August 9, 2020 – 10 Pentecost, Proper 14a
1 Kings 19:9-18; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God”, writes St. Paul in the 8th chapter of Romans. There are no coincidences, no accidents, some have said. In the various events we experience there is often meaningful synchronicity, offered Carl Jung. All that to say that, when we are paying attention, we notice that the circumstances of our lives are being woven together to lead us and guide us into all that is good.
A few weeks ago, Mary Ward and I started watching the Netflix series Call the Midwife. We’re in the third season now and I highly recommend it. I won’t summarize the theme; the title sort of does that by itself. We chose the series not completely randomly. It was on our list of recommendations made by friends. But we certainly didn’t sit down and ask each other, “Now that the search committee is about to reach their decision and the new rector is about to be announced, what show might we watch that could help us live into this time of transition and new birth?” We chose Call the Midwife subconsciously rather than consciously, but honestly, what better way to prepare for such a time than to watch a series where, in every episode, a new birth is dramatically portrayed? All things indeed work together for good and there is indeed meaningful synchronicity in the various events in our lives.
For the past year we all have been going through a big transition. There is more of that to come. There is a new birth to celebrate and inspire us. A new rector is on the way with all that is good and joyous about that time. Someone said to me this past week, “If you’re not at least a little sad to be leaving us, I’m really going to be angry with you.” Of course, it is sad for me to leave this wonderful place, but you and I are not dealing with a death here; we are dealing with a new birth. You take on a new rector. I take on a new phase of life. Whatever sadness and anxiety there might be quickly yields to joy and peace. All things work together for good for those who love God. The Holy Spirit is the great midwife that is bringing us new life.
Every Sunday there is synchronicity between the lessons assigned, the seasons of the church year, and the events of our lives. The lessons today don’t require a whole lot of work to see their synchronicity: Elijah hearing the still small voice and being directed to yield his leadership to Elisha; and Jesus walking on the sea to comfort the disciples as they move to the next phase of their mission.
Both the lessons present powerful reassurance. Elijah has just defeated hundreds of the prophets of Baal. His actions tick off Queen Jezebel who promises to hunt him down and kill him and, so, Elijah runs for his life. He flees to Mount Horeb and hides in a cave. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”, asks the voice of God. “Well, God, I’ve been busting my butt killing a bunch of bad guys while I haven’t really seen you doing very much.” “Hmm,” says God. “Sounds like you’ve painted yourself into a corner.” A great wind comes up, splitting mountains and breaking rocks. Then an earthquake and then a fire. And then sheer silence. And the still small voice: “It’s time to move on Elijah. You’ve finished your work. And there are many to follow you. Go home and anoint Elisha to take your place. All shall be well.” For a while Elijah is lost in that place of ego and self. He thinks he has been working hard all alone. But the voice reminds him that all that has been done has been part of the great synchronicity of God’s power. Elijah is not alone, nor has he ever been alone.
The gospel lesson follows the feeding of the 5000. Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray, to give thanks, and to listen. He sends the disciples on ahead to the next assignment. They get in the boat and come up against a storm. Jesus sees their plight and comes to them walking on the sea. That scares them more than the storm but they try to engage the moment. Peter jumps out on the water with Jesus but quickly sinks. Maybe that’s his little ego moment like Elijah. Or maybe he’s just trying to be faithful. His limitations reveal the unlimited nature of Jesus and the saving grace of God is discovered. It’s a new birth for them in their understanding of who God is and who they are.
There are times in life when we feel very alone and frightened, times when all we can see is our efforts which seem futile in the face of the dangers of the world, times when storms beat against our boat and our attempts to do what we think is the right thing only reveal our limitations. All those times are part of the great synchronicity of life. They lead to something else, they help us accept the holiness of our own lives and our dependence on God’s love. We get freaked out by the limitations of our own efforts but those limitations lead us to see God’s unlimited power. Those times when we think we’re just not going to make it are powerful transition times; they lead up to new understandings of how it is that the whole world fits together.
Transition times, times of new birth, reveal our anxiety, our egos, and our limitations. But if we’ll just hang in there a little and pay attention, the chaos calms down and the still small voice of God comes to us amidst the storm that is battering our boats, and the presence of Jesus is revealed. The sadness and anxiety yield to joy and peace. The walk of faith involves transition times, times of new birth, and as we learn to pay attention we come to see how the whole world fits together gracefully.
25 years ago I stood on top of the chancel steps for the first time and looked out into an empty nave. I heard the still small voice say, “I have been at work here long before you arrived and I will be working here long after you will leave.” Today I look out at an empty nave again and hear that same still small voice. We are temporary. God is eternal. The eternal has chosen the temporary to love and to bring into eternity itself. It all fits together.
There are many issues operative in our world right now. My leaving and John Leach arriving as the next rector is not all that is going on. But that small detail, along with all the other details throughout the world, is something that God cares about and is working through. Throughout the world all things are working together for good for all who love God. Pay attention, love God, and look for all the goodness God has in store for you.