Monday, August 11, 2008

I was remarking to the congregation this past weekend that I actually had a couple titles for sermons that could be displayed on a bulletin board in front of the church. I had been away from the Old Testament for six weeks running, so I chose yesterday to discuss "dysfunctional -- it's what the Bible thinks of as normal." And I proceeded to highlight a few of the dysfunctions in the holy family. Hopefully, if I did my job well, I also managed to highlight the evidence of transformative grace in the lives of Reuben, Joseph, and even Jacob. Since we all live in normal "dysfunctional" families, our Genesis passage should have spoken to a number of us. And given some of the laughter and nudging elbows as I discussed whiners, plotters, tattletales, bad parents, and the like, I am certain all of us saw family members, if not ourselves, in the descriptions. Our reading from Matthew was also very appropriate for life as a disciple of Christ. So often, we seem to go from mountaintop experiences to nadirs to more nadirs to a mountaintops. As much as we might wish it, we seldom ever get to go from mountaintop to mountaintop in or faith journeys. We should be encouraged by the apostles response this weekend. Each of them has witnessed the feeding of the 5000 men, besides women and children. Jesus has announced to the world that He is the Messiah, He is the King whom the Scriptures have foretold. Only God can provide bread in the wilderness; and Jesus' miracle has announced His relationship to the Father. And Jesus has them get in the boat and row to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As they are rowing, a storm comes up. Jesus is not with them to calm this storm, and the disciples are able to make little headway under their own power. Then they see the figure walking on the water! Is it a ghost? Are they about to die? And Jesus tells them it is He and not to be afraid. Peter asks that question, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And Jesus does. And for a few moments, at least, Peter is walking on the water. But then, we are told, he notices the wind and the rain. He realizes what he is doing, and he begins to sink. In desperation he calls out to Jesus to save him. And Jesus does. Then Jesus criticizes Peter for his lack of faith and asks, " . . . why did you doubt?"

Matthew wrote this Gospel for new Church that was being heavily persecuted in Palestine. His audience would have been seen as fools by their brother and sister Jews. The man, Jesus, who had been hung on the tree was the Messiah? You really believe He rose from the dead? Yes, it is likely that Matthew's audience was teased by those in the synagogues who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Furthermore, the Roman authorities would not have been kindly disposed to the new Church. Unlike the other storm on the sea in the Gospel, Jesus is not present when the storm blows up. The message to the early Church would have been clear. Storms will blow up, and it seems as if Jesus is no longer with us. Yet, Jesus comes striding to the apostles walking in and on the storm. Such is Jesus' power and authority that He can always rise above the storms. We know already that He can calm then, but now we learn that He can use them. Better still, when Peter challenges Him, Jesus commands Peter to walk on the water to Him. And Peter does! Despite the raging storm around him, Peter is able to walk to Jesus. Then Peter notices what he is doing. He becomes afraid and begins to sink. Peter recognizes what is about to happen, and he calls to his Lord to save Him. And again, He does! Our lives are not dissimilar to those of Matthew's time. Sometimes, you and I may feel that Jesus is absent from us. At times, stormy seas will blow up in our lives. Yet Jesus' power and authority is the same today as it ever has been! Such is His redemptive power that He can get us through the storms of our lives, be they literal, financial, work-related, or personal. And when our eyes are fixed upon Him, we too can walk on stormy seas! You and I can be called by our Master to do amazing works, works which may seem far bigger than we can ever do. And, like Peter, when we stop to think about what we are doing while in the middle of the work, we might get overwhelmed by what we are doing. And when we measure our abilities against the task at hand, we might well "begin to sink."

But Matthew's story is a story of faith and of unbelief. Peter, before he drowns, calls out to Jesus. The minute he realizes he is sinking, Peter calls upon the name of the only one who can save Him. And merciful, gracious Jesus does. This story should comfort us the way it no doubt comforted those in the early church. It is our job to trust Him. It is His job to save. Sometimes our personal storms might seem overwhelming. Sometimes, the threats from the storms in our lives can even lead to a physical death. Yes Jesus' job and authority is the same as it ever has been. Better still, He is a God who has promised to save and to redeem. And if He has risen from the dead and you truly believe that, what in your life can He not redeem? What could be more difficult that rescuing you from death? If He can keep His promises on the big storm, imagine what He can do in the other storms of life that blow our way!

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