August 9, 2020

Message for August 9, 2020- “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus!”

(From Matthew 14: 22-33)

     It has been said that both those who believe they can and those who believe they can’t are correct.  In the course of our daily living, we may sometimes find ourselves navigating somewhere in the in-between.  As a case in point, I recall with fondness how my Grandfather taught me to ride a 2-wheel bicycle.  My Grandfather began by walking beside me and holding onto the seat as I pedaled slowly along.  We did this for a few days.  Then, my Grandfather secretly began to let go for a moment or two at a time—still good, as I believed he was still holding the seat.  Finally, he started out with me, and then completely let go of the seat, allowing me to pedal the bike by myself.  I was doing fine until I took my eyes off of the road ahead, and glanced behind me to see that I was riding all alone.  I immediately froze up, stopped pedaling, lost control of the shaking bike, which tumbled over as I fell off.  I was doing fine as long as my Grandfather, my safety net, was right there with me, securing me from harm. I trusted him to guide me along safely, but me on my own against the road ahead—not so much.  I went down like a rock. Luckily, the only thing that got hurt was my pride.

     Needless to say, it took a few of those events before I developed both the knack and the confidence to pedal and steer the bike at the same time on my own.  The patient guidance and fortitude of my dear Grandfather saw me through the process.  We go through many such growing processes along our life-journey.  This includes our spiritual life, as our scripture lesson for this morning from Matthew 14 reveals.  After ministering to the 5,000, Jesus sent his Disciples on ahead of him to cross the sea by boat, while he retired for a quiet time of prayer.  When he had finished, the boat was far from the land, so Jesus walked out toward the boat on the water.  The Disciples saw Jesus coming, but they did not recognize him.  They became afraid and began to cry out.  Jesus spoke to calm them.  “It is I; do not be afraid,” he said. (Mt 14: 27).

     Now, when Peter realized that it was Jesus who was coming toward the boat, he said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (Mt 14:28).  So, Jesus told Peter to come to him.  Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  He was doing just fine, while his attention was fixed firmly on Jesus.  But, as some waves billowed up, Peter looked down at them and became afraid and unsure.  Then, he began to sink into the water.  With a loud and desperate voice Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”  (Mt 14: 30).  Lord, save me—words that betrayed the sad truth that Peter had relinquished any confidence in his own ability to continue to participate in this event.  He was done.  Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and caught up one mighty scared Disciple named Peter.  He, then, sized up the situation as only Jesus could, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asked (Mt 14: 31).  Faith lesson-over.  The process of growing Peter’s faith would need to be continued on another day.

     Now, before we start getting too judgmental here, let’s take a minute to reflect a bit on our own life’s faith experiences. I suspect we have all experienced moments when it was hard to soar with the eagles because we were caught so deeply in the world’s muck and mire.  Some raging waves have come roaring up around us, and they made it difficult to even make any progress navigating forward, let alone to walk on the water! Like Peter, we made a good start, even took a few steps on the water toward Jesus.  But, then we, too, became fearful when the waves of life raged up around us.  We took our eyes off Jesus, and we turned our focus to the worldly.  Then, we, too, sank like heavy stones just like Peter.

     Thank God that this is not where the story ends. For, when I, like Peter, cried out to Jesus while sinking under life’s tow, I felt him pick me up, holding me tightly in his grasp.  He shook his head at my lack of faith, even as he smiled kindly at me in love.  Jesus knows our weakness.  He whispered gently, “It’s OK, Claudia, you will have another chance to succeed at faith.”  And Church, I am here to testify to you today that I have had many, many more chances to progress and to grow to trust Jesus in faith more and more.  You see, I submit to you that faith is not a noun—it is not something to possess in a static state of being.  I believe that faith, my dear friends, is a verb!  It is ever active-ever changing and as we navigate through our lives.  Sometimes, we may take 2 steps forward in faith, and then one step back from faith, but we are always moving along the journey of our faith.  And Jesus is always with us, bidding us toward an ever-growing faith. Some might call this ongoing process we experience with Jesus “faith-ing.”  We can become ever more proactive and calm, rather than reactive and chaotic, in the face of all the waves the world hurls in our path, often so abruptly.

     Church, we are living in challenging times, with our life’s circumstances changing in some very real ways nearly every day.  COVID-19 threatens our health, and social upheaval, economic uncertainty and political drama, heightened by modern media attention, can upset our peace and try our faith if we allow them to become the center of our focus.  In these difficult times, let us, instead, focus our eyes on Jesus, allowing his power and strength to infuse us with power and perseverance that are infinity and abundantly beyond our own human resources. We can do so much more good for the kingdom of God when we walk in faith with Jesus, to Jesus. So, keep on stepping out, with your eyes focused on Jesus, and you will experience all that a life of faith makes possible for you—when that faith is faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him! How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!  Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust him more!  (UMH #462-“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” words-Louisa M.R. Stead, music-William J. Kirkpatrick, 1882).