Posted on Sun, Aug 7, 2011
Dr. Merritt's Sermon for August 7, 2011
A Walk on Water Kind of Day
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
August 7, 2011
As I mentioned to you last Sunday, I have been spending an unusually large amount of time visiting with members and friends of our church. That continued this week. I feel confident when I say that many of us are suffering through some of the most difficult times in their lives. The economy in our country is downright scary at the moment. Some are struggling to pay taxes, come are struggling to buy food, some are struggling to buy enough gas to get to and from work. Some have difficulty paying for utilities and only God knows what will happen if a tire blows out or the plumbing messes up or if an uninsured family member becomes seriously ill. And in the midst of all of that, this lectionary reading about faith comes up. I confess to you that I’ve struggled with it. It has been hard for me to write a sermon about faith at the same time so many of us are struggling. And I can also assure you as I stand here this morning that I really honestly do believe that God is on our side, that God has a plan for our lives and that God will see us through no matter what happens. I believe in Yahweh God, whose son Jesus Christ had a Walk on Water kind of day, and in that same moment allowed his follower Peter to experience the same miracle. The good news for all of us is that Jesus showed Peter a miracle and that same Jesus has miracles in store of each and every one of us, too. Would you pray with me.
God, we come to you this morning with troubled hearts. Some of us are struggling beyond what we would have ever dreamed. Show us your face this morning, be our way maker, our strength in times of trouble and our constant companion. We watch, wait and listen for your voice. So make the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts pleasing and acceptable to you. In the name of Jesus we pray. AMEN.
There are many events in scripture where important events happen around water. You may remember the passage in Psalm 107 where there was a great storm with waves that lifted up to the heavens. The Psalmist says they reeled and staggered like drunken people and were at their wits end, then they cried out to Yahweh who heard them and delivered them by making the storm be still and the seas become quiet.
A similar story appears in Jonah chapter 1. I encourage you to go home and read it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes the God-action a step further by not only calming the storm and the seas and also walking on the water. Matthew and Mark both include this story in their gospels and Matthew takes it still one step further when he inserts the description of Peter also walking on the water. Notice when Peter begins to sink, he cries out, Save me, O God, I’m drowning. And that, my sisters and brothers is so very similar to what I’ve been hearing from so many of our family over the past weeks. I hear their voices crying out, Save me, O God, I’m drowning, don’t let the floods sweep over me.” Jesus heard Peter’s cry and stretched his hand and saved Peter. And I still believe that if God reached out a hand and saved the people in the Psalmist’s storm and if God saved the people in Jonah’s storm, and if Jesus reached out his hand and saved Peter, my struggling sisters and brothers, Jesus, the Son of God will reach out his hand and save you from your storms, too.
It may not happen overnight, it may not happen this week and it may not happen this month, but it WILL happen. Remember, the people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years. Their situation was so difficult that many of them wanted to return to Egypt and back to slavery because they had better living situations there. And still, even after 40 years God came through for them and brought them into the promised land. God kept God’s promise to them and God will keep God’s promise to you.
In another of the lectionary readings for today, the prophet Isaiah remind us. Isaiah 52.7 reminds us, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of one who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying…’Your God [reigns]!’”
Isaiah offers an image of feet on a mountain, Matthew of feet on the sea; both suggest an experience of the Sacred.
I like what my colleague Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins point out, “When Peter attempted the impossible, he had a measure of success. When he became overwhelmed by his success and doubted he could continue, he started to sink (the waters of chaos overwhelmed him). The metaphor seems to suggest that if we focus on possibilities, more is possible. If we focus on limitations, then we seem to have fewer possibilities available to us. The storms don’t disappear, but our attitude toward them determines if we rise above them or start to drown in them.
Jesus, who is filled with the light and power of God, can face the chaotic challenges of life. When he does this, he shows us how we can do the same. If sea represents political powers, Jesus, proving to be Lord of the sea, suggests that even though political powers executed Jesus, his significance didn’t end. In some way he continued to live in their hearts to offer hope and encouragement (Resurrection).
Perhaps, that is the bottom line of hope for us. God calmed the storms described by the Psalmist. God calmed Jonah’s storm. Jesus calmed Matthew’s storm. The political powers of the day executed Jesus, and he calmed that storm to, blew it out of the water and completely overcame it as well. The storms are raging for some of us, and we will overcome them in Jesus’ name.
Charles Fillmore, founder of the Unity School of Christianity, thought of Peter as a symbol of faith, representing the quality of faith in our own lives. Of course, at times we don’t seem to have great faith, but through spiritual practice our faith can grow. In this story, Peter is chastised for having little faith, but later we will see him as a major figure in the early Church.
By showing Jesus, filled with the spirit of God, overcoming the turbulent sea, we are encouraged to have faith in God to help us face the changes, challenges, and uncertainties of life. When Jesus says, “It is me” that Greek phrase can also be translated, “I am.” I AM is a way to understand the name “Yahweh” who walked through the sea at the Exodus (Psalm 77) or even over it (Job 9). The power of God in us/with us (Emmanuel means “God with us”) is greater than the power of chaos (the sea).
Buddhist Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh says it well, “The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
My sisters and brothers, God is on our side and God can be trusted. Keep the faith. Watch, listen, and keep on keeping on until that day when all of us hear the words of Jesus, “Your faith has made you whole.”
God bless you. AMEN.
First Reading “Praising Manners” From the wisdom of Rumi
“We should ask God to help us toward manners. Inner gifts do not find their way to creatures without just respect. If a man or woman flails about, (s)he not only smashes (her) house, (she) burns the whole world down. Your depression is connected to your insolence and refusal to praise. Whoever feels himself walking on the path, and refuses to praise – that man or woman steals from others every day – is a shoplifter! The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself. Angels only began shining when they achieved discipline. The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes. The moment the foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.”
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”