Monday, August 8, 2011

Jesus Scares Me, This I Know

Sermon from August 7, 2011
(Pentecost 8 – Year A)
Matthew 14: 22-33
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

Jesus can be a pretty scary guy.
While Jesus goes up to the top of a mountain to pray by himself, Jesus makes his followers get into a boat.
The boat gets caught up in high winds.
And waves crash over the boat carrying the disciples.

And that’s when Jesus really gets scary.
After 3 o’clock in the morning, Jesus comes walking toward the boat, walking on the water.
The disciples cry out in total fear:
“Help, it’s a ghost!”

Sometimes you just have to listen to the scriptures with an ear for dry humor.
Because Peter then asks this “ghost”:
“Lord, is that you?”

Like who else do you know who walks on water at 3:00 AM and scares the living daylights out of you?

So Jesus responds:
“Who else do you think it is, you knucklehead?
Now get out of that boat and walk to me.”

As Peter steps out of the boat, he becomes distracted by the wind.
Peter then starts to sink – and he panics in fear.
Yet Jesus reaches out his hand – and he catches Peter.

When Jesus and his followers all get back into the boat, the wind stops.
Those in the boat then worship Jesus, as Peter and the other disciples continue the journey, the walk from fear to worship.
For the walk to Jesus across the water begins with fear.

My deep encounters with Jesus almost always begin with fear.
Some of you might not realize this, but I get apprehensive before I preach.
I was especially apprehensive in this last week, as we had 3 funerals at St. Alban’s.
I stepped into this pulpit 3 times in the last several days to deliver very different funeral sermons each time, sermons that I hoped would honor Jesus, as well as honor the life of the deceased.

As I sat with my laptop to write each one of those sermons, I was afraid, afraid that I would preach with words that might convey distorted beliefs about death and resurrection.
As I walked up the aisle to begin the liturgy of the burial of the dead, my palms were sweaty and I felt as if I just seen a ghost walking toward me upon the waters.
As I stepped into the pulpit, I was afraid, afraid that I would mess up or lose it or say something that would discredit Jesus’ message of resurrection and love.

Also, you might not know this, but each and every Sunday, when I get ready to step into this pulpit, I am afraid.
I am afraid because I know the weight and responsibility of preaching the Word of God.
I am afraid because I know that God might be asking me to say something to you that could make you upset or make you not like me anymore.
When I preach, I am afraid, afraid because I know that I will encounter Jesus, the Son of God.
For the walk to Jesus across the water begins with fear.

And Jesus knows that he can be a pretty scary guy.
When the angels announce his birth in Bethlehem, the shepherds who are keeping watch over their flocks by night - are sore afraid.
When Jesus tells his followers that that must take up their cross daily – they are afraid.
Even when God raises Jesus from the dead, the first reaction of the women when they meet the resurrected Jesus – is that they are afraid.

It is okay if Jesus scares the livin’ daylights out of us.
It is okay to be afraid of the difficult things that Jesus asks us to do.
Because the walk to Jesus across the water begins with fear.

Every Sunday, I am a little scared and a bit nervous before worship begins.
And as you walk into St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, I want you to be afraid, as well.
I want you to feel like you have just seen a ghost, walking on the water to you.
I want you to call out:
“Jesus, is that you who is walking toward me from across the water?”

And through the worship service, through the reading of scripture, through the sermon, through the music, through the prayers, through the bread and wine, Jesus will call back to you:
“Yes, it’s me, you knucklehead!
Now get out of that boat and walk to me.”

After you encounter the Holy Ghost,
After you take a risk by stepping out of the boat,
After you begin to sink because of second thoughts,
Jesus will clutch your hand and raise you up.

And then, you will be moved from a place of fear - to a place of worship and love.
For the walk to the worship of Jesus begins with fear.

In the worship leaflet this morning, you will see an increased number of announcements, announcements about activities and programs that are beginning to ramp up as we enter the fall season.
I want you to read about these opportunities and events – and be a little scared.
I want you to feel as if you have just seen a ghost, a ghost walking to you on the water, as you ask these questions:

Is that you, Jesus, who is asking me to go to a Bible study when I feel confused by the Bible?
Is that you, Jesus, who is asking me to pack up a backpack for some kid I have never met, when I have so many things to do this August?
Is that you, Jesus, who is asking me to go to Sunday school, when I like to sleep late on Sundays?
Is that you, Jesus, who is asking me to sign up for a Gratitude Gathering later this month – when I have no idea whom I will meet there?

Despite these 105-plus degree temperatures, the fall season in the church is upon us.
And this fall, my hope is that each one of you will try something new and a bit scary.
My hope is that each of you will step out of the boat and get your feet wet.
My hope is that you will start to sink – so that you can experience that it is only Jesus who reaches out his hand to raise you up.
This fall, my hope is that we will take new risks to walk on the water with Jesus.

For if you are not a just a little bit scared,
If your palms are not sweaty and your face is not as white as a ghost,
If you are not trembling with fear as you follow Jesus to the cross,
Then maybe your God is not big enough.

You see, it is okay is to approach the Son of God with trembling and fear.
But you do have to take the first step and get out of the boat.
And then Jesus will lift you up - to walk in trust and love.

Jesus loves me, this I know.
And Jesus scares me, this I also know.

For the walk to Jesus across the water
Begins - with fear.


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