My Cross to Bear

 

Meditation on Matthew 16:21-28

Sept. 3, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes,

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and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

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22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

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***

We were leaving for an anniversary party last Sunday after church, when I got a text from a man named Don that I met last June at a funeral reception. He was a long time friend of Gail Buchanan. He invited me to go on a gator hunt.

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I had expressed interest while he was showing me photos of Gail posing next to huge reptiles dragged from Florida swamps.

I didn’t know this side of Gail, though certainly she was a risk taker as a devoted Christian. You have to be, if you want to follow Jesus!

Gail’s multi-faceted ministry included raising 3 children and nurturing them in the faith with her husband, Jimmy, and then continuing on as a single parent after he died of cancer at the age of 39.

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She loved this church! She labored on fellowship committee, served as a deacon, taught parenting classes, and gathered with a circle of friends every Monday night for prayer and spiritual encouragement for more than 3 decades. Belonging to Jesus meant worshiping with her sisters and brothers in the Lord on Sunday and taking the gospel to the community and world with acts of kindness, love and generosity. She served on the Board of the Sharing Center, as a member of the Junior League of Central and North Brevard, and President of the Friends of the Library. Being a Christian meant serving her country in the U.S. Navy, earning the rank of captain, and coordinating medical services during Desert Storm. These skills and experiences, along with her training in Occupational Therapy and Clinical Psychology, helped equip her for medical mission work in Haiti and Nicaragua.

Her greatest passion was for helping needy children and families. She was instrumental in the founding of an early intervention program, the “Lab School” at Brevard Community College, now Eastern Florida State. She fostered self-esteem, teaching children and parents “the great joy of being God’s special creation.”

Everything she did was all about sharing Jesus and helping others, using her gifts and talents to build up the Kingdom and redeem lost souls. At the reception, Don told me he respected Gail’s religion as a part of who she was– an important part–without embracing her religious beliefs. I know this saddened Gail–that her close friend didn’t have a relationship with the Lord. She wanted him to have what she had!

Reading his text, I felt that Gail must be smiling down at me from heaven–still reaching out to him, prompting him to draw ever nearer to the Lord. I didn’t tell Jim right away about the text from this man I hardly knew and Jim didn’t know at all. I could just imagine his response when I asked him if I could go on a gator hunt–for Jesus’ sake. And you have to know this about me. I have never been on any kind of hunting trip before–and never wanted to. The thought of being that close to alligators in a mosquito-infested swamp fills me with dread.

“Is this God’s will for me?” I wondered, definitely feeling out of my comfort zone. And yet, wanting to please the Lord, knowing that it isn’t easy or always “safe” to follow Jesus.

I decided to wait and talk to Jim about it on the ride home.

***

Jesus urges the disciples to take up their crosses and follow him in our reading in Matthew 16 today. The invitation comes after he rebukes Peter for not understanding what Peter himself has just declared in verse 16–that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Peter, in Matthew, is the first to call Jesus, “Messiah” –in Greek, ho Christos (the Christ.) After Peter declares Jesus’ true identity, the narrative shifts; the shadow of the cross falls upon them, though the ministry of teaching, preaching, loving and healing continues. Matthew says in 16:21, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

This is the first of 3 times in Matthew that Jesus will attempt to teach his disciples about the cross that is his destiny. They won’t understand what it means to be the Messiah, of which the Old Testament spoke, until after his resurrection. They don’t recognize that Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah 52 and 53 and Psalms 69 and 22, who will say on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is no triumphal earthly king or warrior that the disciples will defend or protect, the one who will put down Israel’s enemies, as Peter may believe. He infers this with his rebuke to Jesus when he speaks of his suffering death to come, “God forbid it, Lord. This shall never happen to you.” This word, “never” expresses Peter’s sentiment that to have the Messiah suffer and die is unthinkable. As Paul says in I Cor. 1:23, the message of Christ crucified is “foolishness to Greeks” (or Gentiles) and a “stumbling block to Jews,” including Peter, who loved him.

Jesus says to Peter now, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

His rebuke is especially painful because he has just promised that he will use Peter–his nickname for him that means “rock”–to be the “rock” on which he will build his church. Jesus uses similar language in chapter 4 when he rebukes the devil in the wilderness for tempting him to use his special relationship with God for his own gain.

That it is God’s will for His Son to suffer and die is probably more confusing to Peter because Jesus’ ministry is about alleviating suffering; he’s healing the sick, binding up broken hearts, feeding the hungry, casting out demons and lifting up the poor. And the idea of anyone being raised from the dead, well, it seems pretty farfetched to the disciples. But God’s own suffering through His Son, the Christ, is God’s plan for the redemption of the world. It is divinely necessary, as Jesus says in verse 21. He “must” go to Jerusalem, and suffer and die, and on the third day, be raised.

But what is all this about losing our lives, for Christ’s sake, so that we may find them? This is a difficult concept to grasp–and it was hard for the disciples, too. For human beings naturally do things out of self-preservation. We seek to avoid difficult and dangerous things; we don’t want to get hurt or feel pain–emotional or physical.

Only the Spirit helps us see things differently, and we learn to trust that God has something better for us than living simply for ourselves, being safe and comfortable. What’s challenging is to give up our own expectations that life must be for us a certain way, or else we may miss the blessings that come with total reliance on God. These blessings the Spirit offers us each day include faith and hope, love and joy, patience and a peace that surpasses human understanding. Our blessings are meant to be shared. As Jesus sends out his disciples in Matthew 10:8, he says, “Freely you have received; freely give.” It’s in the giving of who we are in Jesus Christ that we experience abundant life!

***

I did talk to Jim about gator hunting on the way home from the anniversary party on Sunday. He took it surprisingly well. He told me calmly that he would rather I didn’t go. Not because he was worried about the gators, really. He was more concerned about me being alone in the wilderness with strange men. But he left it up to me.

I have a feeling that I won’t be gator hunting this week. I’m pretty busy with ministry at MIPC. The storms heading this way may make the decision for us. If I do go, it will be to reach out with kindness to Gail’s friends and family, who are still mourning their loss. And to share Christ’s comfort and a peace that surpasses human understanding. But it won’t be because I feel that gator hunting is “my cross to bear.”

People use that phrase sometimes when they have to endure something disappointing, unpleasant, or even tragic. But that’s a misunderstanding of this passage. God may give us trials– not as a cross to bear, but to build godly character. As Paul says in Romans 5:3-5, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Jesus never asks us to carry his cross or force us to take another’s. He doesn’t expect us seek hardship or suffering, for hardship or suffering’s sake. Our loving Savior doesn’t desire us to be miserable! He beckons us to deny ourselves and resist the temptation to live a “safe” and comfortable life, not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to others. He invites us to pick up our own crosses and let go of worldly ambitions, fears, self-absorption and self-protection–and live a courageous, self-giving, deeply satisfying life. He desires that we follow in his footsteps–in his loving ways, which is much more rewarding than, say, hunting alligators!

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How we will answer Christ’s call as a church? Will we be courageous? Generous? Compassionate? Loving? Will you choose the way to abundant life? Do you hear Christ’s voice beckoning to you now?

“Take up your cross and follow me.”

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, we thank you for taking up your cross and being willing to suffer and die when we were perishing in our sins! Thank you for the hope of your resurrection– that we, too, will be raised to live eternally with you. Thank you for the promise of abundant life in this world as we seek to follow you and deny ourselves, resisting the temptation to choose only a safe and comfortable life, rather than taking risks, living dangerously, and being vulnerable for your sake. Help us, Lord, to be more loving, giving, compassionate, and generous. Use us to build your Church, reaching out to lost souls with your love, mercy and grace. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Renewable Resource

 

Meditation on Romans 12:1-8

Aug. 27, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;  7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

 

***

I missed you all last weekend! I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to join you for the preschool workday on Saturday. More than 30 volunteers, including some Scouts, gathered to weed, trim and tidy the grounds, paint, clean, and prepare for the new school year.

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Thank you so much!!

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I was studying for and taking exams for two courses–“Rules and Regulations for Childcare Centers” and “Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse.”

Millions of children suffer abuse and/or neglect each year that impact their cognitive, physical, and emotional development. The United States has the highest rate of child abuse of any industrialized country. An average of 4 to 7 children die each day from child abuse in America. As a member of the clergy, I am a mandated reporter for child abuse. But did you know that in Florida, every adult is required by law to report any suspected abuse or neglect? Failure to report suspected child abuse is a third degree felony.

Our country didn’t always have laws to protect children. The general attitude in America up through much of the 19th century was what went on in a family should be kept in the home. Children were possessions of their fathers. Child abuse and neglect were tolerated, ignored. But there were some people, such as a Christian woman named Etta Angell Wheeler, who was deeply concerned about unloved children.

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While Etta’s husband, Charles, worked long hours reporting for the New York Daily News, Etta served her community and the Lord as a missionary for St. Luke’s Mission in NYC. She visited the sick, lonely, poor and shut in, bringing meals, supplies and donations. She was assigned two routes: between West 38th Street and West 42nd Street and between 47th Street and 53rd Street. These areas of Manhattan later became known as Hell’s Kitchen. Etta extended her care to people who were not part of the church.

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The story of a little girl, cruelly treated, came to her from a quiet, reserved Scots woman, who sought her out while she was making her rounds. Etta says this in her testimony, at the American Humane Association’s website, facesofchildabuse.org. The woman had heard the cries of a girl, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, locked in an inner room of a rear tenement with windows darkened, alone, sometimes, for entire days. Etta knocked at the door of an apartment adjoining the rooms where the child and her family lived, not knowing what reason she would give for coming; she met a young German immigrant woman who was very ill. Etta sat on the side of her bed and listened as the woman poured out her story, then asked about her neighbors. The woman had heard crying and worried the child may be ill. Etta promised to visit the German woman, again, then knocked at the door of the apartment next door. “A woman’s sharp voice asked my errand,” Etta says, and she began talking about the sick and lonely woman that lived next door, until the door opened, and she was in the apartment and could see the child briefly. She was “pale, thin, barefoot” and wore a thin, scanty, tattered dress. And it was December, 1873. The weather was bitterly cold.

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Small for her 9 years, Mary Ellen McCormack stood on a low stool washing dishes “struggling with a frying pan about as heavy as herself. Across the table lay a brutal whip of twisted leather strands and the child’s meager arms and legs bore many marks of its use. But the saddest part of her story was written on her face… the face of a child unloved, of a child that had seen only the fearsome side of life… I went away determined, with the help of a kind Providence, to rescue her from her miserable life.”

But how was this to be done? Etta spoke to her pastor and was told they could not interfere. Weeks and months passed. Easter Sunday came. Etta went to church, with thoughts of the dying German woman and the child weighing heavily upon her. She brought altar flowers to the woman, and they spoke of “Christ and the Resurrection,” “of the glorious meaning of Easter Day, and … the child alone in the darkness.” They prayed for her release. At the suggestion of Etta’s niece, Etta then approached Henry Bergh, founder of the SPCA–Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals–for help. “She is a little animal, surely,” the niece said.

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Bergh agreed to pursue the case. After the well-publicized trial, the Supreme Court ruled to remove Mary Ellen from her abusive home, and sentenced her guardian to a year in jail. Then Henry Bergh and Elbridge Gerry, the prosecutor of Mary Ellen’s case and grandson to former Vice President Elbridge T. Gerry, worked to establish The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

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***

The first 2 verses of Romans 12 are some of the best known in the NT. This is the Christian response to the gracious gift we have in Jesus Christ. The first 11 chapters of Paul’s letter to the Roman Church lead to this point, when Paul builds on his teaching of how to live as the faithful people of God, to walk a different path, as he says in chapter 6, in “newness of life.” In Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins, “Therefore, I exhort you, brothers and sisters, through the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” He is intentionally using Old Testament language to contrast this new covenant in Jesus, who is, as John’s gospel proclaims in 1:29, “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Done are the animal sacrifices for atonement. No more! This sacrifice is giving up old ways and attitudes and living in such a way that that is holy and pleasing to God, guided by the spirit, led by faith, powered by love. This new life we are called to is our “spiritual worship or service,” as this word is also translated.

Then we reach the main point of the passage. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.” What is going to cause this transformation that God expects? The “renewing of our minds!” We can’t think like the rest of the world, just as Etta Wheeler refused to look the other way when she learned of a child being cruelly abused during a time when it wasn’t against the law–and frankly, not many people cared what happened to other people’s children. Most didn’t want to interfere, as Etta’s pastor advised, in someone else’s family business.

If what Paul says in verse 2 is true, then it is also true that if our thinking conforms to the thinking of the world, and we are not transformed by the renewing of our minds, then we are not in the will of God. We are not doing what is “good and acceptable and perfect.”

So, here it is–how we can know that we are in the will of God: we are using the spiritual gifts the Lord gives every member of the body of Christ to love and serve others. The spiritual gifts are not given to us so that we may claim a certain status or importance in our community! The gifts should HUMBLE us and make us so grateful to the GIVER that we want to serve God even more.

This is what Paul means when he says, “don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” Everyone is important and necessary. You know this. You’ve heard it many times, not just in Romans but also 1 Corinthians 12. But do you believe it? “Not all the members have the same function,” Paul says, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ and individually members of each other.”

Our differences should not lead us to draw lines in the sand, but we do it anyway. Christians do it! We embrace some people who think like us and exclude others we decide not to like, let alone love. Our spiritual gifts and the renewing power of God’s love will lead us to overcome whatever threatens to divide us! Don’t give in to the world’s thinking!

Listen to the promise in Paul’s words: “We who are many, are one!”

***

Mary Ellen McCormack, a little girl so cruelly abused, lived a very different life after the trial of 1874.

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The New York State Supreme Court verdict didn’t completely change the way people thought about children; it didn’t end child abuse. But it stirred awareness and compassion in some for the plight of abused and neglected children. Dozens of private child protection groups sprang up in the decades to come. When hearts and minds were changed, lives were saved! Eventually, child protection legislation was passed and government agencies charged with seeing to the welfare of children.

Mary Ellen spent the rest of her childhood with Etta Wheeler’s family, living first with her mother in the country, learning to play and not be afraid. Then she moved in with Etta’s sister, Mary, when her mother died. She went to school, church and Sunday school. At 24, she married a man with 3 children; the couple had two more daughters and adopted an orphan, another girl. Their children’s joyful childhood, by all accounts, was in sharp contrast to Mary Ellen’s first 9 years. She died in 1956 at age 92.

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Like Etta Wheeler, MIPC also has a heart for children. We want to help them play, learn and grow to know Christ and His love.

We want them to feel safe and never afraid. This Tuesday night, we will have another opportunity to love children, help families, and serve the Lord with our gifts when the preschool hosts an open house and potluck. The congregation is invited! As we share food and fellowship, hearts will be transformed. Minds renewed. We will be reminded, once again, that we, who are many, are ONE!

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Let us pray. Holy one, thank you for the renewing, transforming power of your love. We are offer ourselves–our bodies and minds–as a living sacrifice to you. Thank you for the gifts you have poured into this congregation–the many human resources that we have, gathered in this place of worship, poised to love and serve God and neighbor. Stir us to acts of kindness and compassion and to advocate for the rights and protection of all children. And remove all anxiety and temptation, when it comes, to draw lines in the sand, liking and embracing only some people, excluding others. Remind us, each day, of your grace, revealed in Jesus Christ. Move us to humility and gratitude. Remind us that we who are many, belong to YOU! Make us ONE. In Christ we pray. Amen.

“Walkin’ on Water”

 

Matthew 14:22-33

Aug. 13, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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       22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.

 

Slide08When evening came, he was there alone, 24  but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

 

Slide2125 And early in the morning   he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.

 

Slide1830 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

 

Slide20 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

***

June 1, 1940. A story in the UK Guardian, begins….In the grey chill of dawn today in a south-eastern port, war correspondents watched with incredulous joy the happening of a miracle. By every canon of military science the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) has been doomed for the last four or five days. Completely out-numbered, out-gunned, out-planed, all but surrounded, it had seemed certain to be cut off from its last channel of escape. Yet for several hours this morning we saw ship after ship come into harbour and discharge thousands of British soldiers safe and sound on British soil. As the sun was turning the grey clouds to burnished copper, the first destroyer of the day slid swiftly into the harbour, its silhouette bristling with the heads of the men packed shoulder to shoulder on its decks. One watched them with a pride that became almost pain. They had passed through nights and days of hunger, weariness and fear, but nearly every man still had his rifle and a clip of ammunition; nearly all had brought their full kit with them – and what an agony its weight must have been. They were still soldiers and still in good heart. They were of all units and ranks. Some were in the position of the gunners whose battery had been shelled out of existence …, because our overworked fighter planes had had no time to deal with the German reconnaissance planes.

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     Their battery commander had told them to do the best they could for themselves, and they had walked 30 miles to Dunkirk. It is a stretch of level sand backed by dunes. The sea in front of it is shallow for some way out, so that ships cannot come close in. Many of the men have spent up to four days on this beach, hiding in hollows scratched in the sand, from the German planes which have scourged them with bomb and machine-gun. Every now and then, among the men who climb the gangplank into England, one sees stretcher-bearers carrying a still form, its face bloodless and remote. Yet [others] survive in their thousands and are able to joke and sing. In no time the ship is ready to return to Dunkirk. But before it is ready, another has drawn up alongside. British ships and French and Dutch, warships, drifters, trawlers, yachts, barges, they bring their loads across the hostile Channel and then go back undaunted into the inferno.

     Jim and I went to see Dunkirk, the movie, a couple of weeks ago. The film follows a young British soldier who is among more than 400,000 Allies in WWII, fleeing German forces and trapped for days in May 1940 on the shores of Dunkirk in Northern France. The young soldier’s enemies are all around– German ground troops are advancing and the Luftwaffe is raining bombs and bullets on them as they crouch in the sand or wait for hours in shoulder-deep water for a ship to come in. His enemy and salvation is also the furious sea, when the naval ship he boards is bombed and sinks, taking hundreds of Allied lives and threatening his own. The greatest enemy is his fear. He does everything he can to survive, without concern for others until he makes friends with a young soldier, a Frenchman, who saves his life. The British soldier’s response to this act of kindness is to return the kindness–to seek to save the Frenchman’s life.

 

 

 

Fear is also the enemy of the disciples in our passage in Matthew today. Jesus sends away the crowds that he has miraculously fed and the disciples to their little boat, telling them “go ahead to the other side” while he goes to “the mountain” to pray. A stormy sea stirs the disciples’ fear, and brings to our minds the storm that Jesus calms in Matthew 8:23-27, when he is with them in their boat. Now they are battling wind and waves at night in a tiny sailing craft, without Jesus, and the “wind is against them.” They are unexpectedly “far from land.” For fishermen, the sea is a source of sustenance, a way to eat and make a living. The sea is a common mode of travel in ancient, coastal communities. But water is not always a friend. Remember Noah and God’s power revealed in the flood in Genesis 9 that destroys life on earth. Remember Pharaoh’s soldiers in Exodus 14:21 that drown in the Red Sea after it parts for the Israelites, led by Moses, to cross on dry land.

The fearful disciples fail to recognize Jesus when he comes to them in an unexpected way –walking on water in the stormy sea. They cry out, “It’s a ghost!” Jesus seeks to calm their fears and overcome their doubts with assurance of the divine presence. He says “Take heart; it is I.” In Greek, “Eigo eimi.” This is the divine name given to Moses in Exodus 3:14–YHWH, translated, “I am.”

While the Jesus walking on water account appears in Matthew, Mark and John, only Matthew tells us about Peter’s experience. His first response is to doubt and demand another “sign,” more proof of his identity. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Notice it’s not Jesus’ idea for Peter to walk on water. But he goes along with it. “Come,” he says. Peter steps out of the boat and moves toward Jesus, but what happens? He takes his eyes off Christ and he looks around! Faith is replaced by fear. And he sinks!

But when he cries out to the Lord for help, Christ grabs him by the hand. Unlike the first story in Matthew of Jesus calming the storm, which ends with the disciples wondering, “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?”, this time, the disciples worship him and say, “Truly, you ARE the Son of God.”

The message for us today is GRACE. God wants us to step out of the boat and leave our comfort zone, but when we do, like Peter, doubts and fear will come. But then we need to cry out to the Lord and remember the divine presence in our lives. Christ continually beckons us to draw closer to Him, while at the same time, he is drawing near to us, with an outstretched hand. As Hebrew 12:1-2a tells us, with the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, let us keep on running the race, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”

As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’ll be walkin’ on water-

-with Him!

 

Not knowing the story of Dunkirk before seeing the movie, I was surprised to discover the recurring theme of grace. The young, British soldier, on a train after the evacuation reads a newspaper story of the event he has lived through. He expects to be branded a coward, with all who retreated from Dunkirk. But that’s not what happened.

 

The evacuation of more than 335,000 Allied troops is seen as a miracle inspiring hope. When British naval ships cannot make it to Dunkirk or are sunk by German aircraft on the way, more than 700 little ships–civilian owned and manned vessels–cross the English Channel to bring the troops to safety. Considering our gospel lesson alongside the miracle of Dunkirk, I can see Jesus, extending his hand by using ordinary people, to take risks and step out of their comfort zones to help others. Ordinary people walkin’ on water–with Him.

During our staff meeting Thursday, I shared the story of Jesus walking on water and stilling the storm. They shared times when they stepped out of the boat to follow Jesus, uncertain where the journey might take them, or when they felt Jesus taking them by the hand, calming and leading them through the storms of their lives.

I asked myself when had I stepped out of the boat and left my comfort zone to follow Him? And when had Jesus taken my hand during a storm of my life? The answer came quickly: Every day! Every day is a leap of faith. Every day, I need God’s grace! I need to feel the touch of Jesus’ hand, a reminder of the divine presence with me! I need to hear Christ’s reassuring voice, “Take heart! It is I! Eigo eimi.”

An image flashed before my eyes of the hands that hold me–the hands of Jesus are the hands of my staff, congregation, friends, family. They are the hands of the Body of Christ, in every time, in every place–the great cloud of witnesses, in Hebrews 12, helping us run the race that is our lives of faith!

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As I finished this message last night, I heard of the tragedy in Charlottesville–the hatred and loss of life. I know what Jesus would do — he would speak out against the hatred, bigotry and violence. If those in power, friends, are not modeling righteousness, truth and love, it’s up to us to do it! Get out of the boat and go boldly, out of your comfort zone! Speak up for the victims, the voiceless and their families. We can do this if we pray and trust Jesus, who is with us now and always during the storms of our lives. His hand is outstretched! And when you are afraid, cry out to the one perfect example of self-giving love, the one who says, “Come!” As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’ll be walkin- on water–with Him!

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Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for your Word that assures us of your divine presence with us always! Thank you for inviting us to come to you, with all our burdens and fears, during the stormy times of our lives. For telling us that we belong to you, that you love us. Forgive us for our violent ways, for our anger, selfishness and divisiveness in our country. Thank you for hearing our cries of, “Lord, save us!” when we feel as if we are sinking, just as you heard Peter’s cries and grabbed him by the hand. Help us, Lord, to be that hand of Christ for others–loving people as much as you love us! Build up our faith. Give us strength and courage to follow you, believing in your miracles. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we seek to serve him each day. In His name we pray. Amen.