Sermon By Tim Hess

August 13, 2017 Sermon

“Putting Yourself Out” {Notes to accompany Matthew 14:22-33}

This week, we find Jesus in need of some alone time for spiritual renewal. He has not yet managed to take a break to deal with his own need to grieve the loss of his friend and cousin John the Baptist. Matthew tells us that Jesus dismissed the crowds, sent the disciples on ahead in a boat, and went up on a mountain to spend some time alone in prayer and reflection.

The disciples themselves had had a long, hard day.  They had worked with Jesus as he healed the sick, and taught.  They had been a part of the feeding of over 5,000 people.  They were tired, and probably longed to relax and get a good night’s sleep.

I should point out at this point, that a boat or ship was one of the earliest symbols for the church, and the waters represent the chaos of the world, sometimes calm and sometimes turbulent.

Continuing the story, Douglas Wingeier, writing in “Keeping Holy Time”, offers,

The disciples were in the midst of a dark and scary chaos. It did not look good—such a great storm and such a fragile boat.  Their whole world seemed to be collapsing around them and their lives appeared to be in danger.  Have you ever had one of those days?

Life seems to get crazy sometimes. We love the smooth times, don’t we, when all is well.  But, O Lord, we have serious problems with wind and waves, like the disciples did in the passage from Matthew. We want God to “fill our sails with a lovely breeze that guides our sturdy boats across the glassy sea”; but you know that life isn’t just glassy seas and gentle breezes, and sturdy boats {leaks have to be repaired in roofs!}. Sometimes things get rough. We need help to keep our trust in the Lord during all these rough times.  He calls to us to reach out, to take our focus off our own panic and place our trust in him.

God asks us to reach out to others, who are not in our boat, with the same kind of love and compassion that he has given to us. Today many of us come to him with burdens and cares on our minds. Our “seas” are not calm, but he does offer us a lifeline.   He is with us, guiding our lives.  If we ask him, he will give us courage and hope, strengthening us to truly be his disciples.

If we want to cement our relationship with God, have an impact on others, and perhaps leave a legacy to God’s glory, then we, like Peter, need to get out of the boat more frequently.  To do this, we must face our doubts and fears.  Jesus didn’t come to make us comfortable, he came to make us brave!

A Case in point…. Many young people in our community have written the church off as irrelevant, because the church is not engaging the world in a way that they find useful.  Pastor Dawn Chesser adds “many young adults simply cannot envision a future that in any way resembles the lifestyles that previous generations have enjoyed. They imagine a life defined by struggling to find work, and having difficulty making ends meet economically.  They worry about the health of the planet and climate change.  They imagine the near destruction of the planet as previous generations have known it, and they don’t understand why the church seems to be forever squabbling over matters they see as largely unimportant, in comparison.”

Are we capable of bridging this gap?  Of serving others?  Perhaps too many of us are satisfied to “just be safe in our boat”.  We need more who will take Jesus and his promise and carry it out of the boat to the rest of the world…to the rest of our community.  Or do we all find comfort only in our own pleasures and blessings more than we love God?  {pause}   All Christians go through this struggle in some way.  {pause}  Do we place our own agenda above God’s agenda?  As Paul describes his thoughts on this topic in Romans, Chapter 7, verse 19, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Author Alan Roxburgh, in his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood, thinks that we have a long way to go in figuring out how to best be in ministry in our present turbulent world.  He is not surprised that so many congregations are afraid of their futures!  We are like those disciples on the boat…we are scared that our boat may be sinking, but at the same time we have lost our faith in knowing how to reach out, and then to rely on taking the Lord’s hand should we begin to falter.

We have all dreamt at one time or another of doing something great for God. These dreams might involve some form of personal sacrifice or perhaps a great leap of faith. One example… a few years ago when I was living in Alaska, the word spread that a retiring pastoral couple gave up all their remaining earthly possessions (including a home and property) and began working as full-time volunteers at a United Methodist Church Retreat Center.  Wow…with all the “financial guides to personal retirement” being thrust at us… what personal strength and faith must it have taken for them to have made this leap of faith!

A true measure of a person’s faith, is not just the first step of their faith journey, but the subsequent steps taken thereafter. We deal with this every time we get excited about something, starting many things only to stop halfway through because it was much more difficult or took longer than anticipated. The same thing happens when we believe Jesus would have us do something. We start doing it and it doesn’t turn out like we thought it would, “we begin to sink”, losing faith in and sight of Jesus. What we must realize is that if Jesus has called us to make a first step, then he will provide a path for each step toward him after that.  But we must have the courage and faith to follow him.

Where is Jesus calling you to walk in faith this year?  Will you answer his call to get out of the boat?