Sermon: In the Wind

An illustration of Jesus holding Peter's hand just outside the boat on the waves.

August 9, 2020
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 14:22-33

by Eric Anderson

The young myna was a happy singer. She was also an unhappy singer. That sounds like a contradiction, and certainly it is. Let me explain.

She loved to sing, and she had quite an adaptable voice to do it. She could sing high notes, and she could sing low notes. She could shape them into different sounds and as well as different pitches. She could sing fast and she could sing slow.

Fast or slow, high or low, she loved to sing. That was why she was a happy singer.

The problem was a lack of songs to sing, at least a lack of songs that were distinct to the mynas. Certainly she knew how to make the alarm calls, and the scolds, and the trill her parents had used while bringing food to the nest. The other mynas sang lots of other things, too, but the strange thing about it was that they often seemed to be imitations of other birds.

She noticed this first with the mejiro. She was listening to a mejiro sing one morning, its high-pitched melody floating out over the roofs of the houses. A little later, she heard another myna singing, and realized that the mejiro’s melody was part of its song. Then she heard a myna singing a house finch tune. And a yellow-billed cardinal. For heaven’s sake, she even heard the coo of a dove.

It was great to be able to sing so many other songs, she thought, but what was the mynas’ own tune? What was their melody? What was their song?

It made her sad that the mynas didn’t have their own song.

Other mynas, when she asked them, rather brushed her off, or they’d make those squawks that are what we think of when we think of mynas and the sounds they make. That made her feel worse. She thought a myna song ought to be something nicer than a raucous yell.

She thought that, anyway, until the day her group of mynas spotted a hunting cat. Whatever you may think of cats, and I know there are lots of reasons to like cats, mynas and finches and doves are not big fans, especially when the cats are hunting. This cat was hunting.

In a moment, the alarm cries of one myna had become the alarm cries of a flock of mynas, including the one who was a happy and unhappy singer. All the birds on the ground took to the air, leaving the cat with nobody to hunt. Other birds joined in the cries and scolding, too, until the air rang with it. The frustrated cat had to move on to somewhere else with the scolds of all the birds ringing in its ears.

That’s when it hit her: the other birds had followed the lead of the mynas, filling the air with their own alarm calls in echo of the mynas’ calls first.

The song of the mynas might not have been the prettiest, so it was wonderful that they were able to borrow from other birds, but their own song made a difference, a critical difference. It made a difference for one another, and for the birds around them. It was a song that delivered.

The disciples in the boat were, I imagine, squawking a little bit like the mynas when they saw Jesus walking on the water.

As I was looking into this Scripture this week, one question that kept coming up was: how strong was the wind?

Matthew told us about another occasion when the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee back in chapter 8. On that occasion Jesus was with his friends, but in a demonstration of how tired Jesus could get, he slept through it even as the storm was swamping them. “The one who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” says Psalm 121, but Jesus, well, he could sleep, even with water filling the bottom of the boat.

. In chapter 8, Matthew described a desperate situation. The disciples were definitely afraid. This time, however, Matthew did not say they were afraid until they mistook Jesus for a ghost. That’s when they started squawking like mynas. The waves were battering them, Matthew said, and they couldn’t sail or row the boat into the wind, but they weren’t at risk of sinking.

The picture he painted is one of chaos and concern, of fatigue and frustration, but not of danger and desperation.

High winds at sea or even a storm at sea: as a metaphor for our current situation, it is probably inevitable.

For the moment, here in Hilo, our boat is not in danger of swamping. What we are experiencing is the frustration of our failure to make progress. We did everything right for months in the state of Hawai’i. We did everything right on the Island of Hawai’i. The results were stunning. There were no more than four new cases in a day in the state from April 25th to June 5th. Since then, new cases rose gradually, then dramatically. People have been catching the disease and then unknowingly passing it to others. As of yesterday, a sick person in Hawai’i is likely to infect 1.38 other people. That’s the highest rate in the nation at the moment.

I know that statistics can be confusing, especially when we starting talking about infecting one and one third of a person, so here’s another way of looking at it. If eight people have COVID-19, eleven more people will get sick. If the rate of transmission stays the same, those eleven will pass it to fifteen more, and we’ve gone from eight sick people to thirty-four.

That transmission rate has been stable since July 22nd. If that sounds like about the time daily diagnoses started to rise, well, it is. If it sounds like a few weeks after resuming more or less normal activities, well, that’s true, too.

That’s why we’re back to worshiping online only again.

Friends, the winds are against us, and we are not making headway. Seafarers know that in high winds, you keep your boat away from the shore where the solid things like rocks and boulders will wreck you. You keep your boat on the tossing billows, amidst the groaning wind, away from the thing that would comfort you the most.

Just like the disciples. I have no doubt that they rowed hard toward shore, hoping that they would find a spot sheltered from the wind and rejoin Jesus. They couldn’t do it. It was beyond their strength. What they could do was hold on and endure.

Mitzi J. Smith writes at Working Preacher, “Sometimes faith is seeing the boat for what it is—a shared experience and the opportunity to lean on one another, to encourage each other in the storm while waiting on God. Peter was eager to leave his shipmates and to join Jesus, rather than to wait for Jesus to join them in the boat. Sometimes we want our own miracle at the expense of others who are in the same boat as us.”

The winds are against us, but we have the skills and the good sense to steer away from the shores that will wreck us. We are, even our physical separation, in the same boat throughout our community. This is not the time to challenge anybody, even Jesus, to summon us out of the boat. As Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman observes at Working Preacher, when Peter said “If it is you,” he used the same words Satan did to tempt Jesus before his ministry began. Ouch.

It makes me feel much better about the way Jesus plucked Peter from the water. As John Chrysostom wrote fifteen centuries ago, “But as the mother bears on her wings and brings back to the nest her chick which has left the nest before its time and has fallen, so did Christ.”

Incidentally, the word Matthew used to describe Peter’s shout, “Lord, save me!” is the same word he used to describe the disciples’ cries of fear at the approaching ghost-like figure of Jesus. As D. Mark Davis writes at Leftbehindandlovingit, “A whole lotta squawkin’ going on!”

So I’ll tell you friends, squawk away like those mynas. The wind is against us, and not all we see coming toward us across the sea is what we think it is. We’ve got plenty of people proclaiming themselves, if not Jesus himself then his direct representative, and to me, those people are scarier than ghosts.

There are two things that I am certain of. First, that storms end. They may not end quickly, and they may harm a lot of people and kill a lot of people along the way, but they do end. That’s true of pandemics, too, even in the absence of a vaccine or an effective treatment. For much of human history, waiting for that moment was the only real approach anyone could take. The influenza epidemic of 1918 was first observed in March of that year. A second increase in infections and mortality struck in October, the deadliest period of that pandemic. A third wave struck in the spring of 1919, and a small fourth in the spring of 1920. And then it was over, but it had been devastating while it lasted.

This will end. Our exhausting and heartbreaking challenge is to preserve as much life and health as we can until that day arrives. Our wearisome and frustrating challenge is not to mistake the eye of the hurricane for the end of the storm, or a decline in infections for the end of this pandemic.

The second thing I’m sure of is that whatever else we might see out on the tossing waves, whatever else we might hear on the moaning wind, Jesus is making his way toward us. He’s not coming to make us prove our faith. There is no need to jump out of the boat. He’s coming because he loves us and cares for us. He knows about the wind. He knows about the waves. He knows we are hanging on as best we can. He knows we need him.

Listen, on the wind, for those reassuring words: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


Watch (but mostly listen) to the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire worship experience of August 9, 2020. Clicking the play button will start the video at the beginning of the sermon. Please note that there was a video freeze during this stream, and although the audio is fine, the video is mostly still.

There are differences between the prepared text above and the sermon as presented. We call these “adaptations.”

The image is Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning by Lorenzo Veneziano (1370) – scan, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on August 9, 2020

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