Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 13 August 2017, Trinity 9

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Sunday 13 August 2017, Trinity 9

According to newspaper headlines, it’s been a good week for the manufacturers of one commodity. Presidents Kim of North Korea and Trump have been busy. Here in the Royal Borough, the commodity is not in short supply as nearby residents of Grenfell Tower worry that their voice will not be heard in the forthcoming enquiry and councillors and borough employees wonder how their actions will be assessed.
The commodity is of course fear – this corrosive and sapping state of mind.
As you know, the church continues to be quietly active, working to lift the climate of fear. Our Bishop Graham has suggested that a panel reflecting the diversity of the community could “represent both the local community and win their confidence, and … can bring the perspectives of a wider range of our society, socially and ethnically, to the important issues the inquiry will examine”.
Our Gospel reading this Sunday is the miracle of Jesus walking on the water through a storm on the Lake of Galilee to join the disciples who are cowering in their boat, (hence our choice of the Turner painting on the service sheet cover, a ship being tossed in a sea storm). On joining them, he says to them: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” The storm has calmed. Fear has subsided.
When the current Archbishop of Canterbury was enthroned in 2013, he preached on this very passage from Matthew’s gospel. He finished with these words: "There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country. Optimism does not come from us, but because to us and to all people, Jesus comes and says “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. We are called to step out of the comfort of our own traditions and places, and go into the waves, reaching for the hand of Christ. Let us provoke each other to heed the call of Christ, to be clear in our declaration of Christ, committed in prayer to Christ, and we will see a world transformed."
What I want to do this morning is to explore why this miracle was so significant to St. Matthew and the disciples and what it means to us today and ask how we can in the words of Archbishop Justin, be committed in prayer to Christ and provoke each other to heed the call of Christ?

First, the significance of the miracle to St. Matthew.
It is easy for us to view the story of Jesus walking on the water from the position of post resurrection Christians, by which I mean those who have not seen yet have believed – those who know that Jesus rose from the dead and was the Son of God.
So we are in a different boat from the disciples in the Gospel. Their perspective would have been very different. They had chosen to give up their vocations to follow Jesus but had yet to understand the true meaning of Jesus’ ministry.
For the monotheistic Jewish people of Jesus’s time, water and the power of the Creator God over what he had created, was a major part of the Old Testament. It was God who had flooded the earth and promised never to do so again. It was God who had a carved a path through the waters that enabled them to flee to Egypt, The Psalms also are full of allusions to God’s power over the elements. The best known is Psalm 107.
23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
   doing business on the mighty waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
   his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
   which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
   their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
   and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still,
   and the waves of the sea were hushed.

The reaction of the disciples of being in a storm and seeing Jesus working towards them is understandably one of fear. It is my namesake who reacts first. He jumps over board and starts to walk towards Jesus; and then the enormity of what he has done, sinks (I use the word advisably!) sinks in, and Peter’s faith starts to falter. “Lord save me!” cries Peter and Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”
Our passage ends with the disciples saying “Truly you are the Son of God” their leader who like the God of the Old Testament has control over the elements, that Jesus was divine, that he really was the Son of God, that God had taken human flesh. That is the meaning of the miracle for St. Matthew.
What does the miracle means to us today and how can we, in the words of Archbishop Justin, be committed in prayer to Christ and provoke each other to heed the call of Christ?
On Friday, the church remembered Clare of Assisi, who was born of a wealthy family and caught with the joy of St. Francis’ preaching and went on to establish her own order of contemplatives, the Minoresses, or nuns in the Second order of Franciscans, or Poor Clares as they became known.    And if you have passed through the Minories in the City of London, you may not know the name is derived from the former Abbey of the Minoresses of St Mary of the Order of St Clare, founded in 1294.

Today there are 20,000 members of this female order across the world. There is a community in Nottinghamshire at Bulwell and recently when a priest friend of mine asked one of them to pray for him, they replied “But we have been praying for you for years.”
There are few more encouraging things than to be told that we are being prayed for.
Very few of us will found orders. Or create organisations that will be enduring. But we can be committed in prayer, praying for each other and the world. And we can participate in our local church and wider community and deepen our life of faith and go about our lives strengthened and encouraged by the words “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid”. And we can pray for understanding hearts and show people we come across in daily life that they are valued. And when storms occur in our lives or in the world, let us recall Jesus reaching out and catching a faltering Peter.
If we do all these things and are not afraid to go out of our comfort zones, fear will be on the back foot and the world will be transformed.

Holland Park Benefice