When the Waters Get Rough
To listen to the audio recording of this sermon click here: http://tinyurl.com/roughwater
Good morning New Day. It is so good to be with you today. I have missed you. As I prepare for my own ministry, I often talk about the wonderful spirit of this church. Thank you for inviting me and for always welcoming into this community. I feel honored and blessed to be with you to bring today’s sermon.
Will you pray with me?
Loving and holy God, who creates paths of hope and justice even when it means transcending rough waters, we pray that you will open our ears to hear your word and what it means for us in challenging times. May we move on the wave of the Holy Spirit as we are reminded that through your son, Jesus we can be part of transforming the world in ways beyond what we can ask or imagine. In the name of the one who walked on the water and calms the storm we pray. Amen
As I read the text of today’s scripture and began to prepare for this message, I went to the beginning of Matthew 14. And I saw a more complete picture of the challenges Jesus was facing on the day he walked on rough water.
He had just received word that his friend and cousin John the Baptist had been brutally killed by the government as part of a bet. He tried to find a quiet place to grieve and process his loss.
But people were drawn to Jesus. They couldn’t stay away. And before he knew it thousands of people had gathered around him. There was so much need. People were desperate and sick. Being the compassionate person he is, Jesus healed all those who came to him.
The disciples realized Jesus needed a break and offered to send them away to go eat dinner. After all Jesus had initially chosen this spot precisely because it was isolated and so there were no restaurants or stores. But Jesus instead decided to feed the more than 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. And I’m sure you have heard the story – out of perceived scarcity, there was abundance.
Finally after the sick had been healed and the hungry were fed, Jesus sent his disciples off in a boat so he could meet them later. He said goodbye to the crowds. And he found a place to connect with God through pray and reflect by himself. Around 4 or 5 in the morning, he felt renewed enough to go find his friends.
As we heard this morning, because of a storm, the winds and rough waters had stranded the disciples and they hadn’t been able to reach the other side. Jesus was a resourceful guy though and walked out to meet them. They didn’t even recognize Jesus and thought he was a ghost – and who can blame them. They had endured a long day, were sleep deprived, out on the sea, and in the middle of a storm. Suddenly their teacher is WALKING – Not in a boat, not swimming, but WALKING ON THE ROUGH WATER?!
Jesus quickly reassured them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
In response his friend Peter challenged him and said “if it is you command me to come out to you.” Jesus said, “come” and invited Peter out to him. And Peter did it! He stepped out in faith and walked on the water to Jesus. That is until he realized what he was doing. He became overwhelmed by the wind and perhaps even by the powerful thing he was doing and began to sink. So he calls out to Jesus for help.
Jesus caught him right away and asked what made him doubt. While Peter doesn’t answer the question in this text, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism noted,
“He was afraid - Though he had been used to the sea and was a skilful swimmer. But so it frequently is.
When grace begins to act, the natural courage and strength are withdrawn.”
Haven’t we all experienced that? The self-sabotage and doubt that creeps into living out our faith? But “courage. Do. Not. Be. Afraid.” Jesus is there by our side and by grace we are given opportunity after opportunity to move on to perfection. To move onto salvation.
As Peter and Jesus got into the boat, the winds calmed and the disciples realized that their teacher was someone truly special – the Son of God. It was through the chaos that they understood who Jesus was. It was only by enduring the rough waters that they could have clarity when the sea was calmed…
… Theologian Karl Barth is quoted as telling seminary students to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I was studying this text according to the Gospel of Matthew and thinking about the rough waters of our world these past couple of weeks.
- Airplanes shot down
- Children who are fleeing violence being treated as criminals at our border,
- One more African American man is murdered by a New York City police officer - this time for “selling untaxed cigarettes”,
- Hundreds of children being killed in the name of fighting terrorism in Gaza - and I have to ask, when you bomb a school, when you bomb a power plant, who is the terrorist?
- The deadly Ebola virus has killed hundreds of people in West Africa, and the mysterious experimental drug was given only to two white Americans.
- The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seems determined to wipe out the ancient communities in Northern Iraq and Lord, have mercy the US is again responding to violence with violence!
Injustice is compounded by more injustice … and God’s most vulnerable children are suffering the most.
The violence and the grief and the anger when we read the news can make it feel like the ground has disappeared and we as a society are sinking into an unknown and cloudy place.
It was through this lens that I approached today’s scripture with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
When we look at Jesus’ response to a very trying and chaotic day, we see that he treats the peoples’ needs as holy. While his plan had been to spend time by himself, as often happens in ministry our plans to do not always work out like we expected and Jesus does not turn away people who are hungry and sick.
- He responds with love.
- He responds with healing.
- He responds with nourishment.
- He responds with his presence.
See, the good news is that Jesus is not too busy for us. His love for God’s children is more than we can even begin to imagine. Many of us have experienced the power of Jesus’ healing presence in our own lives – I know that I have experienced the love of Jesus through this body of Christ called New Day.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we become his hands and feet meeting the needs of God’s beloved children through our own action. When we take communion part of our prayer is that others will experience Christ’s sacrificial love through us.
And likewise, we can seek out Jesus. We should seek out Jesus. In Matthew 14, the people came to Jesus. They sought him out.They didn’t wait for him to come to them. They didn’t wait for an invitation - because the invitation is open to all. And Jesus responded – meeting their needs and answering their prayers. All they had to do was ask. All you need to do is ask.
- What is on your heart to ask Jesus today?
- In what ways do you need his presence in your life right now?
- Open yourself up to ask for his healing, ask for his nourishment, ask for his love in your life.
- Be prepared to receive it.
- Be prepared to be transformed by it…
… Part of allowing Jesus to care for us and bring us calming wholeness is to spend time in pray. We see in Matthew 14 that once the people were cared for, Jesus dismissed them and sent his disciples ahead. He climbed to the top of the mountain and took time by himself for prayer and reflection. He allowed God to recalibrate his soul and to hear what God was asking of him. He took time to focus and allow God to direct him.
Many of us who are activists, community organizers, or social worker type people know that burn out is never too far away. We get wrapped up in feeling that we always need to “do something” whether it is speaking out against the system or tending to the needs of those in our community.
The rough waters agitate us into action but before we know it, we can find ourselves on empty, paddling in circles of frustration. Friends, we need to remember to take time to connect with God, to nourish our souls, to meditate and listen for God’s word. Worshipping in community is important AND we also need to set aside time to be alone with God.
In the stillness and the quiet we can be filled with insight that we might not sense when we are surrounded by the distractions of the demands on our lives. In his book Prayer – Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster writes:
“Through the Prayer of Rest God places God’s children in the eye of the storm. When all around us is chaos and confusion, deep within we know stability and serenity. In the midst of intense personal struggle we are still and relaxed. While a thousand frustrations seek to distract us, we remain focused and attentive. This is the fruit of the Prayer of Rest.” …
… Connecting to God in prayer gives us strength and courage to face and overcome the rough waters … According to the Gospel of Matthew it was around 4 in the morning before Jesus felt ready to go meet his friends.
Because they had gotten stuck in the sea in the storm, he walked out on the water to meet them. The first thing he did was reassure them.
“Courage,” he said. “It’s me. Do. Not. Be. Afraid.”
And Peter believes that if Jesus commands him to come to him that he too can also walk on the water.
And Jesus invites him saying, “come.”
Jesus invites US saying, “come.”
That’s the kind of power available to us to transform the world through Jesus Christ. Beloveds, with Jesus nothing is impossible! Yes we might get scared sometimes. We might feel overwhelmed or forget to take time to center ourselves in prayer. We may lose our way and forget that we are children of Grace.
But when we start to doubt, and start to falter, when we see all of the scary messy world that threatens the good work we are trying to do for the GLORY OF GOD, we – like Peter – can cry out “Lord save me!” and Jesus will extend his hand and lift us up.
One of the wonderful parts of my job is that I get to see faith put into action every day to make the world better. We are not alone in La Lucha – the struggle in God’s mission. God’s people are faithfully building sections of God’s realm in all corners of the earth.
- Missionary doctors and other health care workers were given the option to leave Liberia but have chosen to stand with the people there as they care for those with Ebola and other illnesses.
- In the Philippines 42 young adults were sent out in the world as witnesses of the Good News who are working for justice. And we of course we especially lift our own Nora in prayer as part of that group, who will serve with children who are vulnerable in Manila.
- Churches in Texas are responding with compassion to the children arriving at the border. They are opening their doors as welcome centers, distributing hygiene kits, and offering legal services. Offering the love and presence of Jesus.
- Yesterday, I returned from 2 days in Ohio where more than 300 United Methodists engaged with Palestinian Christians – people who trace their ancestry to the days of Pentecost hearing from them what it is like to live as Jesus did in a land that is under occupation. We explored ways that God’s people can respond to the conflict and injustice with non-violent resistance in the land that we call holy …
…We know that we worship a God whose good news is bigger than all the bad news in the world. And thank God for that! As we face the challenges of
- our world,
- our community, and
- our personal lives,
we are not alone. We are connected in a denomination that is not perfect but that believes we are all moving toward perfection. It is a faith tradition that is strong in bringing good news to the oppressed and makes a way for a resurrected Jesus to break through to our world again and again until all are liberated. Jesus invites us to partner with him to make God’s realm a reality here on earth. Through our faith, what we can do is beyond our imagination. And you have already been part of bearing some of that fruit.
What you are doing as a church is powerful. Your presence in the community, addressing the needs of the people is righteous and holy. In a world being rocked by spiritual tsunamis, New Day is stepping out in faith and with each step we are crossing boundaries and making a new path – a path that walks on top of the rough waters.
I pray that you will continue to have God-sized imagination, take time for restful pray, and as the world cries out, “Lord, save us,” You – the people of New Day will continue to extend the hand of Christ, reaching out and saying,
“Take Heart, People of God. Have Courage. Do.Not.Be Afraid.”
When the Waters get Rough
Sunday Aug 10, 2014 at New Day Church
Part of the summer series “beyond what we can ask or imagine”