Stepping out of the Boat - Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

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Sermon delivered at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church - San Jose
February 8 - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

"Stepping out of the Boat" - Text from Matthew 14:13-33


Greetings to you this day my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God. 

Faith story

12 step programs are a way of finding a way out of many kind of self-destructive behaviors, such as alcoholism, narcotics, gambling, and eating disorders.  The third step of any twelve step program reads as such: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him."  Because Having a definition of God is a meaningful and important part of recovery from whatever behavior or addiction that seems to be troubling you.  

I've heard a little saying that relates to the third step that goes like this: "There are there frogs sitting and sunning themselves on a log in the middle of a flowing creek. The log seems to be starting to go faster and faster and faster, as the sound of tumbling water gets louder and louder.  The creek seems to disappear into thin air a little ways ahead of the log.  One of the frogs makes a decision to jump off the log before it finally tumbles over the waterfall.  The question is this: How many frogs tumble over the waterfall with the log?

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It's kind of a trick question. The answer is three. Making a decision to jump off the log isn't good enough. How many of you can relate to this?  I can have a big plate of spaghetti and make a decision to put it aside when eaten half of it, and still wind up with an empty plate before I get up from eating. It's because making a decision isn't always good enough for us. 

I have a good friend of mine who I'll call Sam who has a decent job that he goes to each and every day. It pays a good salary and it enables him to afford his security gated $2,000 / month studio apartment in Emeryville.  But it's not a really great job. Sam is constantly under a lot of stress. It's a small office, and he isn't sure what kind of state his boss, the business owner, is going to be on a daily basis.  Sometimes his boss is easygoing, has projects in place for Sam to manage, and gives him all the resources he needs to manage them.  Sometimes his boss is aggravated, and yells at Sam, the receptionist, his other co-worker. Mistakes have been made and it's everyone's fault, no matter whose fault it is. 

Sometimes Sam shows up at work and his boss is quiet and non-communicative. These are often the worst times for Sam because he can't find out what he's supposed to be doing at any moment, and if Sam, who is supposed to be empowered to make decisions, makes the wrong one, the boss is going to yell at him and make Sam's life problematic for the next few days. 

Sam knows he needs to find something different to do. But the economy is still not in a rebound mode, and Sam is getting close to sixty years old anyway. He fears that nobody is going to be willing to hire someone as old as he who isn't quite as up to date on his skills as some younger people may be. As aggravating as the job is at times, it is still the safe place for Sam to be. So rather than rocking the boat and taking a chance on stepping out and losing his footing, Sam chooses to stay in place.  

But what Sam really needs is to have the faith that he will be taken care of if he's just willing to step out of that place that he's in, for a moment. Sam needs to have the trust that God will give him the power to make that miracle happen, for Sam to live into not a mediocre career, even at this stage in life, but his vocation, what God is calling him to be doing.  

So should Sam live in the safety of remaining in the same place knowing that God will provide for him nevertheless, or pray for the courage to make the change that he knows deep inside will give him happiness? 

And where can Sam find the strength that he needs to follow the decision that he makes? 

Exposition of the gospel

So our lectionary cycle takes us on a big leap.  Last week we were in chapter 6 of Matthew and all of the sudden we're up in chapter 14. Should we be worried that we missed considerable amount of material? And yet, we are going to find really soon that these are leading up to something. This year, year 1 in the narrative lectionary cycle, we are reading Matthew, the longest of the gospels, and yet because of where each year's Easter celebration falling on a different date because of when the full moon is, the Epiphany season is going to be far shorter this year than normal, and in just 10 days we will be move right into Lent and a going from a period where Jesus is revealing himself to the journey to the cross and resurrection.  

But the miracle stories we are recounting are well known. Unlike many of Jesus' life and times, we find the feeding of 5,000 and Jesus walking on water in not just Matthew but all four of the Gospels.  In Matthew, as in Mark and Luke, this follows the death of John the Baptist.  In Matthew's account Jesus hears about the death of his cousin and withdraws to a place of solitude.  The crowds follow him, however, and he has compassion on them, healing their sick and lame.  

The disciples advise that people are getting hungry, and suggest Jesus send them away in order that they may find food for themselves. Jesus has a different idea and tells the discoples to feed the crowds themselves, and when the disciples scoff at the limited amount of food they have, Jesus directs them to bring the loaves and fish to him.  He blesses and distributes it, and low and behold, there is still ample scrap left over, one would think to feed the poor. 

Then Jesus finally manages to get his solitude, having sent the disciples ahead on the sea of Galilee. They get caught in a terrible storm, however, during which time they see a figure on the water that could have only been, to them, a ghost. Lo, it is their teacher, showing a true sign, and bidding them not to be afraid. Peter...is he seriously questioning Jesus after hearing his voice and seeing this miracle...seems to doubt the proof in his own sight...asks Jesus to command him to come out to him, to which Jesus says, simply... Come.  And then Peter is out of the boat.

One has to wonder what may have been going through Peter's head in that moment. I wonder if I were Peter, whether. it would have been like I was caught in a dream. Perhaps I had fallen as the boat had been tossed around and had been knocked out, and this was some symptom of it, my subconscious aware of the storm raging around me and yet there I am, following the command of my lord and master, my feet upon the raging water. 

And then some part of me realized that I was actually feeling the rain on my body, and that my internal gravity sensors indicated that the sea was below me and the sky above me, that I was upright, not lying on the floor of the boat.  And... 

I dont' know if anyone has ever had a dream of flying where you found yourself soaring through the air and suddenly realized what was going on wasn't natural and suddenly started plummeting back to earth.  I kind of wonder if this is what Peter might have been feeling at that moment.  Like he wasn't dreaming and what was happening wasn't natural and the sea below him should be claiming him. It would have been that moment that faith gave in to fear and the waters began to claim him. 

But Peter took that first step to begin with.  If he thought his eyes were deceiving him, that he was hallucinating, he still had the faith enough to open his mouth and ask God for the strength and guidance to carry him out of the boat and to him.  

And when he began to fail, when his faith began to flag and he started sinking, he had the good sense to beg for Jesus to save his life and claim his company.  

And so, with that in mind, what is Jesus saying when he tells Peter, "you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Is he berating Peter's lack of faith, telling him that he needs to pick it back up?  I somehow think the rebuke is mild and filled with love and no small amount of joy. Peter, the one who has the most faith of all, the one who has the courage to step out of the boat has a moment's lapse. Jesus is smiling at him in his momentary lapse. Playing. The situation is ridiculous. He is in a seemingly impossible situation. Jesus understands Peter's feelings. He doubted because Jesus has not yet fully revealed himself. 

But now, Jesus and Peter return to the boat, and the he calms the storm.  There is no other option but to see that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  If he has not yet revealed himself to the world, he has certainly revealed himself to these men.  

As most of us know where this leads, the faith of humans is not always perfect. Jesus is betrayed by one of these same men, and the rest of the disciples desert him and flee after he is arrested . Even Peter the one of the greatest faith, who follows Jesus even to to the courtyard of the high priest, lets his fear once again overcome him and denies that he knows Jesus, even as people claim they recognize him. 

But here on this boat, these men have been given an incredible gift, one that cannot be bought except by the grace of our Lord. They have been given the great faith to do things in Christ's name.  

How the gospel impels us out to reach our faith. 

So what are those powerful things in your life that you dream about doing, that you believe impossible or dangerous, but that you find that there's something deep inside of you moving you in that direction. I wonder if we all can even identify that there are steps to be taken, of the kind that Peter took. Sometimes it just feels right to be sitting in the relative safety of the boat, keeping us from drowning in the chaotic storm. But for many of us, we might be hiding from a new horizon, not a boat tossing and turning amid a storm, but a calmness.

I do not know what those steps entail for each individual person. I know that when I had faith, when doors appeared to open for me, that a change awaited me on the other side of them,  the only way I could get there was to trust in my God to help me get there. That to find the calm at the end of the storm, I had to brave walking on the raging waters.  

And I know that my friend Sam can find the trust that God is calling him to do, to find that vocation that God has set out for him, that will give him true and lasting happiness, and that God will provide for him in order to make that happen. 

We know that in his death and resurrection Christ's victory over the power of death gives us the grace we need to live into that vocation that he has for us.  That we can have faith and trust in him. And even as he rebukes us, laughing, when we find ourselves overcome with his great mercy, "Oh ye of little faith, why did you have doubt" Christ is also pulling us into the next phase of our journey. 

And this, my sisters and brothers, is the good news of God the Father who gives us grace to do his will, God the Christ who lifts us when we fall and carries us forward to do our vocation, and God the Spirit who with authority, gives us the strength to fulfill God's mission and live into the promised salvation of the world to come.  

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on February 15, 2015 2:19 PM.

On Whose Authority? - Sermon for Epiphany + 4 was the previous entry in this blog.

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