Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ ‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said; ‘tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’ The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed 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 towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, 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 towards 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 worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Scripture Quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
By Dave, Reader-in-training at St. Mary's
Our Gospel passage today is a rarity for St Mary’s. The last section of it is depicted in one of our stained glass windows. See the picture nearby. It shows Peter, who has left the boat with the other disciples in, and moved across the water towards Jesus. Peter has clearly begun to sink and has called to Jesus who will lift him up out of the waves. But we’ve jumped into the middle of the story.
Our passage begins following Jesus’ feeding of 5000 people with two loaves and 5 small fish, see Matthew 14.13-21. A clear expression of his divinity, and God’s ability to turn that which is meagre and everyday into an unending blessing.
Following the miracle Jesus sends the disciples away in the boat, dismisses the crowds and goes up the mountain to pray. He withdraws and spends time with the Father.
When he comes to re-join the disciples, they are in, if not a dangerous situation, then one which is certainly causing them problems. The boat they are in is battered by the waves and they are far from shore. They have followed Jesus’ instructions. They have set out for the far shore, but through no fault of their own, they now find themselves buffeted about.
Jesus comes towards them on the water and they are terrified and fearful. Rather than remembering yesterday’s miracle with the two loaves and five fish, and therefore his extraordinary power, they retreat to their own flawed, human understanding, thinking this must be a ghost. Jesus reassures them, telling them to take heart, which gives Peter just enough courage to speak with Jesus and ultimately step out of the boat.
The wind is still blowing at this point. The water is still choppy. This can be seen in the window, it isn’t a placid millpond Peter has begun to cross. Yet, walk on the water he does. At least for a brief while. The wind and the waves get the better of him though. He loses his focus on Jesus and instead focuses on the tempest around him. He begins to sink, which is where we find the story in our window. Peter is reaching out to Jesus and Jesus is reaching out to Peter.
Jesus catches him, they both go to the boat, the wind ceases and the disciples acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ divinity. The boat with all aboard then makes it across to the far side.
The boat in this story is often interpreted as being God’s church, in pretty much every age. Jesus is no longer physically with us in the same way he was with the first disciples. The boat or church is buffeted from all sides as its members, Jesus’ disciples, us, try to steer it where we have been instructed to go. We do our best, but it’s hard work and sometimes it feels like we aren’t moving in the direction we should.
This interpretation raises interesting questions for us.
Jesus isn’t in the boat with us, but he is there on the water, out in the world. Peter is the only one who has the courage to leave the relative safety of the boat to venture and meet Jesus on the water. It doesn’t go particularly well for Peter, but then it doesn’t normally, does it? But he is caught by Jesus, gently chided and returned to the boat.
Under normal circumstances large parts of the church would gather in person to be fed by the generous spirit of God in both word and sacrament. At the end of the service we are dismissed “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” replying “in the name of Christ. Amen.” Here we leave the presence of Jesus in bread and wine and go and seek him in the world. We venture out of the boat, knowing it may not go as well as it could, but that Jesus will catch us, in whatever form that may take.
But those are normal circumstances. Which we are definitely not in.
At the risk of stretching the metaphor a bit, it can feel like we are bobbing around in the water trying to latch on whatever remaining bit of the blasted apart boat floating by. We’ve gone through the initial wrecking of the boat, who would have thought that public worship in the Church of England would ever be suspended for more than three months? We’ve followed our Royal National Lifeboat Institution guidance on hitting the water and floated on our backs till we could assess the situation, work out what life and the church might look like after the wreck. We are now looking at the differently shaped pieces of wood which each of us has and wondering how we can put them all together into something vaguely seaworthy. All the while bobbing along.
I can guarantee that it won’t look the same as it did before. It will probably be more raft-like than ship and maybe that’s okay. A raft has low sides, easy to get in and venture out of, whereas a ship has tall, imposing sides.
Leaving the metaphor behind, how does that look for St Mary’s? It might mean that the weekly commitment to sermons on the website, etc. is continued. It might mean that services back in the building are live streamed. It could mean plenty of other things that have yet to become clear, not least of which is how to respond to what could be one of the biggest economic crises of our time and the need that arises from that. Ours is definitely not the only boat that has been blown apart.
But through all of this Jesus is constant, out in the world, hoisting people onto floating debris, creating chance encounters and pushing bits of broken apart boats together so that we can build a fleet that works for all.
I’d like to finish with the words of the first verse of a hymn by Cecil Frances Alexander.
Jesus calls us o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying "Christian, follow me."
Prepared by Catherine
God of work and of leisure:
We pray for all who work on the land -
For those tending livestock or bringing in the harvest
so that others may eat.
We pray for all who work in tourism
with the particular challenges of this summer,
for those unable to take a holiday,
and for those whose holiday has not been the hoped for time of rest.
God of crowds and of solitude:
We give thanks that you are with us
whether we are together, or alone.
We pray for Christian communities everywhere
Challenged to worship and to share your love
together while apart.
We pray for all who are working towards
the safe re-opening of local church buildings.
God of families and rivalries,
and of those who strive for peace:
We pray for all families and communities
For those whose relationships have been strained to the limit by lock-down
For all who are suffering from inequality and injustice.
We pray for the work of mediators, counsellors and politicians
remembering with gratitude the peace-making work of John Hume.
God of strong winds and small boats:
May we feel your presence when times are particularly stormy.
We hold before you all those places of strife, conflict, poverty and disaster.
We pray for migrants crossing dangerous waters in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels.
We remember those who have lost their livelihood,
or whose jobs are insecure.
God of all who reach out for you, but then lose heart:
We pray for all those who are sad, lonely or downcast
for those whose faith is being tested.
We pray especially for those injured in Beirut’s explosion
and their severely compromised hospitals.
We remember all who are unwell or frail
thinking in particular of anyone known to us personally.
We ask for strength, courage and an assurance of your presence.
God of the missing and the dead:
We hold before you especially this week the people of Beirut,
those anxiously seeking news of friends or relatives,
those mourning the dead.
We remember anyone who has died this week,
and in particular anyone known to us personally.
God of the dreamers and those who see visions:
We look in hope to the fulfilment of your kingdom
on earth as in heaven.
Guide us in our lives
that we may reflect, however imperfectly,
your never-ceasing love for your world
and for all your people.
In Jesus’ name.