"Focus On Jesus"
Scripture - Matthew 14:22-36
Sermon Preached by Randall T. Clayton
Sunday, August 10, 2014

Despite the news that rocked their world in the morning, by the time the story told in today's Gospel lesson ends, on balance I think Peter would have said it had been a great day to be with Jesus. By day's end, Jesus had fed the masses, cured the crowds, spent time in prayer, and finally witnessed one of his disciples having enough faith to get out of the boat in a storm and walk on water to meet Jesus in the chaos of the seas. And, Peter got to witness Jesus' miracles all day long; and he got to do what only God can do; and he glimpsed the possibilities of what can happen if we even have just a little bit of faith; and then when he faltered, he found he could lean on the everlasting arms of Jesus to save him. On balance, surely it was a good day with Jesus.

But honestly, it did not start out that way at all. Peter, along with the other disciples had had to break the news to Jesus first thing that morning that John the Baptist had been murdered. The news that morning of John's murder surely created great sadness for Jesus; and, in addition to the grief he surely felt about John's murder, if it wasn't clear before, with John's death, surely Jesus saw the handwriting on the wall about his own future.

Upon hearing the news of John's murder, Jesus got in a boat and found a deserted place to be by himself for awhile, but the crowds followed. No time to grieve. When he went ashore, compassionate Jesus cured the sick in the crowd. And throughout the day, Jesus healed, cured, and ministered to the throng that had gathered. No time to grieve John's death, only time for healing, and feeding too.

Morning turned into afternoon and afternoon into evening, and the disciples urged Jesus to wrap things up, and send the crowd of about 5000 people away quickly so they could get food. But Jesus said that the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish they had would be more than enough to feed everyone. And sure enough, amazingly enough, by the time Jesus blessed the food and it was passed among the crowd, those 5 loaves and 2 fish were more than enough for everyone to get their fill.

By now, surely Jesus was ready to take a break, to have some quiet time, to recharge his batteries and renew his soul. So Jesus forced his disciples to get into a boat and start toward the other side of the lake. And Jesus dismissed, or as Matthew says, he "divorced" the crowd, and went up on a mountain to pray.

But then as Jesus was on the mountain, a storm moved in and soon the boat that cradled the disciples was battered, tormented, tortured by the waves and winds. Chaos and danger threatened to overtake them. And likely, they huddled down in the boat fearing for their lives as the sea rocked and rolled all around them. Toward morning as they looked out on the stormy lake, they saw a figure moving on the water. Knowing that only God can walk on the water, they presumed it was a ghost, and their fear was intensified. Surely they held onto the boat tighter, sunk a little lower into the hull.

But when Jesus heard them crying out in fear, he said, "Take heart, it is I AM." Jesus used the name for himself that God said to Moses was God's name.

Peter, seeing Jesus do what only God can do - walk on water - and hearing Jesus identify himself with the name that was God's name - I AM - Peter responded, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Let me do what you are doing.

Peter had enough faith to be willing to risk the comparative safety of the boat and step out into the raging storm to meet Jesus in the chaos of the world if Jesus so commanded.

Jesus said, "Come." Come to me on the water, Peter. Get out of the boat and walk. Walk on the water like me. Walk on the water toward me. Walk on the water with me. Walk on the water like God.

And Peter climbed over the side of the boat, put his foot on the rocking and rolling waves and he stood. Firmly. Solidly. Eyes focused on Jesus, the water below Peter held him up; the water supported his weight. But then he took his eyes off Jesus, and he began to focus on the raging seas and the chaos swirling all around him and he got frightened, and he began to rock and roll and sink.

"Lord save me," he cried. And Jesus, as he often did when he healed someone, Jesus reached out his hand, caught Peter, and helped him back into the boat.

With his eyes focused on Jesus, Peter was able to do what Jesus was doing. With his eyes focused on Jesus, just as Jesus walked on water, so too could Peter. But when he let his eyes wander and when he let his fears for the future take over, he faltered.

I've been here among you for 7 months now. In some ways it seems like I've been here 7 years, and in other ways, only 7 hours. During my tenure here at Westminster, I've attended to a lot of committee meetings, been involved in many informal conversations, and been included in a multitude of email threads about all kinds of things Westminster. And, I have come to an unshakable conviction: This church has all it needs to do whatever God calls us to do or to become. We have the financial resources (at least we do as long as members continue to support the church). We have the people resources. We have the passion. We have the faith. We have the commitment. We have the connections, the know-how, and the chutzpah to do virtually anything. We are not a poor church, not by any stretch of the imagination. We are not a dying church. We are a thriving church. We are not a fighting church...thank God for that. Yes, we have what it takes; whatever it takes, to let God's hopes for this church and our ministry come to fruition...at least so long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, and don't let our fears that we won't have enough, don't have enough, get in the way.

What is it we dream of doing? We can do it, if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. What new ministries of compassion do we want to start? We can start them, if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. What do we imagine this church might look like in 10 years? We can build that community, if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. What impact do we want to have in this community, or in Guatemala or the Congo? We can have that impact if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. What is it we want to become? We can become that, if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. What is it we hope to accomplish through our mission and our ministry? We can do it, if what? If we keep our eyes focused on Jesus...yes, if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Peter got out of the boat that morning and did what only God can do - he walked on water. At least he walked on the water until he turned his gaze away from Jesus and let his fears for the future get the best of him.

Like Jesus, we can share the good news of God's love in word and deed until all God's children experience the hope that we here know what God offers. Like Jesus, we can bring peace to the world, or at least make a significant dent in the violence and hopelessness in the streets around us. Like him, we can offer bread to the hungry and fill a lot of gnawing stomachs. Like Jesus, we can invite those who have been pushed out or pushed away to come and really mean it and give older adults, younger adults, and children a community to support, love and shepherd them. And yes, we can even break down barriers that divide and dehumanize and destroy the human spirit. As a people of faith, we can do these God-like things if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus; don't let our fears get in the way, and trust that our Eternal Father is indeed strong to save.

Maybe the loaf of bread sitting on this table won't actually feed 5,000 people, although who knows how many people our bread might be able to feed if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus. And maybe we will never have the experience of standing in the middle of an angry sea with nothing beneath our feet but the water below. And, surely there will be days when we experience sadness and setbacks just as Jesus and Peter did. But if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, trusting that we can lean on his everlasting arms, knowing that our God is strong enough to save us, we can indeed be the people that God knows we have the power and resources to become. And if we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we can, like Peter, discover that even a little faith goes a very long way. We can, that is, if what?

Prayers of the People

God of power and love, you are with us in every circumstance of this life. We thank you for your steadfast faithfulness. We thank you for the gift of your peace, which comes to us even in times of chaos and fear, trouble and doubt. We thank you for your powerful arms of mercy that grasp us when we are sinking; for your powerful Word that coaxes us even when we are hiding and afraid. We put out trust in you, for you alone can save us.

We ask for your power and love to overwhelm the chaos of the nations. In every place of war, send your encompassing shalom to restore and repair all that is torn and broken. We pray that violent and hostile struggles will be defeated by good. Give us faith and courage to follow Christ so closely that divisions are dismantled, reconciliation is accomplished, and love casts out all fear.

Increase mutual understanding and a sense of unity in our community, in the church around the world too. In our personal relationships, bring healing where there is estrangement and hurt. In our relationship with your creation, give us creativity and perseverance as we work to be faithful, tender stewards of all that you have so wondrously made.

We entrust to your providence and care all those who suffer; all those who are hiding from you, from others, and even from themselves because of fear or feelings of unworthiness. To one struggling with doubt, increase faith. To one enduring persecution or prejudice, bring freedom. For those caught in the grip of anxiety and uncertainty, grant the calm rest that your peace alone gives. And for all who face illness, pain, or even death, we pray for restoration and wholeness to fill them.

You alone can save us, almighty God. Hear our cries to you we pray. Gather us up and set us in safety and we will praise you name. We ask all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who is your Son and who taught us to pray saying...Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Prayer from Feasting on the Word Worship Companion, Liturgies for Year 1, Volume 2, Kimberly Bracken Long, editor.