The first few times this week that I read this familiar passage from Matthew about Jesus walking on water not a thing came to me about what this miracle with Jesus and the disciples and peter and his doubts have to do with me or all of us today. Maybe the calm moment Jesus spends by himself up on the mountain before the storm is like so much of the boredom some are feeling? But I don’t think Jesus was necessarily bored and I know my quite time doesn’t look a lot like Jesus’. Maybe it’s that there’s a storm on the water? And our lives feel like a storm? Or there’s a boat, and I’ve been on a boat before. But no, that’s way too basic, and I don’t think you all need to hear about all the times I haven’t caught fish on a boat.
But then I noticed something for the first time that I’m sure has caught some of your eyes before. What I’ve noticed is that when Peter begins to fall, when he became frightened and began to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus responds not only by catching the falling disciple, but he then accuses him of having little faith. This confused me for a moment and I think this is interesting for two reasons: first, the thought came to me that Peter’s faith was actually pretty strong and in the right place, at least when he felt helpless as he began to sink to his death. He instantly called out to Jesus and he called him Lord. So where is his lack of faith? Perhaps Jesus is referring to Peter’s lack of faith in Peter, in his own ability to walk on the water? Or maybe it’s Peter’s initial lack of faith in Jesus’ identity as their Lord. After all, Peter was testing Jesus to begin with, saying if you’re really the Messiah then you’ll miraculously make me walk on water. Regardless of what Peter was thinking, or what he was doubting in, things fell apart, he lost control and began to sink into the stormy waters. And this brings me to my second take way from the passage, and the most important of all…Jesus catches him. Despite his lack of faith in himself, his distrust in Jesus’ ability to make him walk on water, in the midst of the storm raging around them, despite all of it, Jesus still catches him.
This lack of faith in ourselves and the sense that we’re falling apart or that much of life around us is reminds me of so many conversations I’ve had during this pandemic with folks who feel as if their lives have been placed on hold, either their job or their relationships, and along with that life stoppage has come a loss of identity. Who am if I can’t provide for my family. Who am I if I can’t teach my students, or touch my patients, hold my grandchildren. Who am I if I can’t lead this congregation in worship or hold your hand in the hospital?
Whether you’re lacking faith in yourself, faith in the world around you, or if you’re in the midst of a chaotic storm in your family, or maybe you’re crash has come from boredom and loneliness as life seems to have been put on pause. Regardless of what you’re going through and what you’re thinking, what we hear today in the Gospel of Matthew, is that Jesus will catch you and that tells you all you need to know about who you truly are.
HBO Sports just came out with a timely documentary called the “Weight of Gold”, narrated by Michael Phelps. It’s about the widespread mental health issues of Olympic athletes and begins with talk about Covid and how with the Olympics postponed for the first time ever, fear, uncertainty, disruption and isolation have hit this community of athletes hard. These athletes whose entire existence was dependent on performing well, are no longer able to perform at all.
Sean White, the fantastic red-haired Gold Medal winning snowboarder said that this isn’t a new struggle however, because “win or lose, the day after the Olympics I always felt a dramatic emptiness. If everything in your life has been built around one moment, and that moment is gone, what do you have left to do, what do you have left to live for? After every Olympics there is an incredible crash.”
One of the things this documentary focuses on is that these Olympians aren’t normal, how they begin their search for greatness at a very young age and how their focus on personal achievement links their identity to their own performance. Of course, these men and women are unique in their physical and mental abilities, but you can’t help but hear your own story in the ups and downs of these athletes lives. You can’t help but think, perhaps they aren’t so unique, perhaps they’re not the only ones who carry a weight of some kind, who struggle with disappointment, who place their own identity and all of their self-worth on some kind of achievement or success. We all do this, don’t we? And these athletes certainly aren’t alone in having their world and so much of what they hold dear placed on hold during the current pandemic.
But the great achievement of this documentary is that it doesn’t take long for you to stop thinking about Covid, and in a strange sort of way, to stop thinking about athletes and start just thinking about people. Before you know it you’re just thinking about the difficulties of life as we’ve always known them.
The movie ends with the tragic stories of Olympians who have killed themselves or attempted suicide in the past few years. It ends with a plea for mental health awareness, and the sense that everyone involved in the film, and just everyone in general is longing and waiting for something, or someone, to save them.
None of this is new, we have always struggled with issues of identity and isolation and fear. The future has always been one that is painfully out of our control. We have and always will be a people in need of hope and comfort, and above all else we will always be in need of someone catching us when life feels as if its crashed and we’re simply falling.
“Who am I?”, we often ask ourselves. Well, we’re people who need to be caught and picked back up. And we’re people who can rely on Jesus to do just that.
The good news for us is that whether our faith is strong in the midst of the storm, or if it takes everything crashing down, including ourselves, for us to only then rely on God, however we respond to the chaos or the boredom of this year, Jesus is our Lord who will catch us, who will save us. No matter who you are, in the midst of the uncertainty and dissonance of the present moment and every moment, you are not alone because God keeps showing up in unexpected ways with compassion and mercy.
We may feel less like ourselves than we did five months ago, but God is no less God than when we last gathered together in this space. God is still God, and grace is still grace. We still need it, and thankfully we still have it in Jesus.