Sunday’s sermon: Faith Outside the Box

faith outside the box

Texts used – Daniel 3:13-27; Matthew 14:22-33

  • When I was a kid – even all the way through high school and into college – I was really shy.
    • Uncomfortable introducing myself
    • Uncomfortable initiating conversations and talking to new people
    • Then, for whatever reason, I decided to go to a college that none of my friends – or even anyone from my graduating class or the 3 graduating classes above me! – were going to. When the end of August rolled around, and all my stuff had been moved into my dorm room and my family was back on the road headed home (without me), I was suddenly very alone.
      • Randomly-assigned roommate was nice – let me hang out with her friends → not really my kind of group
      • Comfort zone became my 11’x16’ dorm room – desk, chair, bed → Front desk pizzas were my dinner of choice because I didn’t have to worry about who I was going to sit with. I was sitting with … me.
    • Meeting Renee → stop at her asking me to go to dinner
      • I can’t even begin to describe to you how far out of my comfort zone an offer like this was. What if we didn’t have anything to talk about? What if we realized after sitting down that we didn’t get along and were still stuck eating together? What if I liked her, but she didn’t like me? What if, after we got there, she saw someone else that she knew and ditched me to sit with them? I was teetering precariously on the very edge of my comfort zone, torn between settling back into the very familiar boundaries of my butterfly chair and taking a giant and scary step into the unknown.
    • Funny thing about comfort zones → ultimately, pretty small things
      • Room for us
      • Room for habits – the good ones and the not-so-good ones
      • Room for the familiar
      • But do you know there isn’t room for?
        • Not a lot of room for God to work
        • No room for trust
        • No room for the spectacular
      • Stepping outside our comfort zones can be incredibly uncomfortable. It can be scary and uncertain and intimidating and anxiety-inducing, but as our Scripture readings for today illustrate, stepping outside our comfort zones can also lead to some pretty amazing things.
  • In both the Old Testament and New Testament stories, we find people who are teetering on the edge of their comfort zones.
    • Most choose to stay within those familiar confines
      • In Daniel → those who chose to obey Nebuchadnezzar
        • Background – catch up on where we are in the story
        • Nebuchadnezzar proclaims: “Anyone who will not bow down and worship will be immediately thrown into a furnace of flaming fire.” So … all the peoples, nations, and languages bowed down and worshipped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.[1]
        • Now, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego certainly weren’t the only Jews in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. This story takes place during the Babylonian exile – a time when a large portion of the Israelites had been captured and taken to live in Babylon. And yet our text tells us that plenty of those people chose to bow down and worship this crazy golden idol that Nebuchadnezzar set up. Plenty of people chose comfort and security over faith and trust.
      • Disciples in gospel not so different – text: When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”[2]  → All of the disciples were afraid. All cried out in fear. Jesus spoke words of comfort and reassurance to all of the disciples. And yet, how many of them were actually willing to take that step?
  • I have to be honest with you. When that girl knocked on my dorm room door, every part of me wanted to be like those other people of Babylon or all those other disciples and just stay entrenched in the familiar. My instinct – my familiarity – was telling me to turn down her invitation. “Thanks, but no thanks … Maybe next time … I’m not hungry (not true) … I just ate (also not true).” But instead, I got up, grabbed my student ID, shut my door, followed this girl over to the á la cart dining facility, and took one small step (that felt like one gigantic leap) outside my comfort zone. → main characters in Scripture – much more dramatic steps outside comfort zones
    • Daniel: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar: “ … If our God—the one we serve—is able to rescue us from the furnace of flaming fire and from your power, Your Majesty, then let him rescue us. But if he doesn’t, know this for certain, Your Majesty: we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you’ve set up.”[3]  → These men have been threatened by the king – “Bow down or burn!” And what is their response? “No. If God wants to save us, God will save us. But even if it means we have to die, we won’t worship your false idol.”
      • Scholar: [This verse] contains one of the most powerful statements in the entire book of Daniel, with consequences reaching far beyond this little story: (3 little words) “But if not …”… This is a statement of faith against the appearance of defeat … and steadfast adherence to an alternate reality: God reigns.[4] → Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego made it abundantly and uncomfortably clear that they chose faith. They chose the uncertain and the unknown over what was comfortable and secure. They chose to step outside their comfort zones into a place of absolute trust.
    • NT Passage: Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus.[5]  → Walking. On. The. Water. Nothing about that says “Comfort Zone.” But Peter’s actions – like those of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – are born of absolute trust, trust in an all-powerful God who protects and lifts up, who comforts and reassures, who forgives and saves.
  • So when we reach moments like this – moments of decision (or maybe moments of indecision), moments when we could either hang back or leap forward – what is it that keeps us clinging to the edges of our comfort zones? What makes us so reticent to trust?
    • Fear? → clearly a part of both Scripture stories
      • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were being threatened with a very painful and seemingly-certain death: being burned to death in a fiery furnace. Even with faith as strong as theirs, a threat like that is sure to invoke fear.
      • Gospel: When the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the lake, they were terrified → That’s pretty clear, and at this point, Peter’s still in the boat with the others. He’s just as afraid as the rest of them. The Greek word used here – “terrified” – can also mean disturbed or troubled or thrown into confusion … all emotions that can make us want to high-tail it back to the safety of our comfort zones.
    • Uncertainty? → before the storm, before Jesus walks on water, before Peter decides to step out, too, disciples in Mt have already been pushed outside the stability of their routine into unfamiliar territory – uncertainty
      • Text: Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds.[6] – Scholar point out here: For the first time in Matthew, the disciples are sent forth without Jesus.[7]  → The disciples were used to following Jesus – doing what he did, listening to his message from the safety of his side, always being near this teacher, this companion, this miracle-worker. But not this time. This time Jesus sent them off, sent them out, sent them ahead … without him. Before they knew it, they were alone in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. This is a situation they had never faced before. What were they supposed to do now?
  • Despite all of this uncomfortableness, it is only when they’ve left the confines of their comfort zones that Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Peter are free to encounter amazing things. Only after they’ve placed their full trust in God and God alone are they able to experience God in dramatic, life-changing ways.
    • Admittedly, things had to get a little scary first.
      • OT: So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were bound, still dressed in all their clothes, and thrown into the furnace of flaming fire.[8]  → Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s step outside their comfort zones was a quite literally step straight into the fire.
    • But then comes the amazing part:
      • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego brave the furnace of burning fire and meet God in the midst of the flames: So these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell, bound, into the furnace of flaming fire. Then King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in shock and said to his associates, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?” They answered the king, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He replied, “Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt! And the fourth one looks like one of the gods.”[9]
      • Gospel: But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?”[10]
        • Important point in Gr: “doubt” = waiver, hesitate – So Jesus is not chastising Peter for unbelief. He’s admonishing Peter for vacillation, not skepticism, for letting his fear cloud his belief, letting his uncertainty overpower his faith. → the Messiah – God incarnate – stretches out his very own hand to catch Peter and lifted him out of his uncertainty
    • There’s a radical freedom in these encounters – an unadulterated openness to the work and will of God. When I was a kid, I had something called the Anti-Coloring Book. Instead of just giving you a set picture to color, each page was part picture and part blank space. (There’s a sample of this in your bulletin.) The point was to encourage you to fill that space with your own creativity and spontaneity and unexpected beauty. And as I was thinking about comfort zones and trust and radical freedom, it struck me that like the picture on the page, the immediate futures of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Peter were incomplete. But each of them trusted God to fill that uncertainty with creativity and spontaneity and unexpected beauty. Each of them chose radical freedom over their comfort zones.
  • Also see this message of comfort zones and trust and radical freedom in our sermon series theme song, “The Summons”[11] – Last week, we focused on the first verse. This week, I want you to look at verse 2:
    • 1 addresses teetering on the edge of our comfort zones: Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? → Can you bring yourself to take that first step?
    • 2-3 coaxes us outside our comfort zones: Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? → God: It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. But I’ll be there to protect you and pull you up when you falter.
    • 4 hints at amazing things to come: Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
  • You know, if I hadn’t been willing to step outside my comfort zone during that first week of college, I never would’ve met Renee. She quickly became one of my closest friends. She was my roommate for the rest of my college career. In 2011, I had the honor of performing all but the legal part of her wedding. (I wasn’t ordained yet, so a Justice of the Peace took care of the legal part before the actual ceremony.) She helped me break through my shyness, venture further and further outside my comfort zone. Honestly, without Renee’s friendship, who knows what kind of pastor I would’ve become?
    • So let me ask you this: What’s holding you back within the confines of your comfort zone today? Where do you need to shift your trust from safety and security to God and God alone? Maybe I should be asking it this way: What sort of amazing things – what sort of radical freedom – are you missing out on? Amen.

[1] Dan 3:6-7.

[2] Mt 14:26-27.

[3] Dan 3:16-18.

[4] Daniel L. Smith-Christopher. “Daniel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 64.

[5] Mt 14:28-29.

[6] Mt 14:22.

[7] M. Eugene Boring. “Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 327.

[8] Dan 3:21.

[9] Dan 3:23-25.

[10] Mt 14:30-31.

[11] “The Summons.” Traditional Scottish melody, words by John Bell. The Iona Community, Scotland, 1987.

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