Sinking into Christ's Love. August 9

 

Sinking into Christ’s Love

Romans 10:5-15; Psalm 85; Matthew 14:22-33

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler; August 9, 2020

Catskill and Palenville United Methodist Churches, and online

 

Jesus gets tired, worn out, and he goes away by himself for a while, to pray, to reconnect with God in the midst of the great outdoors.  We know that feeling, and in other years, we have followed Jesus’ wisdom, getting outside to rest in the beauty of open skies and beautiful rocks, perhaps among trees and mountains, or in meadows or stark deserts.  This year, staying home is the wisdom of the season, although an afternoon drive up to Hunter Mountain is probably a quick safe respite from your own four walls of home.  However you manage it, stepping away from work or routine responsibilities to refresh your soul is wise.  Maybe you can simply spend an afternoon in your backyard with a glass of lemonade and a good book.  Jesus needed time away; we do, too.

 

When Jesus comes back to find his friends, they have taken off across the lake, and the wind has picked up. The disciples are still far from shore, and their boat is being tossed in the wind.  Jesus goes to them, where they are, in the middle of the lake.  The storm and wind may have worried the disciples; Jesus walking on the water in the storm terrified them.  They don’t know what or who they are seeing.  And Jesus speaks the words he so often speaks, ‘Do not be afraid.’  They are still afraid.  It is I, he says, Jesus, here to be with you.  Peter realizes they need to respond, to get over the fear and to acknowledge Jesus, as he is, on the water.  So he steps up to the challenge – If it is you, Lord, command me to come to you.  It’s an interesting way to phrase such a challenge.  He doesn’t ask, can I come.  He recognizes that Jesus’ word makes things happen, so he asks Jesus to command him to come, figuring, I suppose, that that will enable him to do this impossible thing, to walk on the surface of the sea.  He seems to be right.  When he hears Jesus’ command/invitation, Peter steps out of the boat and does not immediately sink.  Then he takes his eyes and his mind off of Jesus and realizes he’s still in the storm, and he starts to sink. 

 

My daughter Charis was walking along a small island of rock in the ocean yesterday, just as the tide was going out.  It looked like she was walking on the top of the water.  She was, in fact, on solid rock, a rock that has been there for centuries.  But even though I have never actually walked on water, even for the step or two that Peter took, I know exactly what happened at that point.  I have been in the midst of an adventure or a challenge and have been distracted – by the danger of it all, or by the excitement of what might happen if I succeed, or simply by a memory of a pleasant doughnut consumed a few hours earlier, and I’ve lost focus and the moment is gone.  Peter takes his focus off of Jesus and thinks about the storm around him instead, and at that moment he starts to sink.

 

Oh, Peter.  We can identify with you, but really?  Jesus is right there in front of you and you can’t trust him?  We can almost hear Philip and Bartholomew talking in the boat as Peter sinks, ‘That’s it. Jesus is sending him packing as soon as we get to shore.’  But Jesus doesn’t send Peter packing.  He simply reaches out his hand to him, pulls him up sputtering from the water, and moves on.  The both of them get into the boat, the awe-filled disciples articulate the truth they’ve suspected for a while, Truly you are the Son of God, and the story goes on. 

 

This isn’t an unusual happening in the gospels.  The disciples mess up frequently.  And Jesus just keeps hanging out with them, forgiving them, working with them, entrusting them with responsibility that they can’t quite handle, and loving them.  As frustrated as I am with them, I am touched by Jesus’ loyalty and love for them.  Peter threw away the experience of a lifetime, to walk on water by Jesus’ side.  Yes, it’s hard to ignore distractions, but even when Jesus himself is right there? 

 

Maya Angelou spoke with Oprah some years ago, and her wisdom is frequently quoted, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”   

Jesus pays no attention to such wisdom.  Jesus believes Peter, and the rest of the disciples, are more than their worst actions.  Peter can’t focus on Jesus here on the Sea of Galilee; later, he can’t find the courage to own his friendship with Jesus and denies him three times as Jesus is in his final hours.  Jesus is right, however.  Peter grows and becomes a trusted and powerful leader for the early church.  Jesus’ love is a constant that brings Simon Peter into the best Simon Peter he can be.  Jesus offers the same patience and forgiveness and mercy to us.  And we revel in it, and grow into it, letting Christ’s love transform and improve our lives and hearts. 

 

Stepping back, the same questions confront us as confronted Jesus.  What do we do when we, or when others whom we count on, mess up?  What do we do when once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are lost because of the error of a colleague or a friend?   How do we as a society deal with people who have hurt others?  Jesus calls us to believe that people can change, and that love can guide that change.  We are all better than our worst behavior.  We offer mercy and forgiveness and second and third and fifth chances to people we love, to family members and old friends.  Jesus offers it to all of us.  We can’t ignore such radical forgiveness if we are to identify ourselves as Christ’s disciples, if we are to follow in the steps of Jesus.  Mercy is our way.  We regularly thank God for mercy and forgiveness offered to us in Jesus Christ.  The challenge before us is offering that same mercy to others when they mess up.  And they will mess up.  And we will mess up.  Mercy and love are the way and the method that Jesus employs with his disciples – Peter and James and John and crew, and us, disciples of this time and place.  Mercy and love are our method.  Love changes people.  Love is the way of Jesus, our teacher, our model, and our Lord.  May love and mercy be our way, today and forever.

 

Romans 10:5-15

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

 

Psalm 85

1Lord, you were favorable to your land;

  you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

2You forgave the iniquity of your people;

  you pardoned all their sin.

3You withdrew all your wrath;

  you turned from your hot anger.

4Restore us again, O God of our salvation,

  and put away your indignation toward us.

5Will you be angry with us forever?

  Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

6Will you not revive us again,

  that your people may rejoice in you?

7Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,

  and grant us your salvation.

8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,     

  for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful,

  to those who turn to him in their hearts.

9Surely his salvation is at hand

  for those who fear him,

  that his glory may dwell in our land.

10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;

righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, 

and righteousness will look down from the sky.

12The Lord will give what is good,

  and our land will yield its increase.

13Righteousness will go before him,

  and will make a path for his steps.

 

Matthew 14:22-33

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.”

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