An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Reconciliation

LECTIONARY 23A  Matt 18:15-20  David Eck
9/07/14

I. Today’s gospel lesson makes Jesus
—Sound a bit like an advice columnist
—Whose work is featured in print or online.

Here he is, the New Testament Dear Abby,
—Giving advice on relationships
—And teaching people how to have
—Less conflict and drama in their lives!

And if we picture Jesus in this role,
—It’s not hard to imagine the kinds of questions
—That would prompt his response.

So, let’s go there!
—Let’s picture Jesus at a coffee shop.
—[Come on, use your imagination,
—I know you have one!]

He’s sitting at a table happily
—Sipping his pumpkin spice latte.

His laptop is in front of him
—And he’s sorting through a series of e-mails
—From his adoring fans.

Three of those e-mails share a common theme.
—So he decides to combine them
—Into one big article suitable for publication.

Are you with me so far?

Here’s how I imagine what that article
—Would look like:

II. Dear Jesus,
—I cannot believe what my good friend
—Said to me the other day after church.
—She really hurt my feelings.

So I posted a message on Facebook about it
—The moment I left church.
—I didn’t name names.  I’m not that kind of person!

This is what I wrote:
—“Someone hurt me very deeply today.
—I cannot seem to let my feelings
—Of anger and betrayal go.
—Please pray for me.”

I’m sure my friend will read it.
—She’ll know EXACTLY who I’m talking about!
—Hopefully she’ll come to me
—And ask for forgiveness.

Surely this is the best way to handle things.
—I don’t want a big confrontation
—Between the two of us.

Signed, Unhappy in Church

III. As Jesus reads this e-mail for the first time,
—I imagine him doing a face palm.
—If you don’t know what that is
—It looks something like this. [cue visual aid!]

Once he recovers from the initial shock
—He carefully crafts a response:

Dear Unhappy,
—I wish I could sit down
—And talk with you face-to-face.

This is the way conflicts should be handled.
—I’m fairly certain that your friend
—Is probably clueless that she offended you.

What you need to do is go to her in private
—And let her know how you feel.
—Speak the truth in love.  It’s that simple.

And if she really is your friend
—Your love for each other will overcome
—Whatever hurt there is between you.

Sincerely, Jesus

IV.  What we learn from this first correspondence
—Is that we sometimes assume people know we’re angry with them.

We assume they are well aware
—They have hurt our feelings.
—But this is not always the case.

The best way to handle such conflicts in our lives
—Is one-on-one, face-to-face, heart-to-heart!

It’s never a good idea to call someone on the phone
—When we’re at the height of our anger.
—It’s never a good idea to write a flame e-mail
—Or post a cryptic Facebook message.

Jesus is stating the obvious here.
—But it’s something we need to be remind of
—Again and again:

Here is how Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures
—Paraphrases verse 15 of our gospel lesson:
—“If a friend from your community does something to upset you,
—Have a quiet word together in private.
—If you talk it out reasonably,
—You’ll be the best of friends again.”
—[Can I get an “Amen” on that one?]

V.  Now let’s turn to the second e-mail
—Jesus is reading:

Dear Jesus,  I could spit fire.
—A co-worker of mine stole a client from me the other day.

When I confronted him about it,
—He pretended like nothing had happened
—And made up some big lie
—About how the client preferred working with him.

So during lunch, when he was not around,
—I told my other colleagues what a scoundrel he was.
—I warned them to be careful so that
—They would not suffer the same fate as me.

The whole situation has left me feeling
—Angry and vengeful.
—I cannot seem to let it go.
—What should I do next?

Signed, Angry as a Wet Hen

Dear Angry,

You did the right thing by going to your coworker
—And having a face-to-face conversation
—About the situation.
—Unfortunately, this is not resolve things.

But I have some bad news for you.
—Your next move probably made things worse.

I’ve often said “Love your enemies
—And pray for those who persecute you.”
—It’s the best way to diffuse a situation
—That’s spiraling out of control.

Unfortunately, you chose the path of vengeance,
—But it’s not too late to make things right.

The most loving thing you can do at this point,
—Is go to your boss
—And bring the matter to her attention.
—Then the three of you can sit down together
—And try to work things out.

Sometimes it helps to have a “third party” in the room
—Who can listen to both sides of the story
—And mediate the situation.

That’s my advice.  The next move is yours!

Sincerely, Jesus

VI. What we learn from this second correspondence
—Is that when face-to-face conversations
—Do not resolve our differences,
—Having a neutral third party in the room
—Can often be very helpful.

This third party can be a boss,
—Or a pastor, or a trusted elder.
—They can be a mutual friend,
—A teacher or a parent.

Their job is to listen to both sides of the story
—And try to help the two of you resolve your differences.
Unfortunately, we don’t always take this path.
—Vengeance often rears its ugly head.
—We begin to rally others to our point of view
—And turn them against the person we’re angry with.

When Jesus told us to “love our enemies
—And pray for those who persecute us”
—It wasn’t a suggestion.
—He actually wanted us to give it a try!

It’s the only way to deescalate a potentially hostile situation.
—Any other way of handling things
—Will only add more fuel to the fire.

Good As New paraphrases this second step as follows:
—“If the one who has upset you proves difficult,
—Invite two other friends to be there
—So they can hear the arguments on either side. 
—If they can’t bring bout an agreement,
—Then the matter must be taken to the community as a whole.”

VII. This leads us to our third and final letter:

Dear Jesus,
—I’m 15 years old and have been bullied
—By my classmates for several months now.

The whole thing started with a disagreement
—Between me and my best friend.

I tried going to her and talking some sense into her
—But she wouldn’t listen.

I also tried bringing two friends along with me
—To try and resolve the problem.
—That didn’t work either!

Now, things have really gotten out of hand!
—She’s managed to turn everyone against me.
—They whisper behind my back
—And call me names in the hallway.

Yesterday she even slammed me against a locker.
—I don’t know what to do.  I feel so helpless.

Signed, Scared in High School

VIII.  Dear Scared,
—Some situations become too big
—For us to handle on our own.
—My intuition tells me that
—If she is treating you this way,
—She’s probably treating others the same way as well.

You’ve done all you can do
—To try and resolve the problem on your own.
—Now it’s time to ask for the help
—Of your school community
—Who can love and support you.

Hopefully, they can help your friend as well.

Begin by going to a trusted teacher or guidance counselor
—And make them aware of the situation.
—They will help you figure out what step to take next
—Which varies depending upon the situation.

You may have to involve the principal,
—Parents, and even law enforcement,
—As you deal with being bullied.

The important thing is to remember
—You are not alone!
—Reach out and place this situation
—In bigger hands than yours!
—Sincerely, Jesus

IX.  This third correspondence reminds us
—That not all conflicts can be solved easily.

If we’ve tried steps one and two
—And the situation has not improved,
—Our problem needs to become the burden
—Or the larger community.

It doesn’t matter whether this larger community
—Is a church, a school, our workplace,
—Or the city in which we live.

It’s important that we know when its time
—To place our conflicts in bigger hands than ours.

The NRSV of this third step reads as follows.
—But I think these words can be a bit misunderstood:

“If the member refuses to listen to them,
—Tell it to the church; and if the offender
—Refuses to listen even to the church,
—Let such a one be to you
—As a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Now, some people interpret this to mean
—We are to have NOTHING to do
—With this person.

However, I don’t think this is the case.

First of all, Jesus ministered
—To both Gentiles and tax collectors.

He did so in a spirit of love
—And never treated them as anything less
—Than beloved children of God.

Jesus, would never advocate
—That we turn our backs on anyone.
—But this doesn’t mean we need to be doormats either.

The hope contained in our gospel lesson
—Is that if we try steps one and two,
—Step three is usually unnecessary.

However, there are situations
—That are too big for us to handle on our own.
—This is when step three kicks in.

The way I understand how this third step works
—Is seen in Good as News’ paraphrase of the text:
—“If they can’t bring bout an agreement,
—Then the matter must be taken to the community as a whole.
—If her or she is unwilling to accept the advice of the community,
—They must then become the prime target
—Of the community’s care and concern.”

“They must then become the prime target
—Of the community’s care and concern.”
—That’s a powerful way of stating this third step!

The hope contained in this paraphrase
—Is that the love and care of the community
—Will ultimately transform the person
—Who has, so far, been unwilling to change.

This love may have to be “tough love,”
—But it is love nonetheless.

The wisdom Jesus offers us here
—Is that there are situations
—That are simply too big
—For us to handle on our own.

Sometimes our concerns need to be
—The concerns of the larger community as well.

X.  Friends in Christ,
—Our gospel lesson is a powerful one.
—It may be one of the most practical
—Pieces of advice Jesus has given us.

Let’s return to these verses again and again
—As we deal with conflicts in our lives and in the church.
—I believe they can be a source of hope and healing
—To those who follow them.  AMEN.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Take Up Your Cross

ORDINARY 22A    Romans 12:9-21, Matt 16:21-28  David Eck
8/31/14

I. Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers,
—Let them deny themselves,
—Take up their cross and follow me.”

That’s it!  I’m throwing in the towel!
—I don’t think I’m up to the challenge
—Jesus has set before us this morning.

Deny myself?  That’s a hard one.
—Does this mean I have to give up chocolate for Christ?
—Does my Savior disapprove of me
—Eating pork bbq?

Or does it mean I have to sell
—All my worldly possessions
—And live like a hermit in a cave?

I’m not very good at self-denial.
—My waistline speaks for itself!
—So does my house which is pretty lavish
—Compared to how others live across the globe.

I’m happy to be a follower of Jesus,
—But I’m not so sure about the denial part!

The there’s take up your cross?  That’s even worse!
—It involves pain and suffering
—And ultimately death.
—I’m not sure I can commit to that.

The cross was messy and bloody
—And while I work at the hospital,
—I’m O.K. with seeing other people’s blood
—But my own blood is another matter altogether.

I’m happy to be a follower Jesus,
—But I’m not so sure about the take up your cross part!

So, I guess I’m in trouble
—Because this is what Jesus say I need to do
—In order to be considered a disciple.

Surely, there has to be an easier way to do this!
—Surely, following Jesus involves more than
—Performing grand sweeping gestures of denial
—And torturous acts of sacrifice.

What, exactly, does Jesus expect of me?
—What, exactly, does Jesus expect of us?

II. Our gospel lesson for today is a doozy.
—It sounds innocent enough,
—But Jesus is a little vague on the details!

Some of us have heard these words many times over,
—And because of this, we’re pretty quick to say yes.

Yes, I will deny myself!
—Yes, I will take up my cross!
—Yes, I am a follower of Jesus!

But are we REALLY sure what we’re signing up for here?
—Have we read all the fine print in our contract with Christ?

What does it look like to deny self,
—Take up our cross and follow Jesus?

That’s a HUGE question!
—And if I went around the room
—And asked everyone what they thought it meant,
—I’m sure I’d get a different answer
—For every person I asked.

Some would keep it simple:
—Love God, love neighbor, love self.
—But what does that actually mean?
—It sounds great in theory
—But it’s a little short on details.

What does love look like when it denies itself,
—Takes up its cross and follows Jesus?

Others would point to the final meal
—Jesus shared with his disciples,
—Where he washed their feet
—And told them to do the same.

“We are called to live a life of service,”
—They would say.
—Again, this sounds great in theory
—But it’s also a little short on details.

What does service look like
—When it denies itself,
—Takes up its cross and follows Jesus?
III. Our gospel lesson isn’t much help either!

It begins with a dire prediction by Jesus
—That he must go to Jerusalem,
—Where he will undergo great suffering,
—Be killed, and on the third day rise.

This prediction came completely out of left field.
—In the chapters leading up to this disturbing declaration
—Matthew says Jesus was telling kingdom parables,
—Mourning the death of John the Baptist,
—Feeding the multitudes twice,
—And walking on water.

It’s the kind of stuff we expect from Jesus.

It’s the kind of stuff that prompted Peter to exclaim,
—“You are the Messiah. the Son of the living God.”

Now, we hear Jesus talking about
—Suffering, death and resurrection.
—It’s totally unexpected.

Is it any wonder Peter exclaimed
— “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
—I’m fairly certain we would have said the same thing.

Suffering was not a part of the plan.
—It’s not how the disciples imagined
—Things would turn out in the end.

They were expecting Jesus to go to Jerusalem
—To be a liberator.
—They believed he was the One
—Who would free the Israelites from Roman occupation.

But Jesus had other plans
—And he rebukes Peter in a way
—That is a little hard for us to hear:
—“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.”

Ouch, you know that had to hurt.
—After all, a few verses earlier
—Jesus told Peter he was the rock
—Upon which the Church was built.

Now, he’s calling him Satan.
—It makes me a little bit nervous.
—Because I’m not quite sure
—What Jesus expects of Peter.

Consequently, we’re not quite sure
—What Jesus expects of us, either.

Does being a follower of Christ
—ALWAYS have to end with suffering and death,
—Denial and taking up our cross?
—If so, I doubt I can pull it off.

Unfortunately, Jesus never gives any details in our gospel lesson,
—So it’s up to us to try and figure out what he meant.

It’s up to us to discern what it looks like
—To deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.

IV. This is where the appointed readings for today
—Come in handy.

In Romans 12, Paul talks about what it looks like
—To be a follower of Christ.
—Thankfully, he includes the fine print,
—And gives us a beautiful list
—Of what is expected of us.

I don’t always say this but “Thank you, Paul.
—Sometimes you drive me crazy,
—But this time you are extremely helpful!”

In the verses that precede our second lesson
—Paul tells us we are to “present our bodies
—As living sacrifices,
—Holy and acceptable to God,
—Which is our spiritual worship.”

In other words, the Church is NOT a building.
—The Church is us!

We are living sacrifices.
—We “incarnate” or embody Christ
—Through the way we treat each other,
—And the way we treat those in the world around us.

Then Paul reminds us that everyone has God-given
—Talents and abilities and we’re supposed to use them.

In other words, being a follower of Christ
—Means being our true selves
—And using whatever we’re good at
—To build up others and show Christ’s love.

Now, that’s the kind of cross-bearing I can live with.
—We “sacrifice” or give of ourselves
—So others may experience the love and grace of Christ.

We deny or set aside always worrying
—About what it good for us
—And ask what is good for our neighbor.
—Are you with me so far?

V. Then, in case, we still can’t figure it out,
—Paul gives us one of his famous “laundry lists.”
—Today, I’m really grateful for this list
—Because it gives us a concrete idea
—Of what it looks like to deny ourselves,
—Take up our cross and follow Jesus.

He sets the gold standard for Christian behavior
—And challenges us to exhibit these qualities
—In our lives.

Here’s the first paragraph:
—“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil,
—Hold fast to what is good;
—Love one another with mutual affection;
—Outdo one another in showing honor.

[Wow, when was the last time we tried to
—Outdo one another in showing honor?
—When was the last time we tripped over each other
—To build one another up instead of
—Criticizing and tearing each other down?]

This is good stuff!
—“Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
—Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering,
—Persevere in prayer.
—Contribute to the needs of the saints;
—Extend hospitality to strangers.”

I don’t know about you
—But that’s enough to keep me busy.

What I learn from Paul’s list
—Is that DENIAL simply means
—We focus on the needs of others
—Instead of always focusing on our own drama.
—It’s that simple.

Likewise, taking up our cross simply means
—Using our gifts to benefit those who need them the most.

Our lives cannot always be about us.
—Do you hear me, friends in Christ?

If we’re going to claim to be followers of Jesus
—We’re going to have adopt a different set of values
—Than those the world says we should possess.

Paul, is giving us all the fine details
—Just in case we aren’t sure
—What it is we’re supposed to be doing
—As followers of Christ.

VI.  The second paragraph is where it really gets hard!
—“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
—[I don’t know about you,
—But I’ve got some work to do on this one!]

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
—Live in harmony with one another;
—Do not be haughty,
—[In other words, “Don’t think you're better than everyone else”]
—But associate with the lowly;

Do not claim to be wiser than you are.
—[Wow, that’s a good one!
—Send a memo to all the “experts”
—Who feed the machine of the 24 hour news cycle.
—Send this to all of our elected officials as well.
—Maybe, they could finally work together
—Instead of demonizing each other!]

And here’s the real kicker:
—“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought
—For what is noble in the sight of all.
—If it is possible, so far as it depends on you,
—Live peaceably with all.”

AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU.
—We’re not supposed to wait for world leaders
—To get together and make formal peace treaties.

Peace begins with us.
—Peace begins with every relationship
—We have in our lives:
—Our spouses, our families,
—Our friends, our church,
—And those in the community at large.

Is that enough to keep us busy?
—Does that spell it out clearly and abundantly?
—Do we NOW know that to do
—As followers of Christ?  I think so.

This is one of those lists,
—We should look at from time to time.

This is one of those lists,
—We should use as a barometer to measure
—How well we’re doing with the whole
—“Deny ourselves and take up our cross” thing.

Paul’s last paragraph, not surprisingly,
—Is the most difficult of them all:

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves,
—But leave room for the wrath of God;
—For it is written, “Vengeance is mine,
—I will repay, says the Lord.”

No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them;
—If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
—Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. “

Friends in Christ, Paul has given
—The blueprint for what it means to be followers of Jesus.
—These are the qualities we are supposed to emulate.
—This is what it means to be the church.

Let’s approach this list humbly and intentionally
—As we deny ourselves, take up our cross
—And follow Jesus.  AMEN.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Look to the Rock

ORDINARY 21A    Isaiah 51:1-6  David Eck
8/24/14

I. Life can sometimes be pretty disorienting.
—This is especially true during times of
—Great transition and change:

Losing a job,
—Moving to another state,
—The death of a loved one,

A worrisome diagnosis from a doctor,
—Becoming empty nest parents,
—Entering retirement

Events such as these mix up our lives
—And take us out of familiar patterns
—That make us feel stable and secure.

They can leave us feeling like ships
—Adrift in the middle of the ocean,
—With no sense of where we are
—And where we need to head next.

These times of disorientation
—Can happen to us as individuals,
—As families, as a church,
—As a community, and as a nation.

When we find ourselves in the midst
—Of one of these times of transition and change,
—We begin to look for a way to help us navigate
—This unfamiliar world we now inhabit.

II. This is the case in our First Lesson.
—The prophet Isaiah speaks to a nation
—That is in a time of complete disorientation.

This portion of Isaiah was written
—During the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon.

Everything that had grounded them
—Had been stripped away from their lives.

Everything that gave them a sense of
—Identity, stability and security was gone.

They saw the destruction of the Temple
—And their beloved city Jerusalem.

They were forced to take what few possessions
—They could carry with them
—And march to a place where people
—Spoke a different language,
—And worshipped a different deity.

It’s hard to imagine how disorienting this must be.

It’s hard to imagine how lost
—The nation of Israel felt
—During this dark and uncertain time.

But I’m sure one of my new neighbors,
—Whose family fled Bagdad, knows how this feels.

He was a shopkeeper in Iraq
—And had to leave everything behind
—In order to save his wife and son.

Gary spoke with him the other day
—And he said his son
—Is having a particularly difficult time
—Adjusting to living in America
—Because it’s so vastly different from his native land.

So, I’m certain his family knows
—How the nation of Israel must have felt.

III. But I’m not sure I can completely understand
—What it was like to go through something like this.

The best that I can do,
—And the best you can do,
—Is to learn from their experience
—And draw wisdom from the way they navigated
—This time of transition and change.

One of the people who has given the difficult task
—Of helping the Israelites reorient themselves
—Was the prophet Isaiah.

Bless his heart, he was given the unimaginable task
—Of speaking a word of hope
—To a people who had no hope.

He was called to speak a word of comfort
—To a community that was living
—In the unthinkable situation of a mass exile.

Chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah
—Represent this time period.
—There are many wonderful words of encouragement
—In these chapters that are helpful to us
—When we experience times of great disorientation in our lives.

Among them are Isaiah 40
—Where the prophets says
—“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
—The LORD is the everlasting God,
—The Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;
—His understanding is unsearchable.
—He gives power to the faint,
—And strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,
—And the young will fall exhausted;
—But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
—They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
—They shall run and not be weary,
—They shall walk and not faint.”  [Is 40:28-31]

Or how about this passage that’s read
—During the Christmas season:
— “How beautiful upon the mountains
—Are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
—Who brings good news, who announces salvation,
—Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
—Together they sing for joy;
—For in plain sight they see
—The return of the LORD to Zion.

Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
—For the LORD has comforted his people,
—He has redeemed Jerusalem.

The LORD has bared his holy arm
—Before the eyes of all the nations;
—And all the ends of the earth shall see
—The salvation of our God. [Is 52:7-10]

IV. Finally, we have the words of our First Lesson
—Where Isaiah gives a particularly helpful word of advice:

“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
—You that seek the LORD.
—Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
—And to the quarry from which you were dug. 

Look to Abraham your father
—And to Sarah who bore you;
—For he was but one when I called him,
—But I blessed him and made him many.”

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
—And to the quarry from which you were dug.

In a time of great disorientation,
—Isaiah gave the Israelites a powerful gift.
—He called them to harness the power of remembrance.

He told them to recall the stories of the saints of old
—Who also had their share of difficult and challenging days.

He told them to remember how God
—Walked with them during their time of trial
—And helped them to navigate unknown territory
—Where the way ahead was not clear.

He told them to share the old stories
—And draw strength from them
—So they could survive the exile
—With the hope that, one day,
—They would be exiles no more.

And so the Israelites remembered.
—They told the story of Abraham and Sarah
—Who were unable to conceive a child
—Even though God had promised them
—They would be the parents of a great nation.

Then one day, an angel told Sarah
—She was going to have a baby.
—She laughed at the proposition
—Since she was already post-menopausal.

And the laughter continued
—As a baby grew in her womb
—And she gave birth to Isaac,
—Which means “Son of Laughter.”

They told the story of Joseph
—Who was tormented by his brothers,
—Sold into slavery, and ended up in Egypt.

Many years later, this same Joseph
—Would rise in the ranks of the Egyptian nobility,
—And save his brothers and their families
—From starvation in their homeland.

They told the story of the Exodus,
—Where God parted the Red Sea,
—Fed them with manna and quail,
—And guided them through the desert
—With a pillar of cloud by day
—And a pillar of fire by night.

In a time of great disorientation,
—When the Israelites lived as exiles in Babylon,
—With no sense of hope whatsoever,
—Isaiah called them to harness the power of remembrance.

And so the Israelites remembered.
—They told stories to one another.

They leaned on the wisdom of their ancestors,
—And somehow found the strength
—To survive an unimaginable national tragedy.

V.  Friends in Christ, I believe our first Lesson
—Contains one of the most powerful pieces of wisdom
—In the Old Testament.

During times of disorientation.
—During times of great transition and change,
—Isaiah calls us to look to the rock from which we were hewn,
—And to the quarry from which we were dug.

He calls us to remember and share with one another
—The stories of the saints of old
—Who persevered during difficult times.

As we tell these stories, we draw strength and inspiration.
—We are comforted and encouraged.

We remember that God helped them through difficult times.
—And God will do the same for us!

Three years ago, Abiding Savior
—Went though such a time of transition
—As we decided to enter into the Reconciling in Christ process.

For some, this decision was so disorienting
—They decided to leave our church.

For others it was an exciting time,
—A step forward into a brave new world
—That the ELCA had paved the way for
—At Churchwide Assembly in 2009.

Still others were somewhere in the middle.
—They wondered if we would survive this transition.

They mourned the loss of the old Abiding Savior
—And were a bit fearful of the new Abiding Savior.

During this challenging time,
—Your pastor heeded the words of Isaiah
—And remembered the stories
—Of Abiding Savior’s spiritual ancestors, some of whom
—You may not know, especially if you’re new to our church.

Stories of people like Charisma Lindberg who was Council President
—When I accepted the call to become
—Mission Redeveloper of Abiding Savior.

The congregation was a bit of a mess in those days.
—Some people had left and they had an interim pastor at the time.

But she, along with the members of the Call Committee,
—Had a deeply held conviction that God
—Was still calling them to be a church.

And so I accepted the call, and we worked together.
—God brought Abiding Savior out of a time of disorientation
—To a place where we built this facility,
—That was affectionately known as
—“The Church on The Hill” in those days.

As I remembered that challenging time
—In the life of our congregation,
—I found the confidence that God would help us
—Navigate the Reconciling in Christ process,
—And we would emerge a stronger church because of it.

I also remembered the story of Karl Zierke,
—Who was once our Treasurer.

He was a mentor to me and a source of wisdom.
—He was a quiet, non-anxious presence in our church
—Which is something I would love to be
—But am not always successful at doing!

He’s who I want to be when I grow up
—And his influence is felt in my life
—To this very day!

I also remembered Tom and Jeanne Wagner,
—Who I affectionally called Abiding Savior’s “worker ninjas.”
—They seemed to know when something needed to be done,
—Even before it was on my radar screen.

They would appear at church, unannounced,
—At random times of the day and night,
—And do little maintenance jobs here and there.

They told me they loved to do this
—Because they didn’t have a lot of money
—But in their retirement years they had the gift of time,
—And wanted to be good stewards of it.

They taught me a few lessons about selfless service,
—That have inspired me ever since.
—You may not feel it but their hands have touched
—Nearly every surface of this building.
—We are who we are, because they
—Were who they were.

VI.  Friends in Christ, if you are going though
—A time of disorientation in your life.
—If you feel like an exile in a strange and foreign land,
—I hope you’ll take Isaiah’s advice from our gospel lesson
—And remember the rock from which you were hewn,
—And the quarry from which you were dug.
 

Recall the stories of the saints in your life
—Who persevered through difficult times.

May the telling of those stories
—Give you courage and strength.

May you find the wisdom to help you navigate
—This time of transition and change.

AMEN

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Standing on the Rock

"Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug." [Isaiah 51:1, NRSV]

These words are a part of the writings known as Second Isaiah. They were composed during the time of Israel's exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. The Israelites were living in desperate times. Times that were filled with hardship and struggle. Times that tested their faith and made them wonder whether they would ever see their homeland again.

To these desperate people, Isaiah offered a word of encouragement and hope; a word that would help to sustain them through whatever dark times lie ahead. He told them to remember their ancestors, both literal and spiritual. Remember the stories of the people of faith that got us where we are. Remember how they persevered through difficult times and draw inspiration and strength from their example.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the LGBT community has such a weak spiritual base is because LGBT spirituality is relatively a new thing. Not too long ago there wasn't such a thing as a "queer theologian." Not too long ago there was not blogs such as mine. The only message we received was that we were going to hell. There weren't many gay spiritual rocks to look back on. There were not many out examples for us to follow.

Fortunately, that is beginning to change. Two of my favorite queer spiritual rocks are Mel White and Gene Robinson. Rev. Mel White works with Soulforce, a wonderful organization dedicated to the eradication of spiritual violence against LGBT people. I've met Mel on several occasions and found him to be a humble but strong spirit. He wrote "Stranger at the Gate" which was a very important book for me. His spiritual coming out story is powerful and inspiring. I also received non-violent resistance training from Soulforce which has been an invaluable tool in my advocacy work for a number of oppressed minorities.

Rev. Gene Robinson, of course, is the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop. I had the fortunate opportunity to have lunch with him while he was in Asheville and found him to be smart, funny and humble.  I can see why the people he serves elected him as bishop.  I admire the sacrifices he had made to advance LGBT equality in the church.

Who are our spiritual rocks? If we don't have one, it's time to seek one out. They don't have to be national figures. They can be a local pastor or person of faith who constantly reminds you that God loves God's LGBT children and you are precious and holy in his sight. It's essential that we, as a community, begin to form a bedrock of queer spirituality that we can all build on. Our health and wellness depends upon it.

Perhaps a good place to start is the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So." It profiles a number of GLBT spiritual rocks and tells their story well. Check it out and, whatever we do, let us see out those LGBT spiritual elders who can be our rock when we are facing difficult times.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday Sermon - The Canaanite Woman

ORDINARY 20A  Matt 15:21-28  David Eck
8/17/14

I. I must confess, I’ve never
—Been called a “dog” before.

But I have been called an unrepentant sinner,
—A reprobate, Possessed by the devil,
—A sissy, and a whole lot worse.

Therefore, when I hear the words
—That “allegedly” came out of the mouth
—Of my Lord and Savior,
—I cringe just a little bit.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs.”

Did Jesus REALLY say this?
—And if he did, why would he say such a thing?

It makes him look like a bully,
—An uncaring thug.

It makes him look like a mean, heartless person.
—And we know this is definitely NOT true.

Jesus was known for his compassion,
—His mercy, and his deep wisdom.

He had a reputation for ignoring
—Social, political and racial boundaries
—In order to communicate God’s love for all people.

How could THIS Jesus utter those hateful words:
—“It is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs”?

How could THIS Jesus, who drew a wide circle
—Around those he considered to be his friends,
—Say, “I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of Israel.”

It makes him look inconsistent at best
—Or a liar at worse!

How could THIS Jesus, who loves
—A reprobate, possessed by the devil, sissy like me,
—Reject a woman simply because
—She was born in the district of Tyre and Sidon?
—It just doesn’t make any sense!

Will the REAL Jesus please stand up!

II. So, Friends in Christ,
—We have our work cut out for us this morning.
—So let’s journey through our gospel lesson
—And see if we can make any sense out of it!

The context of our story actually begins in chapter 14
—Where Jesus fed 5,000 people on the shores of Galilee.

He didn’t ask the Gentiles to go away.
—He didn’t check any driver’s licenses
—To make sure everyone was a resident of Israel.

He fed EVERYONE who came to hear him speak:
—The young and the old,
—The rich ad the poor,
—The native and the immigrant,
—The powerful and the marginalized.

Now THAT’s that Jesus we know and love.
—He fed EVERYONE and sent them home
—With doggy bags as well!

That night he sent the disciples
—Across Lake Galilee
—Where they encountered a storm
—As well as Jesus walking on water.

The next morning, when they arrived
—Safely on the opposite shore,
—He began healing the sick in Gennesaret,
—Which is a Jewish town
—On the North Western shore of Galilee
—Close to Capernaum.

As chapter 15 begins, Matthew tells us
—That while Jesus was in Gennesaret,
—He had an argument with the Pharisees
—And scribes who came from Jerusalem.

They were criticizing him
—Because his disciples broke with the tradition of Jewish elders
—And refused to do the ceremonial washing of hands,
—Before they shared a meal.

Jesus called the Pharisees “hypocrites,”
—And said they honored God with their lips
—But their hearts were far from God.

He also told them
—“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,
—But it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

In other words, outside appearances are not as important
—As what’s in a person’s heart and mind.

This ALSO sounds like the Jesus
—We know and love.
—It’s a “You can’t judge a book
—By it’s cover” moment!
—So far, so good.

III. But then things start to get a bit weird
—When we arrive at our gospel lesson.
—Matthew tells us Jesus and his disciples
—Left Gennesaret and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Now most people reading this
—Wouldn’t give it a second thought.
—But if you know your Biblical geography,
—This is not the kind of place your typical rabbi
—Would visit on a road trip.

Tyre and Sidon are coastal towns on the Mediterranean.
—They are northwest of Gennesaret
—Are are smack dab in the middle
—Of Phoenicia, which is modern day Lebanon.

This is Gentile territory
—It’s the land of the infamous Queen Jezebel
—Who put a bounty on Elijah’s head.

It’s the land of Baal worship,
—And other foreign deities.
—It’s NOT the kind of place a rabbi
—Would typically go.

But Jesus intentionally went there.
—For me, this is a good thing
—And is consistent with the kind of person
—I understand Jesus to be.

He is breaking down barriers of race and geography,
—So that all people could experience
—The good news of God’s reign among us.
—So far, so good.

IV.  While he is in this region a Canaanite woman
—Approached him and started shouting,
—“Have mercy on me, Son of David;
—My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Th first thing that is unusual about this
—Is that this is the only place in the New testament
—Where someone is described as a Canaanite.

In New Testament times, there was no land known as Canaan
—So this is probably a derogatory term
—Used against the Phoenicians who lived in the region.

This is where Mark’s version
—Of the same story gets it it right.

Mark says she was of “Syrophoenician origin.”   [Mk 7:26]
—Which is a more accurate description
—Of where she was from.

So let’s assume that Matthew is using
—The word “Canaanite” as a literary devise.
—He’s bating the story with negative overtones
—From the get go.

The second thing that is unusual is that
—She calls Jesus “Son of David”
—Which is a distinctly Jewish term
—With Messianic overtones.

At this point in Matthew’s gospel
—The disciples haven’t even figured this out.
—So it’s very unusual that she would know this.

What is Jesus response to her desperate plea?
—Matthew tells us that “he didn’t answer her at all.”

You can’t be serious!
—It’s not like Jesus to ignore another person’s suffering,
—Especially one who had a deep understanding
—Of who he was.

Mark’s version of the story says nothing of the sort,
—So I’m inclined to side with him.
—This detail makes no sense at all to me!

Mark says Jesus responded to her plea immediately
—Which sounds more like the Jesus we know and love.

V.  As the story continues, the disciples urge Jesus
—To send her away, implying that she is an annoyance
—Who is not worthy of Jesus time.

Jesus response to their request is
—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
—I don’t mean to be unkind but this is utterly ridiculous
—And could not have come from the mouth of Jesus.

Mark’s version says nothing of the sort.
—Plus there is the added observation
—That Jesus regularly ministered to foreigners
---Such as the Samaritan woman at the well   [John 4:7-42]
---As well as one of the ten lepers.   [Luke 17:11-19]

And what about the Parable of the Good Samaritan   [Luke 10:29-37]
---Where Jesus uses a pagan as a model
---For how to live the godly life?

What about John 8:48 where Jesus
---Is even accused of being a Samaritan
---By a group of Jews in the Temple?

Therefore, we have to discount this phrase
—As being the authentic words of Jesus
—Because it is completely inconsistent
—With the rest of his ministry,
—Including the events in Matthew 14
—Which preceded our gospel lesson.

VI. Finally, we arrive at those infamous words
—That Jesus utters to this poor woman,
—“It is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs.”

Now, the word DOG used here
—Is KUNARION in the original Greek.
—It is the neuter form of KUON,
—And is neither male or female.

It’s the same word used by
—Both Jesus and the woman in this story.
—It is best translated as “puppies,” or “little dogs.”

This might soften a blow a little bit,
—But it’s still hard to imagine Jesus
—Saying something like this!

Mark’s version of what Jesus says
—Is a little bit softer:
—“Let the children be fed FIRST,
—For it is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs.”   [Mk 7:27]

At least Mark leaves room for a shred of hope
—That Jesus will grant this woman’s request.

Since Mark is the earliest of the gospels to be written
—His may be closer to the original story.

What might be going on in Matthew
—Has to do with his audience who was primarily Jewish.

They would not have flinched at Jesus saying
—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
—They would have cheered when Jesus referred
—To the Canaanite woman as a dog.

My take on this is that Matthew
—Is setting up his audience for a big surprise.

They would want Jesus to minister only to Jews
—But as the text continues, it’s clear
—That his circle of mercy is wider
—Than they would want it to be.

VII.  In response to Jesus demeaning words,
—The Canaanite woman replies:
—“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs
—That fall from their masters’ table.”

In other words, you might call me a dog,
—But even dogs get treated with love and mercy,
—By their owners.

Mark’s version of the story says
—Essentially the same thing, so this detail
—In consistent in both gospels.

What this woman did was
—Claim her place at the table
—Or at least UNDER the table!

She refuses to settle for anything less
—And Jesus grants her request!
—“Woman, great is your faith!” Jesus says.
—“Let it be done for you as you wish.”
—And her daughter was healed instantly.

If I’m right about Matthew
—Setting up his audience for a big surprise,
—Then they would gasp audibly as Jesus
—Grants this woman’s request.

Once again, he shows us that no one
—Is undeserving of Gods love and mercy.
—If we set aside the way Matthew tells the story
—And look at it’s overarching message,
—This is what emerges.

VIII.  So, friends in Christ,
—What can we learn from this
—Strange and difficult gospel lesson?

We’ll, I suspect we’re not much better
—Than Matthew’s original audience
—When it comes to judging others.

Everyone in this room has prejudices,
—Both hidden and revealed.
—Everyone in this room would label certain people
—As “dogs” who are unworthy of our love and compassion.
 

For some it might be the homeless
—Who we think of as lazy.
—For others it’s the Muslims
—All of whom we secretly suspect are terrorists.

For some it’s illegal immigrants
—Who are living in our country.
—For others it is the residents of Gaza,
—Who are caught in a longstanding war
—Between Hamas and Israel.

For some it’s transgendered people
—Or those of a different race.

I could name more names
—But I think you get the point.
—We are pretty good at judging,
—But not so good at loving.

We are pretty good at constructing walls
—Instead of building bridges.

Each of us has “dogs” in our lives
—Whether we care to admit it or not.

The power of our gospel lesson,
—In spite of its troublesome details,
—Is that Jesus granted this woman’s request
—For him to heal her daughter.

He transcended the prejudices of his people,
—And maybe even his own personal prejudice.

This woman reminded him of who he was:
—The Son of David; the savior not only of Israel,
—But the Savior of the world.

THIS, this is the Jesus we know and love.
—This is the Jesus who loves a reprobate,
—Possessed by the devil, sissy like me.

I have the sneaking suspicion that he calls us
—To do the same, expanding our circle of mercy,
—Until it embraces the whole world.

We shouldn’t settle for anything less!  AMEN

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Temple Dogs

From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre.  He entered house and did not want anyone to know he was thereYet he could not escape noticebut a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about himand she came and bowed down at his feetNow the woman was a Gentileof Syrophoenician originShe begged him to cast the demon out of her daughterHe said to her,Let the children be fed firstfor it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sireven the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to herFor saying thatyou may gothe demon has left your daughter." So she went homefound the child lying on the bedand the demon gone. [Mark 7:24-30, NRSV]

     While vacationing in Egypt I came across something that is rarely seen in America: packs of wild dogs. I affectionately named them Temple Dogs since packs of them hung around pyramids, temples and mosques. I took quite a few photos of them during my trip. Temple Dogs are seen by the locals as varmints; nothing more than big rats. They warn tourists not to touch them since they carry many diseases. They also discourage people from feeding them since this only encourages them to hang around. All the locals do is chase Temple Dogs with sticks when they come too close, which rarely happens, since Temple Dogs have learned from experience that human beings treat them poorly.
     It is this Middle Eastern image of dogs that I'd like us to keep in mind as we hear Jesus say the following words to a woman who asked him to heal her daughter: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." OUCH! Did Jesus really say that? What in the world is going on in this text? It would appear that Jesus is calling the woman a dog. If we take into account the Middle Eastern view of dogs I just described these words on the lips of Jesus are virtually unthinkable!
     This is a very controversial text, indeed, and there are many theories as to how we should understand this text. One theory is that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in this situation. What is essence is happening here is that he is setting the stage for a teaching moment with the disciples. First he states the idea that his ministry is limited to the lost sheep of Israel, a thought which none of his disciples would disagree with. Then he follows this up with his shocking statement about taking the children's food and throwing it to the dogs.
     Some scholars say that this statement was a common Jewish sentiment in his day, but with a slight difference: The Greek word for dog is KUON. But in this case he uses the diminutive form of the word for dog KUNARIA which we would translate as "little doggies" or "puppies." This slight difference in form could indicate that Jesus was making fun of the common wisdom of the day. A wisdom he did not particularly subscribe to as would be self evident when he healed the woman's daughter.
     If we take this approach, we can see that the woman catches on to Jesus' humor and plays along with her response that "Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs." Then, when Jesus heals the daughter, he is saying through his actions that his ministry is not limited to the house of Israel, but will extend to all people, even those whom the disciples see as dogs.
     This unusual encounter in the gospels forces us all to ask the question: "Who do we treat as dogs in this world? What are our long-standing prejudices? What types of people do we see as undeserving of blessing from God? Some people answer that by treating the LGBT community as dogs. Others have prejudices against immigrant workers, those of another class, the homeless, those imprisoned, etc. etc. I hope this text will challenge us to examine our prejudices and encounter a Savior whose grace, mercy and healing know no bounds.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Walking on Water

ORDINARY 19A  Matthew 14:22-33  David Eck
8/10/14

I. It had been quite an exciting day
—For Peter and the rest of the disciples.

There, on the shores of Lake Galilee,
—Jesus had fed over 5000 people
—With five loaves and two fishes.

5000 people!  Five loaves.  Two fishes.
—You do the math!
—It’s pretty impressive to say the least!

Then, after everyone’s belly was full,
—The disciples gathered all the leftover pieces
—And filled twelve huge baskets with them.

12 baskets!  Something is seriously wrong with this equation.
—But the disciples didn't complain.
—Jesus’ math was always a little bit different
—Than the kind they learned in school.
—They wouldn’t have it any other way!

II. After witnessing a holy moment such as this,
—One would think the disciples
—Would stick around for a while
—And bask in the glory of the moment.

One would think Jesus would
—Sign a few autographs, kiss a few babies,
—And simply enjoy the adulation of the crowd.

But Jesus had other plans.
—Matthew says he “immediately”
—“Made the disciples get into a boat
—And go on ahead to the other side” of the lake.

Meanwhile, he gave the crowd a parting benediction
—And probably told them to take the leftover baskets of food
—And give them to the poor.

Then he did something
—We rarely give ourselves permission to do:
—He climbed up the hill and spent time with God
—In prayer and solitude.

He got away from the push and pull of the crowd.
—He escaped the endless questions of the disciples.

For a moment it was just he and his Abba.
—He created a quiet place, a sanctuary,
—Where he could recharge his spiritual batteries.
—He gave himself permission to stop being productive
—And simply be.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”      [Ps 46:10]
—The Psalmist reminds us.

Jesus knew how to be still.
—He invites us to do the same
—If we are willing to follow his example.

III. But the disciples were not so lucky that night!
—Lake Galilee might have been a quiet place
—As they began their journey.
—But when the sun had set, and the moon
—Was a small sliver in the sky,
—A great windstorm arose on the lake.

This was a common occurrence.
—But it didn’t make it any less terrifying.

Ancient superstitions called to mind
—The gods of the deep:
—AMUN, Egyptian god of wind and creation,
—HADAD, Semitic god of storm and rain,
—JUPITER, Roman god of sky and weather,
—And ZEUS, Greek god of thunder.

It called to mind the great Leviathan,
—The sea monsters who dwelt in the deep.

And so, when the wind and waves
—Began to toss the boat to and fro,
—The disciples were terrified.

They were far from land
—And were sailing against the wind.
—I’m sure they thought they didn’t stand a chance.

They probably wondered why Jesus
—Sent them out onto the lake in the first place.

Surely, the man who fed 5000 people
—Could foresee the disciples’ impending doom.

Surely the man who produced 12 baskets of leftovers
—Could also predict an incoming storm.
—Where WAS Jesus when you needed him?

But, friends in Christ, do we do any better
—When the storms of life batter our boats?

The world around us is a scary place.
—The storm gods of war, greed and hate
—Attack us from every side.

The great Leviathans of power and ambition
—Threaten to capsize our little boats.
—We hardly stand a chance against them.

During these times of storm and wind,
—Don’t we wonder where the heck Jesus is?
—Don’t we fear we are going to drown?

Let’s not judge the disciples too quickly
—For we have been in the same boat as them
—More times than we can recall!

IV. Thankfully, this is not the end of the story!
—As the wind rocked the boat relentlessly;
—As the salt spray from the waves stung their eyes
—And made it difficult for them to see,
—They noticed a figure coming toward them.

This figure made them even more terrified
—Than they were before.
—“It’s a ghost” they cried out in fear.
—It’s one of the ancient gods
—Who has come to finish us off!

But as soon as they vocalized their fear.
—The ghost spoke: “Take heart, it is I;
—Do not be afraid.”

Now the phrasing of this
—Sounds more like a Shakespearean play,
—Than the comforting words of a savior.

“Take heart, it is I.  Fearest thou not
—For I have come to save thee!”

What Jesus actually said was,
—“THARSEO,, have courage.
— EIMI EGO, the Great I Am is with you!”
—There is no reason to be afraid.

The I AM who stirred up the waters of chaos
—And gave birth to light is with you!
—The I AM who called to Moses
—In the burning bush is with you!

The I AM who led the Israelites
—From slavery to freedom is with you!
—The I AM who became flesh and
—And moved into the neighborhood is with you!”

V.  Isn’t this the reassurance we need
—When the storms of life threaten to capsize our boats?

We might think specters of darkness
—Surround us on every side.
—We may think the paranormal forces of evil
—Are going to devour us.

But Jesus cuts through their thunderous voices of doom
—And says “I AM.  I AM Emmanuel.  God is with you.
—God will see you through the storm.
—Have courage.  There is no reason to be afraid.”

We hear this reassuring voice
—In many different ways.
—Sometimes it comes to us
—While we’re gathered for worship.

Through bread and wine, water and word,
—Prayer and praise, Jesus, the great I AM,
—Cuts through the howling winds
—And crashing thunder of the world.

He becomes a voice of calm
—In the midst of our restless seas.

Listen carefully and you will hear his voice.
—You will find a smidgen of courage
—And a pinch of peace.

The storm may still be there,
—But we will know that we are not alone!
—Jesus is with us, friends in Christ!

Let us claim this portion of the story for ourselves
—And believe that there is no storm big enough
—To keep Jesus from coming to our rescue
—And speaking a word of calm reassurance:

“Have courage.  The Great I AM is with you.
—There is no reason to be afraid.”

VI.  What comes next is the stuff of legend,
—And part of the story remains untold, until now.

First, Peter gets a smidgen of courage.
—And, as he sometimes does,
—He lumbers full steam ahead,
—Or should I say full storm ahead?

“Jesus, it it’s really you, command me
—To come to you on the water.”

Say what?  I’m sure the other disciples
—Thought Peter was out of his mind
—Which sometimes happened!

They weren't going anywhere!
—They were going to stay in the boat
—And wait until the storm passed.

But Peter, for a brief and shining moment, was fearless.
—When Jesus said to him, “Come,”…he went!
—First one foot and then the other.
—Much to his surprise, Peter was walking on water.

But the water in question was not
—A tranquil frozen lake in Minnesota.

It was not a shallow ridge of sand
—In an otherwise deep ocean.

The water in question was a raging storm,
—And Peter was walking on it.
—Peter refused to let the storm get the best of him.
—He trusted Jesus and went for it.

VII. This is not a person of “little faith”
—As the end of the story suggests.
—This is a spiritual giant, a role model for us to follow.

The other disciples were total cowards.
—They stayed in the boat, paralyzed by fear.
—They were passive, waiting for Jesus
—To make something happen.

But not Peter, he took Jesus at his word
—And faced the storm head-on.

Granted, his little miracle was short-lived
—But dang it, he pulled it off nonetheless!

Friends in Christ, it’s easy for us
—To remain paralyzed by fear,
—When the storms of life threaten to capsize our boats.

It’s a natural inclination for us to want to
—Hide in the prow of the boat
—And hope someone will rescue us.

But Peter does a brave thing.
—He faces the storm head-on.
—He trusts Jesus
—And takes a literal step of faith
—Out onto a stormy sea.

This is such a difficult thing to do!
—His bravery is way underestimated in this story.

It’s the kind of bravery that faces cancer head-on
—With a positive attitude and steeled determination.

It’s the kind of bravery that works two jobs
—And takes on-line classes, dreaming of a better future
—For our family.

It’s the kind of bravery that doesn’t let
—This morning’s headlines overwhelm us,
—But makes us even more committed
—To the work of love, justice and peacemaking.

VIII.  When most people hear this story
—They think Peter is a failure because
—He became frightened, and began to sink.

I don’t think this is true at all!
—This boy was walking on water.
—Let’s see if we can top that!

While it’s true that Peter began to sink,
—He had sense enough to cry out “Lord, save me!”
—The next sentence in our gospel lesson
—Is the most beautiful of them all.

“Jesus IMMEDIATELY reached out his hand and caught him.”
—There’s that word again, IMMEDIATELY.

Initially in our story it was a word of hurry
—As Jesus shoved the disciples into a boat
—And told them to set sail.

Here, it is a word of hope and calm.
—Jesus did not hesitate to save Peter.
—He reached out his hand and caught Peter’s.
—Together they walked hand in hand
—To the safety of the boat.

When they got there, the winds subsided
—And there was a great calm.

If there is a more beautiful image
—Of who Jesus is to us,
—I’m not sure what it is!

Yes, I’m glad he’s the shepherd
—Who searches diligently for his lost sheep.

Yes I’m glad he’s the sower
—Who can produce a great harvest
—From a small patch of good soil.


But I am most thankful that he is great I AM
—Who promises to be with us
—In the midst of life’s storms.

When we feel helpless and overwhelmed
—Jesus speaks to us words of comfort:
— “Have courage.  The Great I AM is with you.
—There is no reason to be afraid.”

When we step out in faith
—And find ourselves walking on water,
—Jesus cheers us on every stop of the way.

Finally, when the waves begin to overwhelm us
—And we begin to sink,
—Jesus IMMEDIATELY take our hands
—Pulls us up, and walks us to the safety of the boat.

IX. Friends in Christ,
—There are so many things in our world
—That cause us to be fearful.
—I can guarantee that sudden storms will arise
—In everyone’s life.

But the good news we take with us this morning
—Is that Jesus is with us.
—The Great I AM is with us.
—He promises to take our hands
—And see us through the storm.

Let’s believe it and let’s claim it
—For ourselves, our loved ones,
—Our church, our community, and our world.
—AMEN