Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Christ is in your boat. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 12B, preached on Sunday, July 29, 2018.

    I don’t know how it was when you grew up, but in my childhood home we cleaned up the house when folks came to visit.  This did not mean only dusting off the furniture and floors but also hiding away all conflicts and troubles and making nice toward everyone.  Perhaps we do that less today.  Social media seems to offer us a forum to expose all that once would have been hidden away.  It is as if we flaunt our faults and advertise our feelings – no matter what they are.
    Surely we face the same temptations before God.  Do we hide away all that is not right with us or do we admit all that is wrong.  It is our torture not only to suffer but also not to know what to do with what tortures us.  For what tortures us is not simply one thing or another but often it is so woven into the fabric of who we are that life is torture.  We do not simply go through rough patches, life itself is rough and tumble.  Faith does not ease the path but makes it more difficult.  That comes as no surprise to Christians.
    We live at a time when people delight in ridiculing what we believe, challenging the idea that God is good since He seems to allow all sorts of evil, and then insisting that what God says should be changed when people change their minds about sex or gender or who should be married.  The truth is that life can be torturous and faith itself can be a torture in a world so obviously unfriendly to the cause of Christ.
    But then we would find ourselves exactly where the disciples were when they headed out in a boat.  They were tortured by a crowd that left them not a moment of peace and they were tortured by Jesus and things they just did not get, much less a Savior who seemed intent upon finding a cross rather than escaping from it.  There in the boat they were making torturously slow progress for the wind was against them.  Does that sound familiar?  Do you ever feel like you are in that boat?  I do.
    And then there is another line in the Gospel for today.  It is a terrible line.  I cringed reading it and I expect you cringed hearing it.  Jesus is out there walking on the stormy seas that very nearly drowning them and it says “He meant to pass them by.”  Surely that is one of our greatest fears and perhaps the worst torture of all – God walks by ignoring us in our moments of weakness, terror, and fear.  Who wants a God like this?  We feel alone enough in this world without a God who leaves us to our misery.
    They cried out.  Who would not?  It would have better been a ghost than a God who walks by leaving people in their tortured moments.  But in their cry someone amazing happens.  Jesus stops and speaks.  They called and He answered them.
    “Take heart,” He says.  “It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  The Lord did not pass them by.  He did not ignore their plight.  He was not oblivious to their tortured lives.  He was not aloof from their troubles.  He did not hide Himself from their wounds.  He did not look away from their sins.  He did not run from their death.  He was with them in the storm and He brought to their fears the power of His peace and the comfort of His mercy.
    Just as then, the Lord is with us.  We are not alone to wallow in our guilt or alone to hide in our fears or alone to find our way through life’s uncertainties.  We are not alone.  Christ is with us.  And we shall never be alone.  He has bridged the gap between heaven and earth.  He has suffering in our place for sin.  He has borne the stripes of our punishment that we might be healed.  He died to kill death once for all.  Take heart, you people of God, beloved of the Lord, the Lord is on YOUR side.  Do not be afraid.
    Two weeks ago we heard the prophet Amos testify to the promise of the Lord: “I will not pass you by.”  Abraham begged the three strangers that God would not pass him by and the Lord did not.  Moses saw God as the Lord most high passed and the great patriarch saw a glimpse of God’s glory.  We look up and before us upon the cross we see the Lord.  He could not pass by our sins nor could He pass by our death.  He was determined to take them both upon Himself and this He did that we might never be alone.
    We do not have a glimpse of His glory to console us but the full picture of His mercy.  We do not have a hint of His feelings but the Word of His promise to be our hope and our peace.  Yet even this can confound and confuse us.  We want to see with our eyes instead by faith.  We desire a hint of glory more that the presence of the Lord within the storms of our lives.  The disciples were astounded that God would come to them in this way and they looked back on the loaves multiplied and the people healed and wondered if they knew Jesus at all.  And maybe you have felt the same way.
    Then when it seems things could not get worse, they crossed over and all the needy people were waiting there on the other side – the sick running to Jesus for healing, the untouchables looking to touch Him, and the sinners seeking a God bigger than their sins.  In the end, it was not like they thought, not what they expected, and not what they had hoped for.  It would be a struggle all the way to Calvary and then to the Garden of the Empty Tomb and then to Pentecost.  What kind of God do we have?  But finally they would see. . . not with eyes but with faith.  And they would know the mercy of God not as reason to explain life but as hope that erupts in life’s worst moments. 
    And they would find comfort not in an ideal but in a reality so profound and powerful that even the wind and waves could not withstand Him, sin that would be erased by the power of His blood, and death that would have to stand aside because of the power of His life.  The challenge for you and for me is this.  Is it enough for God to be with us in our troubles and trials?  Is it enough for God to know the torments of our lives and the torturous moments that seem to hide behind every happiness?  Is it enough for Jesus to have gone for us into the suffering of the cross and to have laid His head upon the bed of our death?  Is it enough that the future which has been written for us is hidden until the Lord deems it right to reveal it to us?  Is faith enough?
    Jesus is in the boat with you.  Whether you see Him or not.  Whether the storm goes away or merely calms for a moment.  Whether you find happiness or merely know the contentment of His grace and favor.  Whether you find a smile in the storm or grit your teeth all the way to the other side.  Jesus is in your boat.  So take heart. . . and, to borrow a phrase:  Carry on.  Carry the cross, deny yourself, and follow Him.  For though the world turn on you, Christ will not.  Though everyone else abandons you, Christ will not.  Do not be afraid.  The Lord is with you.  Amen.

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