August 13 2017 Sermon
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Would you pray with me?
I almost drowned a few years ago on a Saturday morning swimming at the beach. I, along with about 20 other college students, were spending several weeks of Christian service at a Shade and Fresh Water Project in Nova Almeida, Brazil. As part of a January semester, we were working with the United Methodist Church in Brazil to help conduct repair of a campground and do Vacation Bible School programming for local students. One Saturday morning we didn’t have activities scheduled so our hosts encouraged us to spend a half day at the beach resting before heading to Saturday night service at church.
For some time, the guys played soccer on the beach using coconut shells situated in the sand to mark where the goal posts would be. A lot of the girls tried working on their tans excited to get equatorial sun in January while our friends were back in Virginia with snow on the ground. After we tired out from soccer, we decided to stroll up around the point to see what the beach looked like down that way. To our surprise as we rounded the point, there were two jetty formations made out of natural rock that jutted out into the water. Between the two formations the water was incredibly calm and you could see the outline of a sandbar in the shallow depth. It was a stark difference from the beach where we came from where the shelf dropped off just a few yards out in the water.
We decided to venture out perpendicular to the beach to see how far out the sandbar went. About 20 yards out, we began stepping on what felt like broken coral or crushed oyster shells. Either way, each step was taken delicately to avoid the pain of walking barefoot over that stuff. The wisdom of our group was to keep venturing out even through the reef because the water hadn’t gotten much deeper even 50 yards off the beach. I’d say somewhere between 75-100 yards away from the beach we found the end of the sandbar. Like the edge of a cliff, it just ended and dropped off so we swam and treaded water chatting about the events of the past week. Discussion turned to the need to get back to the rest of our group in order to get back to camp and clean up before church.
Should we go back the way we came slowly through the broken reef and then walk the distance of the beach? Or should we swim diagonally back to the shore bypassing the reef and cover some of the ground we would spend walking on the beach? We decided to swim.
After covering some distance I could feel the burn in my shoulders, not the kind of burn from a good workout. It was the kind of burn that felt like fatigue and exhaustion and each stroke was weaker and less productive than the one before it. I decided to stop so I could focus on screaming. Help! Help! I could see the next closest guy to me, John, extending the distance between us. I thought I was going to drown thousands of miles away from home from exhaustion as my friends swam out of view.
John heard my scream and he turned around. He swam back to me as I treaded water and put his arm around my shoulder. We swam back to shore together.
I hope none of you are ever in a position of mortal danger, helpless as you cry out for someone else to save you because you can’t do it yourself. But then again, to fully rely on the saving grace of another is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we proclaim each week in worship. Lord, save me. Heaven, help us. I can’t do this on my own. The sentiment is the same-Lord, I have no control and I’m placing myself in a posture of trust in you.
It’s that posture of desperate pleading and a bit of trust in Jesus that delivers Peter from the stormy sea in this morning’s lectionary reading. Today’s reading comes right on the heels of last week’s feeding of the five thousand when Jesus retreats out of town only to be followed by crowds anxious for healing. Jesus was trying to retreat for a time saddened by the murder of his cousin and friend, John the Baptist. Out there, far away from the village market and grocery store, dinner time arrives and the multitude of people have little if anything to eat. The disciples bring this concern to Jesus who puts the responsibility of dinner service on to them. You feed them.
They scrounge together five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses the rations, and gives them back to the disciples so that they may distribute food among their neighbors. Nobody went home hungry that evening. So after dinner service, the disciples are sent on their way to the other side of the sea and Jesus dismisses the crowds. Then he finds time to pray while out on the sea, the disciples were getting pounded by a rough sea. All through the night the disciples endure rough seas until morning dawns and they see Jesus Christ walking on water. In the midst of a storm that’s about to put their boat on the bottom of the sea, Jesus comes to them and says ‘Take heart, don’t fear. It is I.’ As long as I’m here, things are going to be alright.
Peter in a posture of tentative faith says Lord, tell me to come out on the water, away from the relative safety of the boat to be with you. So Jesus takes him up on the invitation. Come on out Jesus says, and Peter begins taking a few steps out into a tumultuous sea. At first he’s doing alright and then he looks around, takes notice of how rough the seas are, the sound of gale force winds, and he can’t draw any closer to Christ. Fear has paralyzed Peter in his tracks and it’s only when he calls out to Christ to save him that Jesus extends his hand, helps him back into the boat, and the winds cease.
Having witnessed the miracle of the calming of the sea and the walking on water, those in the boat offer right worship and remark that Jesus truly is the Son of God. Jesus both provokes and encourages the faith of the disciples after asking what did you doubt and fear life beyond the relative safety of the boat? Why do you have such little faith? At least he gets to the heart of the matter quickly.
As a disciple, Peter is always a mixed bag. Sometimes he’s spot on and at other times, he is as dense as a block of lead. He’s the one on which Christ promised to build the church. Peter is the one who initiates the move toward Jesus out of the safety of the boat. And after a few steps he’s paralyzed with fear. It’s when he’s utterly helpless and cries out to Jesus Christ, that we see the real redemptive act of God at work in this story. Sometimes desperation, helplessness, and being out of control is the best time to begin trusting the grace of God to work in your life.
If we’re willing to see Peter as a symbol for Christ’s church including us in ministry to the world, we will discover a challenging word this morning. Peter is willing to move toward Christ-he asks for an invitation and faithfully attempts to follow through on his own request. The church does likewise-Lord, lead us to be in ministry with our neighbors. Lord, lead us to love the folks that nobody else wants to love. Sweet Jesus, show us how to make the world a better reflection of God’s reign. Our prayers sound great and faithful like Peter’s request to come hang out with Jesus on the water. We even begin to make those first few steps until we start looking around and see the scenery.
A political climate bent toward warring madness and unfettered violent racism. A cultural scene we don’t understand. Values that are evolving and challenging the old guard. A new paradigm where Christianity no longer has a cultural and religious monopoly.
We’re inclined to stop moving because the challenge of ministry seems too large due to the world’s suffering and injustice. The water level goes from ankle to knee to waist deep.
Church, in the last seven days since we last gathered for worship and to celebrate the Eucharist, we have felt gale force winds and rough seas. As we wade in the deep water, one thing for sure has to happen and that’s to make the cry, Lord save us.
Our president is on the verge of warring madness with North Korea stoking military conflict there and where American troops are already deployed. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. And a military option in Venezuela is a possibility as well. I don’t know if military options will turn into engagements but the rhetoric of madness to rain fire and fury on North Korea has no place in God’s reign and order of creation. None whatsoever. Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas has falsely proclaimed that God has given Donald Trump full power and a blessing to take out Kim Jung Un. It’s a lie and it’s theologically bankrupt.
The jockeying of two autocrats with the threat of war and the millions of lives associated with those threats are the gale force winds that paralyzed Peter with fear. Add in neo nazis, white supremacists, and a home grown terrorist mowing down folks in Charlottesville yesterday, and now that storm has cresting seas and pelting rain ready to sink the boat. Folks, we are living in a world on the brink of madness, fueled by ideologies that should have been put in the grave decades ago.
Why are my colleagues and friends having to explain to their children on Saturday morning when they should be watching morning cartoons that the men in Charlottesville aren’t coming to their homes to get them because their skin is black or brown? Why are teenagers sitting around lunch tables on their first week to school back wondering what it would be like if nuclear bombs start going off? This week it feels like the seas are cresting and the waves are coming right over the side of the boat and we can’t get our bearings on what to do next.
Let’s start by making that cry of desperation, Lord save us. All we have is the strength of God Almighty, in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to deliver us from this madness and the manifestations of evil we’re witnesses to. In the midst of storms that seem overwhelming, the church has to stay with its first love, Jesus Christ. The gospel is stripped of its power to redeem and the church has no hope to be in ministry if we look for saving grace apart from Jesus Christ. We have to take up or remain in a posture of trust that Christ is going to hear our desperate plea, then extend a hand, begin speaking words of peace to still the storm, and invite us to continue walking alongside him in faithful ministry as we vowed to do in our baptism, confirmation, and ordination.
If you’re a member of this church or any United Methodist Church, you have made these vows. And in the midst of the raging storms this week, these vows carry a new weight and urgency. If you’re thinking or hoping that your Christian faith will spare you from intersecting with the most pressing issues of our life together, I don’t think faithfulness to these vows will permit that.
1.To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil
powers of the world, and repent of their sin;
2.To accept the freedom and power God gives them to resist
evil, injustice, and oppression;
3.To confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his
grace, and promise to serve him as their Lord;
4.To remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve
as Christ’s representatives in the world;
Faithfulness to these vows stands squarely against the evils of white supremacy and racism that terrorized Charlottesville, the horror of nuclear war, and any posture of fear that paralyzes Christ’s church from serving those who are downtrodden and suffering. It is my prayer for us that each coming day we find ourselves faithful to these vows as a witness to our trust in Christ. Amen.