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the sermon for

the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

13 August 2017

Matthew 14:22-33
Faith isn't walking on the water;
it's taking Jesus at his word!

08132017Last week, we read the first act of the drama. The baptizer had just been executed and Jesus withdrew to a deserted place by himself. At least, that was the plan. However, the crowd found out where he was going and got there before him. But Jesus had compassion on them, cured their sick, and even fed them with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fish.

And then, this morning, we heard act two. While Jesus was dismissing the crowd – the same crowd from act one – the disciples climbed into a boat and headed off across the lake. Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, the winds over the lake increase, and waves begin to batter the boat. Early in the morning, as day was dawning, there is Jesus, coming toward them, walking on the water! The disciples are terrified! "It's a ghost," they say! Which means they were really terrified! Considering the Jews at the time didn't believe in ghosts! Anyway, Jesus says, "Take heart! It's me! Don't be afraid!"

Now comes one of the best known scenes of the entire bible. One that's told by Matthew and by Matthew alone! I'll read it word-for-word so you don't miss anything. Listen carefully...

Jesus spoke said to the disciples, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come."

Let me read that, again. Here's Jesus coming toward them, walking on the water. They're terrified... They think he's a ghost... Jesus says, Don't be afraid...

And Peter answers him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." And Jesus says, "Come!"

Did you notice what happens, here? Whose idea is it for Peter to get out of the boat? Whose idea is it for him to walk on the water to Jesus? It's not Jesus'! It's Peter's! It was the sign PETER was looking for! The proof PETER wanted! Jesus says, "It's me!" Of course, in better English! And Peter says, If it IS you... If it really IS you... command me to get out of the boat! Tell me to walk on the water! The idea is all Peter's! And when Jesus told him to come, he was simply doing what Peter asked him to do... if it was really him!

My sense is that Jesus never wanted Peter to get out of the boat, to begin with! Jesus knew what would happen! He'd sink like a rock! After all, that's what Peter's name means, anyway! Peter! Rock! But Peter got out of the boat. Took a few steps toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink. "Lord, save me!" Jesus reaches out and catches hold of the drowning disciple. I imagine he rolled his eyes with the next words. "You of little faith! Why did you doubt?" Why did you doubt?

For years, I'd read those words and think they had to do with Peter walking – or not – on the sea. He doubted he could! Just like all those train that tried to make it over the mountain but couldn't. Only if you think you can, you think you can, you think you can, are you able to do it! Believe in yourself! Believe in Jesus! Believe in God! And anything, everything's, possible! But doubt... doubt and you can do nothing!

But that's not what it's about! Not here, in this story. Jesus comes toward them, walking on the sea. They get scared. And Jesus says, "It's me!" That's what Peter doesn't believe! That's what Peter doubts! That it's really, truly Jesus! Like Jesus said! If it's really you, Peter says, prove it! If it's really you, show me! Command me to get out of the boat and walk to you on the water! So Jesus says, Come! He does – just like Peter asks! And of course, Peter sinks! Just like Jesus knew he would! After all, that's why there are boats, in the first place! Peter was never meant to get out of the boat. And when Peter cries out, Save me, what does Jesus do? He puts him right back into the boat where he will be safe!

It's kind of like the joke. It rains and it rains and it rains. And the valley is slowly starting to flood. Everyone is being evacuated... except one man. When the sheriff offers him a ride in a car, the man refuses. He'll wait for god to save him. The water gets deeper and a neighbor offers him a ride in his boat. Again, the man refuses. God will save him. Finally, he's on the rooftop and a helicopter flies over and offers to take him to safety. Well, he refuses a third time and shortly thereafter, he drowns. As the joke goes, when he gets to heaven, he asks god why god didn't save him. God says, "I tried! I send a car and a boat and a helicopter, but you refused to go!"

Lord, if it's you, command me to come to you on the water. Jesus says, Come. But when Jesus had gotten Peter back in the boat, and Peter had caught his breath, had regained his composure, I'm sure Jesus asked him, why in the world did you want to get out of a perfectly good boat?!? When I say it's me, believe it!

You see, believing in god, here in the church, isn't simply believing that god exists. Believing in god is more than believing there is a god. Like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy! Believing in god is taking god at god's word! When Jesus says, "Take heart! It is I!" We believe it is him! What Peter did was question, doubt, whether Jesus' word was good! Peter said, Prove it, and he faced the consequences! It's just like Jesus saying, I love you! I forgive you! And us answering, responding, Prove it! Show me!

That morning, out on the sea, among the wind and the waves, so far from shore, it had nothing to do with Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water! It had everything to do with believing the "ghost" was Jesus... or not! "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" It wasn't Jesus' idea for Peter to get out of the boat! It was PETER'S! Because he couldn't take Jesus at Jesus' word! But even then, when Peter was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, Christ reached out and caught hold of him! And put him back in the boat... where he belonged, all along! Trust me, Jesus says! Trust me and don't ask to do something like this, again!

Faith... Believing... for most of us is something spectacular! Something sensational! Feeding thousands with next-to-nothing! Moving mountains with a prayer! Water into wine! Walking on the water! It should all be possible... if only we believe! Faith the size of a mustard seed! But that's not faith! That isn't believing! Believing begins with god's word!

The grace of our Lord, the love of god, the communion of the spirit, is yours!
In the mercy of almighty god, Jesus Christ was given to die...
The body of Christ given... The blood of Christ shed...

Faith begins with god's word and faith ends not in climbing out of the boat, but by saying Amen! God says, "Take heart! Do not be afraid! It is I!" And believing responds, "Yes! Yes! This is most certainly true!"

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the sermon for

the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

06 August 2017

Matthew 14:13-21
The world is changed not through the grand and glorious,
but through the humble and the ordinary!

08062017The gospel according to Matthew is one of – if not THE – longest book in the New Testament. Twenty-eight chapters. One thousand seventy-one verses. Eighteen thousand three hundred forty-five words... give or take! And every third year – like this one – we'll read from the book forty times! Think about that, for a moment... Out of every one hundred fifty-six Sunday – not counting Ash Wednesdays, Maundy Thursdays, and Good Fridays – we'll read a passage from Matthew only forty-or-so times!

Of course, we'll read from three other books, but still... It's like having a jigsaw puzzle of Jesus on the altar. And all we do, each week, is reach in and pull out a piece. And we spend the morning looking at that one piece. Holding it up. Looking at it. Examining it. Thinking about it. And then, when we're all through, we drop it back into the box until we do the same thing, the next Sunday, all over again! We spend our time becoming experts on forty pieces of the puzzle and never look at the picture on the lid, let alone try to put it all together!

For instance, this morning... this morning, it's the feeding of the five thousand. A pretty well-known story. Five thousand men – not counting women and children – follow Jesus to a deserted place. Actually, they go ahead and meet Jesus there! He has compassion on them. He cures their sick. And at the end of the day, he feeds them with just five loaves of bread and two fish. We'll talk about it for a few minutes. But after today, we'll just move on to something else. And we'll never give this handful of verses another thought until we read it, again, three years from now. You do it. I do it. By the time I'm through with lunch, today, I'll already have moved on. Thinking about what I'm going to say, next week. And I won't, even, remember what I'm saying, right now!

Seriously! Answer me this! What did I say, last week? What was last Sunday's sermon about? Even simpler, what was the gospel lesson? Can you remember? Now, don't worry! I had to look up both! The sermon was on the Second Commandment! Oh, yeah! And the gospel reading wasn't from Matthew. It was from the Small Catechism! But if we would have read it, the gospel reading would have been the parable of the mustard seed! The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast...

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

The parable of the yeast is the same: The significance of the insignificant! The importance of the inconsequential!

I realized, this week, the feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves of bread and the two fish isn't, simply, a miracle meant to "wow" the multitudes! It's the mustard seed put into practice! It's what the yeast does in the kingdom of heaven! The smallest becoming a tree! The least leavening the whole! That's the sensation, the spectacle, of today's piece of the puzzle!

We live in a world where big is good! Where big is good and bigger is better! Especially when it comes to god-things! All powerful! All mighty! God can do everything, anything, god wants! It's all on a cosmic, an enormous level! Creating! Coming again! And then, this morning, we have five loaves and two fish. Seven things that are hardly worth mentioning. And that's not even mentioning the meager wait-staff of a dozen-or-so disciples! And yet, they achieve the unthinkable! They accomplish the impossible! "All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full." It's the yeast, the mustard seed, all over, again! Small, smaller, smallest! Little, less, least! That is what – this is what – the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of god, is like!

For Jesus, the world, already, had one temple! And that one temple had no redeeming value! It was one of the wonders of the world! People came from all over! To marvel! To stand in awe! And here is Jesus, in a deserted place, about as far from Mt. Zion as a person could get! Five loaves of bread! Two fish! A few thousand lost souls! And Jesus says, "THIS! THIS is the kingdom of heaven! Here! Now! You can see god reign! And truth be told, no one, probably, noticed. No one gave it a first – let alone, a second – thought! Bigger, better! More, most! That's what's important to the church, today! After all, it's the big churches – the MEGA- churches – everyone's talking about, these days! The bright, flashy ones are what's catching everyone's attention! The churches with power and prestige! We know who they are! The churches where everyone who is anyone belong! Crowds! Programs! Money! They're the ones changing the world!

And yet, here, this morning, Jesus says, "The kingdom is like a mustard seed! The kingdom is like yeast! The kingdom is like five loaves of bread and two fish!" Church, just, isn't about everything it's become! Valet parking! Coffee shops, ATMs, in the lobby! Church is five loaves of bread and two fish! Mission trips to foreign lands! Praise bands! Rock concerts! Clean floors! Manicured grounds! Church is grace and mercy and forgiveness and love! It's nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fish!

Consider your own call, [Paul writes to the church in Corinth. "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast [- so that no one might brag -] in the presence of God.

God chose the mustard seed! And god chose the yeast! And god chose five loaves and two fish! And, my friends, god chooses you! God chooses you! And you now, that's enough! In fact, that is more than enough! Twelve baskets full, to be exact!

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