Meditation on 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Matthew 14:22-33
Rev. Chris Stewart, Guest Preacher
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio
Aug. 9, 2020
Covid-19, a pandemic of the twenty-first century, is not only deadly but has awakened the individual, the family, the community, the society, and the world to a new order.
People throughout the world, are anxious about the future but at the same time doing something at present in their places: working from home, dealing with joblessness, searching food for tomorrow, empty pockets without even coins, uncertainties in their lives, somewhat giving possible education to their children, more and more laying off jobs from many companies.
Will this be normal? A million-dollar question without any certainty, without any answer.
Leaving apart all these, will there be a future for the Church? I say a big ‘YES’.
Before we start let us listen to the Word of God from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 14:22-33): “Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened. And, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.'”
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side. Jesus was not present with the disciples. He sent them to the other side before him. But, the disciples did not ask him how he would come to the other side to be with them or to meet them. It simply showed that the disciples took for granted that without Jesus they could reach the other side with the help of the boat, a material thing. The disciples did not even think that the sea way was not an easy way to travel to the other side. The boat would be troubled by the waves and winds against the boat and would make the travel difficult for them. The disciples did not have strong faith. They did not have little faith too. They had blind faith on the material thing, the boat. They believed that they could reach the other side with the help of the boat. Did the boat help them?
What would have helped the disciples to feel secure and safe on the boat and to reach the other side? With closed eyes, without rational thinking, having little faith in Jesus, we can say that Jesus would have helped them to feel secure and safe on the boat and reach them the other side. Here, I wonder if the disciples represent everyone? If the boat symbolizes material things, our own belief system, rational thinking and so on? Is the sea the world?
Then, Jesus dismissed the crowds. Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. There was no one with Jesus at that moment. He sent off the disciples by the boat and he dismissed the crowds too. He did not have any materials or persons to climb on the mountain. He went alone to the mountain. He went to pray.
We read in the book of Kings (1Kings 19:11-13): “Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
Elijah heard God not in a strong and violent wind, nor in crushing rocks, not in an earthquake, not in the fire, but a light silent sound. In other words, we can say that Elijah heard God in a gentle silence. In the same way, Jesus went up to the mountain to be with his Father. He wanted to listen to his Father in silence. He went to the mountain to understand the invisible presence of his Father in silence. He went to the mountain to listen to his Father in peace of his mind, in the silence of his heart. Nothing could disturb him. Nothing could divert his mind. Nothing could trouble his heart. There were no material things and human persons, that could boast his divine presence and love, rather his Father gave him the divine presence to conquer this world with love and presence in silence and in isolation.
Our lives are filled with material things. Political power, gadgets, social media, money rule the world. Today there are not as many meaningful relationships in our lives. We have many friends in Facebook rather than real life. We do not wish a good morning to our neighbors but send hundreds of good morning messages. We have come to believe that without God everything is possible in this world. Across the country, many have left the Church because they think there is no God in this world. We have rational thinking. We have scientific knowledge. We passionately believe that science has a solution for everything in this digital and genetic world.
For example, we are faced with Covid-19, the twenty-first century’s biggest pandemic, which has turned the world upside and down. People believed before the pandemic that with our scientific knowledge, we could rule the world, that science and technologies could solve and reduce our suffering. Months are over since the news of Covid-19 broke out in the world. Scientists and epistemologists are trying their best to find a solution. But nothing has brought the pandemic to a halt. Nonetheless, the pandemic is being widespread even though there is a well administered health systems in some countries, like here in America.
Despite all these, we know that the pandemic has troubled each one of us in one way or the other. It brought a new social order. People were quarantined. People were isolated. We could not see our loved one in their final journey to heaven. It altered the lives of many in drastic way. The world will never become normal as it was in the past. Future is uncertain.
The disciples of the text were in the same line. They thought that they could manage without Jesus. They thought that they could reach the other side. What happened?
They believed in the material and human knowledge rather than the Divine presence and love. They were anxious when the troubles approached them. They soon realized that they needed Jesus to help them. Did the disciples recognize Jesus exactly? No. They were not able to recognize Jesus with their brokenness.
We go behind scientific knowledge, rational thinking for help to be at peace in heart and mind. Meanwhile, we lose our souls in those material things and human weaknesses.
The apostle Paul would say (Romans 9: 1-5) very beautifully that he was accursed for the sake of his people: “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, (& sisters) my kin according to the flesh. They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.”
Here I would like to enumerate that Jesus could walk on the sea, the world without any trouble of waves and winds against him because he was filled with the presence of his Father, the Divine love. He could manage and face those troubles without any fear because he believed and surrendered in his Father all the time.
We say that it is ok. Jesus did it. How do we do? We have desire to be like Jesus in the world like Peter desired to walk like Jesus on the water. But we are frightened when we see wind of troubles, difficulties, pains, sufferings and so on like Peter. Peter did not focus on Jesus, the Divine love and presence, rather he focused on the winds of the sea and he was frightened. We too are the same like Peter, we focus on material things and science so much that our focus on Jesus is disturbed. It makes us to feel that we are not cared by Jesus.
We read in the text that Jesus had not abandoned the disciples, even though he was not present with them. Jesus did not delay his approach to reach out at once and immediately (these are two words used in the text), when they faced trouble.
We too think that Jesus abandons us and does not reach out to us immediately when we face troubles and when we need him the most. Today, Jesus promises us and assures us that he comes at once and immediately when we call him, when we approach him, when we surrender to him. Once Jesus comes to our life, our troubles will die down.
This was the experience of the disciples and it is our experience too. Are we ready to surrender to Jesus alone every day? We will surely recognize Jesus, experience Jesus when we go to the mountain in silence to understand his divine love and presence in our lives.
No Covid-19 can overpower us when Jesus our Savior is with us.
May the heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all. Amen…