Sermon IX Pentecost (12b)
Pentecost IX (12b)
July 29, 2012
Fr. Dow Sanderson
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They called him the Riverboat Gambler… a certain quarterback, for a certain NFL team… in a small city in Wisconsin. He played the game with a wild abandon that few had ever seen. And when he was good, he was very, very good… but when he was bad, he was awful.
He could lead you to the mountain of Glory… throwing a touchdown pass from the first play from scrimmage in a Super Bowl…and afterwards run off the field, helmet in hand, with the pure unbridled joy of a nine year old on a playground…
But on his final play on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field (and it was frozen!), with the Super Bowl again on the line…in overtime… following the opposing team’s missed field goal… with everything in the world to be gained by just a little prudence…a little caution…the river boat gambler lined up on his own 20…and even though he had all the time in the world… he went for it all… heaving what he hoped would be another shot a glory.
Instead, he threw up a wobbly duck that Mrs. Francis Carlisle could have intercepted.
Now, I am not picking on Mrs. Frances… she’s pretty tough…
But it was a really, really awful pass.
But the riverboat gambler shrugged it off. He walked off the field whistling I did it my way… and on into retirement… (sort of). Because it is the passion and reckless abandon that make for greatness…and if it also occasionally contributes to colossal failure, then so be it. Sin boldly, that Grace may abound.
Last Sunday, I shared with you that it is that sort of passion that our Lord seeks in us.
I told you that sin is not the greatest enemy. Our Lord’s cross can take care of any sin. But apathy is the great enemy.
Loud, passionate Christians…(like St. Peter, for example)… Those who blurt out the answer and sometimes get is so right (Blessed are you Simon, son of John, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but my Father in Heaven!)
And sometimes get it so wrong (Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of man!)
Ah, but the passion! That’s the thing.
But what on earth can the Lord do with apathy? The occasional Christian… the I would rather be on the beach thinking about God than in Church thinking about the beach kind of Christian…
That’s a hard nut to crack.
Ah, but that’s where Jesus had a plan.
He knew that people might sleep during sermons… they might not yet have a passion for holiness… but by golly, if they stayed in the wilderness long enough, their growling bellies would get their attention. And he would feed them with bread… and then use that hunger to teach them to hunger for the Bread which comes down from Heaven… that a man eat thereof He shall live for ever.
-Just as he takes the passionate and wayward lust of a man who chases after skirts… and uses it to teach him about the chaste and holy love of the Bride of Christ… and the heaven consummation and bliss at the marriage supper of the lamb.
-Just as he takes the greedy and wayward longings of a man who chases after gold… and uses it to teach him about a treasure in heaven that fadeth not away…where moth and rust do not consume, and where no thief breaks in and steals.
He has a harder time… with the fearful… the overly cautious…. Those who bury their talent in the ground, not even collecting interest of half a percent.
The tax collectors and harlots, we are told, go into the kingdom of heaven before that crowd. But I would like to think… that even the most fearful and cautious hearts, might be taught, by the help of Jesus, to be riverboat gamblers.
So. Having preached an entire sermon on last week’s Gospel… let me see what I might say about this Sunday… (By the way, are you hungry yet? I can keep on going until I hear those stomachs roar!)
After feeding the 5000, Jesus sent the disciples away in a boat, and he went up on a mountain to pray.
And as we heard read in the Gospel… while they are making headway painfully… he comes to them, walking on the water.
Now let me pause and say a word here about plausibility. I know there is always a little Thomas Jefferson in the crowd who wants to take out a penknife and cut out all the miracles because they are contrary to reason and what we know about specific gravity and just what will and will not float!
But may I say, the reasonable have a very narrow way of seeing the world!
In just a moment, we are going to recite the Creed. And in it, we are going to proclaim that Jesus is the eternal Word of God. That he has existed with the Father before all worlds, that, in fact, he made all that is: visible and invisible.
That he lived and died as one of us, and yet on the third day, having been as dead as anything that ever died, he bodily rose again and physically ascended into heaven whence he had come.
Are you with me on that? And if so, are you going to strain at the gnat of a little water-walking? I didn’t think so!
Besides, this passage is about much, much more than just what appears on the surface…(if you will forgive the pun).
Jesus walks on the Water, because he is the new Moses. He will not just lead his followers through the Water, he leads them over it.. in spite of it. There is no obstacle that can stop him. There is nothing that he cannot overcome.
Secondly, we are told that he seemed to intend to pass them by. This is a phrase that, when we hear it in the Bible, we know something terribly important is about to be said, or to happen.
The Lord God passed by Moses on the Holy Mount.. and then revealed himself in his righteous law.
The Lord Jesus would have passed on by the little house on the Emmaus Road... and then went on to reveal himself… in the breaking of the bread.
And on this occasion, the Lord seemed to be oblivious to the plight of these poor souls… in the boat on a stormy sea, making headway painfully. It seemed to them that he meant to pass them by… but just as their panic and fear reached fever pitch, he spoke to them: Take heart. It is I.
Ah, that little predicate nominative. It is I. Ego eime. The Great I AM.
It is God claiming his Divinity. Stating his name. Calming our fears.
You see, this is not just a passage about Jesus having a midnight stroll on the sea. It is an eschatological moment. It existed in real time, in a given place, in a given year, at an exact hour, minute and second that could have been recorded, had anyone a device with which to do it…
But even though it happened in time and place, it points to a future reality.
The disciples are in the boat, the navis… the nave. Clearly, they represent the Church. In fact, at that moment, they were the Church… the entire enterprise, Apostolic Succession and all…making headway painfully.
Today, it often seems as if the Church is going backwards over Niagara Falls…which, I suppose, is one way of making headway painfully.
Jesus is on the mountain. This symbolizes his heavenly perspective. It shows us who Jesus is, right now… this very instant. He is able, from his vantage point…too see all our troubles. They are not hidden from him. There is no obstacle that can prevent him. And when he sees our danger, he comes to us… he tells us who he is. He calms our fears… and then… he gets in the boat with us.
And the wind ceased.
That’s the Gospel, my brothers and sisters. That’s what I know.
I do not know what to tell you about the politics of the Church. I do not know what to tell you about strategy nor property nor assets nor lawyers nor presiding bishops nor kings nor popes nor presidents.
But I know that when we are making headway painfully, Jesus sees us. He comes to us. And he makes all things well.
And that… for me… is enough.