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.

Sunday’s Sermon: Never Not Enough

  • I’d like to tell you a story this morning – it’s a story about a man named Tim Harris.
    • Grew up in Albuquerque, NM, loving parents and 3 older brothers – family that always treated him like everyone else → But there was something special about Tim.
      • Tim’s own words in CNN “Human Factor” piece: A few hours after I was born, our doctor told my parents that I had Down’s syndrome. A lot of people told my parents that they were very, very sorry.[1]
        • Whether a newborn like Tim or, as science advances, even before the child is born, this is often the response that people encounter when they find out their child is going to have some sort of special need – physical, mental, or emotional
          • Story of Alexis Wineman (just through high school)[2]
            • Pervasive development disorder at age 11
            • “I realized that my autism isn’t what defines me. I define what is autism.”
          • Story of Emily’s birth
        • There are so many beautiful, wonderful, caring, smart people in this world who happen to see things or do things or understand things differently than the rest of us. – often told they can’t do things
          • By classmates
          • By adults
          • Even by doctors and other professional helping them
          • Told they aren’t strong enough, smart enough, able enough to do so many things
    • Fortunately, there are people in the world like Tim Harris … like Alexis Wineman … like my cousin, Emily – people who are strong enough, smart enough, and able enough to recognize their own wonderfulness despite what so many other people say.
      • Tim = college graduated and accomplished athlete, handful of gold medals from Special Olympics
      • Alexis = gained so much confidence for her various high school activities that she decided to enter Miss Montana pageant (2013)
      • Emily = smart, kind, outgoing, healthy 5th grader who just happens to get around in the speediest purple wheelchair you’ve ever seen.
      • Recognize God-given beauty and importance in themselves
      • Definitely faced hard times – didn’t let those struggles define who they are, what they do, or how they live their lives → lesson echoed in Scripture today: This morning, we hear God reminding us that no matter what, we are enough for God, and God can be our “enough.”
  • When we’re up and when we’re down, when we’re feeling complete and when we’re feeling depleted, when we’re dancing and when we’re dragging, God is with us. → certainly see down, depleted and dragging in both passages – see in Israelites, see in disciples
    • Israelites
      • At this point in their story, Israelites – just starting to wander in the wilderness with Moses → They haven’t even been away from Egypt for that long, but they’re already starting to feel the stress and strain of living a nomadic lifestyle.
        • Constantly on the move
        • Always looking for enough water, food, shelter for thousands of people (not an easy task) → today’s story: complaining about lack of food … Actually, I’d say they’re doing more than just a little simple complaining!
          • Text: The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”[3] → Drama, drama, drama. “We are hungry. We’re having trouble finding food. You brought us out here to kill us!” Oh, how quickly the Israelites seem to have forgotten the backbreaking work, cruel taskmasters, and slavery that they’ve so recently left behind. Depletion can do that to us – make us forget the good and focus on the bad.
    • And I must say, the disciples in our Gospel passage aren’t much more optimistic than the Israelites. – text: When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the village and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”[4] → We have nothing here … except these five loaves and two fish. We have
      • Scholar – interesting point: [The disciples] clearly thought that what they had was not enough. … While it is true that what they had was meager, they described it as nothing.[5] → The disciples and the Israelites from our Old Testament story have fallen into the same negative cycle: don’t have enough, don’t know enough, can’t do enough … defeat.
        • Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
    • Now, it’s true that neither the Israelites nor the disciples came by this attitude lightly. – faced serious struggles
      • As mentioned, Israelites wandering around in the wilderness – no indication of where they’re going or how long it’s going to take them to get there à Honestly, I think that the ambiguity that the Israelites were dealing with would be enough to send most people into negative overdrive.
      • Disciples – double whammy
        • Immediate struggle: faced by this hungry crowd of 5000+ people – text: Those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.[6]
        • More weighty matters on their minds: recently found out that John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod at his daughter’s whim → spirits must have been hurting
          • John was a mentor and friend
          • That’s how our passage starts out this morning: Now when Jesus had heard this (had heard about the senseless and violent death of his friend, John the Baptist), he withdrew … in a boat to a deserted place by himself.[7]
  • And yet, even in the face of turmoil, we see God working.
    • Israelites – see God working with literally nothing at all: When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”[8] → I think we can safely say that this manna from heaven isn’t the food that the Israelites expected. Honestly, who would expect bread to miraculously collect on the ground overnight with the dew? But with this fine, flaky substance, God reminded the Israelites that with God, there is never not enough.
      • Never not enough faith
      • Never not enough hope
      • 2 things probably in short supply with the Israelites at the time, but God was happy to provide
    • With the disciples – God working through the perception of nothing
      • Scripture: Jesus said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.[9] → All the disciples could see in their situation were the shortcomings – the places where they were lacking. The crowd was too big. They didn’t have money to buy food. And all they had with them were a few loaves and a couple dried fish – barely enough food to split between the 13 of them. Basically, they had nothing. But God looked past that “nothing” and saw an opportunity for overflowing grace and fellowship.
        • Scholar: Even when the needs of the group might seem too great … Christ invites us to stay with one another and discover another way to collaborate. In remaining together, we may find possibilities none of us could create alone, and surely we will find comfort and companionship in sharing the experience.[10]
          • “Possibilities none of us could create alone” – sounds like the stories of Tim and Alexis
            • Tim – after years of working in various other restaurants, became the 1st person in U.S. with Down’s syndrome to own his own restaurant: Tim’s Place
              • Cuisine: American food (burgers, etc.)
              • Specialty: hugs (more than 40,000 hugs according to “hug counter” on the wall)
            • Alexis – not only had confidence to enter Miss Montana pageant but also won, had the confidence to compete in Miss America pageant, made it to top 15 finalists, and was voted Miss Congeniality by her peers
            • Beautiful people overflowing with possibility
            • Smart people with the inner knowledge that they were more than capable to achieve their dreams
            • People who were able to work with others to make those dreams come true
  • But did you catch that? Tim and Alexis both worked to make their dreams come true. Tim’s restaurant didn’t just fall into his lap. Alexis didn’t just wake up one morning and crown herself Miss Montana. They worked for what they had.
    • See this work in Scriptures this morning, too
      • Israelites had to go collect manna – commanded to: “[11]Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person” … The Israelites … gathered as much as each of them needed.
      • Gospel story – Jesus blessed and broke the bread but the disciples gave it to the people.
        • Scholar: Jesus did not feed five thousand. He told the disciples to do it. God has entrusted us to be the body of Christ – the hands and feet through which God’s work is done in the world. God does not work alone, but through people, you and me. To follow Jesus is to express our faith in concrete acts of love, justice, and compassion toward others.[12] → do this by …
          • Offering ourselves up to God in prayer – asking God to use us and being open to whatever opportunities may come across our paths
          • Sharing that message of hope and fulfillment with people around us
            • Ask if you can pray for them
            • Talk to them about strength, encouragement, family, and hope – whatever support you find in your faith
          • Participate in communion with each other – share that life-giving, soul-renewing, salvation-reminding bread and [wine/juice] with each other and let ourselves be filled up by God’s amazing enough-ness
            • Enough to heal our wounds
            • Enough to enliven our spirits
            • Enough to shoulder our burdens
  • Tim has his restaurant. Alexis has her crown. Both of them have their confidence. Their stories – at least these portions of their stories – are happy ones. I don’t know yet where Emily’s story is going to take her. I don’t know where my story is going to take me or where yours is going to take you, but as we journey through this life together, we can step out confidently knowing that with God, we are never not enough. Amen.

[1] Tim Harris. “Breakfast, lunch and hugs at Tim’s Place,” interview for The Human Factor on CNN. Posted July 10, 2013, accessed July 31, 2014.

[2] Alexis Wineman. “Miss Montana: Autism doesn’t define me,” interview for The Human Factor on CNN, Posted Jan. 17, 2013, accessed July 31, 2014.

[3] Ex 16:2-3.

[4] Mt 14:15-17.

[5] Dock Hollingsworth. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Matthew 14:13-21 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 311, 313.

[6] Mt 14:21 (emphasis added).

[7] Mt 14:13 (with personal addition in parentheses).

[8] Ex 16:14-15.

[9] Mt 14:18-20.

[10] Liz Barrington Forney. “Matthew 14:13-21 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew – vol. 2, chapters 14-28. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 11.

[11] Ex 16:16, 17, 18 (parts from each verse).

[12] Clifton Kirkpatrick. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Matthew 14:13-42 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 310.