Recently I was speaking (arguing?) with some friends about our present political and economic struggles. We talked about how our President simply might not be up to the job. We wondered if any one person could be. We spoke about Nazi Germany and other times when massive social upheaval led to terrible decisions by the electorate. We know there's a new normal. There was some fear in the room.
We spoke about the Stock Market, S&P and how we insist as a nation to treat our government like a business when it's not one. We spoke about the ups and downs of the Market and how it is very likely that the former normal of an average of 8% growth annually may be over. We don't know exactly what is replacing it, but the rules have changed somehow because the global economic circumstances have changed. We know there's a new normal. There was some fear in the room.
Then, because I'm like that, we talked about church and what it takes for a congregation of, say, 40 people to embrace a new normal. We spoke of the interpersonal struggles and the moments of intense grief. We spoke about how individually navigating the changes can be challenging enough and how doing so in a group might just be impossible. Impossible. So, we wondered if 40 people might find it impossible to change then 400,000,000 might be totally lost.
We know there is a new normal. When we don't decide on our own how to respond, the new paradigm will do it for us. Economists talk about how corporations will refuse to change and so the market will decide the corporation's future. The Board of Directors doesn't have to do anything if it doesn't want to.
The dynamic for all our public institutions is the same. The communities that comprise them, network with them, and surround them will decide their fate whether or not the institutions are ready. No one will wait for the institutions to decide. The community will change and cast off the useless institutions. This has always been the case in every generation. There is a new normal. There was fear in the room.
So, then, what do you do with this passage from Matthew's Gospel?
Immediately he 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, â€œIt is a ghost!â€ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, â€œTake heart, it is I; do not be afraid.â€ Peter answered him, â€œLord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.â€ He said, â€œCome.â€ 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, â€œLord, save me!â€ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, â€œYou of little faith, why did you doubt?â€ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, â€œTruly you are the Son of God.â€
This was our Gospel passage this past Sunday. I am still wrangling with it. The emphasis is mine. I posted my sermon. In it I spoke about how we can reach out to one another. We might not be able to save ourselves, but we might be able to save one another. This is how 400,000,000 people can move forward past fear into something new. This is how we can all step out of the boat and walk on water. We have to hold one another up or pull each other out of the water when it's over our heads.
But it is never easy. Only one person stepped out onto the water in Matthew's story. Eleven others sat in the boat. That's telling. Also, as time progresses, boats will become outdated and old. Some of them will sink never to be recovered. Some of them will be preserved. Some will be overhauled. And then there are the new boats...the improvements and the fads. They too will make their appearance. There are all kinds of reasons not to walk on water.
It's an interesting time to be alive. Always is. Normal changes every day. Someday walking on water might be normal. We'll see. Until then, grab someone's hand and step out of the boat. Let's see what happens.