Reading Ramblings – August 13, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 13, 2017

Texts: Job 38:1-18; Psalm 18:1-16; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

Context: The life of faith is one of obedience, of trust in God rather than in ourselves. But this is hard, isn’t it? Trust is much more difficult than knowing. Obedience is much less glamorous that determining our own fate. Faithfulness in our vocations doesn’t necessarily deliver us from boredom or the envy of others who seem to live more exciting lives. The passages for this Sunday deal with the challenge of being faithful where and as we are called, rather than on the terms we would prefer to set for ourselves.

Job 38:1-18 – I’m adding the first three verses of this chapter to the reading, because they provide good context for what follows. We’ve been commiserating with Job for a long time. We’ve heard his well-intentioned friends advising him on how to placate God so that his wrath is removed. We’ve heard his wife suggest that he should just curse God and die. Job has remained steadfast and resolute. He is convinced that personal sin/guilt is not the root cause for his suffering. He insists that God alone is responsible – as nothing can happen apart from his will or permission. And now God finally arrives and we settle back for a comforting ending, an explanation that will satisfy Job – and us. Instead, we get God in his anger and indignation. God is not about to explain or defend himself to Job – or to you and I. Job – like you and I – is not in a position to demand such an accounting. Job is a creation. Creations obey. Creations trust. Creations worship and praise. Creations do not stamp their feet and demand explanations from the almighty. While uncomfortable, these verses and those that follow remind us that we are not God, and if we expect to be, or expect God to accommodate our personal whims and preferences, our God is not likely the God of Scripture, but rather ourselves.

Psalm 18:1-16 – I’m using the longer reading for this psalm. It’s a beautiful picture of the wrath of God directed against anyone and anything that threatens and antagonizes his beloved creation. This is the God of judgment who will vindicate and redeem his people and his creation from the evil power and deceit of Satan and his followers. This is righteousness driving evil from all of creation, restoring the freedom and peace of Eden once again to creation. This is God sending his Son to conquer sin and death and Satan not with bolts of lightning but with obedience, faithfulness, trust, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. This is where my hope lies. I am going to die. I may well suffer in some respect or another beforehand. But I know that my redeemer lives and therefore my suffering and death will not be the final word in my life. My tombstone epitaph is not the last word in my life, but rather Jesus’ final word is, and that word is LIVE!

Romans 10:5-17 – Paul’s earnest desire that the Jews would come to see the truth of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah promised in their own Scriptures is real and true. And he recognizes that this is not a truth that we can come to of our own reason or devices (though at times it may seem that way!). Rather, it is a faith that we must receive, and to receive it, it must be brought to us, and that requires people to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard it – either literally or actually. The importance of evangelism is that all might hear, and in hearing, trust. Righteousness is not fulfillment of the Law; it consists in believing God when He makes a promise. – Martin Luther –

Matthew 14:22-33 – You know this passage. And you probably have heard one or two sermons on it to the effect of – What amazing faith Peter had! Too bad he didn’t have enough faith! Be bold like Peter, and keep your faith rather than doubting! I guarantee that if I preach on this passage Sunday, this isn’t going to be my sermon!

What the heck is Peter thinking? Why does he ask to walk across the water to Jesus? On what basis does he think this is a reasonable thing to do? How is his walking on the water a test of Jesus’ identity? Everything in this passage screams against Peter and what he is doing, not for him. Why is it that we idolize Peter in this passage, then?

I think such idolatry is common in our age where recognition, celebrity and fame seem to be the goal of so many, and where technology makes such hopes actually achievable – at least for short periods of time. How many people harbor the secret (or not-so-secret) desire to go viral and become Internet famous? It’s easy to make Peter into a role model for the extravagant, wild life of faith. The super-hero kind of faith. Not the ordinary, boring kind of faith. Not the faithfulness to wife and children kind of faith. Not the go-to-church-every-Sunday-and-find-ways-to-serve-each-week kind of faithfulness. Not the faithfulness of nose to the grindstone even when it isn’t exciting or even particularly enjoyable. Not the faithfulness of plodding along day after day. No, we want super hero faith. We want walking on water, we want miracle healings, we want to be admired for our faithfulness.

Jesus calls Peter to him, but why? Is it to show Peter all the amazing things he can do if he puts his faith into action? Is it to show him the weakness of his faith? Is it to embolden and strengthen Peter’s faith for greater miracles in the future? If Peter’s faith was weak, was it his faith in himself? Or was it his faith that Jesus could save him from his own folly?

Peter had no business on the water. Jesus knew this, and so did Peter, I think. Jesus indulged his bizarre request in order not that Peter might be the focus of the story, but that Jesus might. It was Jesus who walked across the water, who had calmed the winds that were battering the ship earlier in the night. It is not Peter’s place to be the miracle worker. Not yet! And even when that time comes, it won’t be for Peter’s glory! Hardly! It will be the source of problems and arrests and persecutions (Acts 3-4). The life of faith is not ordinarily one of glamour and prestige. It is following the calling of our Lord – not telling our Lord how to call us (perhaps Job sounds a bit familiar here?). It is obedience even to death, even death in the most ignoble and shameful manner, so long as it is faithfulness to our Lord that brings us to that point.

Peter did not have to cry out to Jesus to save him. That was why Jesus had come! To save Peter. And to save you and I. Not from boredom or ennui, but rather from our very real enemies of Satan, sin, and death. For this it is Jesus that receives the glory, not us. It is Jesus who walks on water as the Son of God and author of creation, not you and I as mere creatures. This is not our place, and it’s best if we learn it, come to peace with it, and ultimately take joy and satisfaction in it!

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