Sermon Text: Matthew 14: 22-33
How have you been taking care of yourself?
I ask because we’ve been living in a state of heightened anxiety for some time now, and our normal ways of self-care may not be available to us, or perhaps we don’t feel quite comfortable returning to those activities that give us rest and renewal. I’ve heard from many people that this summer has been extremely difficult because their typical vacation plans and patterns have been disrupted, so they haven’t gone anywhere.
In the midst of our spring lockdown I had a robust list of activities that I was doing on a daily basis to keep myself sane. Many of those activities have remained: cooking, baking, playing my mandolin, and learning the practical and universal language of Welsh. Some habits have become more infrequent. My once daily yoga practice is now more of a weekly item and I haven’t done a push up or pull up in a month. The busier the work week, the more we inch closer to our ministry returning to full capacity, the weaker my self-care habits become.
I would hazard a guess that I am not alone in this pattern of behavior. I imagine that most of us are guilty of the same shortcoming—that when life gets hectic, our self-care is added to the endangered species list. When we are in states of heightened stress due to our tasks and obligations and lifestyles we neglect ourselves. The exercise is left behind. The fast food takeout orders increase. The time to relax, unwind, breathe, and pray is MIA.
Jesus is no exception. In Matthew’s Gospel he is on a blistering pace in ministry of healing, teaching, performing miracles, and traveling from town to town. When you’re feeding 5,000 people and publishing a new parable every day it begins to grind you down, even if you’re the Messiah. Pretty soon there are fewer pickup games of basketball with the disciples, you’re adding double shots of espresso to your morning Cup of Joe, and you’re getting irritable when your disciples are failing to follow through on your instructions.
Jesus was fully God, fully human, which means he was fully susceptible to burnout, just like every one of us.
What a Messiah to do? Jesus must have been an introverted individual because when he is worn out he dismisses the crowds, sends his disciples off on a boat without him, and then climb a mountain to get some alone time. He recharges his batteries in solitude. He communes with God the Father. He prays. He rests. He engages in good self-care that works for him.
Once again, I’ll ask, how are you taking care of yourself right now? Because the pressures of life are still present. If anything, we are the disciples in this story, on the same schedule as Jesus but without the alone time. Now we are being tossed in our boat by the sea, battered by the waves, struggling against the wind, and we are far from land, far from sure footing.
And what a boat ride this is…we have an impressive array of waves that have been battering against us lately.
By now COVID-19 seems like old news because we’ve been living with it for months. Personally, there’s almost a sense of fatigue to it, and that’s dangerous. That’s when you let your guard down and start doing stupid things especially in this period when the number of cases and deaths have been climbing steadily. There has been a notable increase of businesses, restaurants, and places in Blair County that have had to shut down for a deep cleaning after a positive COVID-19 case. Teachers, parents, students, and school boards wrestle the decisions to reopen school. Together we are in this boat, the wind is against us, and it seems like we are far from shore.
Racism conversations continue to rock the boat after the fallout from the slew of springtime deaths of unarmed black individuals. George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are now household names, added to the list of Rodney King, Freddie Grey, and Trayvon Martin. Once again, an important topic seems to have quickly fatigued our nation. We’ve turned this plague of racism into a soundbite, or worse, a meme.
Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Confederate Battle Flags and generals and statues, protests and riots and tear gas and rubber bullets, taking a knee and standing for the National Anthem…it is amazing how many issues swirl around this prevailing sin of racism. Together we are in this boat, the wind is against us, and it seems like we are far from shore.
The economy is also an issue that rocks our boat. There has been an excruciating fight for balance between health precautions in a time of pandemic and the need to earn money. We’ve watched as unemployment statistics climb and fall in mindboggling clumps, as stimulus checks are mailed out, as small businesses struggle to keep their doors open and their employees paid. We do not have an accurate picture of how these waves will affect our boat’s trajectory, there is so much uncertainty. Together we are in this boat, the wind is against us, and it seems like we are far from shore.
And don’t look now, but this is an election year. I don’t care if you are an Independent, a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, a member of the Green Party, or hoping to resurrect the Bullmoose Party…election years are exhausting. Our political realm is polarized to such an unhealthy degree, just like everything else I’ve named on this list. We don’t have deep conversations about these important political matters. We just shout at each other, or ignore it all together. We’ve distilled complex issues into bumper stickers and memes (which more often than not are sources of misinformation, the world would be better without them). We know that the onslaught is coming—the SuperPAC Ads, the lawn signs, the mudslinging. Together we are in this boat, the wind is against us, and it seems like we are far from shore.
We are the disciples in the boat. We’ve all got a paddle, but we’re probably all rowing in different directions.
Given the option I can see why Peter does it. I can see why Peter asks Jesus to walk on water. He says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Quite simply, Peter wants out of this vessel. He’s had it with this stupid boat. He wants the security of being with Jesus, especially in the seasick moment. Maybe Peter wants to make his own way to safety in the middle of this troubling wind and wave.
However, the boat is important. The boat provides safety, comradery, and community. The boat is where the disciples struggle together. We belong in there, so does Peter, and he finds that out quickly. Outside of the boat he becomes easily distracted by the raging weather and falters.
While I admire Peter’s willingness and pluck, I think we know now that our job is to wait for Jesus to enter the boat with us. Jesus will do the walking on water. He will find us tossing about in the sea. He will enter the vessel and sit beside us. And, he will calm the storm. That’s the gospel promise.
It reminds me that when we come to worship at church we gather in the sanctuary, or more specifically the nave, which comes from the Latin word navis, meaning ship. The early church recognized that in the church, in the nave, we worship and live together, awaiting the promises of Jesus Christ. Some church even have elaborately decorated ceiling that remind you of the keel of a ship. Just like the disciples we are huddled together in this boat.
Once again, that leads me to ask, as we toss about in our little dingy, how are you taking care of yourself? The wind is swirling in our community, and we have our own personal blends of havoc to add to the mix. How are you seeing to your holistic health?
As we take this wild ride, take care of yourself, keep your limbs and body inside the vessel at all times, and keep an eye out for Jesus as walks towards us, climbs into our boat, and stills the storm. AMEN