Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Don’t Look Down - a Sermon by Rev. John R. Smith

Don’t Look Down
A Sermon for Sunday, August 10th, 2014
By Father John R. Smith

Lesson: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm: Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Epistle: Romans 10:5-15
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

This past week the Church celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration on Wednesday, August 6. August 6 is also the anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. The Transfiguration commemorates Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a high mountain where they get a glimpse of Jesus’ luminous glory and divinity. This Gospel is also proclaimed each year on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, so we hear it twice, which underlines its importance.

If you remember, Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus in this epiphany to the “Pillars” Peter, James, and John. That these two are included in the vision is understandable: Moses was given the Law and Elijah was foremost of the early prophets of Israel. What they have in common is they both dealt with idolatry.  When Moses comes down the mountain, after his dialogue with God and receiving the Law, he finds his people and the leaders he left in charge dancing around a Golden Calf they made in their impatience. He summarily orders the idols destruction and the execution of all the worshipers of it. And you might remember the Elijah story when he confronted the 600 prophets of Baal and challenged them to a contest to see which God was more powerful and real: the Baal (which means Lord) or the God of Israel. It was a fire contest. The prophets of Baal called down fire from heaven on their wood stack and nothing happened. Elijah has water poured on and soaked into his wood pile and when he calls down fire it ignites instantly to everyone’s amazement! Elijah then orders the 600 prophets of Baal to be put to death.

Moses and Elijah provide a great contrast to Jesus. Jesus who goes to the Cross demanding no persons death, forgiving those who will put him to death, and instead will offer himself in death for the sins and idolatry of the world. And the Voice from heaven declares “This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to Him.  In other words, God is telling the three leaders of the three great Christian communities of the early church:  Be lead by Jesus’ teaching and example. Listen to Him.

For the first few centuries followers of Jesus were focused on Jesus example and words. No Christian would be a part of taking life in any form. And in those times people dealt with the same kind of issues we deal with today, human nature and response being pretty much the same. But over the centuries, mostly due to fear and the “rational” desire to “preserve our way of life,” we’ve accumulated so many arguments for not listening to Jesus or following his example. Or, perhaps more accurately, we prefer to practice a kind of moral religion where we determine good and evil without any real reference to Jesus.  We revert, as Joseph’s brothers did, to jealousy and hatred for our brother. (Granted, Joseph didn’t do himself any good in their eyes by playing up the favor Jacob had for him!) So the brothers try to get rid of Joseph, and as things work out, they end up needing their brother and he ends up, after some intrigue, forgiving them. In this important regard the Joseph story parallels Jesus’ story: both were made scapegoats by their own people and both end up forgiving those who sought to harm them.

I believe that the one thing that will get us through the our own difficult time (Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Sudan, immigration and refugee crisis) is by refocusing on the person of Jesus and his teaching, acknowledging God, as the General Thanksgiving in the Prayer says:  Not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.

We can learn from today’s Gospel:  We’re all in the boat together, but the wind is blowing and the sea is rough.  It’s easy to be afraid in such a situation. So, when something or someone approaches us. We yell “It’s a ghost!”  We’re ready to defend ourselves. But the One coming toward us is Jesus, who says: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” It’s almost comical, if it wasn’t so serious, but
Boucher, François, 1703-1770, Peter Tries to Walk on Water impetuous Peter, the one who would deny the Lord 3 times, recognizes that it’s Jesus, and asks Jesus to command him to walk to him on the water. Jesus says: Come! So Peter, jumps out of the boat, starts walking toward Jesus, but then looks down at the turbulent waves! The moment he takes his eyes off of Jesus he falters and begins to sink crying out: Lord, save me! 

Whatever happens, no matter how afraid we are, we must not support the lashing out at the object of our fear.  Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus at all costs. And, when we’re tempted to look down, rather than to focus on Jesus, his hand will be there to catch us and hold us up.  We have nothing to fear. Don’t look down! Look up---at Jesus!

A song I sing with the children:  Here Comes Jesus

Here comes Jesus
See him walking on the water
He’ll lift you up
And he’ll help you to stand now
Here comes Jesus
He’s the master of the waves that roll
Here comes Jesus
He’ll make you whole.