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 it 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.
Psalm (105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b)
1. Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2. Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3. Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
4. Search for the LORD and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5. Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6. O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
16. Then he called for a famine in the land *
and destroyed the supply of bread.
17. He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18. They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
19. Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the LORD tested him.
20. The king sent and released him; *
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
21. He set him as a master over his household,*
as a ruler over all his possessions,
22. To instruct his princes according to his will*
and to teach his elders wisdom.
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Jesus 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 toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, 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 toward 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 worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In 1986, much of the Middle East was suffering through an unusually dry year. The water level in the Sea of Galilee had dropped to record levels. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, marine archaeologists began to explore the land that was normally covered by water.
Near the ancient town of Magdala on the Sea’s northwest shore, they found a fishing boat. Carbon-14 dating indicated that it had been used around the time that Jesus lived. It was about 26½ feet long, 7 feet wide and about 4 feet deep: roughly the distance from that wall to here, and about the width of 2-3 of our pews. It seems likely that this was the kind of boat used by Jesus and his disciples in our gospel stories.
Those who have had the opportunity to be in a small boat, whether out on the Sea of Galilee or on a similar, very large lake, can imagine the terror of being caught out there in such a small vessel, in the middle of the night, a couple miles from the nearest shore, with a violent storm suddenly churnng up the waves and tossing the boat out of anyone’s control.
The gospel according to Matthew actually tells two stories of the disciples finding themselves in that situation. The first time (back in chapter 8), Jesus is with them, but he is sound asleep when they need his help and reassurance the most. And this time (in chapter 14), he’s not there at all. This, by the way, is the only time before his night in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus is said by Matthew to have gone off by himself to pray. I’m sure that the disciples were not happy in the least with his timing!
And, just when it seemed that things couldn’t possibly get worse, they did. The terrified disciples looked out; and through the blinding rain they saw what they thought was an apparition or a ghost, walking on the waves and coming toward them. It must have seemed that the Grim Reaper was headed right their way. But then, out of the very depths of the storm, they heard Jesus’ familiar voice calling: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Whether or not we have ever found ourselves literally rocked by a sudden storm while we were in a small boat, out in the middle of a lake, in the middle of the night, we all sometimes experience virtual storms in our lives. And they can be just as terrifying. It might be a storm caused by the collapse of a relationship, maybe even of a marriage. It might come from the sudden and unexpected loss of a job. It might come from the discovery that what we thought was a minor medical problem is actually something far more serious, maybe even life-threatening. Suddenly, our whole world feels like it’s coming apart.
It’s then that people, whoever they are, turn almost automatically to God. It doesn’t matter whether they are regular or maybe occasional church-goers, or whether they have any religious faith at all. The old “no atheists in foxholes” instinct tends to kick in, and they turn to a higher power for help.
But sometimes, as the disciples in Matthew’s gospel discovered, God seems to be sleeping. And sometimes, God doesn’t seem to be there at all. And so we feel horribly vulnerable and desperately alone.
The absence of God is a terrible thing. Some of the authors of the psalms seem to have experienced that absence, that sense of abandonment, in a profound way. They cry out, almost in despair, for God to answer them, for God to show God’s presence. Yet they know that they have no control over God and that sometimes, as painful as it is, all that they — and we — can do is wait.
We never know when God is going to respond to us – or how God is going to respond. Often that response comes in unexpected ways and from unexpected sources. That was certainly the experience of the disciples in our gospel reading. They were calling out in terror for God to deliver them from the storm; but, in the end, they found that God in Jesus wasto be found right in the middle of the storm. That realization seems to be consistent with Jesus’ overall message to us.
Many people in our world — and, I suspect, in all past ages as well as today — look for happiness and fulfillment and a sense of genuine peace by insulating themselves from the problems of others, from the struggles of the world around them. They retreat from contact with those who are poor, hungry, without adequate education or health care, or any of the other things that most of us can take from granted. They retreat into their own lives and their own interests, trying to enjoy and protect all that they have, and trying to avoid having to think about, much less deal with, the serious needs of others. Their hope seems to be that, by keeping their distance from the storms in which so many people live their lives, they will find peace and happiness. But it doesn’t work. It never has, and it never will.
God in Jesus has shown us that God – the source of all life and hope and fulfillment and joy – is not to be found in an attempted escape from the trials and tribulations of those around us. Instead God is to be found right in the midst of the storm, in all those places where human beings have been forced to realize that they cannot rely solely on themselves, or live solely for themselves.
For it is there — where the needs are greatest, where the suffering manifests itself the most, where hopelessness seems to have won the day — it is there, in and from the midst of the storm, that God once again calls to us: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” And it is from the midst of the storm that God once again reaches out a hand to take hold of us and to lift us up and to bring us to a new shore, to one that we could not see through the winds and the waves, to a place where we can find in God a new and greater life.