10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 13, 2017
“Is Jesus My Pal?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is our Gospel lesson from Matthew 14.
My dear friends,
At the Seminary they teach that a sermon’s introduction should get people’s attention, so here it goes. Life is like the flight of a pileated woodpecker in that both undulate. How do I know that? I took Ornithology – bird watching – in college much to my parent’s chagrin. Life, like a pileated woodpecker, rises and falls as it flies by. It has its times when the sun of hope and joy rises, when our life seems bathed in light and “it’s all good.” Perhaps it’s our wedding day, or the birth of our children, holding a grandchild for the first time, or the day we land that dream job or maybe finally retire. Things go well for a while. We’re healthy. Our family is happy. There’s some money in the bank…for once. Those are the days with blue skies smiling at me.
But, as certain as death and taxes and change, life also has its times when the sun of hope sets, when our life seems drowned in darkness. Perhaps it’s the day we look down into the casket that holds the body of the one we held in our arms for so many years; or the day we drive away from the house after a forced relocation or because we couldn’t make the mortgage payments anymore after losing our job. Its been my experience that during such times, nothing seems to go right; “when it rains, it pours.” The domino effect of this loss tipping over to that loss, this grief
giving way to that grief, makes us wonder if and when we’re ever going to see the sun of joy and hope again. And worst of all, in the midst of these dark times, we begin to wonder where God is; if He’s left us all alone to suffer through this like men caught in a storm on the sea, tossed here and there by the waves, rowing and rowing but getting nowhere fast.
During those times, we’re not much different from the disciples, on that night when they were alone on the Sea of Galilee, miles from land, waves battering their
boat, winds howling all around them, struggling to stay afloat in what became their own sea of suffering. The day before everything was as fine as fine could be. Jesus had made a meal for thousands out of only five loaves of bread and two fish. Everybody ate to their heart’s content. Then, a few hours later, this: oppressed by darkness, attacked by wind and waves, and Jesus nowhere to be seen. And just when they think it couldn’t get any worse, it does. As if they’re not already scared enough by the raging sea, chills go down their backs as they spot a ghost (jantasma) walking on the water toward them. Great! Just what they needed – more terror! “When it rains, it pours.”
That figure they thought was a ghost was actually Jesus, trampling down the waves as He walked toward them. But it was like their eyes were so full of fear that everything they saw was fearful, including the very one who came to save them; they couldn’t even see the saving work of God right in front of them. Isn’t that just how it goes in life? So where there was God, they saw a ghost; where there was approaching light, they saw yet the darkness of impending doom; the One who came to bring them relief, caused only more terror.
We like to think that we are better or much different from the people in the Bible because of our advancements in technology, medicine, science, etc. But we really aren’t . We are like the Israelites at the Red Sea shore: all we see are the chariots of Egypt, bearing down upon us, and the watery grave that will soon liquidate our life. We are like the sailors with Jonah, willing to try anything to save ourselves even if it means throwing someone else overboard. Let’s go ahead and tell it like it is. Jesus called the disciples “of little faith,” but really WE are just as much of little faith. Or rather, we can have big faith, but it’s in something else. Our faith is in our modern conveniences. Or it’s in our ability to control situations, to financially manipulate people/situations to our advantage so that we always get our way. Or our faith is in this church structure that we have and maintain, but forget our church’s true mission and purpose.
Yet even still…here comes Jesus. Note that Jesus doesn’t stand on the shore and shout instructions to us, “Row a little harder! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Get your act together! Think positive! You can do it; you have the power within you! Ignore those scary waves, just look at me!” No, a thousand times, no. Contrary to what many “feel good, Jesus and me” Christian churches are peddling today, Jesus is not a life coach. He is not a personal trainer. He is not a cheerleader on the sidelines of life. He didn’t come to “coexist” alongside other deities. He didn’t come to be everyone’s pal or buddy. He is the Lord of the storms of life, who comes to us in the midst of our fear and hopelessness and despair, to say, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
“Take heart,” Jesus says, “it is I who rescued the frightened Israelites when they were trapped between the chariots of Egypt and the Red Sea. I peeled back those waters to let my people pass through, then made the sea the watery grave of their enemy. I will do that for you too. So I have done for you on the day I baptized you as my own. I washed you into my body, drowned your sins and doubts in this forgiving sea that’s red with my crucifixion blood. Do not be afraid. I’m here and always have been. I am with you always.”
He says, “Take heart, it is I who calmed the sea for the sailors with Jonah when they cast him into the waters to be swallowed by the fish. Like Jonah, I spent three days in the belly of death for you. And like Jonah, I came forth from that tomb alive again. Alive for you, alive to bring you my own life. Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”
The one who walks on water to save us, to be with us in the storms of life, is not a ghost, a figment of imagination, or a character from some dusty, old book. He is the flesh-and-blood God of our salvation. He doesn’t tread upon the waves to wow or impress us – He’s not showing off – but He’s there to rescue us, to forgive us, to be our light when all about is darkness, to bring calm to chaos, to bring comfort to pain, and to bring peace to confusion and anxiety.
They say there are three things certain in life: death, taxes, and change. Take heart, for more certain than death is the life of Christ. More certain that taxes is that Jesus has paid all our sin debts. More certain than change is the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ who is the Lord of the storms – the ups and downs – of your life.
And so let us then give thanks to the Lord for His love never ends, and all God’s people said