Steps of Faith

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Matthew 14:22-33; Romans 10:5-15 – August 9, 2020

INTROUCTION TO GENESIS 37:1-4;12-28

Jacob, now also known as Israel finally has a son by his beloved Rachel.  That son is named Joseph.  Sibling rivalry being what it is evolves into attempted fratricide only to be curtailed by an opportunity to make a financial profit.  Hear the story of the favorite son being sold into slavery to children of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son by his Egyptian wife.

INTRODUCTION TO GOSPEL LESSON

After the crowds were filled, and leftovers collected and counted Jesus sent his disciples away and then he sent the crowds away and he went to do that he came to that region to do in the first place–to go up on the mountain to pray.  Hear the word of God from Matthew 14:22-33

Let us pray. Lord, thank you for this your word.  Thank you for the encouragement it holds for us as we hear you calling us to step out on faith.  As we meditate on this portion of your word, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.   Amen.

This story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is a familiar story. Mark Twain refers to it in one of his books. He recalls a visit to the Holy Land and a stay in Capernaum. It was a moonlit night, so he decided to take his wife on a romantic boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Twain asked a man in a rowboat how much he would charge to take them out on the water. The man saw Twain’s white suit, white shoes and white hat and supposed he was a rich Texan. So, he said the cost would be twenty-five dollars. Twain walked away as he said, “Now I know why Jesus walked.” (1)

I don’t know what it would have felt like to have been in a small fishing boat in a storm in the dark of 5 in the morning, much less to look through the mist and the pounding waves and see a man walking ON them towards me.  I don’t’ know whether I would have shrieked or hollered “OMG!” (in which case it would have

at least been accurate) The disciples cried out “It’s a Ghost!” But Jesus said, “Fear Not!  It’s me.”

Walking on water—Jesus, and Peter–for a few feet– are the only two to have ever done it.  For them, walking on water was a reality, but for us it has become a metaphor, a metaphor for faith–for stepping out into the unknown, for believing in what you can’t see, for believing you can do what has never been done…yet.

I once saw a billboard for a furniture store that said, “Seeing is Believing.”  That may be true for furniture, but it is not for faith.  In the realm of faith “Not seeing is Believing.”  Hebrews 11:1 says, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. “2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by FAITH not by sight.”  Seeing is verifying.  Not seeing is believing.  (Channel __has a series called Verify.  Apparently, there is so much false information around that a NEWS program must have a segment called Verify)

The disciple Thomas had missed the meeting on the day that Jesus’ rose from the dead.  For a week, his fellow disciples tried to convince him that Jesus really had raised from the dead. But Thomas was like that Furniture Billboard.  He said, “Seeing is believing. Unless I see I will not believe.” 

A week later, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room again and this time Thomas was there.  Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “My Lord and my God.!”  To him Jesus said, “You believe because you see? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet believe.  Seeing is verifying.  Not seeing is believing.

In the 11th Chapter of Hebrews the writer lists people of faith who believed in what they could not see.  Verse 1 shares the writer’s definition of faith as “the assurance of things hoped the conviction of things not seen.”  Abraham had faith that he would be the father of many nations even though he only lived to see Ishmael and Isaac born. Isaac had faith that even though he was tricked by Jacob to give his blessing to the second born son, once given it could not be taken away.  Jacob had faith that God’s promise to him would come true even though he thought Joseph to be dead.  Joseph had faith even when taken from the pit to the palace to the prison that God had a role for him to play.  Moses had faith that with God with him that the children of Israel could be free and that there was a Promised Land even though he did not live to see it. 

I was not alive to see Jesus’ feeding 5,000 with one kid’s happy meal. I was not alive to see Jesus walking on water or see him resurrected.  I must believe the testimony of those who did and reported it.  I must accept it by faith. 

Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, and he believed he could do it too.  He took off and for a while, step by step, he did it!  But when is started seeing the waves around him he could not believe what was happening and he started to sink.  When he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves around him and listened to the winds swirling around him instead of Jesus’ voice the gospel says he “began to sink.”  

When I enter the pool at the pool down the street and go to the deep end I never begin to sink. I sink.  It is only as I paddle and stroke and kick that I begin to float, I begin to swim.  Apparently Peter sank slowly, slowly enough to call out to Jesus for him and slowly enough for Jesus to reach out and grab him without him sinking all the way, forcing Jesus to LITERALLY become a “Fisher of Men.” (as he fished Peter out of the drink.)

Friends, I do not believe that I will ever walk on water. At times, the best I have been able to do is to walk on land with a cane. ..(this week I slipped in a pool of water at Kroger in front of the Courtesy Booth and fell on my back and the handrail of the grocery cart hit both of my shins and gave me calves on the front of my legs—and because I’m not going to sue them I got a Courtesy call from Kroger and they promised a $150 gift card for my anguish)   I can’t even walk on puddles, but I know I can walk on faith, walk by faith, step out on faith and be led by Jesus, step by step.

I do not know what stepping out of the boat, stepping out on faith might be for you. Maybe it is sending your baby off to college for the first time.  Maybe it is sending your child to school during a pandemic.  Maybe it is going back to school for that degree you never finished or another degree you really need.  Maybe it is asking for that promotion or a raise.  Maybe it is putting yourself out there to find a job at all in this time of unemployment. 

Faith calls for more than intellectual agreement with a formula. James 2:17 says, “Faith without works is dead.”  James 2:19 says that the demons have faith.  They believe in God and shudder!

Genuine faith is a response that shows itself in what we do.  Now, that is not to say that dramatic actions such as Peter’s are the only acceptable evidence of faith. For the vast majority of us, it is in the ordinary tasks of our daily routine that faith will make itself evident.  It takes faith to go to the doctor. It also takes faith to do what the doctor says.  It really takes faith to go to the pharmacy and believe that they pharmacist can read the doctor’s handwriting!

In our ordinary everyday lives, we need to be conscious of the call to act and speak as people who trust in God rather than in our own ingenuity. It is not by our ingenuity that we are saved. In Ephesians 2:8, Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Events in the world and in our private lives are threatening our faith and causing many to wonder where God is.  Biblical literacy is at an all-time low because people do not seem to have time to study the Bible, either in their homes or with other folks. Right now the seas outside our little boat are churning with a struggling educational system, a culture saturated with guns, drug addictions and glorified images of violence, and a glorified violence in wars of all kinds and the battle of the rattling sabers.  If you do not think it is stormy out there on the sea of life you probably do not get out much!

I will bet every one of us this morning can think of some remarkable folks who have like Peter, stepped out in faith. We all have watched simple, straight-forward, hard-working men and women, little toddlers and tormented teens, the shut-in elders and the shut-out homeless, perform acts in their lives that defy the limitations of the world in which they live.  There is the chemotherapy patient who gets out of bed, puts on clean clothes, picks up the house, before going for treatment . . . taking steps of faith.

There’s the single parent, overworked, overwhelmed, over-extended in time, money, and energy, but makes it to soccer games and school plays and checks to see that homework is done . . .taking steps of faith.

There’s the octogenarian who lives alone, whose family has forgotten him, who counts the postal carrier and the water-meter reader as “company,” but still is up and dressed by 8am and sits at the table for all his meals . . . taking steps of faith.

There are times in our lives when we need a sign from God. There are times when we need to get out of the boat and step out in faith.  There are times when we do and even make it for a few steps….and there are times when we take our eyes off Jesus and “start to sink.”

This story teaches us that, even in the midst of our need for a sign, even in the midst of our doubts, it is okay to cry out, “Lord, save me!” because Jesus will  reach out to us, and with a strong grip, pull us out of the drink, and away from the storm, into the calmness of his presence.

Did you notice in the gospel lesson that the storm continued until Jesus and Peter got back into the boat?  For us, sometimes the storm may continue, sometimes for what might seem like a long time. But through the spray and the splash of the waves, Jesus will be there, calling out to us, “Take heart, it is me the Lord; do not be afraid.”

There is no way I can know where you are today – whether you’re in a place of complacency and just trying to stay afloat–whether you’re sinking and need the hand of God to lift you up.  Maybe you are like Peter and God is calling you to take a risk.  Maybe you are like the other 11 and still too scared to even try.  Wherever you are, just as Jesus came to the disciples, Jesus will come to you.  He will give you faith and the courage to endure. 

I do not know what storms you may be enduring at this very moment, or what storms of life will come your way this week or years from now.  But I know this: we all have one thing in common—a Savior who comes to us as he came to Peter in the boat, and us in this room with the words, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

A dear friend of mine who has gone to be with the Lord shared a meme with me one time.   It said, “Faith does not mean trusting God to stop the storm. It is trusting him to strengthen us as we walk through the storm”

Scott Trippane wrote a song that says, “Sometimes he calms the storm.  Other times he calms his child. 

The point is not that everyone else stayed in the boat and that Peter walked on the water, got scared and started to sink.  The point of this story is that Jesus came.  Jesus came.  Jesus came for the one who had the courage to get out of the boat and for the eleven others who did not.   Jesus came to them in the midst of their storm and Jesus will come to you in the midst of your storm-whatever it is.  

Jesus still walks on and over whatever he has to help his friends in trouble.   He may have to walk over tradition.  He may have to walk across the aisle.  He may have to walk across cultural lines, across county lines, across lines in the sand.  But he will come to you when you are in trouble.  He will lift you out of the deep that you got yourself into because you dared to get out of the boat…and He will walk with you back TO the boat till the storm passes and still the storm even if you were too scared to risk taking steps of faith.   We may not walk on water, but we can walk on faith, walk by faith not by sight.–walk not by verifying but walk by believing what we can’t verify, believing to be true what our eye can’t spy taking … steps of faith.

Let us pray. Lord.  We are listening for your word of encouragement, for your assurance that you are with us and that we are not to fear.  Come to us.  Bid us to come to you.  Walk with us through this life until we step from it INTO the joys you have prepared for us.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, Lord.  We are not afraid

1 Christian Globe Networks, Inc. Stay in the Boat! By David E. Leniger

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