TheTwelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Timothy’s Episcopal Church
When life is shattered, tattered, torn,
Like shores so wild and weatherworn.
I’ll wash upon the Rock that saves
And be raised up, up from the grave.
("When Life is Shattered," words by Renee Miller,
waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were
wrapped around my head at the
roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose
bars closed upon me forever.
the hero in Victor Hugo’s novel, Toilers of the
Sea experienced it.
had to deal with this impenetrable hostility. Not being able
to put him outside, it put him under.
It? The unknown. If clasped him close, it compressed
him, it took his place from him, it deprived him of breath.
He was bruised
by the invisible. Every day the mysterious vise was
tightened one turn.
(Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea (New York:
disciples experienced it. “By this time, the boat,
battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was
against them. When he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened.”
they all experienced is what life deals out to us all-–the
stormy waters that leave us feeling alone and in danger
for our sanity, our balance, our life.
though many of the storms of our life do not take place in
the midst of an angry sea, we can feel the trouble the disciples
found themselves in, as if we were there ourselves. They had
struggled the whole night with the emerging wind and storm. Their
emotions were on edge, their bodies were weary, their nerves
were frayed from fear, they had contended with the possibility
of death and had done everything they could to keep an upper
hand against unruly nature. Then, in the midst of all their turmoil,
they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. Jesus skirted
above the storm, unhampered by its power, its strength, its control.
Rather than rejoicing and taking comfort in His presence, however,
the disciples became even more fearful. They were sure they were
seeing ghosts, and if they were seeing ghosts, death must be
near. “It’s not possible,” they thought, “to
meet up directly with heaven unless we are on our way there.”
seems most surprising to me about this story is that Peter
did not speak for the others and beg for what we would expect.
What we would expect is that he would ask Jesus to calm the storm.
He didn’t. He wanted only to go to Jesus on top of the
water. He wanted to prove to himself that what he saw was real.
It was more important to go to Jesus than it was to stay focused
on his problem. And, when Jesus said to Peter, “Come,” Peter
trusted enough to get those feet out of the boat and on top of
the raging water. Of course, it’s sometimes easier to begin
a thing than to keep going. He began, but when he got up on top
of the water the wind seemed stronger, the storm greater. He
took his focus off the goal and was overcome again by his
fear. When he realized that he couldn’t save himself he cried
out, “Lord, save me.” And heaven answered his plea.
Jesus reached out and grabbed him out of his terror and when
they got into the boat – the same boat that was tossing
and turning on the high waves -- everything became still.
To trickling streams fierce waves subside,
My soul at last with God abides.
‘Twas in my soul, there all along,
the Wellspring of God’s loving song.
("When Life is Shattered," words
by Renee Miller, from Wellspring)
all know what it is like to have the waves of life come crashing
around us. It feels as if our bodies and souls are being thrashed
about at whim leaving us gasping for breath. We might experience,
for example, a severe crisis of faith when all the trusted formulas
we’ve grown up with and known in the past no longer answer
the longing of our soul. We wonder if there even is a God, and
if there is a God, why God leaves us to struggle so with our
Or, it might be that we or someone we love is diagnosed with
a dread disease. We feel the powerlessness of knowing that the
body is at risk and death might be imminent. We wonder why God
is allowing this to happen to us.
Or, it might be that we lose our job or feel helpless in the
face of financial difficulty. We see no possible way to climb
out of the dungeon of dearth. We wonder why God has taken away
our blessing and our means of support.
Or, it might be that we lose someone whom we have loved greatly.
We are overwhelmed by sick, haunting grief and the loneliness
that seems never to abate. We wonder why God would allow such
deep and painful separation.
Or, it might be that someone we trusted betrays us and we are
left feeling exposed and vulnerable, angry and hurt. We wonder
why God would allow others to desert us with such impunity.
all these storms of life, we’re carried away from our
safety and security. The winds of an untamed sea batter us about.
We are taken away from our moorings, we become frightened, we
blame others and God, and we ask the age-old question “why?” When
we are in the midst of such waters of tempest, feeling weary,
broken, wretched, uncertain about our future, fearful and nervous,
we try to fend off the danger that is twisting around our lives
cutting us off from our life’s breath. We talk to friends,
we go to therapy, we pray, we think, we cry, we drink or eat
excessively, or we shop ‘til we drop. We do anything we
can think of simply to escape, and we find that we only fall
deeper and deeper into the very thing from which we are trying
to extricate ourselves.
Now what do you suppose would happen if we got out of the chaos
rather than being consumed by it? If we stepped away from the
trouble instead of becoming more fully mired in it?
There’s a Sufi story about a man who was chased off a
cliff by a tiger. He fell and as he fell, he grabbed onto a branch.
The tiger stood just a few feet above him with his teeth bared.
A hundred feet below an angry sea lashed against sharp rocks.
He knew he couldn’t hold on for long, and there were two
rats gnawing on the branch that kept him poised between the tiger’s
teeth and the craggy rocks below. It didn’t take him long
to figure out, like Peter, that he couldn’t save himself.
He finally cried out, “O Lord, save me!” The voice
of heaven replied, “Of
course, I will save you, but first you have to let go
of the branch.” Just as Peter had to
step away from the problem by getting out of the boat, so this
man had to let go of the branch.
might seem to us counter-intuitive at best, and crazy
at worst, because when we find ourselves in the midst of a
we know that all we can think about is the storm. We
play out all the nasty possibilities of where it will lead,
happen to us, how awful our situation is. When others
try to comfort or encourage us, we have excuses for why our
is so bad that we can’t be comforted or encouraged.
We find ourselves thinking about our circumstances when
up, and when we go to sleep. We talk to our friends about
it. We stop doing what is healthy and fulfilling for
us. We become
so consumed with our problem that we can’t imagine
letting go. We ask why, why, why, as if the answer to
the ‘why’ question
would erase the problem! We hang on until the tiger grabs
us and tears us apart bit by bit. But,
if we would let go of the
problem for a moment,--let go of the branch, step outside
the boat--we would find ourselves walking on top of
the water right
toward the saving embrace of heaven. I call this counter-intuitive
response to the storms of life the PPSP - ‘The
Peter Problem-Solving Principle.
I said that the most surprising part of this story is that
Peter did not ask for the problem to be removed. He did not
Jesus to calm the storm. The other disciples were consumed with
the problem, and it was only getting worse. When they saw Jesus,
they were even more fearful. Peter, however, haltingly realized
that the solution to the problem was in letting go of it – stepping
away from it – looking elsewhere – namely to the
presence of something/someone beyond the storm.
spend much of our lives searching for peace and happiness and
doing all that we can to avoid struggle and misfortune. And
when we find ourselves the victims of misfortune, we simply do
everything we can think of to change the situation – to
make the problem go away so we can get back to a happy and peaceful
existence. The Peter Problem-Solving Principle leads us, instead,
to listen to the voice of God on the waters (as the Psalmist
says) that calls us to “come.” When we go toward
that God with every fiber of our being, the power of the storm
seems to recede, the need to know ‘why’ no longer
cuts at our heart. Suddenly, we seem to know that it isn’t
peace that is important. It isn’t problems that are important. There
is only one thing that is important. Going toward the
One who is beyond the peace and beyond the problem. So rather than
frantically trying to escape, by going to the mall, or the bar,
or the therapist, or the refrigerator, we would do well to listen
to the voice of God on the troubling waters and lurch toward
God, not allowing anything to hold us back. In one surprising
moment, we will touch the hem of heaven’s robe and hear
the words that move our soul:
full, grow strong, trust only Me,
Though earthly rocks urge you to flee.
Our Christ has broken every stone.
Let go at once, you’re not alone.
("When Life is
Shattered," words by Renee Miller, from Wellspring)
The Rev. Canon Reneé Miller
he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to
the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he
the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When
evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat,
battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind
was against them. And early in the morning he came walking
them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on
the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And
they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and
said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter
answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So
Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink,
he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand
and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When
they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him,
saying, "Truly you are the Son of God. NRSV
(New Revised Standard Version)