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Connecting Bible Stories


I have a kid who loves animals, and I got the idea—or maybe the Holy Spirit directed me—to read to her from the Book of Job. Job is a long book in the Old Testament, an ancient story about a man named Job who experiences a variety of tragedies in his life, and he demands an answer from God as to WHY. WHY did all these bad things happen to him when Job himself has been utterly righteous and faithful to God and he doesn’t deserve all of this?


At the end of the story, God finally does respond to Job, though it’s not a satisfying answer. It’s basically God asking questions back to Job—do you tell the sun when to rise? Do you tell the animals when to give birth? There are loooooong poetic descriptions of animals God created, which is the part my child likes.


And among all these questions God presents to Job: Have you ever walked upon the sea?[1] Earlier in the book, Job has said that God the Creator “stretched out the heavens and trampled on the waves of the sea.”[2]


Walking on water is, apparently, something God does. So it’s important that Jesus walks on water, to show that he has power over the forces of nature, just as God has power over creation because God created everything, in the beginning, when God’s Spirit moved over the face of the waters.


Sometimes in life, when humans are traveling on the waters, storms will happen—storms happen even when Jesus is present. Getting scared is something that humans do. Walking on water and stilling the storms—these are things that God does.


In the story we read today from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus walks on water and Peter kinda dares Jesus to give him the power to walk on water, too. Then Jesus kinda lets Peter do exactly what he asked to do, though the human tendency toward fear gets in the way of Peter successfully completing the water-walking mission.


And since we read so many of these stories out of order, you might have already forgotten that just a couple chapters back, in Matthew’s Gospel, there was another story of a storm while Jesus and the disciples were traveling by boat. That time, Jesus yelled at the storm to stop, and the storm did stop. This time, Jesus is not in the boat with the disciples, so when the storm kicks up, UH OH. What now?


Jesus could have stilled the storm from wherever he was. He could have done a lot of things. It’s important to point out that Jesus has options, because God is not a one-trick pony. God doesn’t have to do the exact same thing every time, like stilling a storm the same way every time.


What God does is choose relationship. Instead of leaving the disciples in the boat to figure out the storm on their own, Jesus meets them where they are, in a boat in the middle of the lake during a storm, trampling upon the waves because that’s something God does.


The walking-on-water theme makes more sense when you are familiar with the poetry of Job, a book of wisdom. And when the disciples see a human form walking on water and yell out “It’s a ghost!” Jesus yells back to them, “It’s me!” Though in the Greek language, what Jesus says to the disciples, ego eimi, is exactly the same thing God, speaking in a burning bush, says to Moses in the Greek translation of the Old Testament: “I am.”


The English language obscures all of this and would make the grammar a disaster if Jesus said, “It’s ‘I am!’” But that’s what it means. This is not a ghost after all. This is the presence of God.


In the storms of life, which keep happening, God keeps showing up. When you’re feeling alone, would you rather have someone standing at a distance, reminding you that the storm will pass? Or would you rather have someone who is willing to join you, to sit with you, to listen to your fears and agree, “Yeah, this is pretty bad” and stay with you until the storm is over?


In the Old Testament story today, God shows up for Joseph in an entirely different way, preserving his life through some terrible experiences by his brothers. Remember this is the family that began with Abraham and Sarah, who gave birth to Isaac, who married Rebekah and had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. When Jacob tricked his brother into taking the birthright and his father’s blessing bestowed upon the oldest son, well, there’s plenty of intergenerational conflict after that.


Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, and also had children with their servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, and between these four women, Jacob had twelve sons. His favorite wife was Rachel, and she had trouble becoming pregnant, so her sons were the youngest of all the others, and after Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest son, Jacob loved Rachel’s sons best. Jacob even gave to Joseph a famously fancy coat.


So it’s no wonder that all these brothers do not have good, healthy relationships. Joseph isn’t exactly innocent, talking openly about his dreams that he’s better than his brothers. But the brothers seem to imagine their resources are limited, or that their father’s love is limited, and Joseph has the larger share.


Instead of addressing the issue or finding a way to restore relationship, they decide to get rid of Joseph. Reuben, the oldest son, appeals to his brothers not to kill Joseph, so now instead of murder, the brothers engage in human trafficking and sell Joseph, who ends up in Egypt.


There’s a long story, an entire Broadway musical about Joseph’s life, and through all of it, God is with Joseph, who suffered because of his brothers. Joseph’s dreams catapult him into a position of power in Egypt, and years later, the country is doing well economically while neighboring countries are suffering through a years-long famine.


Later we’ll find out that God is also with the brothers, who travel to Egypt, searching for food, and Joseph finally has the power to decide to punish them or to restore relationship. Joseph hasn’t forgotten what his brothers did to him, but all the years in between have given Joseph some space to heal. This story suggests that one way of healing intergenerational pain is to get some distance.


In the end, it’s Joseph who reclaims his power, who claims his own strength in relationship with his brothers, and Joseph who makes meaning of the whole story. When Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he speaks these powerful words: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people.”[3]


The story could have been “All’s well that ends well,” but God has more compassion than that. God, who created every animal, and God, who tramples upon the waves of the sea, has all the power to build up and to destroy. And God still chooses to meet humans in their humanness, even when we’re afraid, even when we’re mistreated, even when we’re going through terrible storms in our lives. God doesn’t have to act in the same way every time but still chooses to be with us.


So how is God showing up in your life today? Do you see yourself or your life situation reflected in some part of the Scripture readings? Is there a favorite hymn that reminds you of a moment in your faith journey or helps you recall a beloved person in your life who encouraged your faith? Maybe you haven’t caught a glimpse of God’s presence yet today, but don’t stop searching. Your story is still being written, and the story of God’s faithfulness continues.


Amen.

Pastor Cheryl


[1] Job 38:16, referenced from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, quoted in Working Preacher article by Nicholas J. Schaser, accessed August 12, 2023, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-19/commentary-on-matthew-1422-33-6 [2] Job 9:8, referenced in same article mentioned above. [3] Genesis 50:20, quoted in article by Carolyn B. Helsel, accessed on August 13, 2023, at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-19/commentary-on-genesis-3222-31-12


 


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