Belief Leads to Action

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

10th  Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 8 and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine

Proper 14 RCL Year A 8/13/2017

 

Scripture Text:

1 Kings 19:9-18

Psalm 85:8-13

Romans 10:5-15

Matthew 14:22-33

Sermon Text:

When I was a boy

I found the idea of walking on water so compelling.

It seemed to me entirely possible,

And I thought I could perhaps just figure out how to do it.

So at various pools,

And off of various docks and beaches,

I would try different ways of walking,

Running, skipping,

Galloping quickly with legs still moving,

Trying to get it right,

To somehow stay upright on top of the water.

I believed I could do it,

But I inevitably sank.

Every time.

It wasn’t something I could just do.

 

Peter had a very different take,

A different approach,

But he had even if he wasn’t thinking about it,

Or analyzing it, a much better understanding

Of what it is to believe.

While all the disciples in the wave-battered boat

Were afraid when they saw Jesus walking

Towards them on the water.

Peter turns that fear into a challenge.

He tells the person approaching them,

If it is really you,

Command me to come to you on the water.

Whether or not he understands what he is doing,

Peter is expressing something about belief,

That is true and important.

That belief only really matters when it prompts action.

 

Paul says in the letter to the Romans

“one believes with the heart and so is justified,

And one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”

And “no one who believes in him will be put to shame.”

We see this acted out in Peter’s interaction with Jesus.

His heart prompted him to action,

He put his trust in Jesus,

In his command alone to have the ability

To do something amazing.

And he was not put to shame in acting on this belief.

 

Jesus did not chide him for testing him,

Or asking for this kind of command.

He participated with him and commanded him to come.

It’s like Jesus acknowledged,

That acting on the belief, on the hope of belief even,

Is important.

It was only after Peter turned his attention

From Jesus and focused on the wind,

Allowing fear to overtake him,

That Jesus chided him for doubting.

Yet even in this chiding,

Jesus still responded to his cry, “Lord, save me!”

And rescued him from the waves.

 

We’re in a boat together,

A boat battered by waves and storms.

That we can naturally be afraid of.

With the daily talk of nuclear war,

To the instability of our national leadership,

The threat of climate change and all the dangers

That come with that and living on the coastline.

To the struggles some of us face with illness

And even the potential of death.

All of these things and more make the boat

We are in in this life feel very unstable.

 

It might seem incredible,

That the best way to deal with these situations,

Is to act on our beliefs,

To ask Jesus to call us out of the boat,

And onto the water with him,

Where the danger seems greater,

But where we will get to be with him,

In the confidence of his power and presence.

 

I talked with a couple from Ascension

This week who were helping with the Chapel’s

Soup to the Docks ministry.

They’ve been struggling with serious health issues.

And when I ask them how they’re doing,

They say, “We’re still here!”

But they don’t let the waves battering their lives,

Keep them from acting on their beliefs,

Which includes a belief in serving those

Around them in the name of the Lord.

To me this week they were like Peter,

Asking the Lord to call them out of the boat,

Trusting in him to keep them afloat,

As they serve others with him in the midst of

The winds and waves of life.

 

Sometimes we are inclined to think,

That believing in God merely means

Accepting an intellectual concept.

As if believing in God were like believing,

In the planets far out in our solar system,

That we have never seen,

But we know are there because we trust

The authorities that taught us about them.

But that kind of believing doesn’t really affect our lives.

“Believing in one’s heart is not the same

as simply thinking something is true. As the philosopher Charles Peirce said,

a belief is something on which we are willing to act.

If we believe in our heart

that Jesus was raised from the dead,

we act as if death does not have the last say on life,

as if God is a God of life,

as if no matter how rough the road

God will hear when we cry out.”

 

How are we to act on our belief

That death does not have the last say on life?

For Elijah, as we heard in our first reading,

It was to go back to the place where he was afraid

For his life, trusting that he was not the only one left,

But as God told him,

There were 7,000 faithful who would remain in Israel.

He stepped out of his boat, or rather the cave

Where he was hiding,

And found the presence of the Lord

In sound of sheer silence,

Or as another translation put it, a still, small voice.

With Elijah in the Old Testament,

And with Peter in the New,

And with us today the key is that God is present

With us in acting on our belief.

As I boy I thought I could do it myself,

Many around us try to do just that,

And find themselves without a savior when they sink.

 

For some of us acting on our belif

may mean daring to start in a new job,

Or to step into a new ministry,

We’re not sure we can do.

Or it may be to enter a new time of life,

When our families have changed,

And we’re not sure what our new role will entail.

Or it may be to follow the questions of Paul,

That urge us to proclaim Jesus to those

Who have not heard about him,

For they are all around us.

 

He says, “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?”

 

All too often in the church we are huddled together

Afraid to reach out to others, afraid to take

Whatever that next step of faith is…

As if we were the disciples battered by the waves,

And Jesus is outside the boat,

Walking on the water and calling to us to come to him.

There’s no guarantee that we will not sink,

In fact it’s likely that the wind and the waves

Will distract us from our focus on him

From time to time and we will need to

Call out to him to save us.

But when we do, he’s right there to bring us up.

And then when we enter the boat again with him,

And the wind dies down,

We will be able to see what we have done

In acting on our beliefs with his support,

And our hearts that believed will worship him,

Saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

Amen

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob goes by Father so that he remembers his duty to the people of God whom he serves. He’s been ordained since 2006, serving in Florida and Tennessee and before that served as a youth minister in Long Island, NY. More details