Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’

The story of Jesus walking on the water is even more well known than the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
Many theories have been put up about how he did this: sandbanks, lowtide, stepping stones.
And like when we discussed the loaves and fishes, the how doesn’t matter. It really is of no interest.

Even the fact that Jesus is walking on water isn’t the main point of this story.
It is the central figure, the cause of the story, but it is what happens around it that is the story.

After feeding the multitudes, Jesus sends the disciples off in their boat to the other side of the lake.
He goes up to the mountain to pray, if you remember , this was his original intention before the crowds came to him, and he felt compassion for them and fed them.

Jesus stays up the mountain all night, praying.

But while he is up there, the disciples in the boat are in trouble.
The wind has turned against them, they are far from land.
The boat is being battered by waves.

The word that we have, battered, in the original Greek is a bit stronger.
It is closer to 'tortured.'

IT may help us to remember that when Matthew was writing his gospel, the church was suffering severe persecution. This word would have wrung very true for those earliest Christians.

They would have seen the boat as the church, themselves as the disciples.
The waves torturing them as the persecutions they faced.

Our brothers and sisters in Iraq are facing persecution, torture and death today.
Churches that are over 1500 years old have been bombed.
In the past week there have been reports of mass crucifixions for those who will not denounce the faith. There are reports from priests of children they have baptised being cut in half.

It is a horrific situation. And the world sits by and watches.

We can feel helpless and hopeless. Unable to do anything.
We can do something.
We can pray.

We can be thankful that we live in a country where we are free to practice our religion freely.
Our boat isn’t tortured by waves of persecution.

We face different issues.
Indifference.  Apathy.  Complacency.

Our boat sits lonely on the water, with hardly anyone noticing it,
and those who do notice it only bother when it suits them.

Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in Iraq are being beheaded for daring to profess the name Jesus Christ.

Indifference and apathy have a different effect.
One day there will simply be no one here who cares and there will be no church.

For those in Iraq, they face the prospect of the church being wiped out where they live.
We face the idea of our church slowly sliding into irrelevance.
It is up to us to stand up for our brothers and sisters in Iraq.
It is up to us to stand up for our own church.

In the boat it can feel like we are alone, that what we think, feel, believe means nothing to anyone else.

The winds that batter our lives can make what we believe disappear for a while.
It can all seem so futile and it feels like Jesus is miles away.

When I read this story, I put myself in the place of Peter.
So while it is useful to think of the boat as the church, it is Peter’s actions that express our actions.

Peter sees Jesus on the water. He has been in the boat, he is frightened.

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.’

In the midst of the storm, Peter sees Jesus.
In the midst of all the rubbish we face in our lives, when it feels Jesus is not around, something happens to remind us of Jesus presence.
He is there in front of us. Do not be afraid.

Peter steps out of the boat and begins to walk toward Jesus, doing the seemingly impossible.
But he notices the strong wind, and his fear returns.

The presence of Christ in our lives is not like an on off switch.
It is not like we turn it on, and we never have to worry about it again.
And it’s not like Christ ever goes away.
It is more like life gets in the way.
Bills, arguments, bureaucracy, families...
all these things can feel like the waves, we can feel like we are sinking in them.
In those times we can forget Jesus with us.

Peter sinks and cries 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 things get so bad, we call out to Jesus.
He reaches out his hand.
‘Why did you doubt?’

Jesus reminds us of his presence in our lives.
His presence can’t be turned on and off, but our awareness can and often is.
Like Peter, we becomes fearful of what the world sometimes throws at us, and we start to sink.
But it is not as if Jesus is not there.
It’s not that he reaches out his hand to us, rather it is we notice his hand is reaching out toward us.

Why did you doubt?

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