Archive for August, 2011

Winners and Losers.

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

 

Text: Matthew 16:24-26

Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to come with me he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Will a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life? Of course not!”

 When losers are winners

 

Over the past years we have certainly had a good dose of hero worship. The high profile and the status that goes with winning a medal at the Beijing Olympic Games highlights how important winning is not only for the individual medal winners but also for the whole country. We know how much the Brits have delighted in getting more medals at the games than the Aussies. Winning is everything. Whether talking about the Olympics, football, cricket, a game of Monopoly or cards. The aim is to win and those who do win can brag about their skill, their abilities and expertise. Winners get all the glory.

Even for the spectators winning is everything. When a team is not winning, or even close to winning, no matter how hard the players are trying, the spectators are disappointed in their performance. That becomes so obvious when spectators start to leave before the game is even finished because they believe their team is not going to win. But when the team is winning the spectators are right there with the winners. Winners receive all the glory.

I don’t think the disciples were into football or cricket but they know from life experience that being a winner is what really mattered. No-one wanted to be regarded as a loser. That’s why the Jews were in constant revolt against their Roman rulers and even if it meant losing one’s life it was well worth the effort to make their enemies the losers and themselves the winners.

Jesus and the disciples were in the Roman holiday town of Caesarea Philippi. There, with the cool breeze blowing in their faces off the sea, Jesus drops a bombshell. He tells them that, not long from now, he must go to Jerusalem, he must fall into the hands of his enemies, he will suffer, and there he will die.

The shock is almost greater than his disciples can bear. And Peter, in typical style, speaks up for the rest of the disciples and rebukes Jesus. “God forbid it, Lord! That must never happen to you!” (By the way, the word “rebuke” is a strong word. We hear of Jesus rebuking unclean spirits, demons, and casts them out with authority. He rebuked storms to stop and be still. And so this is by no means a soft, gentle telling off. “Rebuke” implies authority. So you have the scenario of Peter, the disciple, rebuking Jesus as if he had greater authority and insight into how Jesus’ future should unfold).

According to Peter, if Jesus was ever going to be a winner he was going about it the wrong way. It’s clear that the disciple didn’t realise that God’s idea of who is a winner and how one becomes a winner is quite different to that of the rest of the world. God’s way of winning over sin and death involved suffering. Those who think they are winners in Jerusalem will be exposed as those who have lost all idea that right throughout history God has shown himself to be a reconciling God and whose love for humanity never gives up. Jesus will be publicly humiliated in the worst form of torture known to humanity. There will be blood and then death.

Peter had just answered Jesus question, “Who do you say that I am?” with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. This kind of talk about evil being stronger than good, enemies being more powerful than the Son of the living God, meant that Jesus would end up being recorded in history as the biggest loser of all time.

I think we can understand where Peter is coming from. Heroes are winners. Winners are not defeated by their enemies. Winners do not die on crosses.

Jesus in turn rebukes Peter saying, “Get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God!” In fact more accurately, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” This says something about what Jesus thought of Peter’s ideas. Maybe Peter’s words reminded Jesus of his temptation by Satan in the wilderness when Satan tried to get Jesus to take the easier and more glorious path to being a hero. People would flock to him after seeing him float down from the heights of the Temple roof and, accompanied by an angel or two, land safely in the courtyard below.

The fact that Jesus speaks so strongly to Peter indicates that what he is about to say is very important. “If anyone wants to come with me he must forget himself, carry his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Will a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life? Of course not!”

Have you noticed what Jesus has done here? He has moved the focus of the conversation away from himself and what lay ahead of him to the disciple and what lay ahead of those who follow Jesus. The path of forgetting oneself is not only for Jesus, but also for those who follow him. You must forget yourself, and you must take up your cross and follow.

What Jesus is saying here is so radical and different to our usual way of thinking and acting. We are so used to ‘looking out for number one’ and the attitude that ‘my needs are more important than anyone else’s’ that Jesus’ words fly in the face of the self-seeking and self-importance that is so common in our world.

“Forget yourself” – that’s even radical for Christians because we know just how difficult this is. These are difficult words – “forget yourself, your needs, your ideas, your plans, your need to impress, your fears, your need to be highly regarded in the sight of others, your whatever, and be my disciple”.

Now we could do what we usually do with anything that is too hard – ignore it, or water it down, somehow make it a bit easier to swallow.

Or we could do just as it says, that is, to follow his example of letting go of being so “me” focussed, and put God and his kingdom first.

Nothing, no matter how sacred, is permitted to come between ourselves and God. We place ourselves at his disposal.

His plans are our plans,

his will is our will,

his ways are our ways.

In our lives we are committed to only one thing – focused on being Christ-like in our relationships with others, dedicated to being truly his disciples, committed to following God’s way and not those of the world, faithful to God’s will that love would be our guide in every circumstance. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is saying to his followers, ‘Becoming a disciple is a radical step and being a disciple demands your commitment to forget yourself as crazy as this might seem to everyone else’.

And Jesus goes on to give the formula for the ultimate loser. ‘Take up your cross’, not the cross of Jesus, but your own cross.

The words, “Take up your cross” can rightly be understood in the narrower fashion. This includes the sense of accepting the “cross” of poor health, grief, loneliness, job loss and so on in the same way that Jesus was able to endure the suffering and pain of the cross with the knowledge that he had a loving heavenly Father who could be counted on.

However, this phrase “take up your cross” seems to have the broader and even more positive meaning of sharing with Christ in the work of showing love and compassion. Jesus has placed the burden on all of our shoulders

to care as he cared,

forgive as he forgave,

heal as he healed,

comfort as he comforted,

encourage as he encouraged,

accept others as he accepted others,

follow God’s ways as he did,

suffer as he suffered,

and give sacrificially as Jesus gave sacrificially.

Each of us must take up our cross and follow him.

Note the way Jesus uses the word “must” when talking about his journey to Jerusalem. Just as the Son of Man must be rejected, must suffer and must die and rise again so must his disciples take up their cross and follow. This little word “must” indicates that it is God’s will that Jesus take up the cross of suffering and humiliation and likewise it is God’s will that we must take up our cross.

In November 1992 five nuns were killed in the country of Liberia on the west coast of Africa. The nuns had been missing for about a week near Monrovia. That area was controlled by the National Patriotic Front – rebels who were trying to seize control. “These nuns, who were all experienced missionaries in Liberia either in education or health-care ministries, had been brutally shot to death. Their bodies were apparently left where they had fallen – three at their compound in a suburb of Monrovia and two on the road several miles away.”

Is this what discipleship is all about?

Is this the cross Jesus is talking about – being so focussed and committed to God’s Kingdom that the consequences don’t matter?

Is he saying that it is possible that we will experience rejection and humiliation when following Jesus is more important that anything else?

Does this mean that success in God’s eyes is not what we earn,

what we have,

what position we have in the community or the church,

or what “pious” lives we have but that the cross of love, service, sharing with the needy, welcoming the stranger, blessing those who persecute you, never taking revenge and answering evil with good? (See today’s reading from Romans 12:9-21 for Paul’s description of a life focussed on discipleship Jesus’ way).

I don’t know how you feel, maybe it’s the same as I feel, but every time I read or preach on this text, I wonder whether I really deserve the title ‘disciple’, ‘member of God’s family’, ‘follower of Jesus’. Jesus’ description of discipleship is tough, demanding, radical. How can I ever match that kind of expectation?

The plain and simple answer is that none of us can. That’s not minimising Jesus’ call to forget oneself, take up our cross and follow him but it is acknowledging that our human nature will always get in the way of this kind of discipleship. I take heart from the disciple Peter who really messed up big time when his commitment to Jesus as a disciple was challenged in the courtyard of the High Priest. When Jesus was being led through the courtyard, he knew what Peter had done. His eyes were filled with nothing but love and compassion for the Peter’s wounded spirit.

That’s why Jesus said he must be rejected, must suffer and must die and rise again – to bring forgiveness and grace into the lives of his disciples who find themselves failing again and again. It is the cross that makes us losers to be winners. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus died so that we might have forgiveness, hope and courage as we go out and take up our cross and follow Jesus.

We may stumble in carrying the cross of discipleship, we may not carry out God’s plans for our community as we should, we may not be as committed and as focussed as we ought to be, nevertheless God is calling each of us to forget ourselves, forget our failures because Jesus died to give us forgiveness and new starts, take up our cross, follow him and serve in whatever way God has gifted us.

It is said winners are grinners, in Jesus, losers are the winners and so they are the grinners.

Amen

 

 

The main Man!

Friday, August 19th, 2011

 

Text: Matthew 16:13-17

 

Jesus went to the territory near the town of Caesarea Philippi, where he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” “Some say John the Baptist,” they answered. “Others say Elijah, while others say Jeremiah or some other prophet.” “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” “Good for you, Simon son of John!” answered Jesus. “For this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven.

Who is Jesus?


Without a doubt, the person who has been depicted in art the most down through the centuries is Jesus. We have seen pictures of Jesus in Bibles and Bible storybooks, all of them radically different in how they depict him. Rembrandt’s Jesus is very human, all light and shadow; El Greco’s Jesus is a striking, lean somewhat wild and demanding Jesus; Angelico portrays Jesus as sweet and angelic. There is Jesus the Good Shepherd, loving, smiling, caring and holding lambs or carrying a child in his arms. There is Jesus, the judge with a dark severe expression, sitting on a throne, staring as if he could see right through us.

Without a doubt, the person who has been written about the most is Jesus. Whole libraries are filled with books about Jesus and almost every book gives us a different picture of Jesus. To mention just a few.
H.S. Reimarus (early 1700s) contended that Jesus wasn’t divine but a Jewish revolutionary figure who died a disappointed failure. His disciples stole his body and made up a story about him being the redeemer. Paul spread the lie which was swallowed by a gullible world.
Ernest Renan (mid 1800s) presented a rather romantic picture of Jesus – a strange, sweet-spirited poet walking about Galilee teaching morality. He won the hearts of many people but fell foul of the temple authorities.
David Strauss (mid 1800s) said that the gospels were untrue and the miracle stories were just “myths”.
Albert Schweitzer (early 1900s) who portrayed Jesus as a prophet who was disappointed that God did not step in and end the world, work justice and set things right.

In both art and literature there are so many images of Jesus and so many ideas about what kind of person Jesus was. Who is right? The search for the historical Jesus, Jesus as he was known back then in Palestine, has only led to confusion and futility. What is important is who is Jesus today.

In our text today, Jesus casually asks the disciples “Who do people say I am?” The reply came, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah (because it was believed Elijah would return) while others say Jeremiah (the prophet of gloom and doom) or some other prophet.”
People who had witnessed Jesus work miracles,
listened carefully when he taught about the Kingdom of God,
heard him speak harshly to Canaanite woman
and witness what the kind of person he was,
were all guessing about this man from Nazareth really was.

Jesus wasn’t interested in what others thought of him. He got straight to the point, “What about you?” Jesus asked the disciples. “Who do you think I am?”

This question is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

A Christian rock-magazine reported an interview with Mike Portnoy, the drummer of a popular metal band. The interviewer asked, “Who do you think that Jesus Christ is?”

“Whoa, uh, this is a question for Kev,” laughs Mike. ” … He’s got a pretty strong outlook on that question. I tend to go with the general consensus that he is God or was God or whatever. I’m not a very religious person, but I do believe in God and I believe in Jesus Christ. To be honest, I’ve never been a very religious person, so that’s another question that I couldn’t answer from the bottom of my heart.” (Heaven’s Metal #42, page 24).

Mike Portnoy might be an exceptional drummer in a rock band but he expressed what most think about Jesus. Jesus is God or was God or whatever. That’s something I can’t answer from the bottom of my heart. That means, I think Jesus was a real person but he has no effect on my life whatsoever.

What makes it even more confusing for people is the growth of other religions within Australia – all claiming to have the truth. As a result we have people saying that all religions are true, all are heading in the same direction, all speaking about peace and harmony. Whether you are Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Moslem, Taoist, Mahikari, Jew or Christian, it doesn’t really matter. They all proclaim good living and love toward the members of your family and your friends.

A student went to a university chaplain and asked him to explain what were the differences between Christianity and Judaism. She was in love with a Jewish student and they were thinking about getting married. They talked about worship, rituals, festivals, customs, traditions, prayer and even God himself. Finally, she asked, “When it comes down to it, what is the one thing that makes Christians, Christian?”

The reply came, “The thing that makes us who we are is who Jesus is. Jesus Christ is Christianity. Other faiths have love; have beliefs about the good and the true. Only Christianity has Jesus.”

We believe that God came in the flesh, as a Jew from Nazareth.
We believe the way God saves is through Jesus.
We believe that the Jewish carpenter’s son, who was born, lived briefly, died violently in his thirties, and rose from the dead, is God who has brought us forgiveness and hope.
We believe that we have met God; we have met God as Jesus.
We, along with Peter, confess, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”

Christianity is more than knowing biblical facts, or the teachings of the church. It is more than memorising Bible verses and Luther’s Small Catechism. It is even more than doing good things for others.

It is about a relationship – a relationship between God and us. How many people have said to me that everything they had learnt at confirmation classes didn’t make a great deal of difference to their lives at the time of their confirmation. In fact, a lot of what they learnt, had gone right over their heads. It was some time later that they became aware of what Jesus was all about. Suddenly in some cases, and in others, more slowly, the penny dropped. It’s not that they were searching for more meaning in their lives and suddenly found Jesus. Rather they were minding their own business and from out of nowhere, God found them. The Holy Spirit finally got through to them and they could see in full technicolour detail that their faith is all about the relationship between God and them and how this relationship now changes everything – their attitudes and their relationship with their family and others.

A man tells how he was just biding his time in a church service, looking at his watch every now and then in order to keep himself awake during the sermon. He didn’t really know what the preacher was rattling on about. In the middle of his boredom, he heard just one sentence. That one sentence grabbed him and he began to see his faith in a totally different light. He claimed that God opened his ears to hear that one sentence and things were never the same again.

When Peter made his confession, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God” Jesus makes a point of telling him that this truth isn’t something that Peter had worked out for himself. Jesus said, “This truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven”.

It’s our sin-stained humanity that gets in the way and clouds our understanding of God. How can we have a relationship with God when we constantly hurt him, forget that he even exists, ignore his power and presence, deny any connection with him through what we say and do. In other words, we are downright awful and horrible to him. If we were like that to any of our human friends, they would soon exit any relationship with us. We need God’s help.

God planned from the days of Adam and Eve to send Jesus to make things right again between himself and us. God closed the gap between us; has made us members of his family at our baptism; and reaffirms his relationship with us every time we go to Holy Communion. Whether we speak of God as we know him in the Old Testament, or see him stretched on a Roman cross, his attitude toward his people is always the same. His commitment and love are the same, and he is determined to establish a relationship with people who are unwilling even to acknowledge him. The Bible tells story after story of God reaching to people in love. We read about his patience with the people of Israel in the wilderness and his grace toward the thief on the cross.

We love God, we believe, because God first loved us in Jesus. Christianity is not the adherence to a set of rules, nor is it a set of ideas, a philosophy you might say, that leads to peace, harmony, inner peace, and good karma. It is a way of life, a way of walking with Jesus, a relationship. Christians are often looked at with a degree of scepticism by those who don’t know when we say we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is present with us now, that he walks with us, and is closer to us than we are even to ourselves.

Mother Teresa was asked by a young man why she always talked about this Jesus stuff. He said he was going to work among the poor like her, do charity work, but without the Jesus baggage. Mother Teresa responded something like, “Go and work 20 years or a lifetime among the poorest of the poor. Then come back and tell me how you did it. I know that the only way I have been able to do it is because of Jesus.” Her faith, her understanding of Jesus, gave her the ability to be a doer, a doer not just for a week or a season or a year, but for a lifetime. She was able to do work that would have turned off the bravest hearts because of her relationship with Jesus.

As we stand around the deathbed of someone we love – Jesus is with us.
As we try to decide what direction to take and what is the right decision – Jesus is with us.
As we struggle with disappointment, guilt, and depression – Jesus is with us.
As we grieve over change in the church, or the lack of love in our family – Jesus is with us.

By his grace, we are able to say, “You are the Christ! You make all the difference in my life. Thanks!”

God’s Beggars

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Sermon:  13th Sunday after Pentecost.
Reading: Matthew 15:21-28

 

 

What would you think if I told you that on your headstone would be inscribed a four word epitaph? Well, you might respond, it would depend on who wrote this epitaph – an enemy or a loved one. It might also depend, you could say, on how well this person knew and understood you. Do they really know what they are talking about?

If, for instance, a newspaper critic wrote of a concert pianist the four words: “He was a failure,” you could always say: “That was just his opinion.” But if one of the world’s great musicians wrote, “He was a genius,” then you could have some confidence that this person knows what they were talking about, and you would take the remark more seriously.

There was a character in the Gospel whom Jesus once described with four immortal words: “Great is your faith.” She was a Canaanite woman who came from the country to the north of Palestine, a country hostile to the Jews. She was presumably married – she had at least one child – but that’s all we know about her.

We don’t know whether she was a good woman or a bad woman. We don’t know her name. All we know of her is that in this single encounter with Jesus he spoke to her these striking four words: “Great is your faith.”

Only four words, but four remarkable words. We can trust these words as true, because the expert on faith spoke them. Jesus searched for faith in people, as a gem collector searches for fine jewels. He didn’t find much. The Jewish religious people of the Temple had faith in themselves and their own goodness mostly, but that was about it.

He did not often even find faith in his disciples. On no occasion that we know of did he ever say of Peter, James and John: “Great is your faith.” More often the words he spoke to them were: “You of little faith.” On only one other occasion did Jesus praise a person for their faith. Interestingly, it wasn’t an Israelite or one of the twelve, but again (like this Canaanite woman) a foreigner in Jesus’ world, somebody from outside – Roman soldier stationed in Capernaum, who turned to Jesus for help.

“Great is your faith,” said Jesus of this woman. We need to pay attention to her, because surely if her faith was great we can learn something from her. She awakens in us a feeling of admiration, perhaps even envy, because she stands where most of us would like to stand.

Most of us would love to have her great faith – it would help us enormously in the problems of life. We could deal with our stresses and fears and trials with so much more peace and calmness. We could live life with confidence because we had faith in God’s provision and help. We could let go of our anxieties and step into each new day with a joyful kind of freedom because our trust was in God alone. Great Faith, or even just a bit more faith would be so helpful.

So what is her secret? What was the secret of her great faith? What was it she had that made Jesus say this about her?

The answer is … nothing. Nothing!

She had nothing and, in that place, a Canaanite woman coming before a Jewish Rabbi, culturally and religiously speaking she was nothing. She was a woman. She was unclean. She was not a Jew. She was, even to the disciples, a nobody, a noisy and irritating pest. She had no right to ask anything of Jesus. She had no basis for having her cry for help heard.

But, in the face of all that, the text tells us she came and knelt down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Lord help me.”

One of the famous drawings of this scene from the renaissance pictures shows the woman kneeling down before Jesus, with her desperate empty appealing hands lifted up into his face – Lord, help me.

That is what she had – empty hands – uplifted to Jesus in desperate empty, searching, crying, needy faith. Great faith.

She understood her situation perfectly. She knew she was a foreigner, a goy, a heathen and a nobody in the eyes of this group of Jewish religious males.

And amazingly, perhaps unexpectedly, Jesus draws even more attention to that. In fact, he does more than that – his words to this woman here in verse 26 seem really quite brutal. Jesus says to her: Now come on, I am the Messiah sent to Israel – you can’t expect that I am going to help you. And then he uses that image so well known as the Jewish put-down for heathen foreigner – the dog, an unclean animal. He says: What I have is meant for the children of Israel – I can’t take that and throw it to a dog like you.

Yes, I know, she says. I am a dog – but maybe even a dog like me can eat the crumbs that fall from your table.

She lowers herself, she kneels down in the dust, she demeans herself completely. Yes Jesus, she says, I am nothing but you have everything. Lord, help me.

That’s why Jesus says to her those words he never is able to say to those twelve disciples standing there with him that day: Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.

What was the secret of her great faith? Her deep awareness of her own utter emptiness. She knew she was not even worthy of Jesus’ attention, that she had no claim, nothing to bring or offer as the basis for her appeal. She knew she was “a dog”. And it was from this lowest of places that those empty hands were lifted up.

That’s great faith. It is not a matter of being a hero or some kind of super-believer. It is learning that you are in fact a beggar. It is a matter of being aware that you have nothing to bring before God and nothing to say to God, except maybe: “Lord, help me!”

That is our position and our situation before God too. We are in just the same place as this woman. We are sinners, foreigners, specks of nothing before God. He owes us nothing. I’m sorry if that offends you. I know it is not a very popular thing to say that today. But it is true. If we fool ourselves for one minute that we have something over God, some claim on His favour, then we are lost – our faith is then in ourselves and not in God at all.

Luther’s famous last words on this earth were “We are beggars. That is the truth.”

Beggars – God’s beggars – kneeling before a loving and mighty Lord with our empty hands open, ready to be filled with the bread of heaven. Beggars made rich; beggars loved and dressed in fine clothes; beggars adopted and brought in from the cold; baptised into the royal family; beggars lifted up by the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ.

If we learn this lesson of how to be God’s beggars and we learn how to kneel before him and say “Lord, help me,” then great is our faith too.
Amen.

 

Don’t be afraid

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Text: Matthew 14:25-31
Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. When they saw him
walking on the water, they were terrified. … Jesus spoke to them at once.
“Courage!” he said. “It is I. Don’t be afraid!” Then Peter spoke up. “Lord, if
it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”
“Come!”
answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to
Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink
down in the water. “Save me, Lord!” he cried. At once Jesus reached out and
grabbed hold of him.

 

 Last Sunday night on 60 Minutes the amazing story of Nick
was told. He came into this world without arms or legs. He told of the shock and
grief of his parents when he was born. It’s clear no one knew how to react to a
baby born without any limbs. But as we watched the incredible story of how Nick
deals with having no arms and legs, we couldn’t help but be amazed at all that
he is able to achieve in spite of his disability. He tells how he was tormented
at school and was suicidal because of it but in spite of this he became school
captain, got a double degree at university and set himself up with a great job.
He has spoken to school children, church gatherings, and huge crowds of people
around the world. Teenagers especially have responded positively to his words of
encouragement and hope. People can’t help but be amazed at how someone can be so
positive, so happy and with such hopes for the future which include getting
married and having his own children – all of this even though he has no arms and
legs.

It would have been easy for him to hide away and give up
because of the incredible disadvantage that he had been dealt and with no real
medical explanation of why this should have happened to him. But instead he has
made it his life’s goal to encourage and inspire those struggling with life’s
difficulties and tragedies. He isn’t afraid to let his Christian faith show. In
fact, he saw his disability as an opportunity for God to work through him and to
be an encourager of those who in some way feel that life has treated them
poorly.

Nick was asked the question, “Do you pray for arms and
legs?”
He answered, “Every now and then I do pray for arms and legs. You
know, I do have faith that God right now, in front of us, can just come down
with his light or whatever and bang I have arms and legs. But the joy of having
no limbs and being able to be used in such a unique way and powerful way for
people, you can’t give me any amount of money to even consider taking a magical
pill to have arms and legs right now.”

Following this there is a clip of Nick speaking to a huge
crowd. He says, “I’m here to tell you that no matter where you are, no matter
what you are going through, that God knows it, he is with you and he is going to
pull you through.”

I think what is so amazing about this Aussie is his amazing
trust in God. Sure, he wouldn’t mind being like everyone else but he believes
that God is using him to help others and give God the glory.

Without a doubt Nick is an exceptional person. Our problems
in life may be minuscule compared to those of Nick, but somehow we find it hard
to get above our feelings of self pity and frustration let alone see our
problems as an opportunity for God to work in us. We are simply overwhelmed and
overcome with our difficulties to the point where we feel we are drowning and
our trust in God’s goodness has vanished.

The Gospel reading today is one of those events in Jesus’
life that is well known. I believe it is a story that most of us can relate to
because it tells about a man who is super confident his faith in Jesus yet finds
himself sinking beneath the churning and life threatening waves. He is bold and
willing to take risks on the one hand, and fearful and full of doubt on the
other. He shows us what it means to swing from faith to fear in a matter of
minutes – something to which we all can relate.

As you know, Peter and the disciples were caught in a storm
out on Lake Galilee. Their lives were in danger. No matter how hard they rowed
and bailed the water out of their boat they were convinced that they were
doomed. Suddenly they see a figure walking across the water. They think it’s a
ghost but Jesus calls to them above the howling wind, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me,
Jesus”.

Even though the storm is still raging, Peter calls out to
Jesus asking if he can walk on the water to where Jesus is.

A strange request don’t you think. If that was me in the
boat I would have called out, “Jesus, help us. Stop the storm. If you don’t do
something now, right now, the number of your disciples will be reduced to zero.
We’ve done our best to stay afloat but you need to stop the storm immediately”.
But we don’t hear anything like this. Instead we hear about Peter who is filled
with such confidence on seeing Jesus that he feels he can walk on
water.

It’s easy to imagine the scene. Peter swings his legs over
the side of the boat. He places his feet on the surface of the water – the waves
still crashing on the side of the boat and the wind whipping through his hair
and clothes – he takes a deep breath and stands up. In spite of the life
threatening waves, the wind and the deep water beneath him, he was walking on
water. He heads to where Jesus is but the confident look on Peter’s face turns
to one of fear as he looks at the churning water around him. He gets scared. His
feet start to sink into the murky water below. He goes down like a stone. He
knows Jesus is not far away and when everything seems to be going wrong, with
the little faith he has left, he calls out “Save me, Lord!”

Remember the words of Nick recorded in the 60 Minutes
program – “I’m here to tell you that no matter where you are, no matter what you
are going through, that God knows it, he is with you and he is going to pull you
through.”

Jesus knew his disciples were in trouble on the lake as the
storm threatened to overwhelm them and their little boat. He walked across the
water to make sure they knew that he was not far away and that his help was
there when they needed it the most. His presence gave them confidence and
certainty that Jesus would not let anything happen to them.

And then we see Peter with arms and legs thrashing away as
he tries to keep himself afloat. Immediately Jesus is there reaches out to grab
him and pulls him above the water that was about to overwhelm him. Those words
ring true, “No matter where you are, no matter what you are going through, God
knows it, he is with you and he is going to pull you through”.

This is a story about us. We know Jesus, his promises to be
with us always, his very real presence in every moment of every day. We trust
Jesus and his powerful love for us and yet in spite of knowing all this when we
hit stormy weather and the wind and waves threaten to overwhelm us we find
ourselves floundering. It seems that our faith and confidence evaporate when we
are overcome with hopelessness. We start to think that no one can help us.
Pastors, doctors, family members and friends can sympathise but can’t really
change what is happening in our lives. I refer back to Nick. No one could tell
him why he was born without any limbs. He is a bright, intelligent, obviously a
very likeable young man with a special sense of humour and a special ability to
communicate with others. He admits that there were times in his life’s journey
so far that he wanted to end it all. As hard as he tried to fit in he would
always be different. There was no way he could change. He would always be the
person with no limbs and there would always be those who would regard him as a
freak. I’m sure he asked “Why me?” “Why can’t I be like everyone else?” And we
would say the same if we were in his shoes (that is if he could wear
shoes).

There are so many times in our lives when we live in storms
of worries and upsets. The death-dealing waves, the white caps, the winds of
worry distract us completely. Struggle as we might to overcome the
circumstances, in the end there is only one who can give us the calmness and
peace that we need.
In the storm on the lake the disciples were at peace and
filled with confidence even though the storm was still raging. Jesus had walked
across the water to be with them and help them in their troubles. It might
happen, as in the case of Nick, that our situation doesn’t change for the better
but all is well because Jesus is there in the storm with us and will help us
through it. A bit like the 23rd psalm where we hear,
“Even though I walk through the darkest valleys, I will not be
afraid, you are with me and you will protect me”.

There are also those times when our faith, as strong as it
might be, gives way to fear. We can think of nothing else but the trouble we are
facing. We are even distracted from looking at the one who has called us to
follow him and to trust him in the midst of these storms. The worries and fears
that fill our minds and souls make us forget about the one who is really in
charge; the one who can really help us in our deepest time of need. Even when it
seems that our faith is at its weakest and the troubles are their greatest,
Jesus reaches out and grabs a hold of us and helps us rise above the storm. The
water is still churning but we are safe in the arms of the one who has the
deepest love for us. We are reassured again and again by the words of Jesus,
“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid!”

I want to finish with this last thought. When we want to
come face to face with Jesus, we often go away to some quiet, out of the way
place far removed from the storms of life, we seek some quiet gentle place to
gather our thoughts, to pray, to feel Jesus close to us. It’s good to do this
but this isn’t the only place where we can meet Jesus face to face. Sometimes we
meet Jesus in the middle of a storm or when we have gone down three times and
wonder if we will survive a fourth. Like Peter and like Nick Jesus will find us
and rescue us when all of our strength has been exhausted. He will grab a hold
of us and raise us up with a faith and purpose like we have never had before.
Then too we will join with the disciples in the boat that day and worship Jesus
declaring Jesus is truly the Son of God and our Saviour.

“No matter where you are, no matter what you are going
through, God knows it, he is with you and he is going to pull you
through”.