Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33
1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:9-18
2nd Reading: Romans 10:5-15
Elijah is running away, beautiful feet are bringing good news, and Jesus and Peter are walking on water! This is feet Sunday! I love all the action.
Elijah is running away—he has just killed the false prophets, and that is why his life is at risk. He has his rehearsed speech that places the blame on everyone else. “I’m the good guy here, God. Those Israelites haven’t been doing what you told them to. Now it’s just little ol’ me and I’m hiding because they are trying to get me.” I can imagine him throwing his little fit, kicking and pounding his fists. So much action! And then there is the impressive action of the mountains splitting wind, and earthquake, and a fire, almost like the earth is throwing a fit of its own.
The reading from Romans is one of the most difficult to understand and scholars disagree about every inch of this reading. The good news we can get out of it is God’s incredible generosity to absolutely everyone, that we can’t divide ourselves up into categories and say we’re better than anyone else, and how available God’s healing and wholeness is. Since those truths are not just for a few, word needs to get out. How does God advertise and let us know the healing the unity and the love God has to give, but through each one of us. And to our great relief, maybe it isn’t just words that can let people know they are part of something good, but it is our feet, our actions that say the most. “How beautiful are the feet of the one who brings good news!”
Finally, the Disciples are being tossed in the boat, all night long—did you catch that? Jesus is walking on the water. Peter is walking on the water. Peter is sinking in the water. Jesus is reaching for Peter and pulling him dripping from the lake. Again active feet taking a central role!
Running feet, walking feet, sinking feet, hiding feet, stamping feet, shaking the dust off of feet, Jesus’ feet walking among us, washing the disciples’ feet, his feet nailed to the cross, rising from the dead to show his hands and feet and side, that it is really him, rising to forgive all who betrayed him and tried to get in the way of the good news and love he had to share to walk the earth again.
I think of feet, counting the toes on a newborn baby, those little razorblade toenails, those first steps, the sound of running feet in the house, all those places that our feet take us, on adventures, back home again, moving us constantly, unappreciated, hidden, forgotten until we injure them!
So many feet came to the pantry this week. I wondered where those feet had been. What burdens have they carried, what trials have they borne, what joys have they known, what oceans have they traveled, what good news have they brought, what bad news have they received.
God’s love is active, moving, shown in actions, on the move, carried by feet to all corners of the world.
We are used to activity, movement. But there is something quite in contrast to all this running around also in our readings this morning. “A sound of sheer silence.” Whoa. Every mother knows, if you are hearing all kinds of racket, talking, singing, stomping all is well. What we dread is “The sound of sheer silence.” That’s when we get up and go flying into the other room to see what’s going on. That’s when a parent’s heart leaps in alarm!
My husband’s mom tells the story of the time little Nicky made the sound of sheer silence. She went to check on him and he’d poured out all the baby powder of his baby sister and made hills for his cars to drive through. “Look mom, snow!” he said. Usually the sound of sheer silence at our house means that the stickers have been located and now are being placed up on the walls of the bedroom, or all the labels are being torn off the crayons, or one of my plants is being repotted, or our waste basket is receiving the sharpie treatment, changing it into a robot.
Silence is something that can be scary. It certainly got Elijah’s attention. God has promised to make a personal appearance. There was a violent wind, not the sound of God. There was an earthquake, also not the sound of God. There was a fire, also not the sound of God. Then there was the sound of sheer silence, that was when Elijah had no question, God had showed up. And Elijah was scared out of his mind, not by the powerful action, but by the sound of sheer silence.
For the Disciples on the lake, the storm had been battering their boat all night long. In the morning, they are exhausted and still the storm raged. And the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. They would have been looking into the rising sun, so he would have been a silhouette, maybe not so easy to recognize. Peter walked out on that choppy lake, toward Jesus, and he was doing fine at first but he started to sink. Jesus reached out to him and together they got into the boat, and the wind ceased. I wonder what Peter was thinking in that moment of sheer silence. Was he confused, afraid, ashamed. It is in those moments of silence, that we are faced with our own helplessness and sometimes that scares us However, silence is good for us. Jesus showed by his example, how he went away to pray by himself, how healthy it is to have a balance of activity and rest. Silence is a good time to listen to God, to refill our spiritual pitcher that we have been pouring out all week to others. Do we take time for silence to just listen? Do we develop our capacity for listening, by practicing over time? The danger is, if we listen, we’d better be ready to respond to what we hear from God, whether it is about things we need to change about ourselves, or something we need to do for another, or a new direction we take in our life path. The other good thing about silence, and facing our own helplessness, is that sometimes the realization that we can’t do it ourselves, can turn us toward the one who is all powerful and all knowing.
In this Gospel, Jesus performs a miracle. It is the miracle of walking on water. I have not always been so fond of the miracles in the Gospels. Sometimes I think they set us up to be disappointed. We pray and pray for a miracle, and most times it doesn’t happen. These miracles tell us that God is all-powerful, that God has the power to intervene to change bad situations, and times when bad things happen, we think God chooses not to use that power. How can we call that love? Does God let awful things happen?
Today, I am feeling a little more kind toward the miracles. What I think the miracles demonstrate is how the world is intended to be, the way the world is when the Kingdom of God comes near. When God comes near, what seemed impossible is possible. When God comes near, we want to imitate Jesus. When God comes near, we step out, take risks, walk on choppy waters. When God comes near, we don’t drown on the lake, but take Jesus’ hand and let him lead us. When God comes near, the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and the blind receive their sight.
In the absence of a miracle, sometimes it seems like God is silent, not acting, not loving, not saving. Even Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But God hadn’t forsaken him. God was there. God was there in the women at the foot of the cross. God was there feeling his pain. God was there when Jesus took his last breath and when he raised him from the dead, offering forgiveness and love, offering new life. Sometimes the presence of God is like the sound of sheer silence.
Jesus walking on the water, demonstrates his power over nature. Water in the Bible symbolizes the forces of chaos. Remember they had no diving suits to explore these deep lakes. Who knows what might be lurking there? Who knows when a storm might come up? There are so many mysteries about the water. So Jesus walking on the water, shows his power over the forces of chaos.
Please also notice, that although he gives Peter a bad time about doubting, that doesn’t stop Jesus from reaching out his hand and lifting him out of the chaotic waters and back into the boat.
We go from action to silence, and there is more work to do. God has a new assignment for Elijah, to quit his whining and develop a new story, to pass the torch to the next generation of kings and prophets. Peter and the disciples have a new assignment, to worship God. What does that look and sound like? Is it words? Is it actions? Yes and yes. It is living abundantly, without divisions, sharing food, sharing life, giving of themselves, and listening to God and each other.
I reflect on the sounds of shouts in Charlottesville, white supremacists taking up torches and marching against the humanity of other people and the counter-protesters, including many pastors in the area. And I think of the sheer silence in that place following the attack by those who would spread hate killing 1 and injuring a dozen, the police tape, the silent weeping. Our feet rush to their side. Our hearts silently reflect on the ways we contribute to and benefit from prejudice and white supremacy. And then we get busy again, standing with those who are oppressed and downtrodden. There is always more work to do, more to learn as a disciple of Jesus, more to give, more loving to do, and more ways to challenge ourselves to build the Kingdom of God that we have glimpses of through the miracles of Jesus.