First Congregational Church
August 9, 2020
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost & Communion
Romans 10:5-17, Matthew 14:22-33
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Before the sermon proper, I have a couple of visuals for you all. The first is obviously relevant to our second scripture passage, and the first is apropos to the topic in general.
A cowboy rides his horse into a small town. His throat is parched, so he ties his horse to a pole next to a bar and goes in for a root beer. He comes out a few minutes later, and someone already stole his horse.
The people of the town are looking to see his reaction, they aren’t even discreet about it. He looks around at everyone and says loud and clear: “I will walk back into the bar to get myself another root beer, and if I don’t see my horse right in front of the bar, I will have to do what I did in Texas a year ago after someone stole my horse. And trust me, I didn’t like what I had to do in Texas a year ago.”
After his confident speech, the man walked back into the bar. The townsfolk looked at each other in fear and got the horse back. The cowboy finished his second root beer and walked out of the bar, cinched up the horse, but just before he left the bartender walked up to him and asked. “Hey, cowboy, we know that we got you your horse back, but do you mind telling us what you had to do a year ago in Texas?” The cowboy looked at him with an iron gaze and responded: “I had to walk home.”
Having sat in a pew a time or two over the course of my life, I am well aware of the ease of one’s mind drifting away from the service, sermon, hymns, and every other part of even the most spectacular of worship services. So this morning I’m giving you all an extra head’s up, because I think Eugene Peterson’s treatment of our two scripture passages not only make them clearer, but are refreshing and invitational for our modern day.
Romans 10:5-17 The Message
4-10 The earlier revelation was intended simply to get us ready for the Messiah, who then puts everything right for those who trust him to do it. Moses wrote that anyone who insists on using the law code to live right before God soon discovers it’s not so easy—every detail of life regulated by fine print! But trusting God to shape the right living in us is a different story—no precarious climb up to heaven to recruit the Messiah, no dangerous descent into hell to rescue the Messiah. So what exactly was Moses saying?
The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest.
It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”
11-13 Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”
14-17 But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims, A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!
But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: “Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to.
Matthew 14:22-33 The Message Walking on the Water
22-23 As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.
24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.
27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” 28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”
29-30 He said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”
31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”
32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”
Thank you, Bill and Sonia. In the middle of the Romans passage, there is this line: “Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” A couple lines later, the writer of Romans asks, “But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust?” The passage then goes on to hint at - I think - Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem - with that “grand processions” comment. And then the scripture about Peter trusting Jesus - and not trusting follows. It seems rather pointed, that we trust God as Jesus tried so hard to tell us - over the course of all these centuries.
Except that sometimes, we get distracted, and boy, oh, boy, or girl, oh, girl, what there isn’t to distract us these days?! I came across a meme by Joyce Meyer that summarized the essence of the whole trust issue. It said, “Patience is not the ability to wait, but how you act while you’re waiting.”
One of our most important jobs these days is to remember that after we determine to live a life patterned after Christ, is that one of God’s jobs is then to go to work and set things right for us - and that we can trust God where we are lead and in what we are called to do. It’s a truth we can rely on, even in the darkest of night, which is the reference of that 4:00 a.m. mention by Matthew. Even when we are faint-hearted, we can trust God to reach out to us without hesitation, keeping in mind that God’s world and our world have different timing frames. Even when it seems that our lives are hanging ten for the time being, God is in our boat with us, not leaving us or forsaking us.
It’s helpful to remember those truths, when we can go to places like our church or to be with people we know well. But we can’t always be with those we want to be with, or be in the places we’d like to be. But we all have the ability, this morning, to be reminded of God’s promises and our ability to trust God as we partake of our Lord’s Supper together - regardless of when you can actually do it - because it is in the same spirit.
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
So we are reminded that while Jesus was eating with his disciples that last night, when he took the bread, blessed it in giving thanks for it, when he gave it to them and said, “Eat, this is my body for you,” that he understands us and our difficulties in sometimes trusting. In eating that which represents Christ’s body, the movement of our arms, the chewing and the tasting reinforce memories, handed down through the centuries, that we can trust God, through God’s Son and God’s Holy Spirit. The bread of life, for the people of God.
When we remember Jesus taking the cup, blessing it in giving thanks for it, we are reminded again, by the action of arm, the drinking and swallowing, that we can trust the pattern of partaking of the cup, and thereby trusting in the gift of Christ’s love for us. The cup of love, for the people of God.
Faint-hearted, what’s got into us this day is our reminder that have a security and a safe place for placing our trust - regardless of what is going on in the world and around us. So let us give thanks.
God of the lost and found, of ups and downs, thank you for always being there, for us and with us and even in us - especially for those times of our disbelief. Thank you for giving us practice, to make muscle memories, to increase our faith, sustain us in our worries and strengthen our resolve to again make our way with you - renewed and refreshed. Help each of us to act out of such trust, that we might be able to build bridges, heal wounds and mend the brokenness of this world. For your presence and work and grace and love, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.