Calm The Storm (Rev. Carmen Retzlaff)
Why do we gather together weekly to worship? What is it about—and what is important about it? What is essential? What is non-negotiable in the way we relate to God? What sacred rituals hold Christians together?
In the Lutheran tradition, sacraments are the things that Jesus commanded, which have an earthly element. “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Go and baptize.” Wine, bread, water. God is with us in every moment of our lives, in all times and all places, closer even than our own heartbeat and breath, but in those sacraments, Christ has promised to be especially present, reachable, touchable —for us. He meets us in the water, in the wine, in the bread, in the real physicality of this world.
Like he met Peter on the water on a stormy night in Galilee. I think of the bread and the wine of communion and the water of baptism as the outstretched hand of Jesus to the sinking Peter. The tangible arm and fist and fingers to grasp. “I’m here: grab hold.”
It takes courage to step out of our boats and onto a stormy lake. So many things seem impossible, really, in these human lives we lead: recovery from cancer or from addiction, the way through a broken relationship, a washed-up career, or a financial disaster, the possibility of joy after grief. It is only faith that allows us to step out of the boat and right onto the stormy water.
We see Jesus out there, God walking on earth, walking on water, defying danger and gravity; and, in our best moments, we step out of our boats. But our best moments never last. We are human. We start to doubt, and we start to sink. “Who am I kidding: I can’t do this.”
And that’s when we can fall back on the ritual, the timeless, age-old practices of our ancestors and those who have come before us, which, I think, is the wisdom of worship. We stand on the shoulders of those who have faced grief and broken hearts and messed-up lives —all of those human things- before us. And they found that God was there, in those times. They found ways to find God. We found as humans that when we couldn’t remember our way back to God ourselves, we could remember it together. We could remember the words of prayers and tunes of songs, or hear others say and sing them. We could taste ordinary bread and wine, and somehow, with the prayers of our faith and our community, touch Jesus there, in a way we could never rationally explain or understand. Like a hand reaching out into the stormy seas—“Here, take this, grab hold. I’m here.” In the moments when we are sinking and life seems to be swamping our boats, we come here and grasp that extended hand.
And on the other side, in those moments when life is awesome and we are basking in the glow of things gone right - we come here to remember that we can’t actually walk on water. To remind ourselves that this is powered by a power greater than us.
I think that worshiping on the land, outside, in the elements, helps us to focus, too, on what is the most important. What do we absolutely have to have in worship? What can we do without? What matters, and what doesn’t? Worshiping outside constantly reminds us that we are not in control. And connects us. Having rainwater in the baptismal font connects us to the world in which we live. Making communion wine from the wild grapes that grow in Central Texas connects us to the land. Scattering bread crumbs to share communion with our animal, insect and bird friends connects us to our non-human neighbors.
Thanks be to God for community and God’s word read aloud, and the prayers of the people. Thanks be to God for the land and the creatures with whom we share this home and with whom we worship. Thanks be to God for the questions and the doubts, for the shoulders on which we stand, and the arm outstretched over stormy seas.
14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,
14:24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
14:25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
14:26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
14:28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."
14:29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
14:30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"
14:31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
14:32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
14:33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."