19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

by Bishop Marty Shanahan

Matthew 14:22-33 Storms on the Water

It is so wonderful to be with you all tonight, to share this beautiful day, and to share in this sacred rite. Every time we gather to celebrate Eucharist, I am moved by the depth of faith and trust that I have the honor to experience, as we pray together. Thank you for that honor.

I begin our reflection tonight with the beautiful opening line of Rev. Colleen’s reflection last week:

To be transfigured is to be changed, elevated, to be made more beautiful and glorious.

That is theologically sound and poetic and true – and tonight’s Gospel reminds us all, that such transfiguration in our lives comes at the cost of pain and joy, fear and hope, doubt and certainty. All those things are the ground from which true transformation is born.

You see my friends, this Gospel pericope – while it is a story that could stand on its own – one way it can be encountered is in the larger context of Matthew’s Gospel. But, because we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration last week, the context of this Gospel story can get lost.

So let’s revisit. This story happens in this context…

Jesus learns of the death of his dear friend, and possibly cousin, John the Baptist, at the hands of Herod’s wife. He is devastated; he is struck with grief and with his own questioning of God’s presence in the mess of this whole movement, in his life.

You see, I don’t think Jesus set out to create a new religious movement, but rather, to shed light on what he saw as fundamental to the Spiritual life – namely a real, honest relationship with God. A relationship not based solely on following a set of defined rules and expectations, but on a real relationship with God. And some understood his radical message and others were threatened by it.

Jesus’ best friend is killed, and Jesus knows that it is his message that lay at the source of his best friend’s death. Jesus is thrown into grief and he wants to get away. He gathers a small group of friends and they set out to get away for a bit. But the crowds see this and they follow. When Jesus arrives, he finds throngs of people, and ends up feeding and teaching 5000. And then finally, he sends them and the disciples away, and he gets a night alone. But then it starts again – another storm – and the lives of his friends are threatened again.

In the midst of the storm, Jesus appears – to give rest to the fear that was gripping his friends. “Do not be afraid,” he says, and he even invites Peter into the storm to walk, walk…

Wow – have not all of us been there? You see my friends, this Gospel is not just a story about Jesus and his disciples – I believe it is our story as well.

Many times, we think that the only time God is present is in the still small voice – the whisper that Elijah experienced. But when we encounter the storms of our lives, we might ask, where is God?

My friend is dying, my work is falling apart, everything I have is being ripped up, the storms are raging, where is God? And low and behold, we look, and if we look long enough, we will find the hand of God inviting us to take hold. Do not be afraid.

I met with my Spiritual Director this week. I dumped all my fears, troubles, and woes. He listened – deeply. He looked me in the eye and asked, “What are you so afraid of?”

And I thought of this Gospel that I had been praying on all week. And I heard the words of Christ, “Do not be afraid.”

But it can be so hard to see Christ in the midst of the storms. And yet, if there is one thing that I have come to know and believe, it is that God is always near. Even, and especially, when I don’t feel, believe, or understand.

You see my friends, I think the journey of faith is a lot like this Gospel story. Sometimes we walk on top of the waves and sometimes we sink like a rock. Every situation in life holds those two realities and faith does as well. Sometimes God is very real and present, and sometimes we cry out – save us! The constant through it all, is, God is always there. So do not be afraid, no stone has ever been made smooth without being rubbed and worn by other stones.

As Rev. Colleen said, “To be transfigured is to be changed, elevated, to be made more beautiful and glorious.”

Yet that transfiguration, that transformation, comes from a lot of doubt and struggle and pain. Maybe that is what Christ meant when he said, “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

– Bishop Marty