romans reading is less about fear but of faith. You may say that Paul is experiencing a psychological fear. Paul confronted the separation already growing between his beloved Jewish people and his chosen Christian community. Paul wrote this before the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogue—long before the bitter persecution of Jews by Christians began.

In this passage, Paul compares the right relationship to God (“righteousness”) that comes through a strict adherence to the Mosaic law to that which comes by faith. In contrast to a slavish adherence to this law, which is ultimately futile, the righteousness that comes by faith is entirely attainable. It requires no superhuman effort such as ascending into heaven or descending into the abyss. Such feats have already been accomplished by God in Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection.

People need to accept the “word of faith” proclaimed by the apostle. This acceptance is manifested both through inner conviction and outer profession. These signs of faith are rooted in the work of God, affirming that Jesus is God incarnate and that Jesus now lives.

The first of these professions of faith, “Jesus is lord,” was particularly central for the early Church in areas where the people believed in “many gods and many lords” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). It is the earliest and simplest creed of the Church.

II. Summary

Old Testament –   1 Kings 19:9-18

The political panorama of 1–2 Kings encompasses the reigns of forty kings and one queen (Athaliah in 2 Kings 11). The chronicle begins with the death of King David and the accession of his son Solomon; it ends 400 years later with Israel’s exile to Babylon in 586 BC. Only two kings receive unqualified approval by the narrator, Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:3 and Josiah in 2 Kings 22. With dreary regularity we read about coups, assassinations, civil wars, marital alliances to consolidate power, and idolatry.

Some details needed for this story. The prophet Elijah directly confronted the power of the Kings. King Ahab had good reasons to despise Elijah as "The Troubler of Israel" (18:17). Elijah had construed the prolonged drought as divine punishment for Ahab’s idolatry. After Elijah publicly humiliated Ahab on Mount Carmel, his wife Jezebel boasted that she would assassinate him, just as she had slaughtered so many other prophets. She sent henchmen after him. Elijah has decimated Queen Jezebel’s religious community by personally executing her four hundred prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:40.

He is now a hunted man. He feels like he is on the only one with faith and must leave the kingdom.

Elijah had been traveling forty days and nights; 300 miles; he finally reached the mountain where God had earlier established the covenant with Israel under Moses coming to Mt. Horeb. Elijah may have wanted a spectacular miracle to protect and vindicate himself, or an appearance of God with great power, to bolster his faith, such as Moses had enjoyed on this very spot.

When God asks him what he is doing there, Elijah expresses his despair. He feels that the Israelites have forsaken the covenant and killed the prophets. Elijah feels like the last believer on earth–and folks would like to kill him!

However, the presence of God was NOT in the spectacles of thunder, fire or earthquake, but in the whispering sound. Elijah acknowledges that by covering his face, and he was content with it.

After his epiphany, God asks Elijah the same question that God asked him before

He gives essentially the same answer – His experience with God has not changed him. He again complains about the faithlessness of the Israelites and his own peril.

Yahweh gives him three assignments: a. to anoint Hazael as king over Aram/Syria; b. to anoint Jehu as king over Israel; c. to anoint Elisha as his own successor. The first two–Hazael and Jehu–achieved their offices violently. Judgment will come to Israel through them, and those not punished by them will run into the deadly words of Elisha. It is actually Elisha who anoints Hazael and Jehu.

Thus, there will be no quiet time, and the battles that Elijah (and the faithful) have endured will only continue and be seen as well in the ministry of Elisha his successor.

Elijah is not alone – it only feels that way. God’s instructions demonstrate how prophecy will continue, even if and when Elijah is no longer around to deliver

God’s last words to Elijah are that God does not need Elijah; God has 7,000 faithful servants on whom God can depend who have not succumbed to Baal worship. What is missing from the assigned lesson is Elijah’s response. He accepts his assignment from God, knowing that his time as God’s prophet is drawing to an end, not knowing what that end will be.

So what is the relevance to today ? The Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan reads 1–2 Kings as self-serving imperial records that portray Israel’s kings as they saw themselves and wanted others to see them — God is with us and against our enemies. He blesses us with their booty. No war crime is too heinous as a means to these delusional ends. 1–2 Kings also function as mirrors in which we see our own reflection today. "Do our leaders differ, in any large degree, from the rulers of old? They are hardly different at all." He says on the last page of his book, The Kings and Their Gods, the Pathology of Power – "One must urge (to his own soul first) a firm rebutting midrash; bring Christ to bear. 

Psalm –  Psalm 85:8-13 Page 708, BCP

Psalm 85 combines a sense of expectancy and waiting for the Lord to deliver the people with reflection on a past time of deliverance and forgiveness. The psalm is a communal prayer for help and can be divided into three sections or stanzas, verses 1-3, 4-7, and 8-13. The latter is our reading this week but is best understood in relationship to the earlier verses

The beginning of the psalm, vv. 1-3 is about the past, followed by pleas by the people for God’s forgiveness in the present, ending with a section expressing hope for restored relationship between the people and God.

The psalmist recalls how Yahweh was favourable to the land, restored its fortunes and forgave his people. This is the basis of the action in v. 3: Yahweh withdrew his anger and turned from his wrath. This part of the Psalm sounds like the psalms of thanksgiving but there is none of the language of thanks here. It is simply a statement of past action, without elaboration or response.

Verses 1-3 function as the call to confession reminding the people and God of God’s past saving acts. God’s active grace is clear in the verbs used "favor," "return," "lift," and "cover." These acts are God’s alone given to an undeserving people (verse 3). The people have angered God repeatedly and in response God has relented and turned back all anger.

The second section, verses 4-7, is a cry to God for restoration now. The sinful acts of the people are not named specifically, allowing for use of this psalm in many times and places. Yet, the sins are clearly present as the people ask God if God will be angry forever (verse 5). The people clearly stand in need of God’s grace and ask if God will show God’s steadfast love (hesed) and give the people (again) salvation. Indeed, the whole section is bracketed by "salvation" calling on "the God of our salvation" in verse 4 and ending the stanza with "Give us your salvation" as its last imperative plea.

In the concluding section, vv. 8-13, the mood and the tenses change again with a new voice. The verbs are now in the future tense. The mood is not optimistic with a wish for a world ordered by God’s kingdom. Verses 8-11 reiterate the salvation prophecy of Hos 2:14-23. The words of the psalm speak of God’s peace for his people.

A warning within a wish for the future is not uncommon (Psalm 95:8-10). The warning serves as a reminder that the people and God have been in this place before, and the people will probably put them there again. The response to God’s great forgiveness should be more than words, it involves a change in behavior. It involves remembering the warning. impasse between God and the people. The images continue and this restoration involves the whole creation, reuniting heaven and earth (verse 11), and God will give what is "good," also understood as what is beneficial, pleasant, and for the

The abstract qualities of Yahweh (‘steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace or shalom’) are personified in vv. 10-11. They are brought to life in an act of embrace, harmony and joy – a glimpse of God’s kingdom. The vision is one of a long awaited reunion as God again sets the world right. Faithfulness springs up from the ground; righteousness looks down from the sky reminding us of the two parts of the created universe in Genesis 1 – the dome of the sky above, and the earth below. It is as if creation no longer simply brings forth plants, rain and warmth for fertility as we used to. It now veritably flourishes with the qualities of God. There is a tone to the language which suggests a return to Eden, but an Eden as it was intended to be. Salvation is understood here in the terms of the tangible and pervasive presence of the qualities and attributes of God present in the community of his people.

All of this is in preparation for God’s arrival in verse 13.  

Epistle –   Romans 10:5-15

This scripture is part of a larger section (chapters 9-11) dealing with Israel. Paul speculates on how the Jews, always God’s chosen people, could apparently forfeit their chosen status by failing to accept Jesus. His argument in these chapters is that God’s plan calls for the Jews to reject Jesus so that a few believers, like Paul, would be forced to carry the good news outside Judaism and evangelize the Gentiles. When Gentiles are converted, the Jews will be impressed, not to mention jealous, and accept Christ themselves. The result will be the salvation of the whole world and the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles, goods even greater than the election of Israel

In our section, Paul has written that Gentiles, without aiming to be one with God, have achieved oneness, while Israelites, who tried to be godly, failed to be so. Why? Because their approach was based on the Law and “works” (9:32) rather than faith. By mangling two verses from Isaiah, he has argued that God intended that they fail (9:33). He has prayed that they (whom he knows first-hand for their “zeal for God”, v. 2) be included in God’s salvation. They do not recognize the way humans are related to God: as now revealed in Christ; rather, they have taken their own path: through the Law. They have failed to realize that the Law pointed forward to Christ (“end”, v. 4), in whom oneness with God is open to all.

Leviticus (thought to be written by “Moses”, v. 5) says that the Law-based path to life requires doing it, practising it perfectly: which Paul has already shown is impossible. But in Deuteronomy 30, Moses argues for a faith-based approach (“on your lips and in your heart”, v. 8) without excess of deeds (“ascend”, v. 6, “descend”, v. 7).

In fact, Christ has gone all the way for you Israelites: he has come “down” (v. 6, been born into the world) and has been raised from “the dead” (v. 7). So “the word of faith” (v. 8) of which God’s righteousness (“the righteousness”, v. 6) speaks is the good news of Christ – that the way to salvation is through God’s love. If you acknowledge “Jesus is Lord” (v. 9) and mean it, and believe that the Resurrection really happened, you will be saved and attain oneness with God (“justified”, v. 10). (“Jesus is Lord”, v. 9, is perhaps the earliest creed of the Church.)

As Isaiah wrote, belief in “him” (v. 11) is the key; Paul takes “him” to mean Christ. As Joel wrote (v. 13) all who ask will be saved. (Paul takes “‘Lord’” as Christ.) But what of those Jews who did not heed Isaiah and Joel (v. 14), who neither believed, nor understood (“heard”), nor heard proclamation of Christ by one with authority (“sent”, v. 15)? Paul insists (quoting Isaiah again), that they have heard the “good news”, have had the opportunity to understand it, and have been properly proclaimed to, but they have declined belief – in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies (vv. 16-21).

Gospel –  Matthew 14:22-33

This story is in a section on instructing the disciples about their mission. It is a story of miracles – there is no limit to what God can do – and of the power of faith: the disciples can do the seemingly impossible if they have sufficient faith.

Jesus’ miracles are usually done in the service of people. The miracle of the walking on water is unusual as, strictly speaking, it serves no-one but rather is used to a reveal who Jesus is.

On Pentecost 10,Jesus has just fed the crowd, in the miracle of the loaves and fish.

“Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” They must have wondered how he was going to get there as they had the boat and it was late in the day. He goes up to prayer on a mountain, traditionally where one met God.

Possibly, the earlier miracle has aroused popular enthusiasm – more for the show and hopes of political freedom – rather than faith and he retreats to pray and for some down time. Because the Sea of Galilee is shallow, storms arise rapidly. The boat was now far out at sea being tormented by the wind and the waves. It was before dawn and the disciples must have been terrified in the boat

The three miracles in this story are: Jesus walking on water, Peter doing the same (and failing ultimately), and the wind ceasing abruptly. Jesus brings comfort from the outside against the elements and faith inside, questioning the disciples own faith and demonstrating by example a deeper faith.

Some instinct within Peter leads him to understand that Jesus is not just showing off but rather is offering an important revelation. Sometime before he had experienced Jesus stilling a storm. He had seen the healings, eaten the multiplied food. Now he calls out to Jesus, asking if he can share that experience of divine power: “Lord, if it is you, call me to come to you.” Focussed on Jesus, he has the audacity to step where he knows no human can go. Peter tries to walk on the water then becomes frightened and begins to sink. Jesus reaches out to him and in so doing emphasizes that faith in God’s power must exceed faith in ourselves. When we start to worry as did Peter , we are shifting focus from Jesus to ourselves and we sink. However, we should salute him in his audacity.

The disciples acknowledge him as “Son of God” (v. 33) for as God did at the time of creation, Jesus controls the waters,. Jesus is God’s agent of renewal.

The story has much to say about Jesus and about ourselves

Walking on the water is an assertion of his divinity by asserting his mastery over the sea. Power over the water, the ability to walk on water were images used in a number of places in the Hebrew Testament to denote a power unique to God. In ancient times, people perceived the sea as an unruly, menacing presence surrounding relatively small, safer place where they lived and where their gods held sway. The creation story in Genesis 1 depicts God bringing order out of a pre-existing chaos, separating from the sea the dry land fit for God’s human creatures.

Beyond the obvious, there are connections between faith, doubt and worship. The doubt of the disciples obscured their faith . “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” he says to Peter. Faith grows in the process of worship lessening doubt. Doubt never goes away entirely but its presence does not preclude worship

Faith may not be just an act of will but something that grows in us as we open ourselves to it. Sometimes we have to leave comforts and familiar places like a boat to experience it. Faith could be a part of the process of discernment is that it enables us to live with intention and mindfulness rather than merely reacting to everything and living by impulse

In the end by worshiping Jesus as they did God, the disciples finally understood what was going on .

The question for us is what am I prepared to risk to allow God’s power to work in my life? Peter was prepared to risk his life.


III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

First Reading1 Kings 19:9-18

PsalmPsalm 85:8-13 

Epistle  – Romans 10:5-15 

Gospel  – Matthew 14:22-33