Lectionary Reflection for the Day After Charlottesville

We are blessed on this nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time with readings that are very apt for the day after a white supremacist rally filled with rhetorical and literal violence.

The first reading is from the book of Kings: the beautiful telling of how Elijah found God not in the violent storm, not in the violent earthquake, not in the violent fire, but in the tiny whispering sound, the still small voice. We do not find God in violence.

Psalm 85 reminds us what the reign of God looks like: kindness and truth, justice and peace, truth shall spring out from the waters of the earth, and justice shall rain from the heavens. This is what we’re here for. This is what we’re pledged to. This is what God promises us, and what we promise to each other.

Romans 9 reminds us who the Jewish people are: an important reminder, given that we saw Nazi flags and slogans in Charlottesville, too:

theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants,
the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;
theirs the patriarchs, and from them,
according to the flesh, is the Christ,
who is over all, God blessed forever.

Finally, the gospel gives us the story of the disciples in a boat on a storm-tossed sea, when Jesus comes walking to them over the water. They are quite understandably freaked out: well, wouldn’t you be? With the winds and the waves and the darkness, the apparition looks like death.

And, aren’t you? I know I am.

Jesus says, Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.

Peter, dear Peter, impulsive Peter, asks for proof: if it’s really you, command me to come to you on the water.

And Jesus says


Peter hears his voice, amid the storm and the wind and the waves,
and because Peter is never one to do anything by halves,
he steps out of the boat, gaze fixed on Jesus, and starts walking
actually walking
on the water
despite the storm, the wind, the waves
Peter walks on the water
to Jesus.

Hold that moment in your thoughts, right there.

Peter saw something impossible,
discerned that it was Jesus,
answered Jesus’ call to come to him,
and did the impossible thing, too.

Doesn’t it feel impossible, to counter hatred and white supremacy, when it comes in a storm of hateful chants and waves of hateful violence? When it is treated with kid gloves by law enforcement, the same law enforcement that brings out riot gear and sonic weapons and sniper rifles in response to protests by black people and native people? When the casual racism or dogwhistles or complicit silence burns through our lives?

It’s Jesus calling us. If we keep our gaze and minds and hearts fixed on him, we can do the impossible thing, too.

…at least for a while. Because the story goes on from there: Peter realizes just how frightening and impossible a thing he is doing, and loses his spiritual balance, and falls.

And then he calls to Jesus. Who responds, and lifts him up.

I don’t know if Heather Heyer was Christian, but I know she showed up to counter-protest the white supremacist rally, to do the impossible-seeming thing, to speak out for kindness and truth, justice and peace. And she died there, when a white supremacist deliberately drove his car into the crowd.

I don’t know if she was Christian, but as Christians, we believe that Jesus will raise us up, as he raised Peter up out of the water, as God raised him up on the third day. When he calls us to do the impossible thing, then like Peter, we should respond.

Of course we’re afraid. Who wouldn’t be?

But if we keep our gaze fixed on him, if we set our whole mind and heart and soul and strength on him, if we listen for his voice in the storm saying Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid, then we, too, can get out of the boat and walk on the water into the storm.

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