Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 14’

Preparation for Worship

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence.  In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is
when those who worship God
desire to live in unity and peace.

It is like the joy experienced
on seeing rainfall transform arid desert land
into a floral firework extravaganza,
a carpet of blooming colors.

In these ways, God’s blessings are truly visible.

Opening Prayer
God of all creation, your beauty and your blessings are visible not only in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the rivers running through, but also wherever people gather to worship you.  In this time, we come before you grateful for all your blessings.  We praise you for creating us and thus inviting us to share life with you. We praise you for showing us how to live through Jesus, the Christ. We praise you for empowering our lives with your Spirit. You desire a just and peaceful world. May we work with you to peacefully break down the barriers which separate people from you and from one another. This we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Song of Praise
All Are Welcome

Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And as symbol of God’s grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome…

Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome…

Let us build a house where hands will reach
Beyond the wood and stone
To heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
And live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
Bear the image of God’s face;
Let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome…

Let us build a house where all are named,
Their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed
As words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
Prayers of faith and songs of grace,
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome…

Psalm Reading and Prayer for Others

Psalm 67
Let God grant us grace and bless us;
let God make his face shine on us,
so that your way becomes known on earth,
so that your salvation becomes known among all the nations.

Let the people thank you, God!
Let all the people thank you!
Let the people celebrate
and shout with joy
because you judge the nations fairly
and guide all nations on the earth.
Let the people thank you, God!
Let all the people thank you!

The earth has yielded its harvest.
God blesses us—our God blesses us!
Let God continue to bless us;
let the far ends of the earth honor him.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….

God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice
to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world. Amen.

Celebrating Communion

Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means that anyone who seeks to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.

Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession
Lord Jesus Christ, you swept away centuries of prejudice and legalism when you reached out and accepted people as they were – accepted them as loved fellow human beings.

We confess our failure to be as inclusive as you….
if people feel excluded from our fellowship because of their appearance, their poverty, their lack of power or low self-image:
Forgive us.
Pause for reflection on these words, think carefully and honestly about where we are and who in our community may feel excluded from our fellowship.

If people feel excluded from our fellowship because of their sexuality, their addiction, their lack of education, their lack of a job……
Forgive us.
Pause for reflection on these words, think carefully and honestly about where we are and who in our community may feel excluded from our fellowship.

Strengthen us, Lord, where we are weak, and make us strong to withstand the seduction of a society which seems obsessed with the acquisition of wealth and power. We know in our hearts that discipleship demands an utterly new way of seeing people as you did, and being with them unconditionally, as you were, but the journey from heart to eyes and hands and feet can be long and difficult .

We ask your forgiveness Lord. As people who have received your grace and mercy over and over, may we be as merciful and as compassionate as you, in all we say and do in your name. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness
John 3:17-18
We rejoice in the good news that God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned.
Thanks be to God!

Now let us come to the “table.”

Invitation
The table has been prepared as Jesus requested,
and we have been invited to the meal.
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve;
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom.

We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence;
like Mary eager to learn, and full of grief and love.
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious;
like Mary, faithful to the end.

Jesus offers us the bread and the cup.
We come to the table of Christ.

Share what you have to eat.
Before eating, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ.
As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink.
Before drinking, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us
that our sins will be forgiven.
As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

Special Music
What Wondrous Love

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 15:10-20
Jesus called the crowd near and said to them, “Listen and understand. It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father didn’t plant will be pulled up. Leave the Pharisees alone. They are blind people who are guides to blind people. But if a blind person leads another blind person, they will both fall into a ditch.” Then Peter spoke up, “Explain this riddle to us.” Jesus said, “Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you know that everything that goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what goes out of the mouth comes from the heart. And that’s what contaminates a person in God’s sight. Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adultery, sexual sins, thefts, false testimonies, and insults. These contaminate a person in God’s sight. But eating without washing hands doesn’t contaminate in God’s sight.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey
“Wash Your Heart Out With Soap” 

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

Famously the French philosopher René Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am.”  He was not in search of religious knowledge but existential recognition. That is, he was answering the question, “How do we know we exist?” As long as I think or even doubt, he writes, I can only do so because I exist. And since I think, therefore, I am, therefore, my existence is proven.  

Most of us don’t put too much work into answering the questions of existence. Yet I like the fact that he is willing to explore it. Descartes does not take for granted something that is so basic to life as existence. Whether we agree with his philosophy, I like his interest in finding understanding for things that are essential to life.  

When Jesus brings up the question about eating, he is asking us to consider something that every single person in the entire world does. We all eat. If we don’t, we can’t survive. In addition, as I have said numerous times, all people deserve to eat. If the world were a just place then the only person who would ever go a day without eating is the one doing so voluntarily. Living with an unjust distribution of wealth and resources, however, means that people by the millions are forced to endure hunger daily. But, before I go off on one of my favorite topics, let’s return to what Jesus says about food. This time, he’s talking about holiness rather than hunger.    

Christianity is the only major world religion that does not have restrictions on food consumption as part of its central teachings. Jews have kosher food laws. Muslims follow halal practices to determine what is permitted to eat and foods to avoid. Hindus and Buddhists are well known vegetarians believing that they should not eat the flesh of any sentient being because the life within them is the same as the life in us. Though all the Jewish food restrictions are in the Bible (mostly in Leviticus), Christians simply ignore these biblical requirements. Even biblical inerrantists who will argue with their own grandmother that every word of the Bible is inspired and without contradiction will queue up in the Bojangle’s take-out window and order their fill of sausage biscuits without considering that the Bible is explicit when it says “And the pig…it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcass. It is unclean for you.” (Leviticus 11:8) While I am convinced that the story of Peter in Joppa played a big role in Christianity setting aside the kosher food laws (see Acts 10), Jesus paved the way for Baptists to enjoy their bacon in Matthew 15.   

In every way, Jesus was a bar mitzvah-ed, Torah-reading, Sabbath-attending, festival observing Jewish Palestinian. Like his Jewish disciples, Jesus likely never ate food that was not kosher. So consider the angst he caused among his Jewish followers when he says publicly to a crowd of people, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:10b-11) Kosher food was so basic to Jewish life and here Jesus is questioning its religious power. Yet it is clearly delineated in the Torah. And the Torah is God’s Word. No wonder the very next thing the disciples tell Jesus is, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 

I really don’t think Jesus was either being snarky — “Hey, Peter. Listen to this. It’s really going to tick off those Pharisees” — or showing disdain — “Good, I’m glad they were offended. I meant to do that.” And he certainly is not criticizing the practice of eating kosher on its own. My conclusion is different: I believe Jesus knew that too many of his own followers trusted that their holiness was a result of following good things like eating kosher. When we judge ourselves and think that all is well with our soul because we remembered to skip the bacon cheeseburger and order the lamb stew, then Jesus says we have relegated our righteousness to rules. It turns out that even the unholy ones can play by the rules and still be wicked. Something more is required to be holy. 

You and I don’t eat kosher, though, remember – Christianity has no food restrictions. Before we go any further with Jesus’ teaching, then, we have to examine ourselves and see what it is that we have substituted for kosher laws. What rule do we observe that makes us feel good about God’s judgment on our life? The trick is, it has to be something that is not inherently wrong but that we trust way too much.  

Given that the novel coronavirus is disrupting almost every area of life right now, perhaps we can put attending worship in the sanctuary in place of eating kosher food. All of us want to be gathered together in the sanctuary on Sundays for worship. Other than eating every day, attending worship on Sundays with other Christians in a sanctuary may be the most “normal” part of my entire life. I have been doing it nearly every single Sunday for the past 53 years. It began as a family practice. Then became a habit. Maybe for a time it was even a way to cope with life and its difficulties. In college, my roommate went to worship to find a girlfriend. I’ve had people tell me they come to church because it helps them not feel guilty. Others come because they always feel guilty. Some have determined that the end result of worship is that it makes them a better person, and their mama said to go to church as long as it helps you. I have known couples who came to church just to have a free place to get married. Perhaps we all can agree that worship is not only a good thing, but is one of the most central disciplines for all Christians everywhere. But we also know inherently that worship can be misused, turned into a selfish gain, and often attended rather than practiced. If we worship only to force God to like us, then we have missed the target. Worship is to be centered always on God’s presence and our humble response. God is the focus of worship. Not us. Not what it produces. Not how it makes us feel. And it is always free to choose and never a compulsion. Thus in Matthew 15 Jesus might well say, “It is not missing worship that defiles you, nor coming to worship that sanctifies. It is what is in your heart that defiles.”  

So hear this, Jesus says. If we think coming to the sanctuary is what it takes for God to like us, even love us, and therefore be required to accept us, then we are deceiving ourselves. Worship in the sanctuary is not a vaccination against damnation. In the same way, being prevented from attending worship in the sanctuary in order to keep other people healthy is not an evil perpetrated by cancel culture or a conspiracy of anti-Christian liberals in American politics. 

Here is my paraphrase of Jesus’ words in response to the disciples: “Do you see that whoever goes into the sanctuary also leaves the sanctuary and returns to the world. It is the worship of God that comes from the heart that God sees. Thus in worship and out in the world, our heart reveals our love for God and one another. The heart also shows what defiles us – manipulative intentions, power over others, over indulgence in desire, wanting what we don’t need, repeating false lies, celebrating when people we don’t like fail. These are what defile a person, but to worship at home during a pandemic does not defile.” 

I’m convinced that much of what Jesus says is intended to move us away from legalism. Legalism is childish ignorance. Righteousness is not a checklist. Commandments are not like bumper gates at the bowling alley. Following God doesn’t have GPS coordinates. Holiness is not a part of your aura. Discipleship is not calculated by karma. You are not what you eat…or drink. These are all façades and can be made up. It’s as easy to dress up on the outside and fool a bunch of people as it is to cheat at solitaire. Yet in both instances, we know the difference. So does God. 

When I was growing up, strict orders against vulgar language were enforced. Not just by parents at home but nearly everywhere. Which means my friends and I, the ones who taught me how to “cuss the right way” when I was about 11 years old, also learned the meaning of “wash your mouth out with soap.” In my house, this phrase was used figuratively. But I had a friend named Corey who came to school one day and we learned that some families take the saying literally. I think we laughed every time we saw him for the next two days. 

Jesus seems to be calling us to wash our hearts out with soap. Or at least, to recognize that hearts can be mended. They can be sanctified, cleansed, as it were, in order to direct our lives in God’s Way with a genuine and honest search for holiness. In this way, our worship is acceptable to God both in the sanctuary and on the sofa. Worship away from the sanctuary may even have the added benefit of focusing our worship on God rather than our friends, or being seen by others, or demoting the worship of God to a social gathering. Even beyond worship, Jesus is offering us a second chance, or a third, or a seventh. The reason and manner in which our hearts respond to God and others can be made right. While I don’t like the term “saving souls” perhaps there’s a way Jesus is coming close to “saving hearts.” Turning them from evil to holy. Training them to serve God rather than ourselves or the world. Fixing their broken parts that desire sin and repairing them for the work of God’s grace. 

Because of COVID-19 people seem to be asking often, “how are you doing?” Jesus is asking us a different question: “How is your heart?” He knows the answer. So do you. That leaves us all with an opportunity – to live out our heart’s depth, or to renew our heart under God’s care. 

Questions for Reflection

  1. What to you is the purpose of worship? 
  1. How do we maintain the church’s focus on worship and spiritual growth without becoming just a social club? 
  1. [For you to think about rather than say out loud] What in your heart needs to be cleansed? 

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
God Be in My Head

God be in my head, and in my understanding.
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking.
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.
God be in my heart, and in my thinking.
God be at mine end, and at my departing.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you,
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you,
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit nourish and sustain you
today and always. Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

Credits: The image is from our Summer 2012 mission trip to Haiti. All Are Welcome was written and composed by Marty Haugen and sung by Mindy. The Prayer of Confession and Sending Out were written by Moira Laidlaw. The communion litany was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. No one know who wrote the words to the song, What Wondrous Love. This solo arrangement was composed by Charles Dupree and sung by Mindy. God Be in My Head is set to a tune with the same name composed by Walford Davies. The words are from The Book of Hours, 1514. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Hymns were played by Tracy on the organ and sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence.  In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship

God welcomes all the dreamers,
as well as the doubters:
the worriers and wanderers
can call on God by name.
Here, in this time, we can remember
all the ways God has graced us:
here, in these moments, we are reminded
that God is with us, always!
Here are gathered those daring enough
to step out of comfort into the unknown:
here, in this faith space, we will find the courage
to cry out, ‘God, save us!’ in every situation.

Opening Prayer
Holy God, we gather here to worship you with praise and thanksgiving for all you have done, are doing,  and promise to do in the world and in our lives. We have done nothing to deserve such grace and goodness and so we cannot help but respond with joy and delight for being so loved by you and so precious to you. We rejoice because we no longer have to earn your love — only to accept it.  You, O God, graciously revealed this love forever when you entered our world and our history in person — in Jesus Christ our Lord. He enters our very lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We pray that this time of worship may reveal the depth of our love for you and for this world you created, for we offer it in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Psalm 105

Give thanks to the Lord;
call upon his name;
make his deeds known to all people!
Sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord;
dwell on all his wondrous works!
Give praise to God’s holy name!
Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!
Pursue the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always!
Remember the wondrous works he has done,
all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—
Praise the Lord

Song of Praise
How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 85:8-13

Let me hear what the Lord God says,
because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones.
Don’t let them return to foolish ways.
God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him
so that his glory can live in our land.
Faithful love and truth have met;
righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth springs up from the ground;
righteousness gazes down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord gives what is good,
and our land yields its produce.
Righteousness walks before God,
making a road for his steps.

Choral Response
Mercy and Truth

Mercy and truth have met together,
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us, we give you thanks for….

God who comforts, receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast, be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness, we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world. Amen.

Celebrating Communion

A Reading from the Gospels
Mark 14:22-24 
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Share what you have to eat. Before eating, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ. As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink. Before drinking, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven. As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

Choral Anthem
The Rain Will Seek the Rivers

The rain will seek the rivers,
And rivers run to seas,
While human hearts will wander
Unfulfilled and restlessly.

The anxious heart must listen,
For the quiet voice
That whispers, answers, offers,
Calls forth the unforced choice.

To grasp the easy burden,
God’s grace our soul’s delight.
Oh, run to claim the promise
Of everlasting life.

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 14:22-33

Listen to a church member read the gospel and/or read below.

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” When they got into the boat, the wind settled down. Then those in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

I imagine that Jesus was tired at this point in chapter 14 of Matthew’s gospel. John the baptizer has been beheaded by the government. His head had been brought out like a trophy on a platter at a party held by the government. News of such cruelty to anyone, but especially to a God fearing man like John had to rattle the nerves of the people as well as Jesus’. Jesus tries to get away for little a bit but, as we find out in last week’s gospel reading, he ends up with a fan crowd following his every move. That day it was getting late and the crowd was hungry. He couldn’t rescue John, but he could feed this hungry crowd and he does. After the bread and fish are eaten and the extra food is gathered up, something changes. I don’t know where it’s the expectations of the crowd or maybe the expectations of the disciples. John’s gospel says that after the meal the crowd wants to take Jesus by force and make him their king. With great urgency Jesus makes the disciples get into a boat and start heading to the other side of the sea. That word “made” is forceful. It’s insisting. With the disciples safe in the boat headed to the opposite shore, Jesus dismisses the crowd. And then he heads up into the mountain alone to pray.

As evening comes, the disciples are having a rough time out there on the sea. A storm has blown in and there is a strong headwind. So strong that these twelve disciples who are used to being in a boat, it was like riding a bike to them, they are being beaten to death by this storm. “Battered by the waves,” the gospel reads, and that “battered” is like “tormented, tortured, harassed.” It’s like nature is echoing the heart of how they all must have felt with the knowledge of John’s death and especially how he had died. Out on the sea, still far from shore, worn out, the wind is blowing against them. The gospel reads like they have been up all night working, working hard to stay afloat straining at the oars to stay headed in the right direction. This storm is not a punishment nor a sinister arrangement made so as to grab their attention. It’s just the true reality of how vulnerable we are to to the changes of life whether they are storms by nature or storms by the injustice forced upon by human exploitation. Being in control and having the power does not define life and these do not bring us life either. We will see this in what comes next.

Early the next morning, you can just imagine how worn out these disciples are. After such a long battle through the night, to top off the experience, they see a ghost walking on the water coming toward them. God bless them. They are terrified. They don’t recognize it, but it’s Jesus out there. I don’t think I would have been able to recognize him either. Maybe our children might have. You know, the little nes in the church. But not us grownups. Because we know that walking on water is not what people do. It has to be a ghost. They are afraid, so afraid they are screaming. The gospel records Jesus saying, “Be encouraged. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” “Be encouraged,” must be a first century way of saying, “Get a grip.” They had been in fear all night, but they need not fear this unusual presence for it is Jesus. “It’s me,” he says. Another reminder that we don’t have to be afraid of the one who can feed 5,000 with just a little of bread and fish. We don’t have to be afraid of the one who can walk on water. We don’t have to ever be afraid of God.

Peter is truly unique in the moment. Well maybe not just in the moment. It’s just Peter. He is so impulsive, like many of us He sees that it might be Jesus out there, but he wants to make sure and he does so by giving an impossible test of the one who calls himself Jesus, “If it’s really you, Jesus, then give me some of that water walking ability too.” “Come on out,” replies Jesus. I can almost see Jesus shaking his head, humored by Peter’s need to be sure. Peter steps out the boat and onto the turbulent waters and quickly realizes that he is not God. He cannot walk on water. That’s not what he is meant to do. That’s not what he is meant to be. He is not meant to walk alone. He is not meant to be self-sufficient. He is not meant to be the Savior. He is meant to be a disciple who trusts in God through Jesus Christ. Well, in the midst of all this the storm is still raging. The wind is still blowing hard. Jesus doesn’t stop it. But when Peter starts to sink, Jesus without hesitation reaches out to Peter and catches him. He says to Peter, “Why did you doubt it was me?” Now did Jesus expect Peter to have a sufficient amount of faith to be able to walk on water? I don’t believe that’s what Jesus wanted Peter to have faith in. When Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you begin to have doubts?” Jesus wasn’t talking to Peter about doubting his ability to walk on water. Jesus was talking about Peter having faith that this was Jesus, the Son of God. Recognizing Jesus is the problem, not enough faith to do the impossible. That’s why when they get in the boat and the wind dies down, they all had church. They all worship the one, this Jesus who they know, who they believe without a doubt to be God’s Son.

If nothing else, this experience of the disciples with Jesus reminds us that at times we are vulnerable. We’re weak. We’re helpless. But our goal is never to be in control or to be more powerful than the storm. Our goal is not to be stronger than any adversity or sufficient for every need that comes our way. Our goal is not to be independent, nor is to have all the answers, nor is to never ever be rattled, or to always be able. Our goal is not to always know the right thing to do. No, you see, all those pursuits, all those desired ways of living, those just just get in the way of living the Way of Jesus. Our faith is in God through Jesus the Christ, not in ourselves, not in our abilities.

On the wall in Jeffrey and my office behind those two red chairs and that “beautiful” brass lamp from the ’60’s hang two posters of paintings by the Chinese artist He Qi. The one of the right is the painting entitled, Peace Be Still. In vibrant colors against a background of blues, Qi portrays his vision of this moment with Jesus. In the painting Jesus stands in the boat. His arms are stretched out parallel to the sea as they will be when he is crucified. But here above his head instead of a sign that reads “King of the Jews” here is an olive branch held in the beak of a dove in flight.

That images recalls for us those earlier words in Matthew’s gospel. “When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” For us the dove is a symbol of the Spirit of God. That’s why on the back wall of our baptistery we have a carved wooden dove reminding us of the Spirit’s blessing in our baptisms. However, the dove holding an olive branch recalls a much older story from the book of Genesis. Like a reset button water flooded the earth for 150 days cleansing the earth and all of creation. And then God made a wind blow over the earth and the waters subsided. At the end of 40 days, Noah the man who had been safe in the ark with his family and all those animals, Noah opense the window of ark and sends out a raven. The black bird flies around back and forth until the waters are dried up from the earth. Then Noah releases a dove to see if there was any place dry enough for the plants to be growing. But not yet. Noah waits seven days and then sends the dove out again. In the evening the dove returns with a freshly plucked olive leaf. Yes, I know, if you are like me, the story goes in my head that the bird brought back an olive branch. That’s the influence of the Romans on us. We have taken different symbols from our culture and we have meshed them together with the biblical story and we still communicate something powerful. We see a dove and we see an olive branch and we think of God given peace.

In Xi’s painting there are four disciples in the boat. Now honestly there’s not room on the poster nor my wall for all 12 to be depicted. Three of them are sitting in the boat and one is standing. One of the seated disciples has eyes closed, head tilted to the side, and hands pressed together in prayer. The other two are seated behind this praying disciple. The oars they hold in their hands are in the water. Evidently they are rowing the boat working hard to get somewhere, anywhere out of those troubled water. And their eyes are set on Jesus. The fourth disciple is standing in the boat, holding onto the mast of the boat sail with one arm and looking into the eyes of the viewer. I love it. Three images of how we follow Jesus even as we endure the boat ride through troubled waters for which we did not sign up. Three images of how the peace of God comes to us. One way in prayer seated at the feet of God, eyes closed because we have no idea which way to look. But in prayer we make our requests known to God and God hears us. Peace comes from prayer. Another way, as we journey through this life, sometimes we work hard at it, like rowing a boat, working hard but with our eyes fixed on the Prince of Peace. God has shown us which way to go. God is pointing the way and we are getting there with Jesus at the helm rowing hard. And then like that third disciple, or that third depiction, there are times when we haven’t got a clue. We can’t see Jesus. We don’t know which way to look. We’re just standing there, holding on to something. I believe in fact this portrayal is the most peaceful posture. For this disciple only has one arm wrapped around the mast. Not hugging for dear life. But just holding on. Can you imagine the trust and the faith this disciple must have? You don’t know which way to go. You can’t see Jesus. No need to put you hand to the oar to row the boat. But you trust that the breath of God will blow into sails of life and direct you. You don’t want to lose the mast, so you hold on to it. But you trust God so much that you know you can stand there holding the mast of the boat with one arm while the choppy, turbulent water rocks the boat.

Fear is a formidable power. And it is a natural response to the unknown. Life during a pandemic has reminded all of us that not a single one of us knows for sure what the months ahead will be like. It is beyond our control as so many other things in life are as well. The gospel story teaches us again that our fears though they are real can be matched by the presence of God through Jesus Christ. What was it that Jesus said? “Be of good cheer, it is I. Do not be afraid.” The uncertainty and the unknowns still remain, but we are never alone. Our God is with us all the time. Bind the encouraging words of Psalm 85 to your hearts and receive the promise that the Psalmist sings about.

Let me hear what God the Lord has to say
for since we are God’s people,
God will speak peace to us.
and we will be faithful to God.
and we will keep our hearts turned to God.

For God’s salvation is near.
God’s glory will live among us.
Steadfast Love, Faithfulness, Righteousness, and Peace
will be the way of life.
And God’s goodness will pervade all the earth.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why do you think Jesus goes off alone to pray?
  2. How does the peace of God come into your life?
  3. What is the relationship between faith and the reality of steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace being the way of life here on earth?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying “Christian, follow me.”

As, of old, apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

Jesus calls us; by thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you
the compassion and love of Christ enfold you
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit nourish and sustain you
this day and always. Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

Credits: The image is from https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vlnvt [retrieved August 8, 2020]. The Call to Worship was written by Thom Shuman. The Opening Prayer and Sending Out were written by Moira Laidlaw. The author of How Firm a Foundation is unknown and is set to the tune FOUNDATION, an Early American Folk Tune. Both hymns were played by Tracy on the organ. Mercy and Truth is based on Psalm 85 and composed by Mark Schweizer and sung by Mindy, Ally, Elizabeth, Kendall, and Tonya. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. The Rain Will Seeks the Rivers was written by Bev Easterling, composed by Robert J. Powell. The song was sung by Mindy, Kendall, Ally, Elizabeth and Tonya accompanied by Tonya on the piano. The gospel was read by Meagan. Jesus Calls us O’er the Tumult was written by Cecil Francis Alexander (1852) and set to the tune GALILEE composed by W. H. Jude (1922). Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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