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Unraveled by Uncertainty

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It seems that following Jesus has a bit… to do… with… becoming unraveled.

Today, it is Peter—and when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened.

Other days it is the young rich man—who heard Jesus’ word, and went away grieving for he had… (what…do you remember… ???) many possessions (Matthew 19:16-30).

Next week we will hear about Zacchaeus, whom Diana Butler Bass writes Jesus called out from the crowds “… to stop participating in a corrupt system of gratitude that oppressed his own people. In a moment, Jesus turned (Zacchaeus’) world upside down: Who was the guest and who was the host?”[1] (in the story?)

Following Jesus also looks a lot like grabbing at threads when you have nothing left to lose. Like the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, who snuck up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his clothing (Matthew 9:20-22). It seems that (at least according to the author of Matthew), just touching the fringe of Jesus’ clothing healed her—and many other people as well (Matthew 14:35-36). When the treads of life are frayed and worn, what do you have to lose?

Listening to the conversations this week during our Wednesday morning and newly launched Wednesday evening bible studies, it seems that (unsurprisingly) that there are many ways in which we have each—in our own lives—been unraveled. This week, I listened as story after story was told. In each story I heard ways in which somehow… deep down… in crises of faith…  whether or not we initially realize the Holy Presence in the chaotic waves crashing about… in each of the stories I heard echoes of that horrible sinking feeling laced with deep dread, loss, hopelessness, and a drenching sense of overwhelming powerlessness.

Finding faith in the face of death. Facing our own literal deaths, or the death of a loved one, the death of a job, the death of a relationship. And… this Friday through the eyes of the youth movement… stories about the death of our planet. Now I know that there is a wide range of scientific views regarding the health of our world, but the majority of scientists agree with at least 4 out of the 5 basic climate science facts. Dr. Kimberly Nicholas simplifies these facts too:

  • “It’s warming.
  • It’s us.
  • We’re sure.
  • It’s bad.
  • We can fix it.”[2]

I realize that this last point, “we can fix it,” is one that is the most tangled up in controversy. But whether we can fix “it,” or whether this rapidly warming planet is our new normal, talking about what to do can feel like grabbing at threads. Our physical and emotional response to global warming can involve that horrible sinking feeling, laced with deep dread, and that drenching sense of overwhelming powerlessness.

We are all on this metaphorical “boat” hurtling through space, together.

Which is why grabbing at threads, and showing up for this the Global Climate Strike this past Friday, was so important for us to do as people of faith. The beauty of today’s bible story from Matthew is that we understand all too well what it means to be in this very real “boat”—earth. The only earth we’ve got. This “boat,” our world, is being battered by waves of uncertainty during a time when many of us are exhausted. Worn out from the busyness of our day-to-day lives. We work all day, go to school, care for the kids, tend to our homes, take care of medical concerns, help out our parents. Our days are not unlike the disciples’ day, which too was “just packed.” Right before Jesus told them to “get on the boat,” they had fed 5000 people. THAT was a long day!

We go home. We turn on the news, and get battered about. The winds of life always seem to be blowing strongly against us. Reading through the entire chapter of Matthew 14, we learn that this small Jesus movement of the 1st century had just found out that John the Baptist had been killed (bad news), yet we have also just experienced the spiritual wideness of a simple meal of 5 loaves and 2 fish which fed thousands (a “woo hoo” momentin our faith). We are held in this place of tension between the fear of being literally killed for practicing one’s faith, and being spiritually fed by breaking bread in community.

Thus, in the tiredness and life’s stormy seas, there is great beauty in Peter taking heart. Power in Peter standing up in the battered boat and the swirling storm, and what must have been immense fatigue of the middle of the night. There was great hope in Peter’s response as he called out to Jesus, “I can do this!!!” There was also beauty in Peter’s fear, as Jesus stretched out his hand. In the chaos, Peter was not alone. Calmness overcame fear. This tiny faith community, floating on the sea, worshiped… out on the boat.

Yet fear lurked. After all…

They were aware of John’s death

And they knew that there was risk in following this Jesus.

That is why recognizing and responding to the ways we are all “in this boat” together during a time of crisis is so important. While the youth who coordinated the Global Climate Strike were likely not thinking about Peter’s request to step out of the safety of the boat, we all need that one person… that person in our class… in our church… in our family… in our community… in our world… who is brave enough—who is risk-taking enough—spontaneous enough—or as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message—bold enough to say “Hey, I can do this “thing!” We desperately need that person, our own Peter, who steps out of their comfort zone and say, “I can change the world.” That person that speaks out even though fear lurks.

And suddenly, we realize that we are all in this boat together.

Over the past several months, and in particular this week, our contemporary “Peter” in the global boat with us was Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden. She spoke before the Congress of the United States this week. In that place of power, which generally swirls with a raging storm of words, Greta said that, “I have a dream… that governments, political parties and corporations grasp the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis and come together despite their differences – as you would in an emergency – and take the measures required to safeguard the conditions for a dignified life for everybody on earth.” She went on to say that, “…no matter how political the background to this crisis may be, we must not allow this to continue to be a partisan political question. The climate and ecological crisis is beyond party politics. And our main enemy right now is not our political opponents. Our main enemy now is physics. And we cannot make “deals” with physics.”[3]

This is what I witnessed at the Climate Strike in Madison on Friday: Hundreds of people held in this place of tension. That sacred space between the fear that the earth around us is being literally killed due to generations of inaction, while also being spiritually fed by “breaking bread” through the sharing of our collective love for God’s creation.

I saw youth with signs that read:

  • Time is running out, stop being fossil fools!
  • There’s no planet B.
  • I can’t vote, can you?
  • The climate is changing, why aren’t we?
  • Consume less. Love more.
  • Like the sea, we rise!

Like the sea, we rise…

“Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “(Jesus), save me!”

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed (Peter’s) hand. Then.. The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down.” (Matthew 14, The Message).

We can’t jump out of our boat, off of the planet. But we can look at the waves churning about. We can be like Peter and affirm that we have loss our nerve walking through the all too many storms of our world. And we can cry out that we all too often feel like we are sinking.

Yet we can also be a part of the shift. If we respond with the immediacy of Jesus’ call, if we do not hesitate, if we reach out, we can be caught—caught by faith, caught by love, caught be a global movement. As individuals and a faith community following Jesus, we can climb purposefully into the interconnectedness of life on this planet. Then, the winds of our fear will calm.

And there, we will be like the people in the story, clinging to that small boat so very long ago. May we be living into that life-giving shifting from overwhelming chaos to calmness. May this be the moment when the world is transformed. May we embrace a new wholeness in the Living Presence of God.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Matthew 14:22-33 offered September 22, 2019

[1] “The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.” The Christian Post. The Christian Post. Accessed September 26, 2019. https://www.christianpost.com/news/the-transformative-power-of-giving-thanks.html.

[2] “350 Climate Science Basics.” 350.org. Accessed September 26, 2019. https://350.org/science/.

[3] Thunberg, Greta. “Greta Thunberg: I Have a Dream That the Powerful Will Take the Climate Crisis Seriously.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, September 20, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/greta-thunberg-congress-speech-climate-change-crisis-dream-a9112151.html?fbclid=IwAR3-CBP5Ox8_CyVBZAsq3sxr-uWQmydbqkaSGdxLx7oqgndNB5zWN_lrFa0.