Summary: PENTECOST 12, YEAR A - Elijah runs and Peter sinks, and God remains faithful.
For the last couple weeks, Greg and I have been spending our extra time driving here and there, from Harwinton to Hartland searching for a new place to call home. We have decided it’s finally time for us to buy our first house. Interest rates are low, the area is lovely, the people are wonderful, and North Church is the place where I want to stay. It would seem easy to ‘engage the hunt’ simply get a real estate broker, talk to a loan officer, set a budget and make a wish list. But unlike many first time house hunters, Rosemary and I have one added element to the search God. And that is the problem. Actually the problem is not God per se, its our faith. We struggle with questions like: is this God’s will; once we’re settled will God make us move again; will God give us our desire. So for us house hunting has become a struggle of faith.
In today’s scripture we hear two other stories of people caught in the struggle of faith. Elijah was a prophet, a man called by God to speak and act on his behalf. Elijah was to challenge the people to return to the God of their forefathers. And he certainly did He called down drought and rain in judgement upon Israel. He proved the power of Yahweh over Baal in a burning sacrifice on Mount Carmel. And he eliminated 450 priests of Baal in one felled swoop. And there, at the height of his success, life comes crashing in. Queen Jezebel promises to kill him for all he has done in the name of God. So he does what any one would do -he ran for his life. After all God had done through him, his faith took a nose dive as a result of one woman’s threat.
But he is not alone. Another man in today’s scripture saw his faith hit the drink. After the feeding of the 5000 Jesus sends his disciples back home, crossing the sea of Galilee late at night. When a storm arises they are in serious trouble. As fishermen they are all to familiar with the power of nature, and they fear for their lives. But worse than that they see the impossible - a figure walking towards them in the midst of white foam and horizontal rain. Now they are sure the grim reaper is near. But instead they hear a familiar voice - Jesus - saying “do not be afraid.” Peter, bold impetuous Peter, takes it on faith and asks to join Jesus on the waves. He steps out of the boat, still confident - and he too does the impossible; that is, until he noticed he was doing the impossible. Then his faith falters, and he gets a bath.
Both Elijah and Peter found themselves taken to the limits of their faith, and then beyond. And there is the problem. For beyond is the place we’ve never been before. It is the unknown, and in the unknown it can be very unsure. It’s only natural at the edge of one’s limits that you might have doubts about the very things that brought you there. It’s easy to believe God provides, until your economic future lies in ruins. It’s easy to believe in healing, until your life depends on it. In situations like this we have a tendency to believe faith should be unwavering. We think faith is a thing like a rock, some object to possess rather than the fluid movement of a relationship of trust. Our judgment is that anyone who does not have the unwavering faith to keep up with God will be left behind. We think we must have perfect faith or else. And that is where we are wrong. God is not looking for perfect people with perfect faith. Faith is not about us at all. Faith is about God. Faith is about the God wo created us. Faith is about the God who calls us and redeems us. Faith is about the God who walks with us in the middle of life’s dangers and fears. Faith is about learning that God will never fail us or forsake us.
That is what Peter and Elijah needed to learn. In fear for his life Elijah ran into the very presence of God. When Peter began to sink Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up. Human faith falters, but God does not. God remains faithful regardless of our confidence, or lack thereof. No matter what we face God is there. No matter what our dilemma is, God does care. The truly unusual part of the stories of both Elijah and Peter is not their all too human fears and doubts, it is God’s response. God seems to be bewildered almost disbelieving of their reaction. “What are you doing here, Elijah?!” “Peter, why did you doubt?!”Now most of us read these words as condemnation. But God is not angry, rather God is astonished. And we have to ask why. If faith is not about us, but about the God who remains faithful, then the quandary God is expressing is this, “if you know me, then why doubt?”, “if you have known my presence and power, why did you run?” Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?