saving faith

a sermon, based on Matthew 14.22-33, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, August 13, 2017

Jesus saving Peter from sinking, Caspar Luyken (1672-1708)

Peter sinking beneath the waves is us. For who among us has not known of a time and, as we live, again will know times when we, at the cruel hand of whate’er the cause, are immersed in onrushing waves of anxiety or fear? And who among us, at such grave moments, as Peter, has not cried out, with whate’er the words that burst from our burdened breasts, “Lord, save me!”?

For me, at this very instant, I am stricken, sickened by what has transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia, and all that it says, screams to me about our unresolved American problem about racial superiority and, the truth be more widely told, our American problem about human supremacy of any kind that in its alway deadly ways demeans “the other” as a lesser form of humanity, and, therefore, as all this exists, insidiously, virulently, and brazenly out in the open, our American phobia about the universal equality of all people.

And all this painfully, tragically reminding us that in this life, though, yes, comforted by the joys of sunlit days and starry nights in the blessed fellowship of family and friends with strength of purpose and goodly labor at hand, sorrow is an ever-equal companion; perhaps more than the equal of joy for those among us who daily wrestle with generational cultural, racial, socio-economic deprivations difficult, perhaps impossible to overcome. And, in either case, for them or for us, when immersed in the waves, how many of us most of the time or even once had Peter’s experience of a savior walking across the water, lifting us, saving us from the peril of drowning?

If we haven’t or don’t know of anyone who has, then what more do we make, can we make of this story than a fanciful, ghostly tale? At best, it is a metaphor, a symbol of a common human, though oft vain hope for supernatural rescue from worldly trial and tribulation. Therefore, even at best, it is hardly a worthy foundation for our faith, which is the subject at the heart of the story.

And here’s the irony. Jesus, the miracle-worker, yes, made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead rise. Yet, before inaugurating his ministry, Jesus spurned the temptation of the devil to leap from the pinnacle of the temple to prove that he was the Son of God, saying, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”,[1] therefore, rejecting miracles as the basis of faith. Rather faith – assurance, confidence, trust – in the presence and benevolence of God, oft in the face of life’s contrary evidence, is the miracle.

This is the faith, however small, unformed and unfocused, that led Peter to test himself: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus, as I imagine him, delighted, thrilled that one of his disciples would dare risk a bold, uninhibited literal leap of faith, said, “Come.” Yet, straightway, Peter, the salt spray spattering his face, the wind tearing through his hair, took his eyes off Jesus. Beginning to sink, he cried, “Lord, save me!” Jesus reached out and rescued him.

An olden hymn comes to mind:

O love that wilt not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

that in thine ocean depths its flow

may richer, fuller be.[2]

These words mirror this story. Jesus does not promise nor does our faith in Jesus profess that the storms of life, whether in Charlottesville or anywhere else, will not threaten us, for they do and will; that trial and tribulation will not darken our door, for they do and will; that death to this life in this world will not befall us, for it will. Jesus, in taking our flesh and in his life, death, and resurrection, does promise and our faith does profess that he who is greater than the winds and the waves, greater than trial and tribulation, greater than our anxiety and fear, greater than death reaches out and holds us forever in his saving hands.

 

Illustration: Jesus saving Peter from sinking, Caspar Luyken (1672-1708)

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 4.5-7

[2] From the hymn, verse 1, O love that wilt not let me go (1882); words by George Matheson (1842-1906), Scottish minister, poet, and hymn writer.

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2 thoughts on “saving faith

  1. Thank you for these words Paul!! All day yesterday especially after Friday night on the UVA campus, I kept waiting for someone to swoop in and stop that madness!! Mere mortals (counterprotestors) were injured or in one case killed as they tried to take on the white supremacists!! It was too much to watch! At one point I could hear myself yelling at the tv and then yelling at God.

    I’ve always been afraid of drowning as I can’t swim, so I know that feeling well of flailing around in the water without help! You’re so right, we will have storms and other unrest in our lives and I love the words to the hymn you included. I’ll have to reread your words over and over so I know that whatever craziness is going on in our lives and in this world, with my faith I’ll be forever in God’s saving hands. I also have to remember that there are going to be times, like yesterday, where things won’t turn out the way we had hoped. The thing I was grateful for today was that more people weren’t killed. I pray for Ms. Heyer’s family and I continue to pray for all of us!!

    I’m grateful for your focus always on Love and Justice! Much love to you Paul!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love and justice have been my conscious callings for over 10 years. I believe so they shall remain until death parts me from life in this world.

      I, as you, Loretta, prayed that someone or someones or something or somethings or some combination of all of the above would enter the madness of yesterday and bring a halt to all hate and harm. Alas, the world of time and space, though not…never immune from divine intervention (for nothing, I believe, is or can be) tends to run its weary, wayward course. Such is the gift of free will that is a fruit (sometimes bitter given how we use it) of our creation.

      For this reason, I strive to hold on to my faith that tells me, so saith my namesake apostle, that, come what may, come whene’er and howe’er, nothing can separate us from God’s love and that Jesus’ saving hand never lets us go.

      Love, always

      Liked by 1 person

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