was not with you last Sunday because we went to visit my parents in Pennsylvania. As many of you know, I grew up on Lake Erie. I could see it from my backyard. Erie is the home to what we call The Peninsula, which is actually named Presque Isle State Park. It’s the amazing geological formation that is affixed to Erie because a hundred years ago they paved a road on it. Peninsulas like this one aren’t supposed to stay in one place. They move and change shape with the currents, but, thanks be to God, this one stays in Erie because it was there when we started paving roads, which permanently affixed it to the Erie shoreline. So, I grew up with beaches and lagoons and bike paths just minutes from my house. Last Saturday we went to The Peninsula to spend a family day at the beach. I used to be a lifeguard on those open water beaches. My swim coach, Mr. North, was also the lifeguard supervisor, and while I sat on the beach with my family, I wondered if he was still working out there. I mean, I was under twenty years old when I last worked on the beach, so it had been awhile. A couple of hours into our beach day, out walks Mr. North to check in with his guards. I hadn’t seen him in years. Here I am now probably close to the age he was when he was my swim coach and supervisor, introducing him to my children, one of whom has taken up swimming himself. How cool is life sometimes? I got to tell my son that this man was not just my swim coach, but he is also one of the handful of people who have successfully swum across Lake Erie. Crazy. Lifeguarding on open water gave me great respect for how quickly a storm can stir up the lake. There were days when things were placid, but if the wind picked up or shifted direction, we’d quickly have three-to-five foot waves crashing into the shore. We’d move the swim buoys to waist level to keep people closer to shore in case a rescue became necessary. Living here in Grand Haven, we all know the power of the lake and the consequences of riptides. A fun day at the beach can quickly turn tragic. The waters that we enjoy most of the time can change, becoming frightening for even the most seasoned of lake-goers. The power of the water reminds us of how small we are in the midst of a great, big world. It reminds us of the limits of our own powers. Today’s text in Matthew is a familiar one. Even those who don’t know the Bible or its stories still use the phrase “walking on water.” Often, we interpret this passage as a test of our faith. Are we like Peter? Are we willing to step out of the boat and onto stormy seas, trusting that we can walk on water? Is our faith strong enough? Surely that is one interpretation of this passage, but I think if we focus only on that one, we’re missing out. Does God really expect for us to do risky things like Peter does in getting out of the boat? After all, throughout the gospels, Peter’s boldness often is wrong-headed and gets him into trouble! So, today, I’m going to take a different tack on this passage. Before I do, let me set the scene. At the beginning of Matthew 14, Jesus received the terrible news that Herod had executed his cousin John the Baptist. He is grieving, and he tries to get some space away from the busyness of ministry to weep and pray. But he is popular, and the crowds follow him like the paparazzi follow a celebrity. Before he can get the space he wants, they are already there. They need him, so he teaches and heals. Before long the day has passed, and his disciples realize that the people need to get home and eat. But Jesus isn’t done. He feeds the 5000 with five loaves and two fish – a text Pastor Kristine preached on last week. It was a miracle. It was an affirmation of Jesus as the Son of God and the one who presides at the heavenly feast. Still, another full day of ministry has not changed the relentlessness of Jesus’ grief or need for space. So, at the close of day, he sends his disciples on a boat onto the Sea of Galilee. Many of them are fishermen, so being on the water – even at night – should be a comfortable thing for them. Jesus takes this alone time to pray, a sweet communion with his heavenly Father after a challenging and exhausting series of days. Now, Jesus knows what he is capable of, but his disciples are still learning. For some reason Jesus decides to catch up to the disciples. Perhaps it was because he knew that the wind and the waves had picked up and that they were scared. Regardless, Jesus decides to stroll on out to the boat early that morning. Imagine what a sight that must have been for the disciples. You haven’t slept a wink because the of the storm. As the storm clears a bit, the morning sun rises in the east. In the distance you see what looks like a man walking on the water. Are you hallucinating? It is a ghost? What are you supposed to do with this? As the man draws nearer, you still aren’t sure what’s going on, but he hears you. You know the voice. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Three short sentences, and most of you know this is no ghost. But Peter isn’t satisfied. He’s not there yet. “If it’s you, make me get out of this boat and come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “Sure,” and Peter heads out only to be overcome by his fears and the wind and the waves. Jesus saves Peter, and they all get into the boat. Jesus is with them, and things settle into place. In these actions, the disciples have a revelation. This Jesus surely is God’s Son. He is with them in the boat, which might be even more awe-inspiring than anything else up to this point. The very presence of God embodied in their very fleshy, imperfect presence is there, in the boat, with them. What do you do with that? I said earlier that we often focus on the miraculous nature of the story. Jesus walks on water. So does Peter – kind of. Yet, today I’d like to focus on this story as a parable for the church. Sometimes the people of the church find themselves in terrible circumstances. They’re in the boat when a storm comes up. Despite their own gifts and skills, this storm shakes them to the core. They are concerned for their own survival. Yet it is there – in that boat, in that moment – that Jesus shows up in an unexpected way. Jesus doesn’t need to walk on water, but he does because he is needed. Doubt and fear still fill all of us in the boat, and then one of us gets antsy and plunges into the stormy sea thinking that’s where the miracle is. It is not. The miracle is that Jesus is with us in the boat. God’s very Son isn’t far off. Jesus’ attention is on even the smallest of gatherings of terrified disciples who need help and security. “Take heart. It is I. Don’t be afraid,” he says. Sometimes that’s the church, a group of people in the same boat together seeking comfort and direction from the Christ who is present with them. That presence is what provides hope in the stormy seas. That presence “with” us is what sustains us and gives us life and energy to be the church in the world even in the most turbulent of times. Friends, sometimes stormy seas don’t involve water at all. The past couple of weeks have been filled with anxiety in our community. Why? Well, we’ve gotten used to the freedoms that summer weather affords us during this pandemic that spreads most readily indoors. After weeks in sheltering in place, we emerged from our homes, ate outside, saw friends in parks, and even took vacations. Now that summer is drawing down, we’ve been fixated on what comes next. For weeks we’ve been wondering what the plan for school would be, and now we know. Educators have been wondering what their work would look like and how that would affect them and their household. Parents have been worried about making the right choice for their household in a time when clear answers never show up. Students are worried about their physical, social, and emotional health. This anxiety has been eating away at all of us. I’ve felt it acutely as a parent. I’ve felt it for my spouse who works in the schools. I’ve felt it for this congregation which is blessed with an abundance of educators as well as wonderful children. We’re stressed out. We’re in the boat together and the seas are churned up all around us. What are some things we can rely on in this time? I really want us all to have hope, to be encouraged, and to be strong not just for each other but for those in our community who have lost hope. First, we need to remember that we’re in this boat together. It’s no accident. Just as Jesus sent his disciples off in the boat together, so now he’s done the same for us. We have the gift of each other. Yes, we’re busy and overwhelmed. Yes, the monotony of this pandemic is tiresome. We all want things to be normal. I invite you to take some time this week and look around the “boat” that is First Presbyterian Church of Grand Haven. Imagine all the interesting and wonderful people God has given you to share this space and time with. I know that it’s hard to do in this season when our attention has narrowed very much to those in our own households, but we’re all still in this boat together. Some of the greatest care we can take for ourselves and each other will be to carve out some space for deeper relationships in this boat. Yes, those might have to exist over Zoom for a while. Yes, opening yourself up to others is not easy. Yes, you’re overwhelmingly busy. But just like carving out some time for exercise is good for the body, so is making space for deepening relationships with others. Much of what the church will offer this fall will have to be virtual, but I urge you to give some of your precious time to it. You might be the friend someone else needs. You might find the comfort you know you need but didn’t know how to find it. Second, remember that Jesus is with us in the storm and in the boat. Through the haze we spy him, and he calls out to us – Fear not. I am. Take courage. These aren’t idle words. We don’t need to fear because the One whose name is “I am” is strengthening us. The One who created everything is with us. The One who parted the Red Sea for the Israelites is with us. The One who makes a way where there seems to be no way is with us. Perhaps we should emblazon those words at the exits of the church building or even our own homes. Fear not. I am. Take courage. Jesus’ presence and power are what give us strength. The Bible is not calling us to be like Peter and throw ourselves overboard, as though our faith is what matters here. No, what gives us the strength is the presence of God with us even in the storm. Jesus is with us. We are with each other. And for now, that is enough. In the eye of the storm – even this storm – God is in control. Amen. Thanks be to God.