Sunday, August 13, 2017

"A Mercy Unto Salvation" August 13, 2017, Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church

Matthew 14.22-33
August 13, 2017
Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church

Peter, Peter, Peter …
What are we going to do with you?

You are bold in your affirmations, and foolish in your behavior … you act before you think, and your high thoughts of yourself are more trouble than they’re worth.

Peter’s one of the great ones, but it took him a long time to get there … 

Along the way, plenty of missteps, faux paws … outlandish promises, moral failure … Peter’s not a pretty sight.

Remember when Jesus says that he will go to Jerusalem and there he will suffer and die?

Peter scolds Jesus for such thoughts. Peter doesn’t want to hear any of it.

But the response of Jesus is quick and brutal: Jesus turns on Peter and calls him Satan … because it was Satan who tempted Jesus in the wilderness to avoid pain and sorrow, and do it the easy way … and now it’s Peter who sounds very much like the Devil.

Peter bumbles and fumbles his way through life; he’s a spiritual klutz, full of himself … Peter has a lot of heart, energy and love, and he knows how to fish … but all of these attributes need to honed and sharpened and focused … a whole lot less of himself and whole lot more of God.

So, let’s look at our story today … the disciples on the Sea of Galilee battling unfavorable winds …

Early in the morning, battling the heavy seas, the disciples see Jesus coming toward them on the waves … Matthew says, they were terrified.

And who can blame them?

Anyone of us would have have shared their terror … there, in the midst of rough seas, Jesus on the waves … what is this? An apparition, a ghost, something we ate, the flu? They were terrified.

Jesus speaks! Shouting over the crash of the waves and the rush of winds …

It is I … take heart … it is I.

We need to do some language work here:

Jesus spoke Aramaic … but the gospels are written in Greek … and it’s in the Greek rendition by Matthew, that Jesus says - ego eimi [and that “ego” has nothing to do with Eggo Waffles, but the word Ego in English, meaning “I”] … Jesus literally says: … “I am” … now for some of you familiar with the Old Testament, this may ring a bell.

Remember Moses at the Burning Bush, when Moses wants to know God’s name?

God replies, YahwehI am … I am who I am … if anyone wants to know, tell them I Am has sent you [Exodus 4] …

Jesus literally says to the disciples, I Am … the LORD God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth … the One who sent Moses to set the people free!

Peter knows what Jesus says, that’s why Peter calls him LORD … but understand the theology, if you will, but Peter can restrain himself; Peter wants more …

Peter, once again, like Satan … tempts Jesus to perform, do something spectacular, Jesus, for ME … 

Peter’s words echo the words of the Devil in the wilderness.

If you are the Son of God … turn these stones into bread … If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle … 

Can you hear the similarity between what Satan says to Jesus in the wilderness and what Peter says to Jesus in the storm?

Peter tempts God … If you are who you say are, command me to come to you on the water … it’s not enough that you’re coming to meet us in our time of distress … no, that’s not enough … I want something more … something for me … itty bitty little ol’ me … 

It’s all about Peter!

It’s the original sin … wanting more than what God has already given … in the Garden of Eden, did God stay Eve’s hand from plucking the fruit? Did God intervene to say, “Don’t eat it.”

No … no intervention in the Garden … as terrible as the deed was, God let it happen.

So Jesus says, Give it try Peter … and Peter steps out of the boat.

Was Peter brave?

I don’t think so … Peter was consumed by his own pride … infected with spiritual competition … trying to one-up the others. “Me better Christian than you” … “Me grad-school Christian; you, kindergarten Christian” … “watch me guys, I’m gonna step outta this boat to prove how big my faith is.”

Just like Adam and Eve, it ends badly for Peter. Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden; Peter sinks into the sea.

And God comes to the rescue.

God gives to Peter the second chance, the third chance, and a few more thereafter … and then a few more chances all along the way.

There is no picture more powerful than Jesus reaching out his hand to save Peter in the moment of Peter’s despair … a gracious, powerful, image of God’s mercy … a mercy unto salvation.

To hear some Christians talk these days, you’d think Jesus might might have just stood by, calmly on the waves, and said to Peter, “Bye, bye, Peter, Ol’ Boy … you’re on your own now; it’s sink or swim time; you ought to know better; I’ve told … I’ve given you enough help, more than enough . It’s up to you now to improve your lot in life.” And Jesus walks away to the far shore, and let’s Peter drown.

Which raises a deadly question: Does Peter “deserve” to be saved? 

We hear a lot of that “deserve” talk these days … whether someone is deserving, or not … I can’t think of a more deadly question … whether or not people are deserving is a pathway to a swamp of bad ideas … the very question reveals a heart of pride … a heart convinced of its own worthiness, while finding others unworthy!

The very question of who deserves mercy puts us far away from the heart of God … 

I understand why some folks say these things - “I’ve made mine; too bad for you. I’m on top of the heap, and I got here by myself, by my own wits and strength; see these boot straps? They’re mine, all mine, and I pulled m’self up with ‘em, all by m’self.”

I understand why some folks talk this way. It’s pride, it’s greed, it’s malice, it’s meanness … it’s the way the god Mammon would have us talk to one another … the god Mammon is strong these days … infecting our nation with hideous thoughts.

“There’s no help here; we gotta save our money; we can’t spend so much on your kind, you’re on your own: no health care for you, no school funding, no insuring that everyone has a vote, no safe-guarding of Social Security and Medicare … and if you don’t like your low-wage job, get another job … and if you’re poor, work harder. Tough luck buddy; it’s sink or swim.”

I understand why some folks talk this way … but the way of Christ? the way of Christ is mercy, kindness … and full salvation … 

Jesus saves Peter … God Almighty, the Great I Am … and this is the truth for all of us … we are saved … we are saved by the mighty hand of God … period! … we are saved … from top to bottom, from A to Z … and all the time in between, every day, from birth to death and beyond … as the gospel hymn puts it:

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me!

Such is the love of God for us.

Such must be our love for one another!

Amen and Amen!