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Matthew 14:22-33

I have a confession to make: I really crave alone time and I have a healthy fear of open water and when I get overcrowded either literally by the world around me or internally by my fears and anxieties and need for control, I get exasperated. So I can relate to both Jesus and Peter in this passage. The gospels repeatedly show us that Jesus is taking the time to rejuvenate his wholeness in body, mind and spirit by going away to pray. Jesus models to us that he is his best resource. Being plugged into THE source of God’s presence and love is the only way to replenish his ability to love, lead, serve, enact miracles and prophetically call an entire nation to more radical shalom. In Matthew’s gospel, this is the first time the writer explicitly refers to Jesus going away, alone, to pray. So it’s a “listen up” sort of literary device. Jesus life was indeed crowded: with curious onlookers, hungry followers, needy disciples, judgmental and sometimes hostile religious officials and greedy, power-thirsty governmental rulers; not to mention the pressure of his personal calling and vocation. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of the Lord to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sigh to the blind and set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

What are we to do with gospel narratives like these? Ghost like appearances, walking on water, near-drownings, theophanies (God appearances) and confessions. It would make for viral social media content today and hit-binge-worth television streaming.

The context leading into this particular occurrence in Jesus’ life and times is that of John the Baptist’s beheading and a massive miraculous feeding of thousands of hungry followers - physically and hungry spiritually. Immediately after Jesus walks-on-water-appearance and Peter’s terrified-yet-brave-confessional, Jesus heals many in the Gennesaret region. Jesus’ presence is radical: radically divisive, radically political, radically threatening, radically healing, radically aware of people’s physical needs, radically challenging to people’s spiritual fears and failings. Jesus’ presence is not neutral - it confronts injustice, lack of wholeness, short-sighted-faith, ill-health and religious pretense.

My life is crowded too. Like Jesus, it’s crowded with people’s needs and asks and wants and preferences. It’s crowded with awareness of how unjust and broken the world around me is, the looping-on-repeat parts of human history that cannot surrender to the interdependent reality of God’s kindom[1] come to earth. Like Peter, it’s crowded with my inner fear and disbelief; with my isolation from the person of Jesus as he is, not how I think he should be. Jesus often appears to me as nothing more than a fleeting ghost like whiff in the fierce storms of my life. Like Peter, I fleece my relationship to God with if-then negotiations about who God says God is and how Jesus appears to me. It’s here that modern day disciples can intersect with this ancient gospel narrative: at the crossroads of crowded and faithful. Jesus boldly challenges Peter to a faithful response to the radical presence of love when he overcrowded with the most fear, deepest in crisis, shaking with lack of trust. God is pulling from Jesus a faithful response to the racial presence of shalom come to earth when the crowds around him are testing this reality: beheaded prophets and oppressive rulers; hungry and sick humans. At the crossroads of crowded and faithful, we’re invited to follow Jesus into the God reality on earth. It’s an invitation to become aware of our location in our crowded life storms; it is a plea that God will save us and an assurance that even here, we will find the presence of Love when we’re farthest from land than we’ve ever been. This is the eye of the crowded storm: a God of love who will find us smack in the middle of the chaos. Sometimes we initiate the chaos we find ourselves in; sometimes the chaos is circumstantial to being humans on planet earth. Will we know love when it shows up in our over-crowded life storms? Will we recognize our rescue when it comes to our aid? “Jesus Saves” is shorthand in current culture as a slogan for that which is opposite from that which condemns or tempts us. In this gospel narrative - we’re yet again confronted with how Jesus saves us and from what Jesus saves us. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” says Jesus. And here is where the good news shines forth: immediately after they cried out in fear, because they were terrified that they saw him apparently walking on water. When we are at our most crowded, our most afraid - immediately Jesus is present and says take heart (take courage); do not be afraid.

Our tradition’s founding preacher, pastor, theologian John Wesley was interacting with a “skeptic” with the following response: “What religion do I preach? The religion of love; the law of kindness brought to light by the Gospel. What is it good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves: to make them like God; lovers of all; content in their lives; and crying out at their death, in calm assurance ‘O grave, where is thy victory! Thanks be unto God, who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.” [2]

When we are at our most afraid, most shaken and crowded - Jesus reveals the religion of love; the best news of all: presence in the overcrowded places; an invitation to take heart and become like the love impressed within all of us. Immediately Jesus is present to us. My confession shifts because of this gospel passage: I confess to the religion of love and law of kindness brought to light by the person of Jesus. Jesus is the clearest representation of God’s ever present Love and we can cling to that in any crowd, any storm, any lonely place we find ourselves praying. Amen.

(1) Kindom here is a coined term replacing kingdom and representation of the sibling hood of all God’s people rather than a metaphor of hierarchy and oppression. [2] An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion 1743. Works, v.