Monday, August 11, 2014

Pentecost 9 Sermon: "Hearing is Believing"

+ Pentecost 9 – August 10th 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A, Proper 14: Job 38:4-18; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Seeing is believing we say.
“I’ll believe your room is clean when I see all the Legos picked off the floor.”
“I’ll believe the economy is in recovery when I see my bank account in recovery.”
“I’ll believe the church is strong when I see more people in the pews.”

Seeing is believing we say. But that’s not always true.
What if we applied the same thinking in our readings today?

What did Job see? Goods, fame, child, wife – all of it wrenched away. He saw faithless friends condemn him and Satan accuse him. He saw boils and plagues, death and disaster. Trial, suffering, and sorrow flooded his vision.

What about Paul, what did he see? His saw his people, God’s covenant people - who had received the Law of Moses and all God’s promises of the coming Messiah - reject, disobey, and close their ears to the saving Gospel, as he himself had once done.

What did Peter see? He saw Jesus walking on the water around 3 AM. He saw his look of panic and terror mirrored on his fellow disciples’ faces. Then he saw Jesus. But he didn’t believe. So he saw his feet hit the water and step towards Jesus. Then he saw the wind and waves and began to sink.

What about us? What do we see? Family members wrestling with relationships and divorce. Illness. Dementia. Inexplicable diseases that baffle doctors and patients. Loved ones on hospice care. Untimely deaths. Christians martyred for the faith in horrific ways. Faithless churches. Faithless peddlers of God’s Word. Faithful churches struggling. Financial worries at home, work, or church. Uncertain futures. Troubled consciences over our own sin. Failure and weak faith. Doubt. Despair.
Is seeing really believing? No it is not.

For if seeing is believing Job would have concluded that God had abandoned him after all.

If seeing is believing Paul would have given up altogether on delivering the Gospel to his Jewish brothers and sisters.
If seeing is believing Peter would have drowned and died in the Sea of Galilee.

If seeing is believing then this entire Gospel reading is one big allegory. And the moral of the story is: Peter didn’t have enough faith to walk on water; if you only had enough faith you could walk on water too! Sadly, this is how a lot of folks have interpreted this reading: as a faith-o-meter. If you only prayed harder, gave more, were nicer to people and had a better attitude, you too could have a heroic faith, you wouldn’t have financial problems, your church would be growing, your loved ones would be healed and on down the list. But that’s not what this reading is about at all. Seeing isn’t believing.
Peter isn’t held up as an example. He failed. And so do we. The first time Peter doubted whether it was really Jesus. The second time Peter doubted whether Jesus was able to do what he said he would do for him. And we’re no different.

This reading is not about what you see but who you hear. And who is speaking the words. This reading is about who Jesus is and what he says.
Seeing isn’t believing…but hearing is. In the Christian faith you see with your ears. It’s not what you see but who you hear. In the midst of persecution the baptized hear the voice of Jesus: I am with you always. In the midst of illness we hear the voice of our good physician: behold I make all things new; I AM the Good Shepherd. In sorrow and grief we hear his promise: I AM your resurrection and life. In the face of the manifold fear we see, we hear Jesus promise: Fear not; I AM here; Do not be afraid.

And in hearing we truly see.
For Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.

And what do we hear in these readings?
From the prophet Job, we hear that the righteous do suffer. But they do not suffer alone. Hear the Word of the Lord…

…I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God…
Job’s Redeemer is your redeemer. Job’s confession is your confession. You do not suffer alone. For Christ your Redeemer lived, and died, and lives again for you. He, the righteous One suffered all your sin, all your disease, all your death, and all your unrighteousness. And nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord.

From the apostle Paul we hear: the Scripture say, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The same Lord who sent Paul to Jew and Gentile is the same Lord who send you to your neighbor to speak the Good News. And you go with words on your lips, and in the Name of God given you in Holy Baptism.

From Peter we hear a prayer. Peter looks around at the wind, the waves, and starts to sink. And he prays faith’s little prayer: “Lord, save me.” Jesus is all that Peter has at that moment. And Jesus is all he needs to save him.

That’s our prayer too. When it seems as if we’re going to drown and there’s nothing to hold on to but Jesus. “Lord, save me.” And immediately (immediately!) Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter. Freeze that moment in your mind. Peter sinking, panicking, praying: “Lord, save me.” Jesus reaching out His strong and sure hand and grabbing hold of Peter. Whose grip matters most at that moment?

The answer is the same for you as it was for Peter. Jesus’ grip matters most. Jesus’ hands gripping your sin and death on the cross for you. Jesus gripping you in Holy Baptism. Jesus’ hands pulling you out of your grave.

Jesus didn’t let Peter sink in the consequence of his own foolishness and sin. And neither will he let you drown in your doubt, sin, and death.
The point of this story isn’t for you to work on your building up your superhero faith. There’s nothing to admire about Peter’s faith here. He is weak. He doubts. He failed. But that’s precisely the point. No, the point is that Jesus rescues you from weakness, saves us from drowning in our own sin and death. Jesus’ doesn’t promise that you’ll walk on water, but that you’ll walk out of your grave.

The solution to Peter’s problem wasn’t in what he saw, but in who he heard. It was simply to listen to Jesus’ Word. Peter’s weakness is revealed so that Jesus’ grace and mercy would be seen more clearly. Along with the disciples, we’re given faith to believe in Jesus, not faith to defy gravity.
We’re called to hear Jesus’ Word. Faith comes by hearing Christ’s promises. We hear his word of Law which rebukes our sin: oh you of little faith, why do you doubt? And we hear his word of gospel that comforts us in our doubt and weakness. Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.

Jesus speaks the same promise to you today. Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.
Seeing isn’t believing; hearing is believing.

Hear the Word of the Lord: I forgive you all your sins.
Hear the Word of the Lord: Take, eat; this is my body. Take, drink; this is my blood shed for you.
Hear the Word of the Lord: Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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