August 17, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 14: 22-33
“Come, Walk With Me”
How many of you are willing to step out of your day-to-day life and take a risk? I ask because it is a crucial element in your understanding of today’s message! If you are not willing to take a chance by “`stepping out” then it is my hope, my prayer, that you will listen carefully to what our scripture lesson is saying, if not you may not get anything out of this talk. With this in mind, I ask you: Are you willing to let your guard down, for even a minute, to allow the simplicity of our gospel message to move you, even, one decimal point from where you are right now? Your willingness is the key to this sermon.
As you reflect on what it means to take a risk, listen to this story about a man who was walking along side of a ledge, near the pacific coastline. Perhaps, he was seeing some of the tremendous views that my wife and I have seen while on one of past vacations, views of a pristine and spectacular area of the west coast of our country.
The man gets too close to the edge and slips over the side. As he is falling he reaches out and grasps at the hill. Fortunately there is a sturdy bush growing along the side of the cliff and he is able to grab hold.
As he hangs there, helplessly from that bush, he hollers for help. “He yells, “Is anyone up there that can help me?” A loud voice booms from heaven, “Yes, my son, I am here to help you. Just let go of the bush and I will save you.”
The man reflects on this for a minute. He looks down at the rocks below him and then back up into heaven where the voice came from. Then after a moment he yells, “Is anyone else up there that can help me?” /Author Unknown/
The story of Jesus walking on water is a very difficult passage to grasp. Humans cannot walk on water, unless there is a bridge over it or the water has been frozen into ice. Science tells us this is impossible; and you and I, we all know this is true. Yet, we are told this incredible story about Jesus walking on the water.
The setting of this story is before Jesus was raised from the dead. If it were not, we would be able to just put this story in the classification of one of the sightings of Jesus after his crucifixion and after the Easter story. Some scholars even argue that this story is out of sequence, and is indeed a resurrection story. These arguments are futile to prove or disprove. So let’s simple take the story at face value.
Clearly this passage points to Jesus being a divine being or God himself. There is no other way to explain the overcoming of the laws of science and nature. Either you believe that this is what happened or you don’t. Now this story is clearly intended for those of us who do believe in the scriptures and in our discussion today: the gospels themselves. At the very least, we are asked to believe that the gospels are the witness to how Jesus was heard; and how those that were there told what they believed to be the truth of what they saw and what they heard! In today’s gospel lesson we are hearing of an encounter the disciples had with Jesus. If the story took place, after the resurrection, then they had come to believe in Jesus as their risen Lord. If it was before that time, then the incident was an early confirmation that Jesus was divine. If that weren’t the case, that is, if they didn’t believe this: they would never have recorded the story for us to read or hear.
Stay with me now. The setting is that the disciples had gone ahead of Jesus and were crossing over the water in a boat. The waters were rough and sometime in the night they see Jesus walking over the water to them. They believed in what they saw, leaving them no room to doubt whom Jesus was. Peter addresses Jesus as Lord. He asks Jesus permission to walk with him upon the water. Jesus grants Peter his request and invites him to step out and walk with him.
Without hesitation Peter steps out to walk on the water, but then he stops and looks: just as the man who had fallen over the ocean side cliff: he looks down at the huge waves the wind was creating and knowing the laws of the sea he becomes afraid. Peter’s faith was not as certain as his knowledge of science. Peter begins to sink into the water and he cries out, “Lord, save me!”
Everyone here has asked God for help from time to time, at least once; just like Peter did. Now, it is what happens next, that is critical! The answer is uncertain and that is the type of risk we must take, with our leap of faith we must live with the uncertainty.
In today’s world are many and various challenges. None of us have found these times to be easy and to our liking, at least not all the time. Our President tells us we are making headway in our battles against terrorism and injustice, and war, and we have! Yet, we hear of more deaths every day; soldiers and civilians of various nations, and suicide bombers dying and killing all too frequently. Great strides in medicine have been made, yet the devastation of cancer and heart disease are still the number one causes of death in our society. Most of us are able to turn to God during these times, because we are so overwhelmed; we don’t know what else to do.
Together, we share in the Lord’s Supper, taking bread and drinking from the cup, believing that we are forgiven of sin, thus confirming our place in God’s kingdom. When someone dies we gather as a community to comfort one another, as we also are reminded, through the words of presiding pastors that Christ promises to prepare a room for us in his home in heaven. We proclaim that we believe in life everlasting. We are believers, just as the Apostle Peter was.
Today, in our lives here in the Twenty-First Century, Christ doesn’t ask us to walk on water. Christ asks us to have faith, to trust in God. We know how to ask for help; yet it is the receiving that most of us struggle with. It is just like the story of the young lad who had broken his toy truck. He took it to the toy maker and asked to have him fix it. After a while the boy complained to the toy maker that he had not fixed his toy truck. The master answered. First you must let go of the broken toy, before I can fix it. We must learn to let go, before we can receive the help we so need and desire.
We ask God to fix the pain we feel from a broken relationship and then we continue to nurture our pain. We hold onto that pain like it was a merit badge. We say we want to be free of the past and then we continue to relive it over and over again. Our obsession with what was – never allows us to experience what is. We are so busy looking to see if our past has been altered, even though we know it cannot be, we have no energy left to feel the breathe of God blowing in our lives today.
We pray to our God for guidance in his holy will. We want to know what it means to be a living church. We say we want to grow. Then we look to our past for the answers. Before we can move to our new future we must be willing to take a risk. We must be willing to allow the newness of God to enter into our thinking, our planning and our doing. Countless books have been written documenting humankind’s past failings as well as our achievements. Imagine the books that are still to be put together, if you can. Let’s not be like the Hollywood producers who have run out of ideas and begin rewriting the same old stories. Stay open to new ways and new answers.
We are like the disciples in the boat that night. We have been told to go ahead, and Christ has said he will join us later. The world around us continues to operate according to the laws of nature and science. We as humans are forced to live within those laws. Our human frailty is all too apparent. We will continue to have our problems. We will have failures and we will have successes. Some will die, while others are restored to health. This is the way it is. We are only mortal humans. Yet, we also have a God, and like the disciples we can come to know our God better, if we remain willing to take the risk and just step out of our familiar & comfortable places; if we are willing to respond to the call from Jesus “Come walk with me.”
Sometimes help comes in strange packages. It may be that the answer will come from out of your next failure or the next mistake you make or your next loss. Some of the world’s greatest discoveries happened only after the inventor had given up. The most unlikely messengers deliver some of the most precious messages from God.
Peter gave up after seeing the waves and the mighty wind. He forgot that his Savior was there with him; he forgot that it was Jesus who had invited him to come and walk with him. As his faith left him so did the miracle and he sank into the water. In fear and desperation he cried out: “Lord, save me!” “Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” Even as we give up our faith, God is there to rescue us. All we need do is ask for the help and then receive it.
Jesus asks a question of Peter, and of each one of us: “You of little faith”, Jesus said, “Why did you doubt?” Like the boy who went to have his toy truck repaired, we must let go, before the master can fix it. Just as the desperate man who clung to that branch, as he hung perilously over the rocky cliff, we must put our trust in the one who has come to save us.
If we believe, then we must trust in God. Faith is not a possession but an activity. We must take action. We must exercise our faith or it will wither away like an unused muscle. It is never too late to ask for that help. Even unto the last moment, there is still time. Take a chance by stepping out and then let go and let God.
Matthew 14: 22-33
22 Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; 30 but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”