Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Focus on Jesus

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 14A, preached on Sunday, August 9, 2020.

     You have to have a little sympathy for St. Peter.  Sure, he shots himself in the foot most of the time.  He speaks when he should have been silent and stands silent when called to speak.  But we get that.  We feel the same way.  In hindsight we can always think of what we should have said and regretted what we did say.  But you still have to give it to St. Peter.  After all he asked Jesus to call Him out.  The rest of the disciples were terrified and perhaps St. Peter was as well but it was St. Peter, after all, who said, “Lord, if it is YOU, command ME to come to You on the water.”  Yes, you have to hand it to this apostle.  He asked to be called out on the water and took steps on the water that none of the other disciples could even dream.

    That said, when you step out on the water you find yourself at risk.  “What did get myself into?”  was going through St. Peter’s head.  And we are sympathetic as well.  We have all, as my grandmother used to say, written checks with our mouths that we did not want to cash.  Yes, the Lord had told him to come out on the water but then the reality of it all cam crashing down upon St. Peter and the water proved to be less sturdy than it was in the first step or two.  Yet, this too we understand.  We have all been there.

    St. Peter looked at Jesus but he would not help looking at all the chaos and turmoil around him.  The wind blew ever more fierce.  The waves proved larger and larger.  In the end it became a test.  How much do you trust Jesus?  In his mind’s eye, the storm was more threatening than Jesus comforting, the storm more of a threat than Jesus a Savior, and the challenges before him more profound than the Jesus who stood before Him.  Turning to the threat around him required him to look away from Jesus and as soon as that happened poor old St. Peter began to sink.

    Even in this moment of uncertainty when the dangers he faced seem more powerful than the Jesus who was with him, Jesus did not do what you might expect.  He did not leave St. Peter to his own fears.  St. Peter was not left with his own weakness of faith.  No, indeed, Jesus intervened and sustained St. Peter from the doubts that threatened to swallow up his life in Christ.  And this, God does not only for St. Peter but for all who cry to Him in their need and who find their faith eroded by the power of doubt and the threat of failure.  For as much as we want to make this about St. Peter, it is really about the Lord.  He who calls you is faithful; He will do it.  Says the Scriptures.

    Though the great temptation may be to despair and fear, the Lord has not turned away from you or abandoned you.  In the moments of your greatest failure, God is there to rescue you from judgement with His blood and restore you as His own child by faith.
Faith cries out when all the props have fallen down and you find yourself exposed, vulnerable, and losing hope – “Lord, save me.”  The disciples retreated into the prison of their fears and wondered if Jesus was a ghost but no ghost could save St. Peter and no ghost could calm the storm and quiet the wind.  Only Jesus.

    You are not much different.  You come to church every Sunday and you bring your fears with you – fears from COVID to the normal stuff.  When life confronts you with challenge and struggle, you dismiss what Scripture says and wonder if God is with you or has abandoned you.  When you test the waters and begin to sink into failure, you call out to God as if He were the cause of that failure instead of the Savior who rescues you. No brothers and sisters, we are just like the disciples and just like St. Peter.  But Jesus is the same, yesterday with the disciples on the stormy water in the night, today in the midst of a world of change, and forever into the future none of us can predict.

    Here is the Gospel.  Not that St. Peter tried and failed or even that Jesus consoled him in his failure.  The Gospel is that Jesus came to St. Peter, came to the apostles, made His way to them caught up in the storms of life and the dark clouds of fear.  Jesus came to them and rescued them from the superstitions that held them captive and from the weak faith that struggled to keep eyes on Jesus as feet tip toed across the deep.  Here is the Gospel.  Jesus comes for YOU.  Jesus comes to YOU.  Now, in the midst of the storm, when battered about by the winds of change and chance, bruised by the hurts of so many disappointments, and scared as much of the light as of the dark.  Jesus is Your Savior.  Believe in Him.  Repent of your doubts.  Cling to Him in trouble.  Fix your gaze upon Him when storm and wind and change threaten, and you will not sink, you will not be defeated, you will not die.     

    Do your fears rule you or does faith rule you?   Nobody is saying that things like the corona virus are not threats.  But the question hanging in the air is whether your faith makes any difference to you or what you do or how you find a way through the things that test your fears – like COVID 19?  Close to a third of our congregation believes that it is dangerous to be together in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day.  Maybe some of you are not so sure it is safe either.  What difference does faith make on how you approach something like coming to Church?  Receiving Holy Communion?  Could it be that we were walking on water until COVID 19 drew our attention away from Jesus?

    St. Peter heard the Word of the Lord.  He stepped out of the boat and onto the water.  As long as He was in the Lord, the Lord was in Him and he walked upon the water.  On his own he was nothing.  He sunk into the abyss of his own doubts and fears and shame.  But in Christ he walked on the water.  
Friends, by your presence here today you have called to the Lord.  “Lord bid me come!”  
And the Lord has heard the sound of your cry.  He has bidden you “Come.”  Come and wash your sins away in the healing word of absolution.  Come and renew your identity as a child of God by recalling the promises the Lord made to you in that water.  Come and hear the Word of the Lord that is your strength and your shield.  Come and eat and drink the bread of heaven and life forever.

    Do not give into the power of your fears, into the terrors of the devil, into the threats of the world, or into your own unsanctified thoughts, words, and deeds.  Do not presume that you are strong enough to walk on your own above the churning waters of conflict and upset, of sin and its death.  Do not give into the pride that thinks you do not need to be where the people of God gather at His call.  Do not give into the illusion that you have learned enough of His Word to justify your absence from the preaching of the Church and the teaching of God’s Word.  Do not glance around at the allure of the world and think that you can afford to indulge yourself in a free hidden moment and still endure.  Keep your eyes focused upon Jesus, your hearts rooted and planted in His Word, your minds focused upon the cross, and your body fed and nourished at His table.

    Take courage, my friends, and do not be afraid.  St. Peter was sinking but the Lord rescued him and that same Lord will not allow anyone or anything to snatch you from His hand.  The Lord is here, in this place, with His gifts of grace and His power of life.  So rejoice with St. Peter and with the disciples in the boat and confess the name of the Lord in your moments of greatest terror and fear:  Truly, Jesus, You are the Son of God and You are my Savior.  Amen

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