A reflection by Helen Dunn for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost
This summer I’ve been working on a talk show of sorts with a friend of mine, Miranda. She’s a priest, she’s Black, she’s from Jamaica and she’s been working in the Anglican Church of Canada for the past four years. She invited me to join her for this series where we would share about our lives and see where our stories intersect, and we’ve decided to do our best not to shy away from personal topics like issues of race or racism as they came up in our conversation. (As one example, last week we talked about the tension between tourism in Jamaica and Jamaican nationals’ own access to land).
I was really keen to join this conversation with Miranda, so we began to plan. She asked me what time we might host it on Facebook Live. You know, you sort of have some audiences in mind, who from your networks might watch this, and I thought maybe a couple of evening slots, maybe a lunch hour. And Miranda says, “7 am Saturday mornings.”
I tried just about everything I could to convince her otherwise. It’s in the book of Proverbs, after all, that we find written: “Whoever blesses a neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.”
My Saturday morning face broadcast on the Internet wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for my life, but Miranda felt a very strong call to 7 am and one of things I am trying to do these days is not to assume that I always know what’s best (when and where things should happen, who the audience might be, that sort of thing).
So I said ‘yes’ to this early morning invitation and while it’s been a stretch, it’s also been life-giving and transformative. I’m finding myself in a very different place than I was even a month ago in my own self-knowledge, my own theology, my ability to be a more present and just human being. I’m learning about people who do tune in to things at 7 am on a Saturday morning (like people in different time zones, for example!) and I’m getting to know a pretty great friend in the process, too.
I’m telling you this because the words “early in the morning he came walking towards them on the sea” jumped off the page when I first read our gospel for today. Here is this story about Jesus walking on the water, confronting the disciples’ fears, calling Peter to join him on the water, to walk out in faith, too, inviting or maybe standing in solidarity with Peter as he reconsiders the fears and the beliefs and assumptions he holds and the way he’d been showing up in the world.
When we look through the Bible for other scenes, other events that happen “early in the morning” we find some interesting stories.
It’s early in the morning when Abraham, one of the key figures, one of the key ancestors in the Christian story, it’s early in the morning when Abraham stands looking back towards the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as they go up in flames. Sodom and Gomorrah, this story that has historically been used in some pretty painful ways, as a kind of biblical ammunition to discriminate against gay people being one example. I think the story is in fact an allegory about how God is angered, not by homosexuality, but by human beings failing to show hospitality to the other, to the outsider and I wonder if Abraham was on that early morning reconsidering his fears, reconsidering the assumptions he had and the way he’d been showing up in the world.
It’s early in the morning in another story in the Bible when a woman named Hagar, who was Egyptian, Hagar who was a slave, is sent away with her child and finds herself homeless and in a really desperate situation. Not unlike Jesus who meets the disciples out on the water, God calls Hagar to meet Them by some water, by a well, and together God and Hagar discern a way out, a way forward, one that empowers her and her child and calls her away from the system, away from the powers and authorities that for so long told her there was no other life for her out there.
Here’s my point: in the Bible, important things, significant encounters with God happen “early in the morning.” This time of day seems to be more than just a literal hour on a clock, but an appointed time, a signal that when we see this phrase show up in scripture, we can expect God to be calling the people in the story to examine their assumptions, to reconsider the way they’ve been showing up or have been made to show up in the world, and to join God in discerning a way out, a different way forward, a path out of desperation into life.
I wonder what it was that Peter was being called to that early morning on the water? I wonder what your “early morning” encounter with God might be?