Leave the boat, brave the storm

Pentecost 11

1 Kings 19:9-18 – Psalm 85:8-13 – Romans 10:5-15 – Matthew 14.22-33

The Very Rev’d Bertrand Oliver, Dean and Rector 


Today is the last day of Pride Week in Montreal, and culminates in the March which will take place this afternoon, and in which a group from the cathedral will take part, as they have for a good many years until Covid and a last minute cancellation last year meant a three year break in that tradition.

And the Cathedral donned its fine colours for this important week in the summer calendar of what is a cosmopolitan and inclusive city, where sexual orientation and gender are protected under the law – although this is of course no guarantee that harassment no longer happens.

Some wonder whether there is still any point in celebrating pride at all, never mind the church participating also in this important movement for continuing inclusion of all.

And yet, even here in Montreal, we have seen our decorations defaced in the past week as we have in recent years also seen an increase in sexuality and gender based discrimination and violence, some fundamental rights are being eroded in countries around the world, and homosexuality is still punishable by death in at least ten countries.

Earlier in the year, the anglican communion was in uproar as Ugandan bishops were seen to support new discrimination legislation despite repeated calls at the Lambeth conferences of Bishops since 1988 to condemn homophobia and violence against sexual minorities.

At our pride service last week, we heard a testimony from a recent refugee to Canada, Tatenda Mendenga, who had to flee his country of origin, Zimbabwe, because of the threats on his life because of his sexual orientation.

As Pride week unfolded, and especially after our decorations went up, I had a number of conversations with visitors about the Cathedral’s stance on inclusion, many positive, but also many challenging.  There is still a belief out there that to be Christian, one has to be anti-Gay.  This is disheartening and soul-destroying when we are trying to speak to the world about a God who loved the world so much that he sent his son that all may have life to its fulness.

A God who came to Elijah not in acts of great power and destruction, but in the sound of sheer silence – something sometimes difficult to achieve in the heart of a big city.  But yet when the clamour has gone and we can focus in places of quiet, we know that that is where we are more likely to encounter the love of God – both for ourselves when in the silence we come face to face with God and can be truly ourselves and see ourselves as we are.  And also for all as we, from that place of encounter, can acknowledge our common humanity with all of God’s people.

Our Gospel reading today may help us to think this through.

There are many stories of Jesus and his disciples on and around Lake Gennesaret, the centre of gravity of Jesus’s ministry before he started on his way to Jerusalem.

Eleven of his twelve disciples were locals and knew the area well having fished there for years – and they would have also know the changing patterns of winds on that vast expanse of water.

After a challenging day teaching the crowds, Jesus puts his friends on a boat that they may find rest, while he himself goes up a mountain to find silence and pray.

If there is one thing that is consistent in Jesus’ life, it is that before making any big step, and in order to recover from challenging encounters, he makes for himself time to be in silence with God – time to nurture his relationship with his father, time to hold in prayer those who need it, time in the quiet of the night to hear the word of God speaking to him before making a big decision.  A pattern of prayer we may all do well to emulate.

As Jesus prays, the disciples are asleep on their boat, which is pushed out into the lake by sudden rising winds.  Somehow, the disciples are not awoken by the wind, but as they open their eyes in the morning, they see Jesus walking towards them on the lake.

We are not told why this is happening.  Did Jesus see that they were in peril and is going to rescue them, or is he simply wanting to go back to them? We don’t know.

In any case, naturally, the disciples are fearful of this ghostly figure.  As a test, Peter finally asks Jesus to call him over, if it is really him.

And here comes the crux of the story – because Peter finally believes that it is Jesus, and that Jesus tells him to ‘come’, he gets out of the boat and is able to walk on the water too.  But suddenly, as his attention is distracted by the storm, he starts to sink and calls out to Jesus – save me.  And Jesus catches him again.

I am wondering how that story resonates with you.  Can you make parallels with some events in your life when you have been surprised by what you were able to do because of your faith and God’s faith in you?

Peter’s story this morning is a story of faith: faith in Jesus Christ who can calm a storm, faith in Jesus Christ who believes in us to do extraordinary things, faith in Jesus Christ who will save us again when somehow we start doubting again. Faith in Jesus who came to remind us that we are made in God’s image – and that God is not made in our image.

And our passage from St Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning reminds us that the scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The ongoing mystery of our faith is that the love of God is so wide that all are welcome into it.  Former archbishop of South Africa, the late Desmond Tutu famously said: ‘“Jesus did not say, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw some.’ Jesus said, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all.’ All! All! All! All! Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It’s one of the most radical things! All, all, all belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All! All are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go.”

St Paul reminds us of the difficulty for people to call on someone in whom they do not believe, and to believe in someone of whom they have not heard before, and for them to hear about God if there is no one to proclaim him. And who would proclaim him if they are not sent.

Today, on this last day of Pride Week in Montreal, in a place where many have not heard about God or heard a distorted view of God’s love, we are reminded that – as we return from our acts of worship here and everywhere, we are sent back into the world to proclaim the Good news of Jesus Christ.  Not the news that we are in any way superior and that God will judge anyone not up to our cultural standards.

The Good news that God loves us all and continually calls us and everyone: ‘Come’ – that in faith we may leave the boat, brave the storm, walk on water and do extraordinary things that will transform the lives of many in the world today and always.

‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’ – may the feet of those marching today be blessed and indeed bring good news, and the feet of all of us wherever we go today.

Amen

Roger Thibault, one of the first gay men married in North America just died age 77.

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