Proper 14 – 8/9/2020 – St. Paul’s
Many years ago I stood in the hallway outside theadmissions office at Sewanee, sweating uncomfortably in my Suit and twisting the postcard with the time and place of my appointment in my hands. I was Jew applying to an Episcopal/Christian school which required chapel attendance and my rabbi and I were seeking dispensation not attend chapel and go to the Synagogue in Chattanooga if I was accepted. I pushed the door open slowly and looked around. I saw a Al Gooch sitting at his desk, seemingly absorbed in his paperwork. I eased into the room, looking for a place to sit when suddenly he looked up and barked at me, What are you doing here? Startled, I stammered out that I was looking for the Admissions office. He said, This is it. What are you doing here? Again I attempted to answer. I’m Mike Wallens and I have an appointment. He grunted and said, I know that, but what are you doing here?
Know that expression, Look like a deer in the headlights? That was me. I was completely befuddled. Finally I shrugged my shoulders threw up my hands and said, I don’t understand the question. You’ve got to help me out here? Again the man grunted and said, What are you doing here? Not here in this room but here in this life? Why do you want to go to college? What is your calling, your purpose, your passion? What ARE YOU doing here? I don’t know how good that recruiting technique was; but he sure was good at asking the important questions.
Did you notice that his question was the same question that God asked Elijah on the mountain, What are you doing here? At one level it’s a question about why Elijah is hiding in a cave far from where he’s supposed to be. At another level it’s a question about Elijah’s calling in life. Without going too deeply into the history, Elijah had been called by God to oppose Ahab and Jezebel, the rulers of Israel. Ahab, under the influence of his wife had reintroduced Baal worship and many of the people were adopting it. There was a big confrontation between Elijah and the priests of Baal that involved the sacrifice of a bull and the calling down of fire from heaven. It’s a veryinteresting story. It’s in I Kings 18:20-40. You should read it some time. Anyway, The four hundred priests of Baal failed and Elijah succeeded in calling down fire from heaven and the 400 Baal priests were killed, but instead of proving anything to Jezebel – she got mad and decided to have Elijah killed. And here’s the interesting thing.
Elijah had just successfully called down fire from heaven and now he turns tail and runs. After that gigantic demonstration of God’s power, at the first sign of trouble he gives up.
And God comes and finds him in the cave and asks him, What are you doing here? Why did you run away? Elijah’s answer says it all, because his answer is not about God, it’s all about him, I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with a sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away. Elijah’s fatal flaw at this moment is that he believes that he is the one who has done good things for God; when in reality it is God who has done good things for the world through Elijah.
This moves to the second meaning of the question, the meaning Mr. Gooch was getting at. What is your calling, your purpose in life? Elijah had forgotten that his calling was to serve God and to allow God to work in and through him for the benefit of Israel and ultimately the world.
Moving for a moment to our Gospel story of Jesus walking on the water; we discover that Peter had a similar problem. When he looked at the storm that surrounded him, he forgot that it was God who was holding him up. He began to think, I can’t do this, I can’t walk on water, and then he began to sink.
Now, let’s be clear here. We’re not talking about some form of positive thinking of look deep within yourself and believe! pseudo-psycho-babble. No, this is about remembering that we don’t do great things for God. God does great things for us, and God does great things through us for the salvation of the world.
Remember when the little WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets were all the rage? I used to joke about needing a WWPD bracelet; What Would Peter Do? Now there’s a standard I can live up to. But I was sort of serious about that. The trouble with WWJD is we are not Jesus, so we can’t do what Jesus would do. That is precisely the point of these stories; we are dependent upon God, and God is trustworthy.
Jesus could walk on water, Peter couldn’t except with God’s help. Elijah didn’t make God send fire from heaven, God sent Elijah to call for the fire. Way too often we in the church think it’s our job to do great things for God. We want to build big buildings, attract huge crowds, be a significant and important congregation in our community and Diocese.
None of this is bad unless we think that we do those things on our own, as a service to God. We don’t. It is not our calling to be successful, as the world defines success. Rather it is our calling to be faithful, as God defines faith. It is our calling as the church to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments, to serve the world in the name of the one who came and served us.
In my mind, the power of this Gospel story doesn’t lie in Peter’s faith, doubt, courage, or fear. Peter’s trajectory — fascinating though it is — is not the point of the reading. Jesus’s trajectory is the point, because unlike Peter’s, it never changes. It is constant, focused, relentless, and uni-directional. From the very beginning of the story,
Jesus moves towards his disciples. He moves towards them when they’re struggling at sea. He moves towards them when they decide he’s a menacing ghost. He moves towards them when they’re terrified by his approach. He moves towards them when they’re reckless enough to set him a test. He moves towards them when they begin to drown. He moves towards them when they ask for help. He moves towards them when they’re shivering and sorry for their rashness. He moves towards them when they realize — for a beautiful, flickering instant — who he is and what he is. He moves towards them when they worship him.
In other words, Jesus never stops moving towards the ones he loves. He never stops crossing the dark water to come to where we are. Neither our fearfulness nor our faithlessness ever alters his steady approach. We are the ones he’s bound for. Our flailing bodies are the ones he pulls out of the water. Ours is the boat he climbs into. It is for us that he calls out across the terrifying waves, again and again and again: Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.
And as we are pulled out of the water, it is our calling to be proclaimers, in words and deeds of the glorious Good News of the love and Grace of God…..Be proclaimers of God’s continuous movement towards us and move towards others as Jesus moves towards us. How are they to hear without someone to tell them? Paul says in our Epistle for this morning.(Romans 10: 14) Our proclamation may result in size and significance in the eyes of the world, and it may not. But that is not the issue. The issue is remembering that to say Jesus is LORD, is also to say And I am not.
The issue is remembering the words of Martin Luther in the Small Catechism, Not by my own reason and strength can I believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, and I would add or serve him. The issue is remembering what we’re doing here. The issue is remembering that our calling is to be a means of grace in the world, a place and a people through whom God will love and serve the world.
Imagine your are in the cave with Elijah or in that boat with Peter and the waves are battering your boat….the waves being the pandemic in our world, or the racial tension in our country, or the great political divide…Imagine Jesus reaching out to you and asking the question—What are you doing here…………… how will you respond?. Make sure you add….with God’s help.
Let us pray: (By Ted Loder)
past all explanation or deserving,
we have received from you
grace upon grace upon grace.
Though many come disguised,
each one blesses, challenges, bewilders,
supports, stretches, comforts us,
though none protect us
from the struggles of life
and that, too, is cause for thanksgiving,
for neither do they quarantine us from
courage, compassion, creativity,
and our consciousness of
deep communion of our common life.
So we ask you to bless us and all our gifts,
keeping us in your fierce love
as we strive for your kingdom
and receive from you the things we need;
increasing by your merciful love
the good for which you intend our gifts,
and for which we intend for them to do;
and nurturing by your sneaky love
those sisters and brothers, neighbors and enemies,
we live with in this human family
and for whom we give so much less generously
of the grace and joy we have received,
until, through your stubborn love,
we open our hearts and minds,
to the ancient tidings of peace on earth,
to the summons for justice to roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,
and we respond to that tidings and summons daily
making them a bit more real
on this precious, whirling globe,
adding our joys to yours
as a small gift from us
in return for your great gift to us
of your amazing grace that has brought us safe thus far,
and day by day will lead us home.
This Eucharist has been, I hope,
a heartening experience of faith.
We have expressed our faith
that Jesus our Lord is with us,
that he never abandons us,
that he stays with us in the storms of life,
that he extends his helping hand to us
and that with him we can overcome all obstacles.
May this hope and trust always grow in us,
with the blessing of God Almighty…….,
Invitation to the Offering
You have been saved.
You have believed.
You are sent.
Offer yourselves then to the work of invitation,
community and purpose in our homes,
neighborhood, online, and around the world.
Not only with our lips,
but with our lives and
with our treasure
we will proclaim that
you are in our midst, Loving God.
Take these gifts, and use them
so all might know that
your love, your life, your hope,
your healing is near to them. Amen.
Go in peace.
And Trust the Lord as you step out boldly.