Sunday’s Sermon: Scary Steps

So I realized as I was getting ready to post this sermon that I haven’t been posting the full Scriptures that we’ve been reading with these sermons. Silly pastor! To remedy that, here are the Scripture readings from this past Sunday:

Matthew 14:22-33 and Romans 10:5-15

  • So I went to college at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. – no one from LS had gone there in at least 3 years → meant I was …
    • In a brand new place
    • With brand new people
    • 3 hrs away from home … without a car
    • You see, I grew up in a small town, and all throughout school, I was incredibly shy. So I saw going to college as my chance to branch out … to blossom. I wanted to try something new, do something new, be something new. That’s why I deliberately went to a college where I wouldn’t know anybody.
    • Certainly made for a lot of 1st steps
      • 1st steps living with my new roommate
      • 1st steps putting myself out there – Frisbee game
      • 1st steps making friends
    • And for someone who was as shy as I was, each one of those first steps was uncomfortable … really, really uncomfortable.
      • Making the move to college is difficult/uncomfortable for a lot of people
      • But a harmless invitation to a simple game of Frisbee? Shouldn’t be uncomfortable.
      • An innocent invitation to dinner? Shouldn’t be that uncomfortable.
    • But for a shy kid from a small town where I’d basically always known everybody, these were very scary steps.
  • Gospel story this morning = all about taking scary steps
    • Scary for disciples
      • 1st time that Jesus sends them out on their own → Up to this point, Jesus has stepped away from them to pray on his own or to catch a few moments rest, but that’s not how this morning’s story started – text: Immediately [Jesus] 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.[1]
        • Jesus had been leading and teaching and guiding the disciples for a while now, and he’d always been there.
          • Answer questions
          • Explain parables
          • Perform healings other miracles
            • Just finished feeding 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish
          • But now, Jesus is sending the disciples ahead of him on their own for the very first time. → had to be an incredibly scary step for them
      • And as if the weight of such a task wasn’t difficult enough to deal with, the disciples find themselves in a boat rocked by a powerfully chaotic sea. – text: By this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.[2] → Believe it or not, this English translation actually sounds tame. I looked at the Greek for this passage, and it’s a mess!
        • “battered” = tormented → These are more than just a few waves slapping at the side of the boat.
        • “against” (wind was against them) = connotations of hostility → These are more than just simple gusts mildly propelling their boat along.
        • “far from land” = actually a little more specific than that → The Greek word is a specific measurement – a stadia. It’s a measurement of roughly 600 ft., so the boat was way, way out to sea, far past the peacefulness of the shallows. The water all around the disciples is cold … and dark … and very, very deep.
      • Last straw for the disciples = Jesus himself: But when the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.[3] → The disciples’ response – “It’s a ghost!” – could almost be laughable … almost. If their fear wasn’t so palpable.
        • Scholar points out something interesting: [The disciples’] situation is perilous … but it is the appearance of Jesus, not the storm, that terrifies them. … This may well be Jesus approaching them – but Jesus as they have never seen or known or understood him before.[4] → This obviously wasn’t the human teacher that they knew and expected – he was walking on water! – and so the disciples were afraid.
    • But the disciples aren’t the only ones for whom stepping out in faith becomes a bit of a harrowing tale. To me, Peter’s experience is the most frightening part of this story. Think about it. At least the disciples have one another as the wind and waves battered their boat. Peter was all alone as he stepped out onto the water. The disciples were merely going about their business – traveling from one place to another by the shortest route available to them … but Peter was quite literally putting himself out there, putting his faith on the line.
      • Text: Peter answered [Jesus], “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 toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”[5]
      • 2 scary parts to this
        • Most obvious = sinking → Gr. – utters same type of cry that the disciples let out when they saw Jesus walking across the water
          • Strangled
          • Terror-induced
          • Kind of cry that makes your voice crack
        • Other frightening part is chance that Peter took
          • Started to walk toward Jesus, was doing just fine, but halfway through, he got distracted and overwhelmed by the tenacity of the wind and lost it, started sinking
        • At least on the surface, it seems like Peter has failed. → could interpret Jesus’ response to Peter this way – text: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”[6]
          • Historically been used as an admonishment by the church (explain “universal”)
            • In times when questions were considered heresy
            • In times when doubts were considered weakness/unbelief
          • But this is not the church we participate in today – at least, not at FCUCC and PCO! We interpret this verse a little differently.
            • Don’t hear a harsh Jesus here
            • Hear Jesus’ words the way a parent talks to his/her child – lovingly, trying to both comfort and teach in the same moment
            • Supported by Gr. – “doubt” = waiver, hesitate → Jesus is recognizing that for Peter, this is not a black-and-white moment of belief or unbelief. Peter’s belief in Jesus remains intact throughout this whole ordeal. Think about it: Would he have called out to Jesus if he had no faith? But in those moments of walking on water, he hesitates. He doubts his own strength … not Jesus. He doubts his own ability … not Jesus. He lets the wind and the waves and the absurdity of the moment get into his head, and he hesitates.
              • How often do we let our own doubts, fears, hesitations hinder our actions? Our commitments? Our walk of faith?
  • In this story from Matthew’s gospel, we find both the comfort and the gently instructive reminder that even when we take that crazy, blind, scary step out in faith, we are not alone.
    • Jesus with the disciples – text: Early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. … [When they cried out in fear of him], immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”[7] → Jesus says, “Take heart … be courageous … cheer up. It’s just me. I’m here with you. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
    • And after taking a huge risk, Peter finds himself literally sinking! But like the disciples, Peter is not alone. – text: Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.[8]
      • Certainly a moment in which Peter must have felt alone
        • Left his friends back in the boat
        • Hadn’t made it all the way to Jesus
        • Hear the fear and panic he must have felt in his cry: Lord, save me!
      • And Jesus was right there. He didn’t wait for Peter to learn his lesson or to be an example for the disciples that were still hanging out and watching back on the boat. He didn’t wait to see if Peter’s faith would grow strong again all by itself or to see if Peter would swim to him to “prove his dedication.” Immediately, Jesus was there to reach out his arm and pull Peter to safety.
        • Scholar: Stepping out in faith is not a guarantee that we will not face troubled waters or be filled with fear, but it is always accompanied by the assurance that Jesus will not abandon us, that when we need it most, he will extend his arm to lift us up and get us back in the boat.[9]
  • Friends, that is the good news of our faith! We believe that we are never alone – that no matter how badly we’re battered by the chaos around us or how much our doubts and our hesitations weigh us down, there is a Savior who loves us enough to come to us wherever we are and immediately reach out a hand to pull us up again. This is our good news! Let’s go shout it from the rooftops! I know I’m a little out of season, but, “Go, tell it on the mountain! Over the hills and everywhere!”
    • Paul’s encouragement in text from Romans
      • Makes it clear that we are needed: For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?[10] → pretty straightforward – can’t make a decision about belief or commitment to faith if you’ve never heard about your options in the first place
        • Have to speak up
        • Have speak out
        • Share that good news! Go tell it on the mountain … in line at the grocery store … with your friends and family … across the world: God loves you! You are not alone.
    • Now, I know the idea of talking about faith can be intimidating. Believe me … I know! What if you get asked a question you can’t answer? What if you say something the wrong way or don’t “get it right.” – encouragement from Paul again:If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.[11]
      • Gr. – “confess” = declare publicly, say plainly, praise → Yes, that means we should talk about our faith (declare publicly) – share our faith with other people – but it doesn’t have to be all fancy phrases and theological jargon. Say it plainly.
        • 80s song “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics: Say it loud! Say it clear![12]
        • Scholar: The way for believers to explain God to those who have not heard is not through theological brilliance, scriptural proofs, or doctrine and dogma. Instead, it is living out the word that is within, and doing that in a way that makes sense in context …, framing our message so it can be understood – human to human, somebody to another body.[13] → not something you can really “get wrong”
        • Crucial step (scary or not) → Friends, there are people in this world – people in our own lives – who are hurting and afraid and unsure, people who are out of energy and out of hope, people who need to hear that good news that God is with them and that they are not alone.
  • When I started college, I was nervous. I was scared. I was incredibly shy. Each and every step in those first few uncomfortable weeks of adjusting was a scary one. But I truly believed – and still do believe – that God led me to UWEC.
    • Meet people I needed to meet (Renee, Peter)
    • Become the person I needed to be (received call)
    • Maybe you’ve been raised with this sort of faith and have had that confidence all along. Maybe you’re just starting to discover how truly and mind-bogglingly present God can be in your life and what a difference that can make. Maybe you’re hearing this good news for the first time and want to know more. I’d be happy to talk to you after the service for as long as you need. Or maybe you’re hesitant. Wherever you’re at in your journey of faith, don’t be afraid to take that next step.

[1] Mt 14:22-23 (emphasis added).

[2] Mt 14:24.

[3] Mt 14:26.

[4] Iwan Russell-Jones. “Proper 14 (Sunday between August 7 and August 13 inclusive) – Matthew 14:22-33 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 332.

[5] Mt 14:28-30.

[6] Mt 14:31.

[7] Mt 14:25, 27 (slightly altered).

[8] Mt 14:31a (emphasis added).

[9] Clifton Kirkpatrick. “Proper 14 (Sunday between August August 7 and August 13 inclusive) – Matthew 14:22-33 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 334.

[10] Rom 10:13-15a.

[11] Rom 10:9.

[12] Mike Rutherford and B.A. Robertson. “The Living Years,” recorded by Mike and the Mechanics, released on the Living Years album, 1988.

[13] Martha C. Highsmith. “Proper 14 (Sunday between August 7 and August 13 inclusive) – Romans 10:5-15 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 330.

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