Saturday, August 6, 2011

Matthew 14:22-33 - Sermon - Holding Jesus' Hand

Matthew 14:22-33
Holding Jesus’ Hand
08-07-11

We love the image of holding Jesus’ hand. It is a tender and loving reminder of how personal God can be. We strive for that Footprints moment when our loving Savior will pick us up and care for us. This is what we really love about a personal relationship with Jesus. We love Jesus in the comforting, calming, compassionate state. We feel cared for, loved and accepted when this happens. This is the picture we cherish and desire most of all. I wonder why though?

I wonder if it has to do with our obsession with comfort? We want to be comfortable in all that we do. If we don’t we ask ourselves is it worth doing. Every product we purchase comes with a “new and improved comfort handle, comfort grip, or new formula for the most comfort possible.” Everything promises to be the more comfortable. In fact comfortable is not enough. Now we have EXTREME Comfort, ULTIMATE Comfort, or even EXTREME ULTRA Comfort. Are we a little obsessed with comfort as a culture? Money can buy you any comfort you want. Now we can sleep on beds that we can control our comfort levels, depending on our ‘number.’ The sheets we sleep in can go up to 1200 thread count. Plus, everything now as pillows on it; office chairs, mattresses, even ottomans (yes the thing you up your feet on can now have a pillow top). And since we are talking about feet let’s not forget that we can put the most comfortable gel insoles in those too, that can make any job comfortable!

We love comfort. I am sure when they padded these pews people rejoiced. I have to say these are the most comfortable pulpit chairs I have ever sat in. I’m just glad I don’t have to sit in them when I’m preaching. I might fall asleep on myself. I have seen in other churches people leave pillows behind so that when they return the next week they can use them to support their backs and be more comfortable in their usual seat. And the regular seat is important too. Looking over the congregation today I can tell that the ________ family is on vacation because they usually sit over there. If you remember back a while ago, I made you all get up and move to a completely different seat one service. There was a ton of ruckus and complaints. A couple of weeks ago I roped off the last four pews to move the small summer crowd forward and come compact. Once again I heard grumbles and gossip. It was like I turned the pews backwards and preached from the sound booth. But what happened is that people became a little uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable is okay.

Jesus thinks it is okay. Actually when we look at Jesus’ message he doesn’t speak of comfort. He sends the twelve disciples out in the 10th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel on their first ministry tour. Here is what he tells them, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” That seems to be really rough. It feels great to change out of a dirty shirt but Jesus told them not to bring one. The stress alone of wondering where you might spend the night might be too rough for some to take. Where is the comfort?

In the sermon on the mount Jesus tells people, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Yeah, not getting any more comforting. Later on in the same sermon Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Are you comfortable yet with your sore cheeks, tired legs and bruised ego? Where is this picture of the comforting, caring, compassionate Jesus?

Ernest Campbell, was the pastor of Riverside Church in NYC, and is quoted as saying, “the reason that we seem to lack faith in our time is that we are not doing anything that requires it.” Ouch, that hurts a little. But does it hurt because it is true? Does our desire for the comfortable, the cozy, keep us away from faith? Does it keep us away from Jesus?

In today’s story we get story of Jesus walking on water. After a long day of preaching Jesus goes up to the mountain top to rest and relax. He sends the disciples on their way to go to the other side of the water. There on the boat the waves start to pick up and start to batter the boat this way and that. Some of the disciples, the ones who were not use to this, were starting to get concerned. The rock back and forth all night and then in the early morning they see someone coming to them, walking on the water. That would be pretty scary sight and some of the disciples probably thought they were getting delirious. But Jesus doesn’t egg them on or play with their emotions. Instead the scripture says “immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’”

Then we get to Peter who calls out to Jesus and asks him if he can come out on the water too. Peter jumps ship and starts walking. But then he notices the waves and the wind and starts to sink. As he goes down into the deep, he calls out to Jesus to save him. Once again Jesus doesn’t wait or play with his emotions, he reaches down and picks him up and together the go back to the boat to the other disciples and the wind stops. They are all dumbfounded and they worship him calling him the Son of God.

This is a great story and it is there is so much low hanging fruit to preach from it is hard to contain myself to only 20 minutes. What caught me this time was Jesus’ hand; the comforting, calm, peaceful hand that he extends to the panicking and sinking Peter. It is this same hand that we all yearn to grasp onto ourselves. We have all had times in our lives when we have cried out “Lord, save me!” We have cried that out in the midst of pain. We have cried it out in the darkness of sorrow. We have cried it out when the future is unknown. We have cried it out from our souls when the world we know comes crashing down. We know what it is like to scream, “LORD, SAVE ME!”

But do we know how it feels during times of persecution? Do we know how to cry it out during moments of discipleship? Do we know how to cry it out when we are so far away from the boat because we are following the calling of Christ that we do not know what to do? This reminds me of the first hospital visitation I did. I volunteered to do chaplaincy at Presbyterian Hospital one summer. My task was to come to the hospital on Tuesday and Thursdays and visit. My first day came and I wandered upstairs and stood in front of a door. The door was cold, blank, and heavy. It was right there in front of me and I stood there like I didn’t know how to open it. The truth was I didn’t. I didn’t know how to open a hospital door and provide pastoral care to whomever was on the other side. I did not know what to say, what to do, or what to pray. I looked up and down the hall of the hospital and I saw the wind and the waves. I felt like I was sinking into the floor but then I stopped myself. I prayed, “Lord, I do not know what I’m doing here but I know you are inside and you will guide me through this. Take my hand and lead me.”

Richard Stearns stared an orphaned boy in the eyes on his first trip to Africa as the president of World Vision. He use to run companies as their CEO but now he runs this ministry he felt God calling him to after much turmoil and inner struggle. “World Vision is an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.” Richard didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know what to do, but he was there and he listened to these boys tell horrible stories of being soldiers and doing unspeakable things before they were teenagers. Richard knew he was beyond himself. He was walking in the midst of the wind and waves and he called out to Jesus to take his hand.

One person on this slow journey across the water held Jesus’ hand. It was Peter because Peter decided to get out of the boat. The other disciples were on the boat watching this all take place. They were the ones who stayed there for whatever reason. They stayed there because it was where they were comfortable. They stayed because they were too scared. They stayed on the boat because the wind and the waves were too high. Whatever the reason they stayed and witnessed Peter have a historic walk and hold Jesus’ hand back to the boat. They stood there in awe and then worshipped him when the winds calmed.

What is keeping us on the boat? Jesus calls us out onto the water with him. He calls us out of our comfort zones, out of our coziness, and into the world that can be cold, dark, and damp. He calls all of his followers to reach out to the people who look different than us, smell different, talk different, but were made in the same image. We are called to move beyond these walls, we are called to move beyond the boat and into the storms raging outside. When get comfortable in our pews or behind this massive pulpit we forget the call of discipleship which isn’t on the boat.

This is the funny thing about Church. Church is the only institution that exists for those who have not yet arrived. If you are a member of the Church that means it isn’t here to serve you but that you should be here willing to serve others, out there, the strangers, the fearful, and offer them the hand of Christ. Sure it will be scary. Peter didn’t really do it great but he had the faith to step out. If we want to experience the comforting touch of our savior we have to find him and he is not on the boat. We must be willing to go out among the waves to meet him.

And all God’s people said…Amen.