9 August 2020 Ordinary Time (14) In peril (bidden or unbidden, God comes)

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

Opening Prayer
When we are beyond help or hope, when we are storm-tossed and sinking, when we do not know where to turn, call to us once more. Speak tenderly to us in silence. Breathe into us your comfort and your strength. Bring us home to the peace that passes understanding. Only you can save us. Amen.

Reflection: In peril (bidden or unbidden, God comes)
Today we meet Elijah when he is exhausted, despairing and in fear for his life (1 Kings). And in our gospel reading we meet the disciples in a boat in the wee hours, battered by waves, assaulted by strong winds and far from the shore. All of them are in extremis. At the end of their ropes. Overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control.

Today there will be people in the world who find themselves, like Elijah and the disciples, weary, worn out and wondering how they will survive to the next day.

Maybe you’ve been there. The wind knocked out of you from one more blow. A death. Job loss. Serious illness. Chances are that if we live long enough, we will find ourselves there at some point and maybe more than once.

It’s a scary place to be. Often we can’t think straight at first. The shock needs to wear off before our thinking brains get back on line.

God invites Elijah to stand at the mouth of the cave and look. It’s a big picture invitation. Elijah witnesses the pyrotechnics of storm, earthquake and fire – a tumultuous earth.  Such is life. These things happen. And then the sound of sheer silence.

A cocoon of silence. It awes him. And listening carefully, he hears God say What are you doing here, Elijah?

It is a layered question: what are you (who are you?) doing here (why are you standing before me?). It’s about identity and vocation. Elijah is prophet of God; it is simply who he is. His past, present and future are tied up in his relationship with the Holy. That is why he is standing before God. He knows, perhaps he has learned the hard way, that the place to go when one is in peril is  God. The question recalls him to his identity and his calling. It reconnects him to himself and to the Source of his life. God gives him the next task and the power to carry it out.

What about us ordinary folk? We are no different. Overwhelmed and despairing, we are cut off from who we are. Standing or sitting in silence before God, we too may hear our name and be reconnected to who we are: beloved of God. Perhaps we too will rise from that moment with a sense of what, if anything, to do next. Maybe what we need most is more time in silence, under the gaze of God. In trying times, words are overrated – inadequate. Silence can be a balm.

There was no chance of silence for the storm-tossed disciples. The roar of the wind and slap of the waves filled their ears. They could not believe their eyes when they thought they saw Jesus coming to them, walking on water. Fear struck doubly, until they heard him speak: Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.

Take heart; be of good courage. It is I.

When we cannot come to God for whatever reason – the waves are too high, our hearts are too broken – God comes to us, often in ways hard to see at first. Hindsight reveals the subtle workings of the Holy. The unbidden invitations, the surprising connections, the quiet moments that nourish. We cry out and we are caught, saved. And as unexpectedly as it began, the storm begins to cease.

This is our God. Whose gaze is love. Whose hand is strong to save. In every storm.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymn    Eternal Father, strong to save      R&S 58
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KCiMdR1ox0 (opens in separate tab)

Eternal Father, strong to save,
whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Saviour, whose almighty word
the winds and waves submissive heard,
who walkedst on the foaming deep
and calm amid its rage didst sleep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Holy Spirit, who didst sweep
across the dark and formless deep
to bid its angry tumult cease,
and give, for wild confusion, peace:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and power,
sustain us all in danger’s hour;
through wreck and tempest, grief and loss,
renew the triumph of the Cross:
and ever let there rise to thee
glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

And now unto the One who is able to keep us from falling
and lift us from the tumult of the waves
to the peace of safe shores:
to God be power and authority,
for ever and ever. Amen.