Aug. 9, 2020

Prayer of the Day

O God our defender, storms rage around and within us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us in the faith of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28

1Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2This is the story of the family of Jacob.  Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.  12Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.   He came to Shechem, 15and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16“I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.   25Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.    

Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b

1Give thanks to the Lord and call upon God’s name; make known the deeds of the Lord among the peoples.
2Sing to the Lord, sing praises, and speak of all God’s marvelous works.

3Glory in God’s holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4Search for the strength of the Lord; continually seek God’s face.

5Remember the marvels God has done, the wonders and the judgments of God’s mouth,
6O offspring of Abraham, God’s servant, O children of Jacob, God’s chosen ones.

16Then God called for a famine in the land and destroyed the supply of bread.
17The Lord sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 

18They bruised his feet in fetters; his neck they put in an iron collar.
19Until his prediction came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.

20The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free,
21setting him as a master over his household, as a ruler over all his possessions,

22to instruct his princes according to his will and to teach his elders wisdom. 45bHallelujah!

Romans 10: 5-15

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?  “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peace Be Still by He Qi

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

There have been many sermons preached on this text, including a few by me, that have been all about discipleship. Maybe that is because so much of this year, shaped by Matthew’s Gospel, consists of teaching moments.  This gospel, after all, includes the very long Sermon on the Mount. And this summer we had parable after parable. The truth is, if today is about discipleship, it is so because it is about who we follow. This quite remarkable story is about who Jesus is.  If feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, was not enough of a reminder, our story today is a jolt—this is no ordinary rabbi or teacher.

Even before he arrives, the disciples’ situation is perilous, though probably not unfamiliar to the fishermen among them. Still, it is the appearance of Jesus, not the storm, that terrifies them. They think it is “a ghost.” This may well be Jesus approaching them, but it is Jesus as they have never seen or known or understood him.  What manner of being does such things? A trickster? A magician?  A malicious spirit?

Let us begin with water.  For us, water is essential for life—for humans, for our pets, for the gardens and crops we grow. But for those disciples, steeped in the stories of what we call the Old Testament, water represents much more than a mere physical reality. Whether it is the sea with its unfathomable depths, the relentless river in full flood, or the all-consuming deluge, there is something metaphysical about the threat water poses to human life.

According to one scholar water, in the first biblical creation story, is “the principle which, in its abundance and power, is absolutely opposed to God’s creation;” “it is a representative of all the evil powers which oppress and resist the salvation intended for the people of Israel.”

Throughout the Old Testament it is precisely this reality over which God’s lordship is continuously. In the creation of the world, in the covenant with Noah after the flood, in the mighty act of deliverance from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea, and in the miraculous entry into the land of promise through the swollen River Jordan, the Lord triumphs over the waters.

The God of Israel tramples on the waves and walks “in the recesses of the deep” according to Job. These are very specific signs of God’s transcendent power over all that would threaten and thwart God’s purposes.

And so, when Jesus approaches the disciples in their boat as they battle with the elements, the prospect is terrifying. Who can walk here with such authority and freedom? The act and its associations are unmistakable. Jesus, their teacher and friend, is exercising something that belongs to God alone. When he speaks to them, his words serve only to reinforce the sense that this is a divine revelation.

Jesus says ego eimi, which can mean simply “it is I”; but more is being suggested here.  For the early church, this phrase was packed with significance.  These are the words used to translate the Hebrew name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush.

Jesus is using the divine name to announce his presence.  I am is here, trampling victoriously over the waves. In these brief but charged words and in the awesome vision that unfolds before the disciples, Jesus is identifying himself with God, the liberator and redeemer of Israel. God is at the same time the creator of the world and the victor over chaos. Jesus’ words, instilling courage and banishing fear, assure the disciples that this awesome vision in the midst of the storm is intended as Good News.

The phrase “Do not be afraid,” is uttered throughout scripture at important moments. This phrase is a keynote of the gospel itself. The unveiling of God’s majesty is not intended to terrorize us or diminish, but to heal, uphold, and establish the creature. This epiphany in the storm contains a message of grace and mercy.

Peter recognizes his Lord and wants to accompany him in his royal walk on the sea. “Come,” says Jesus, and Peter boldly steps out of the boat.  Then he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the elements instead. Soon he can only cry out for salvation from the waters. Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him.

Peter calls him “Lord” without understanding that title’s full meaning.  The lordship of Jesus is given specific content in this scene: he is lord over the deep, over the wind and the waves and all the destructive forces that threaten to overwhelm human life. Jesus’ actions here hold out the promise of a new exodus for his followers, a new entry into the land of promise, a new future.  “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”

This is one of those moments where the disciples gain some understanding and insight into Jesus’ identity and mission. The whole event leads up to a mighty and new confession of faith: “Truly you are the son of God.”

In response to Peter’s fear, Jesus does not simply urge him to have courage or instruct Peter to keep his eyes on him. Instead, when Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out and grabs him. He saves him from drowning and restores him to his life as a disciple. The same is true for us. Jesus will not let us go. Jesus remains with us. Jesus will not give up on us. Jesus will grab hold of us when we falter and restore us to where we can be of service.

This is the promise at the heart of this story and of our faith: God will never give up, God is both with us and for us, God, in the end, will do what we cannot. And this promise is one of the things I know of that helps us cope with and transcend fear. Transcend, but probably not defeat fear. Fear is part of our lives.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the metaphors of boats and storms were used often. My online/social media community seemed to settle on the fact that “we are all in the same storm, but we are in different boats.” This was a helpful way to point out the fact that a refugee factory worker just might experience the COVID-19 pandemic differently than an executive who could work from home, to use extreme examples.

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer began another metaphorical storm. I ultimately think this storm will be life-giving for our nation, if we do the work to become anti-racist. Still, I will be the first to admit that this storm stirs up fears in me. What will I discover about the white Christian church that I would rather ignore? What racism do I need to uncover in myself? If we do the work as an entire society, what changes will occur?

And now we are about to begin a school year, which I simply assume will be one more storm. I again carry my own fears—for the physical health of students, teachers, staff, and families. I fear for everyone’s emotional well-being. Wise, compassionate, deliberate school board members and administrators have to make really hard decisions and so far as I can tell, there is not one right way, there may simply be the better way for each school district. But the lack of civility around these decisions certainly make me afraid.

Where is God in the midst of all of this fear? God is not micromanaging. That is just not how it has ever been. We could almost get the wrong impression, reading the famous verses in our passage from Romans, “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”

This is not some locker-room speech to make sure we all get our neighbors to say Jesus is Lord so they will get to heaven. Instead, like in our passage from Matthew, let us put the focus on God as the main actor. God’s salvation, which I interpret as healing and wholeness during this life, is available to absolutely everyone. That is just how expansive and big God’s love and mercy are. Further, God’s salvation is near to alI know it sometimes does not seem that God’s healing and wholeness are near. I still firmly believed that the life of faith is best nurtured in Christian community. And our community of faith may feel like a boat out in a storm right now. But we still have the words of scripture. We still have the ability to pray alone and collectively. We can still be stewards of our financial resources, our gifts, and our time—giving them to ministries and causes we believe in. We can still reach out to the marginalized. This is hard, but again not impossible, during a time of physical distancing. We just have to be a little creative in how we gain proximity to the stranger—the foreigner—the orphan—the widow—and their equivalents in our society. That is how we gain proximity to Jesus today.

God’s love and mercy can still transcend our fears, make them bearable, give us assurance that we are not alone. Even the promise of comfort and courage and presence does not quite exhaust the potential of Jesus walking on water and speaking with his disciples. Because all of that is, finally, a part of God’s larger promise and vision of what we might be.

When the disciples are terrified, Jesus calls for them to “take heart,” and when Peter flails and cries out to be saved, Jesus reaches out and grabs him. The future is open, for God is with us and for us. God will do what we cannot. Nothing that we have done or has been done to us can erase God’s desire and ability to heal and restore. God is not done with us yet.

Prayers of Intercession

Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

For your whole church throughout the world. Give courage in the midst of storms, so that we see and hear Jesus calling: “Take heart, it is I: do not be afraid.” May we follow Christ wherever he leads. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the well-being of your creation. Protect waterways, forests, lands, and wildlife from exploitation and abuse. Help the human family endeavor to sustain and be sustained by the resources of your hand. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the nations and their leaders. In you, steadfast love and faithfulness meet, and righteousness and peace kiss. May nations in conflict know the peace that is the fruit of justice, and the justice that is the path to peace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those in need. Everyone who calls upon your name will be saved. Accompany all who are lonely, hear the voices of those who cry out in anguish, and support those who are frustrated in their search for an affordable place to live. We pray for those suffering this day (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For our congregation. You have gathered us here today as your people and we thank you for this gift. We pray for those who are new to this community, for students and teachers preparing for a new school year, and for those struggling with unexpected hardship. Supply us generously with your grace for our life together. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We give you thanks, O God, for the saints of the whole church from all times and places, and for the saints in our lives and in our community whom you have gathered to yourself (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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