words of my mouth

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Matthew 14: 22-33

As we all know, the storms of life can strike any life at any time, and sometimes one comes right after another. Several years ago, my cousin Cathe began to notice some changes in her husband, Jim. Always a kind and gentle man, Jim had started having bouts of rage in which he not only lost his temper, but also became physically abusive. Cathe had no idea what was going on, but during that year doctors were able to diagnose Jim with a form of early onset dementia.

As the condition progressed, Cathe found herself tossed about on an emotional roller coaster. She struggled to find a nursing home for Jim, get him Social Security Disability benefits, and adjust her own emotional life and personal circumstances to this unexpected change in both their lives. She prayed continually for a miracle, for Jim to be cured, but sometimes what we want and what God deems is best do not agree.

Over time, Cathe adjusted to things as they were. The medications helped return Jim’s gentle, loving nature, but they didn’t restore his mind to what it had once been. Through Cathe’s hard and loving work, Jim settled into a nursing home surrounded by warmth, a wonderful staff and friendly residents. Cathe visited almost every day, her life taking on a new rhythm that slowly became a familiar, comforting pattern. Then, Jim got pneumonia. We all held our breath as he was admitted to hospital, and we all sighed with relief when over the course of a few weeks he fully recovered.

A month later, I got an email from Cathe. It read, “Jim died today. I am so broken.” Shockingly, totally unexpectedly, Jim had had a heart attack. Right there, holding Cathe’s hands, he had died. A few days later Cathe wrote again. “I question so much now, about Life, God, Heaven. I feel as if I am just drifting, then going into a scary tailspin into a black night.”

Cathe found herself in a totally unexpected storm - at sea, afraid, but not alone. Her priest, her friends, her family – all were there to support her. Fortunately she is a very loving, faith filled person, but right then, every step forward was difficult. She reached out to all of us, and found that her family, her friends, her Church reached back to her and held her fast.

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.  

Today we’re hearing a story about Jacob’s dysfunctional family. All of us know this one, about Jacob’s favourite son Joseph and his multicoloured coat. In fact, in the 1980’s a musical stage play, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, made the story widely known to an audience that might otherwise never have heard it. In the play, Joseph is the hero who, though mistreated by his brothers, triumphs with the help of the Lord. But have you ever asked yourself what exactly Joseph did to make his brothers hate him?

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.

Joseph isn’t quite the innocent we’re often led to believe. He is Rachel’s son and thus he is the favoured, pampered son of a favourite and pampered wife. Right here at the beginning of his story we learn that he is something most folks frown on. He brings a bad report of his brothers to their father, or, to put it another way, he’s a tattle tale. No one likes a tattle tale. And then we learn that: 

Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.

Suddenly we have an entirely new look at Joseph. He’s a spoiled kid. His father has gone so far as to have a coat made for him “a long robe with sleeves” or a many-coloured coat – a robe such as was worn only by royalty. Joseph tells on his bothers, and this behavior is apparently tolerated by their father. When you come right down to it, Joseph sounds like a real pain in the neck, a spoiled brat. No wonder his brothers can’t stand him. 

And Israel said to Joseph. . . Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me." 

Interestingly, between leaving his father to seek his brothers and finding them, Joseph encounters a dilemma. He thinks his brothers are at Shechem, but is unable to locate them. Then a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" "I am seeking my brothers," he said; "tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock." The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, `Let us go to Dothan.'”

Omitted from today’s lesson in verses 5 -11 are Joseph’s two dreams, which are interpreted as showing that his brothers and his parents will bow down to him. So when he at last finds his brothers and they say, “Here comes this dreamer,” they aren’t talking about a young man with his head in the clouds. Joseph has told his brothers about these dreams, and for them that’s been the final straw. A spoiled child who tells them some day they will all bow down to him? The brothers are so angry they are ready to kill their own sibling.

Fortunately for Joseph, Ruben intervenes. Instead of killing him, the brothers settle on throwing him into a pit. Used to collect water during the rainy season, but normally dry toward the end of summer, these pits, or cisterns, were common in the ancient world. When empty, they were often used to hold prisoners, so when the opportunity presents itself, Joseph’s brothers hurriedly dump him into such a pit, and then sell him off into slavery in Egypt. In an instant Joseph’s life has changed from luxury, from being the spoiled and pampered son, the beloved, the apple of his parents’ eyes, to darkness and storm, a life of slavery. We can imagine that Joseph must have been terrified as he was taken away to the unknown life of a slave, his world totally shattered.

There is something, however, we are likely to miss in today’s story, and that is Joseph’s brief encounter with the man at Shechem, a person Hebrew interpretation often takes to be an angel of God. If this brief encounter had not happened, Joseph might never have found his brothers so that God’s providence could unfold in salvation history. It is the stranger’s directions, the directions given by an angel, that have made it possible for Joseph to be torn from life as he knew it, and to be sent on to do God’s work in this world.

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

Jesus has urged the disciples to take to their boat, most likely to avoid the aroused popular enthusiasm which has followed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. But, the Sea of Galilee is shallow, and storms arise rapidly. The boat is a familiar and secure place for these men who had, up until they met Jesus, worked as fishermen. They know boats and they know the Sea of Galilee, and they know the power and fury of these unexpected storms. From being a safe haven, the boat has become an unsteady and uncertain refuge, and they have no choice but to cower in it and hope they can ride out the storm.

And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.

In the situation they’re in, fearing for their lives, an apparent apparition coming toward them walking on the water is bound to scare the disciples out of their wits. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 

Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come."

To his credit, Peter is willing to accept that what he hears may be Jesus’ voice. But Peter isn’t certain. Lord, if it is you . . . 

Peter wants desperately to walk that short distance to Jesus’ side, but it’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s made even more difficult because of the storm raging around him. We know times like this, times when everything seems to be in turmoil, times we aren’t even sure if Jesus is there. To Peter’s credit he puts his foot out of the boat.

So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and began to sink.

There’s an old saying, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” and it applies well to times when it almost seems that God has led us directly into disaster. As the world we know appears to crumble, and we become filled with fear, we wonder why God would do such a thing, how God could let such a thing happen. If we trust God, like Joseph, in time we will know the answer. Other times, unexpected disaster springs up around us, threatening us, shaking what we once felt was safe and secure, and we find ourselves, like my cousin Cathe, like the disciples, filled with fear and uncertainty.

Peter steps out of the boat, that familiar, safe refuge, becomes frightened, and begins to sink like a rock. We, too, know this sinking feeling. It comes when life seems to have turned against us, at the loss of a loved one, or when we are experiencing financial troubles; we find ourselves frightened, uncertain, unsure. What went through Peter’s head at that moment, as he started to sink, we don’t know, but along with his fear two things immediately kicked in, his trust and his love for Jesus.

Sometimes we must wait for our lives to settle, at other times in an instant God sets things right. As Joseph discovered in Egypt, as my cousin found, God has His reasons for putting us through the storms of life. But what helps us to weather the storm, the beginning of healing, the end of chaos is always the same; it lies in our hearts. It lies in the trust and love we have for our Lord.

And Peter called out, "Lord, save me!"

And Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.

Let us Pray:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do, the courage to love and trust you completely, that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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