His dear cousin – the one he had met even before they were born – dead.
He had been about his work for so long: calling disciples, mentoring them - telling stories, healing people, instructing them and sending them out to serve. He was becoming an A-list public speaker, the kind people flock to listen to whenever they come to town. His mother and brothers came to visit, and he turned away from them. He said, I haven’t come to bring peace, but a sword.
So full of fire, he was. So busy. John had to send word from prison, asking “Are you the one? The one we’ve been waiting for?” They had been apart since baptism day at the Jordan.
And now he was gone.
The world wouldn’t leave him alone to grieve.
So weary, so sad, and he just wanted to stop, for a while. But the people kept coming – they were like bloodhounds, scenting out his pain, recognizing a kinship with their own. They walked for miles, out on foot from the cities. The followed.
Disciples of pain and grief, kin with the already-wounded one, they sought him out. No need to call with words – he called with his whole being. At was as if he hadn’t even needed to speak the words, “Come to me, you weary.”
He was a pain magnet. And already aching, himself – he couldn’t turn them away when they had a need. He felt their need. Deep in his guts, he felt it. Drowning in pain, drowning in people, he healed the weak and the sick. They were so hungry for anything he had to give.
Just in case you thought that meal on the hillside was about food for the body, about calories and nutrients and the contents of their bellies, remember this: everyone ate until their desires were satisfied.
That’s an awfully big hole to fill. There was no restaurant in the country with enough inventory to fill the hungers and thirsts that needed to be addressed that day. No giant Sysco truck to roll up and fill the holes that repeated sorrow and grief and lack-of-a-fair-shake had carved within them. Even so, everybody ate until their desires were satisfied.
So he tried again. He gave himself a personal time-out. He pushed the disciples into a boat and he dismissed the crowds and went up the hill. Imagine his grief. He was a man acquainted with sorrow and I have to think, somehow, that the storm that came up overnight was a reflection of the storm within.
It matters, that Jesus grieved. You do not need to be superhuman, trying to box up all this free-floating grief that threatens to overwhelm. The tears are holy. The anguish is real. Why would you disrespect your humanity by play-acting normalcy? People sicken. People die. Injustice is a reality of the world we live in. There are times it is appropriate to weep and rage and push back against it all.
Battered by the waves, far from land, something makes you think that it can’t get any worse. So you resolve to get out of the boat.
But in the night, broken as his heart is for you, and for the world, Jesus comes toward you. Oh, child of God, Jesus weeps. The wind is strong. You are frightened. He gets that. His gut twists in agony for his losses and for yours. For the death and the terror and the unanswered questions of an upside-down world that does not resolve to your satisfaction.
You step out onto the water, wild-eyed, a hysterical edge in your voice, not knowing what will happen but needing something to change, something to work outside the apparent norm because you have just had it.
We have all been there. The wind, boisterous around us, screaming the screams we cannot, simultaneously screaming words like broken! and shame! And gone! And never! And we sink. How could we not, in the face of those terrible words?
A word to you who are drowning:
Drowning in bad news
Drowning in work
Drowning in your own cares and sorrows
Drowning in the cares and sorrows of those dear to you…
Know this: The one mightier than you reaches out and plucks you from the water as you stand on the threshold between despair and hope, life and death.
If there is nothing else you can be confident in, know this. Dripping wet in the boat, crying your eyes out, shivering in the middle of the storm, know that it is real. He reaches, without hesitation, every time, and hauls you out of the water.
There is a seemingly bottomless pit that can open up within the human soul, when the boisterous wind shouts, when the bad news keeps coming and you’re not sure how much more you can take.
This is not the first storm, and it will not be the last.
He will be there.
There is a compass within him that points him, without fail, toward you. He has been seeking you for oh so long, since the beginning, a time before the beginning, when you were a baby bump and a glimmer in your parents’ eye, a whispered hope, a soul looking for a home. He has been seeking you since you took the first step away from him. He knows the words in the screaming wind, the terrors and the griefs, the little moments of faith, the terrible yawning pit that has your foot at the edge of the boat.
He is there. He is always there, in the water and the tears, when you are faint-hearted. He is the one hauling you out of the water. He reunites you with the beloved community – others, broken just like you – others, cherished by heaven, just like you.
He is here.
We disciples, the church here in this place….we did not bring a meal today. However will we fill the desire of our hearts? We have nothing here but water and prayers, human touch, and Jesus.
By the grace of God, that is enough.
A sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, Narrative Lectionary Year 1 (Matthew 14)
Preached at McFarland UCC on February 8, 2015 on the occasion of a reaffirmation of baptism