Slow Down, You’re going too fast

A clergy colleague half suggested she might play Bridge over Troubled Water to go with today’s Gospel reading. After I’d written my sermon it was this S&G title that came to mind.

 1 Kings 19.9-18

 Matthew 14.22-33

Trinity 9 Proper 14

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Today’s gospel reading is a very familiar story to many of us -or at least part of it is. Walking on water has become part of our cultural lexicon, a short hand for perfection of ability and skill in a person, perhaps akin to being put on a pedestal.

What has intrigued me about this passage this week though has been less about the spectacular miracle, though we’ll come back to that,  and more about the context in which it’s set, what happens beforehand, and what we can learn from that.

We join the story immediately after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus sends his disciples off to the other side of the lake in a boat -and he remains with the crowds and dismisses them.

What I wonder is going on then, conversation? Healings? Grateful thanks?

Jesus must have been tired, and pretty peopled out – once he is along he goes to the mountain to pray.

This was not uncommon behaviour for Jesus after a busy time of ministry and dealing with people, he needed space for prayer, to reconnect,, to reflect, to be on his own.

It’s evening, and we’re told in a “ meanwhile….back on the lake” kind of way that the boat that this disciples are in is being battered by the waves and it’s a way from the shore, presumably both shores.

And then there’s a blank in the story, because it is not until early morning that we see Jesus walking out towards the boat on the water…

So what was going on through the night?

Did Jesus know that the boat was having a tough voyage? Was he ignoring the plight of the disciples? How were they feeling?

Although he’s not with them, there are echoes here of the story of the storm, where Jesus sleeps on, despite the panicking disciples and the raging winds.

We can only imagine, but probably with good reason, that Jesus has spent the night praying and resting, regrouping, and spending time with his Father God.

Then and only then does he step out to meet his friends.

It is underlined once more for us the importance of rest, of prayer, of stillness.

We live in a busy age, where so much is expected instantly,  fast communications, fast food, fast results. We’re impatient for answers to emails and messages, we want next day or even same day  delivery ( my kids are astounded at the 28 days thing that mail order stated back in the day!)

We expect action, and we expect movement. We are deeply suspicious of doing nothing, or what might look like doing nothing. Time and again Jesus shows us that just being is of vital importance.

Burnout is a huge issue in our society, among all sorts of people and in all sorts of spheres of work and leisure.

We expect too much of ourselves and especially of those around us.

As Christians, we need to learn to spend time just being, it’s been said we were created as human-beings not human doings.

That time of just being is time that contains prayer,  it contains rest, connection with our creator, and our brothers and sisters, and the rest of creation.

We can be seduced into thinking that something is really urgent, that it must be dealt with Right NOW

But very often it needn’t be, The priority of prayer and its rhythm in our lives is foundational. Thought and reflection are vital to how we work, how we exist.

There is a movement towards this in our world, the renewed emphasis on retreat, on mindfulness. There are movements like the slow food movement, encouraging the rhythms of waiting, of thinking , and yes resting. But we need to encourage this, to live it ourselves, to bring balance to our lives.

When Jesus did act, when he went to meet the needs of his disciples, he was able to do something amazing to lift their faith, and to inspire Peter to do likewise.  He had spent time with his father,  in their creation, and then he could literally step out into it, in control, in the right place.

We rush at things, we cram in activities and programmes,  we want quantifiable and tangible results, and yet, counterintuitively, the deepest and most profound work in and around us will come when we are immersed in God, spending time with him,  resting and restored in his presence.

There are perhaps parallels here with the story of Elijah that we heard from the Old Testament.

Elijah identifies himself to God with a list of everything he has done, his activities,

And God responds with an illustration, the wind and the fire, which in all their bluster do not contain the voice of God, and then, the silence and stillness and the quiet voice.

In reponse Elijah once more lists what he has done, and God responds again by sending him into the wilderness, the quiet desert place. Yes, he has a task to do, but the main thrust of that task is anointing his successors. Elijah is not indispensable!

The focus is away from doing, away from frenetic activity and towards the still centre, that is found in the presence of God himself.

Peter rushed at his task… out the boat… Lord let me come to you.  He did exactly what was asked of him, but he panicked, he was frantic,  he took his eyes off Jesus and he began to sink.

When we have much to do when we see tasks and ideas ahead of us. When the urgent begins to push out the important, our only hope is to be still,  to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,

To know that we are created to be before we  do

To trust that from that still place in God, we are able to do everything he calls us to do, and he is there to take our hands, and hold our gaze so that we do not sink beneath the waves.

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