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Questions that lead to life

We are confronted by two telling questions this week. Both of which speak to us on the faith journey - especially at those times and circumstances in which we tend to lose heart. Firstly the question God asks of Elijah: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And our second question is from Jesus to Peter: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” ( Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 14 [19] Matthew 14:22-33, 1 Kings 19:9-18.) We can hear those questions as designed to catch us out in our failing or as questions asked of us at pivotal moments in our journey designed to take us deeper and to help us correct our direction onto a truer course.

You may like to see my reflection from three years ago

on the Jacob story.

Now poor old Elijah had every reason to be in hiding and fearful for his life. As a prophet it had been his job to challenge Ahab and Jezebel who were reintroducing worship of Baal into Israel and in so doing he had many false prophets killed. In retaliation Jezebel had threatened to do to Elijah as he had done to the false prophets. So he was on the run, literally running for his life, in fear and loss of heart for his mission. And so God asks “What are you doing?”and also effectively asks “What are you doing Here – so far from where I have asked you to be at work?” From time to time most of us ask ourselves How did I get into this mess? How did I end up here? It is for our higher purpose sometimes that we pause and reconsider the choices we have made and be more intentional in where we go from here.

Our second question is from Jesus to Peter: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” Peter has actually managed the miraculous – he has walked on water – and then he loses his focus and becomes afraid and begins to sink. The imagery of Jesus walking on water is not only, or even primarily, about a supernatural event. Rather it speaks to the divine having power over the creation (when Yahweh eventually responds to Job God asks a series of questions including can the mere mortal walk in the depths of the sea Job 38:16). Jesus is also being portrayed as a just Messiah and leader unlike foolish and arrogant humans who seek to rule for their self interest (such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes who thought he could sail on the land and walk on the sea 2 Maccabees 5:21). So Peter has joined Jesus in his recognition and trust of the truly human and divine one and then falters and begins to sink.

Littleness of faith is one of the themes that runs through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and teaching. Five times the phrase is used in relation to the disciples. It seems that littleness of faith is something that many of us suffer from in the faith journey. It is not that we have no faith but that it is too little, too prone to losing heart and giving up before we are finished or indeed just as we begin to truly get into our stride.

Why and how does this seem to happen – not only to us but to others including the greats – Elijah and Peter? Maybe part of what happens is that we mistakenly think that we are called upon to do great things for God, to be successful for God, to prove ourselves to God. We take our eyes off what God is doing for us and through us and worry about what we are doing, thinking that we are doing something on our own.

It is very hard to get the balance right – doing our part whilst still being open to it being God working through us. Our ego struggles to be in charge, sometimes with pride but also through anxiety and fear. Our mistake being to think that we are alone in the storm when if we can stay focused it is clear that after the storm is the still small voice of God, that if we can just stay focused on Jesus we can walk to him whatever is underfoot. And even if we should start to struggle and sink then we need only call out.

Certainly in my own faith journey I find it very hard to firstly discern the will of God, the right-for-me at this point in time task, and then very difficult to stay in that right frame of mind so that I am doing not only what is right but fully in the flow of God’s spirit, to let it flow through me rather than me get in the way.

As so often St Paul says something of great value. Rather than asking impossibly large questions simply remember that “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” That sense of the word of God being ever so near and within us just waiting for us to quieten and listen to what is being whispered within. It is not that we are the source of the word but that the same source flows through us too and that if we attend well to the spirit within then how beautiful our feet will become as we bring good news to all we encounter.

Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ and steady our feint hearts within us.



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