Traditional Sermon Pentecost 10
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Colossians 1:3).
I am going to start today’s sermon with a joke. And this joke, which is in the form of a riddle, is a real classic! Please be careful because I don’t want anyone getting hurt from falling out of their seats or rolling in the aisles because they can’t control their laughter! Ready? Here it goes: Why did the chicken cross the road? The answer to this riddle joke? To get to the other side! Ha! Ha! Har! Har! Yes, a real classic! I am sure many of you are now wondering what the connection is between this silly old riddle and our Gospel lesson. Well, I am going to tell you what this connection is because I know if I don’t the evaluations by members of the Intern Committee will surely not be very good.
It turns out that when I first read our Gospel lesson from Matthew as part of my preparation in writing today’s sermon, this chicken riddle is the first thing that popped into my mind! Seriously! I found this very odd, especially since I was at my full faculties—in other words, I wasn’t under the influence of alcohol since I occasionally do like to have a gin and tonic or rum and Coke at home. After reading the Matthew passage a few more times, I was still flabbergasted as to why that stupid chicken riddle was stuck in my head! Then suddenly it hit me! I took the wording of the riddle and applied words from the gospel scenario: Why did the disciples get into the boat to cross the sea? The simple answer was the same as the answer to the riddle: to get to the other side. In fact, if you look at verse 22, the answer is right there: Immediately he [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. So, I ended up seeing the connection between the riddle and the gospel passage by noticing the similarity in some of the wording.
However, I was still perplexed as to why I was so stuck on that silly riddle. At first I thought that maybe I should have had that gin and tonic! But then I really started to think—which sometimes can be very dangerous, according to my son and ex-wife. In the chicken riddle, the bird just crosses the road on its own accord—it was not forced to cross the road and by all accounts it appears the bird was there at the road all by its lonesome. The disciples, on the other hand, were told—by Jesus—to get into the boat and go to the other side. Now keep in mind that several of the disciples were fisherman, given that during the time of Jesus the Sea of Galilee offered fisherman a relatively decent livelihood. In the research that I did, it turns out that at least 7 of the 12 disciples were fishermen. One would think that if the waters were choppy because there were indications of a pending storm that at least one of the disciples with a fisherman’s expertise would question Jesus about whether it was safe to venture out onto the water? Not one disciple did; they all got into the boat as ordered. For those of us, including myself, who are military veterans, we know that when an order is given by the leader, it is followed with no questions asked. Was this the case of the disciples and Jesus? We really don’t know. Or, did the disciples follow Jesus’ orders because they either trusted Jesus or had faith in him? Trust or Faith—notice that I am using the conjunction or here. A concise dictionary definition of trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something while the definition of faith is the complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Although some folks will use trust and faith as if they are synonyms (i.e. I have complete trust in the person or I have complete faith in the person to mean the same thing), there really is a difference between the two words. Based on the dictionary definitions, faith is complete while trust is just firm, solid, or concrete but not complete. So, the question is: did the disciples trust Jesus or have faith in Jesus to make them get into the boat without questioning him. Again, we really don’t know! As I had mentioned before, the disciples may have simply been following the orders of their leader. But getting back to the issue of having trust or faith, the scenario poses something for us to contemplate. Do we only trust God or do we have faith in God? If we are put in a position to do something, do we put our trust in God or do we rely in our faith in God for guidance? This is something to think about! I would hope that most of us have faith rather than just trust. Throughout life’s journey, we are often called upon to get out of our comfort zones just like the disciples getting into the boat and ending up being tossed about in a storm. If we go into areas or end up in situations where we feel frightened or insecure, God will never abandon us if we venture into these areas or situations with complete faith in our Great Creator. That is the good news of this gospel passage: God will never abandon us if we have faith.
But let us now delve into this passage a little further regarding faith. The issue of having faith and God helping us to get through whatever is troubling us is brought to fore that involves Peter. The passage notes that it is evening, so I am presuming it is relatively dark, and the boat with all the disciples in it is being tossed about due to a wind storm. All of a sudden, a figure comes toward them—these poor blokes are scared to death! They think it’s some type of apparition and scream out of fear! The disciples have no place to run or to go hide since they are out in this boat at quite a distance from the shore. The disciples were sitting ducks! Imagine yourself tied to a chair in a dark theater and forced to watch a 3D horror movie and some monster is coming at you! The fear being experienced in the theater is probably like what the disciples were experiencing. But then, Jesus’ voice is heard identifying himself and telling the disciples to not be afraid. But to top things off, Jesus is walking on water. What was believed to be an apparition was, in fact, Jesus. Peter, still not fully convinced that it really is Jesus, tells Jesus to command him to walk on the water in Jesus’ direction. Jesus tells Peter to come and the inevitable happens—Peter gets out of the boat and sinks. Peter cries out to Jesus to save him. Jesus grabs a hold of Peter and says directly to him: You of little faith, why did you doubt? What is interesting is that most people will look at this gospel passage as a lesson about lacking faith because Peter’s failure was apparently due to his lack of faith. But then, does this mean that Peter would have been able to walk on water had he had complete faith in Jesus? I doubt that. Frankly, I think Jesus was trying to make a point with Peter regarding faith that Rev. Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffmann, beautifully explained in his commentary on today’s gospel reading. When Jesus granted Peter’s request and commanded Peter to get out of the boat and walk toward him, Vitalis Hoffmann notes that what was being pointed out to Peter is that “we are not intended to walk on water, and if we try, we will find ourselves in deep over our heads and unable to save ourselves.” In short, leave the walking on water to Jesus.
Moreover, when we are stuck in situations where we are over our heads in trouble, we do what Peter did—cry out to God for help! Peter’s faith in God is what prompted him to cry out Lord, save me! This reiterates what I had earlier said was the Good News of this gospel: God will never abandon us if we have faith. If we go into areas or end up in situations where we feel frightened or insecure, God will never have us go it alone—God will always be at our side!
Although this passage initially made me think of that silly chicken riddle joke, that joke is strictly for laughs and not to be taken seriously. The gospel message, namely the Good News that God will never abandon us if we have faith, is one that should be taken seriously—having faith in God is an important matter. As Lutherans, one of the cornerstones of our denomination is that justification is through faith alone. How often have we all heard that? However, what is also important to remember is that the grace, love, and mercy of God is there for all of humanity. God will never abandon anyone! Amen.