People often ask me how I became a Christian and then later on becoming a pastor. They seem a little disappointed with my answer thinking I had this huge mountain top experience or where God appeared to me in a vision to convert me and then tell me to become a pastor. Becoming a Christian; I was simply reading a bible given to me in my high school days and realised that this was what I had been searching for. Becoming a Pastor was a gentle transition from giving of my time serving my local church to deciding to look at working full time for the church. No thunderbolts – no lighting flashes – no messages written in the sky like Emperor Constantine who in the early 4th century saw the cross of Christ in the sky with the words “by this sign conquer”.
God often works in subtle means – maybe a word or comment from a friend or stranger. As much as we would love definite signs and messages from God to know what to do or to confirm that what we are doing is his will that’s not how God has chosen to reveal himself. Maybe you’ve been disappointed with God’s silence at time when you really needed him to give you some strength or guidance. I’m sure our church leaders would love to know without a doubt whether God wants our church to have women pastors or not. I’m sure we would love it if God thundered from heaven whether same sex marriage was right or wrong. Especially when we are going through a difficult period in life it would be so reassuring to hear God call out to us that it’s going to be okay.
In our Old Testament bible reading we come across the prophet Elijah who is really needing God’s support and guidance.
He is hiding in a cave, depressed because he believes that he is the only faithful person left – they have killed all the prophets of God and he believes he will be next. At times it can feel like we are all alone too in times of suffering or when it seems the world is going in a completely different way to the church. Sometimes, like Elijah, it can feel like we too are all alone in the battle. This would be the perfect time for God to thunder down a message for Elijah and everyone around to remind them who God is. He tells Elijah to go and stand on the mountain because he is going to send that affirming message. There was a great wind that split the mountain and shattered rocks – but that was not God’s message. There was an earthquake but that was not God’s message. Then there was a roaring fire – but no message from God in the fire.
But then came the sound of sheer silence which was where Elijah heard the message from God he had so needed to hear.
But not only that, God assures Elijah that he is not alone – he has preserved 7,000 faithful people to be alongside him.
God gives us a message. But it is wrapped in silence too. God’s word is in the water of our baptism. It looks like water – it feels like water. But it is God’s word to assure us that we are not alone – I am with you always. God’s word is in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. It tastes like bread – it tastes like wine – but it is God’s word of comfort that we are not on our own in the battle that rages around us – this IS my body – this IS my blood.
We all go through those times where we struggle. We all go through those moments where we want to be in control.
Just like Peter who when he saw Jesus walking on the water wanted that same power and authority. Jesus invited him to step out of the boat and he walked on the water like Jesus. But it wasn’t long before the wind and waves reminded Peter of his humanity and he began to sink. Maybe it was because Peter’s encounter with Jesus at that time was shrouded in doubt; Lord, IF it is you command me to come to you on the water. IF it is you??? Not that dissimilar to Satan’s “if you are the Son of God” and the people’s derision of Jesus – If you’re the son of God come down from the cross. They wanted a sign – Peter wanted a sign to be sure it was Jesus. Jesus rescues him but doesn’t place him back on the water but places him back into the boat with the other disciples. He did that because that is where his strength and support was. In biblical understanding the boat is considered by many scholars to by symbolic of the Church. It teaches us that we too are not alone. We have each other. When we are baptised we are baptised into a community. We don’t baptise in people’s homes. We baptise in the church and become part of that community to be supported and also to support our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly Peter’s error was not only to take his eyes of Christ and begin to sink. His other error was to step out of the boat and leave his brothers to manage without him. That’s why Jesus places him back into the boat – not back onto the water. Because he needed the disciples but the disciples also needed him. And Jesus doesn’t stay on the water but comes into the boat with Peter and the apostles. Jesus doesn’t criticise Peter for being afraid. Who wouldn’t be afraid in the midst of a storm? We all have our fears. But why did you doubt? Did you really think I wouldn’t come? Did you really think I wouldn’t save you? Did you really think that I would ever, ever leave you alone?
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Something missing from this English translation that is seen clearly in the Greek text is that “it is I” is actually “I AM” – the name of God. Jesus is saying: Do not be afraid – I AM. I AM – the Lord – I AM God.
Jesus and Peter get into the boat. The wind ceases. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’”
There are plenty of challenges ahead for Christians and the church and Jesus will say to us “Take heart, I AM; do not be afraid.” We are not lone rangers – we are not vigilantes. We are the community of Christ called to serve together. Called to serve and support one another. That’s why Jesus first task when he began his mission was to call disciples to himself.
And when he sent them out he sent them two by two. This isn’t the only time that Peter will want to take the lead. When Jesus tells the disciples that he must suffer and die as part of his mission work Peter objects – never Lord – this will never happen to you. And again Jesus places Peter back where he belongs – get behind me Satan. (Matthew 16:22,23) Also at Jesus’ arrest Peter goes it alone – “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” (Mark 14:29) I know that sometimes we would really love it if God came and “smited” the evil – if he came and rained down fire and brimstone on the Sodom and Gomorrahs of today. But that was not the message that Jesus sent his apostles to preach and the message that the church continues to preach: In John’s Gospel it says – as the Father has sent me so I am sending you – if you forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven. And in Luke’s Gospel he tells them repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations.
God is well aware of the state of the world at present. God is well aware of the challenges facing the church today. We are called to exercise the Ministry of Reconciliation between the world and God. That doesn’t mean we accept what’s going on but we show a different way. We take God’s light into the world to reveal God’s love for all humankind. We take God’s salt into the world to cleanse, preserve and flavour the world by the way we live our lives. We are God’s light and salt in the world not his fire and brimstone. We are not to judge as Paul says: do not say in your heart who will ascend to heaven or who will descend into hell. That judgment belongs to God. We are called to bring the Good News as Paul says – how beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News. And that Good News is that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you WILL be saved. Grant this Lord to us all. Amen.