In the weeks leading up to Sunday, August 13, Emily C. Heath, a United Church of Christ pastor in Exeter, New Hampshire, was preparing her sermon for that day.
It was going to be tied to one of that day’s Bible readings: Matthew 14:22-33, the section of the gospels where Jesus encourages his disciple Peter to come to him over a stormy sea. Peter begins to walk on the water, only to become afraid and sink. Heath planned to use the story in her sermon to illustrate the importance of faith and how it helps us do the impossible.
Then this weekend happened. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. Counter-protesters came to parry their vitriol with a show of support against racism and white supremacy. An anti-racism protestor in Charlottesville was killed by a Nazi sympathizer, a domestic terrorist. Suddenly, a story about someone remaining above the fray became less important for Heath than a story about someone willing to dive right in.
“I was thinking about how I’ve been reading this story, thinking that the problem was that Peter didn’t have enough faith,” said Heath, in a copy of her final preached sermon she shared with Vox. “And I began to wonder if the point wasn’t so much that Peter could have walked on water if he had been faithful enough, but that, just maybe, the point was that Peter wouldn’t have been so scared of going into waters had he not doubted that Jesus would be there with him.”