I preach and celebrate. Notice at 1:05:00 I do a quick consecration for the gluten allergic acolyte! Props to the other acolyte who found the page for the quick consecration.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
August 7, 2011
Matthew 14: 22-33
There are essentially two prayers: Thank you and Help! We might add one more prayer to those two and that would be: “I want.” But I would argue that, “I want,” is a sub-species, or maybe a precursor to “Help.” When we ask God for something, when we say, I want, we really are saying, “Help.”
We all pray every day, in some form or another, consciously and unconsciously, formally and informally, we all pray. We pray every day and give God some things to take care of. Sometimes when I am praying I feel like a teenager when it is getting close to my birthday, “Just so you know, God, X, Y, and Z, are going on and well you know, I’d like that, so thanks, in advance.” We give God a divine Honey-do list. And when we pray in this way, the implicit theme, what we really expect, is for God to fulfill our requests: God as Amazon.com. This kind of thinking about prayer is how we talk about prayer too. Raise your hand if you have heard someone talk about an answered prayer. Raise your hand if that story had the person telling it get what they were asking for. I’m not knocking these experiences, I’ve had them, and I will continue to have them. God has answered my prayers in the affirmative, God has given me what I have asked for. But what about when he doesn’t?
A few years ago the satirical newspaper, The Onion, ran a story entitled, “God Answers the Prayer of Little Boy,” the subtitle is: “No, says God.” It’s funny that satire seems to be the last bastion of wisdom in our popular culture. Who here has heard this testimony to prayer? “Oh yes, I prayed to God and he answered that prayer, it was clear as day: ‘NO!’” That’s not such a popular story. I’m not trying to be negative. But maybe I am. I am trying to be positive about God’s negative. We need to remember that God answers ALL prayer, but we don’t always get the answer we want. God sometimes says, “No.” because that’s the answer we need, maybe not what we want, but what we need. God’s, “No,” is just as important as his “Yes.”
When we can recognize God’s “No” as well as his “Yes,” then our “I want” prayer life will look more and more like “ Help,” and “Thank You”. And just to be clear, these two mammoth categories of prayer that I have laid out cover a great deal. I think we would be hard pressed to find a hymn, or psalm, or prayer from the Prayer Book that wasn’t a thank you, a help, or an mixture of the two.
So what’s this all got to do with the Gospel? A lot. Today we hear the story of Peter and Jesus on the water. Once again, Peter gets it so vividly right but he also fails epically. And thank God for Peter, Peter the Rock, the very foundation of the church, messing up all the time. What a model that we have for discipleship, a real human being. Can you imagine how the story might have read if Peter was more than human? Peter walks out on the water, not testing Jesus, like he does in our Gospel reading, nope, Peter knows his Lord when he sees him and simply goes for a stroll out on the lake. End of story, praise to you Lord Christ. No, we have THE Peter, Peter who is the first to confess that Jesus is Lord, but also the same Peter who get’s called Satan by Jesus, do you know that when Jesus is being tempted in the desert he doesn’t even call Satan, Satan, but he does call Peter Satan. This is our Peter, Peter who walks on water but also sinks. And Peter is the one for us to watch today. What is he doing? He tests his Lord by asking him to command that he join him. Essentially Peter is praying a “I Want” prayer, but his “I want” is really a “thank you” in disguise because Peter is trying to be with his Lord. His true prayer is born out of his desire to be with his Lord, a thank you yearning for completion. And Jesus grants him his request. Which raises another point about prayer, sometimes God gives us what we want so that we might have a deeper insight into what we really need. When Peter falls into the water, after noticing the strong wind, he calls out again to his lord and again Jesus grants his request, pulling him out of the water and then saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus is really not castigating Peter, the Greek reads more like, “Oh, little student, why are you so worried?” You see, Jesus answers Peter’s requests, his prayers, so that the life of Peter might be a lesson. The prayers are answered, but there is a human component, the context into which the prayers return.
When our prayers return to us, they reenter our lives and then we must respond to God’s answer, which we may or may not be up to. Like Peter, we may not be up to God answering our prayer. It is this dynamic, of course, that all of us live in at all times, the give and take, the conversation with God, desire and satisfaction, thank you and help. Prayer is not a one way street. Prayer is our relationship with God and it is not abstract, it is real and it has a particular quality to it.
Like Peter, our relationship and our prayers with God go a certain way. We feel a pull towards oneness with God and we begin to talk with God. We make petitions, we ask for things, we ask for help, we say thank you, and we might even simply rest in the presence of God. And God answers those prayers: sometimes, yes, sometimes no, many times, wait. We get out of the boat, we walk on water, we sink. But then He catches us. When we fail he catches us. Jesus immediately catches Peter.
Prayer is like a tightrope walker who falls from his rope, only to discover that he has landed upon another rope, and can simply begin again. Thus is our life with God, our prayers goes to him, they come back answered: “yes, no, wait,” and we respond with more prayer. A dynamic interplay of ever escalating transformation, and all the while, Jesus is there to immediately grab us when we fail, to set us right, and when we receive that help may we all have the presence of mind to say “thank you.”