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Monday, August 04, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings- Stay In or Get Out Edition

For Sunday, August 10, 2008
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b

Romans 10:5-15

Matthew 14:22-33

This Sunday’s lectionary passages bring, in Genesis, the favored Joseph being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.
Does God play favorites? Do we?

The Psalm recounts some of the amazing things God has done and calls us to tell people about them.
How do we tell people about God?

In the letter to the Romans, Paul exegetes Moses and Isaiah (or tries to exegete), and concludes, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
What is beauty?

And then in Matthew, Peter tries to walk on water.

I’ve heard and I’ve preached more than one sermon about the importance of stepping out on faith. But is that really what this text is telling us?

Consider this. Jesus never called for Peter to get out of the boat. Walking on the water was Peter’s own desire, born of his doubt that Jesus was who he said he was.

“Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’”

As their boat is being battered by the waves, Jesus calls to the disciples and tells them not to be afraid. Peter’s response is to 1) to test Jesus. 2) Leave the other disciples and the boat.

Peter’s departure from the boat is not an act of faith, it is a decision which reveals the depth of his own neediness. A decision which did not consider the welfare of his group. The last thing the disciples needed was to have one of their own floundering in the water, forcing them to navigate the stormy waves in order to retrieve a sinking soul.

When Jesus asks, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” maybe he is not chastising Peter for sinking, maybe he is asking Peter why he did not trust God when Peter was commanded to let go of his fear.

When they all gather in the boat, we hear no more from Peter and are only told that “those in the boat worshiped him[Jesus], saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Are Peter’s actions bold or destructive? Was he brave or selfishly trying to be a hero? In the context of community, what do Peter’s actions mean?

Jean Varnier, founder of the L’Arche communities:
“It is quite easy to found a community. There are always plenty of courageous people who want to be heroes…. The problem is not in getting the community started- there’s always enough energy to take-off. The problem comes when we are in orbit and going round and round the same circuit. The problem is in living with brothers and sisters whom we have not chosen but who have been given to us, and in working ever more truthfully towards the goals of the community. A community which is just an explosion of heroism is not a true community. True community implies a way of living and seeing reality; it implies above all fidelity in the daily round. And this is made up of simple things—getting meals, using and washing the dishes and using them again, going to meetings- as well as gifts, joy, and celebration. A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets.”

Jean Varnier. Community and Growth. Darton, Longman, & Todd, 1979. Pages 10 – 11.
Found in The Westminster Collection of Christian Meditations, Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, eds.

How often, in community, do we leave when the waters get rough? How often do we stay and trust in the connections given to us by God in Baptism?

When do the rough waters become safer than the boat community?

(A good resource for this reading of the text: Boring, M. Eugene. “Matthew.” New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. VIII. Leander Keck, et al. editors. (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995). pages 326-330.)

So. What are you thinking this week?


  1. Have been dwelling on the Matthew text for Sunday...
    and I gotta tell ya, the notion of Peter's getting out of the boat being lack of faith, rather than just plain brilliant!!!
    I have heard the sermon (and it has been quoted), If you want t owalk on water, you have to get out of the boat.
    But the idea of staying in the boat is so, so smart. Yay, now there's a aim for the sermon. The notion of staying in the boat. So, so-cool.

  2. you just turned my morning upside down too!!

    Last week, I really got to thinking about how to reach out to our community and so I preached on "who is missing" last week, and at first I was thinking that this would be a good week to talk about getting out of our comfort zones, out of the church (out of the boat, if you will) and going to where people are.

    There is this poem by Eddie Askew that talks about Jesus being outside the boundaries of our concern and I thought it would fit nicely...

    but am I trying to hard to make the text do what I want it to? I love that I can come on here and just be hit in a whole new direction from the scriptures!!!

  3. I'm with the others, loving the variation on a theme - - or better yet, variation OF the theme. I'm preaching this one next week and doing last week's this week (I thought I was done messing with the lectionary, but I forgot about these two weeks). I'll follow this discussion with anticipation of my work next week!

  4. I love it! Now I'm trying to think if there's a connection with Joseph being thrown out of the boat. Maybe not. I don't ever feel I have to tie all the lessons together and isn't that a good thing!

  5. I might switch my weeks too since this week is VBS week and you certainly have got me thinking.

    Thanks LS!

  6. I'm thinking about the elements (water, wind, earth and fire) and about what really scared Peter: not the water, but the wind.
    Pondering *that*!

  7. I am wondering why Eugene Boring never changed his name -- I initally wrote that I was going to look at the Boring article ...

    I am dwelling in the commentary I read a while ago that the walking "on" water is mistranslated -- that the phrase "walking on water" in other bits in John is translated "walking by the shore" -- and wondering if it really makes a whole lot of difference. Jesus' message would remain the same -- “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

    Other things to ponder -- the outcome of the three tellings of this miracle is different. In Matthew -- the disciples believed (in the others: hearts were hardened and the other -- they didn't understand).


  8. I too am thinking about the wind - it plays a role all through the story. In our setting, the winds of change are blowing all about us as we bid farewell and Godspeed to our associate pastor of 9 years. Will there be a tendency among some to want to get out of the boat?

  9. I was a little disappointed to read the Genesis passage for Sunday, and not get to the part where Reuben comes back to rescue Joseph, only to find the pit empty. I mentioned this to my fiance, who responded with an interesting observation - Reuben found an empty pit, and Mary Magdalene found an empty cave. Joseph ended up saving the tribe of Israel from famine, and Jesus saved the tribe of humanity from spiritual famine. It is an interesting parallel, and I haven't fully explored it yet.

    I wrote my lectionary reflection this week on that "beautiful are the feet" passage in Romans, and the dreaded e-word (evangelism) that Episcopalians just can't stand.

    Hope y'all have a great week!

    Blessings and hugs,

  10. Deadliest Catch fan that I am, I am looking forward to using my favorite TV show as an illustration of the dangers one faces at sea.

    I am going to be talking about the various flimsy "boats" we build in our lives as attempts at self-protection -- wealth accumulation, embracing the right political ideology, etc. -- but how, when you come right down to it, you're just as vulnerable in the boat as outside. So you may as well be outside your boat, whatever that is, and with Jesus.

  11. Rev. Mommy,
    Had same problem once with saying that I had used a Hooker quote...OMG!

  12. I've been playing with the idea of Peter's fear a bit differently. In the early church, boat was symbolic of church. When we step out of the boat - away from our church community - we sink . . . that works for the part of the sermon that addresses individual lives.

    But then there's the stepping out of all that is traditional, doing things that are not "the way we've always done it" - to address the community . . . especially as we are working our way through a process of transformation and there is a LOT of fear about what the future of our little congregation will be.

    Of course,there is the temptation to use Fred Craddock's proposition in The Cherry Log Sermons that this story IS a sermon as it stands . . .

    So glad it's only Tuesday. ;-0

  13. a long time ago I used the matthew text in conjunction with the Olympics that year -- the young woman who jumped despite being injured (can't remember her name now), and the editorials all speculated on should she have jumped or shouldn't she?

    anyway, either way, I think it's an excuse for Matthew to get to Peter's cry "Lord, Save me", which is the cry of the church, whenever we get into trouble, which is ALL THE TIME.

    I find this text paradigmatic of the Christian life.

  14. The phrase that popped for me with the Matthew text was "Command me to come to you." Of all the times I've prayed, and of all the things I've asked of God, I've never asked, "Command me to come to you." Peter did ask to walk on water, but it was in the context of "command me to come to you." For the briefest of moments, he got a glimpse of the extraordinary things that can happen when a believing disciple comes to Jesus - of course, he struggled, but I still believe it was a brave thing to ask, "Command me to come to you," and it makes me wonder what might be asked of me if I prayed the same thing. Just some early thoughts.

  15. Diane,

    Kerri Strug was the gymnast to whom you are referring.

    I too am tending to see the boat as the church - the congregation. Jesus sends them out onto the sea, knowing, I'm sure, that they will face winds and waves, and pledging not to let them go down.

  16. I am not one that preaches every week but I am this week. I am truly struggling. I am thinking of working with alternate reading with the 1Kings passage about Elijah and tying that with the Mattew passage. Something about being zealous and yet still not recognizing. Any ideas or pointers?

  17. I preached on Peter a couple of weeks ago and took a completely different tack. I talked about how Peter was trying to fulfill his call to be like his rabbi. You can read it here. (I hope this link thing works.)

    This week I'm doing the Joseph story, possibly spinning off a sermon I read a few years ago centering on the man in Dothan who directed Joseph. What would have happened if he hadn't been there? I'm going to have to dig to fing the reference again. I think it was by Marc Geller.

  18. When I last preached on this Gospel -- and I think this week I'll continue with Genesis -- anyhow, I tried to suggest that there are times when one Christian gets out of the boat for the ultimate good of those IN the boat...the people whose out-of-synch-ness is what the situation needs. Like Thomas, in his turn...that sometimes it's the risk taken by those who aren't in step that brings us to the perception of the God-ness of Jesus. Feedback? Loud raspberries of incredulity? Let me hear from you...

  19. I finally had a chance this morning to look back at the sermon from three years ago. Surprisingly - or maybe not! - it talks about staying in the boat. So I've posted it on my blog. The Rev Mommy, Boring got into it, too. He's a clever man but it is a funny name. ;-)

  20. I've had some more thoughts- particularly on Romans here

  21. crimson rambler - i like your thoughts!!!

  22. Perhaps a twist on the "little faith"... Peter jumps out of the boat to prove his faith, but then he sinks and Jesus says, "Oh dear."

    In this moment we are reminded that it is not our faith that gets us through the storm, but Jesus. He's the one who always reaches out his hand to us.

  23. Know this is a late post, but want to note the interpretation of Rob Bell on his Nooma “Dust” which always makes me think. Bell suggests that Peter’s lack of faith, for which he is questioned, is not in Jesus, but in his own ability to do the seemingly impossible things that Jesus does. After all Jesus does not sink, Peter does, so Peter has no reason to doubt Jesus, but instead doubts his ability to be like him, especially when he sees the chaos around him.

    While I too may be reading more of my bias than the text allows, it seems the church, and individuals who are a part of it, are reluctant to believe in themselves and what they can do when tapped into God’s power of transformation. After all, Jesus has just fed the 5000, plus women and children, saying “you give them something to eat,” and now he walks on water and accepts Peter’s invitation to be commanded to join him.


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