Sermons from Pastor Jim

West Nottingham Presbyterian Church
August 13, 2017
Dr. Jim Horn

Matthew 14:22-33

May the Force Be With You

Well, who’s your favorite superhero? Superheroes battle evil and sinister villains.  They demonstrate unbelievable powers that defy all the laws of physics we learned in school. They fly, bend steel with their bare hands, or they become invisible. I am really impressed with their cars, motorcycles, and jets. Movie and comic book Superheroes capture our imaginations and do good deeds to save us, but I’ve never heard of one superhero that walks on water.

Of all the Superhero movies, I like the Star Wars sagas – all the episodes. All of us “kids” want to be Jedi Knights empowered by the Force, mysterious and wise, armed with really cool light-sabers, but best of all, our heroes fly in the Millennium Falcon and make the hyper-drive jump to light speed.

Remember when Luke Skywalker traveled in search of Yoda, that short, green guy that looked like a turtle that forgot to put on his shell? Luke’s quest was to study and learn the way of the Jedi from the greatest Jedi Master. To his annoyance Luke’s instruction isn’t all fun and games. In one scene, young Luke is slogging through a dismal swamp, on an exercise regimen; running, jumping, climbing, gasping, while Yoda rides piggyback on his shoulders giving orders. Clearly this is not the romantic, heroic, powerful image Luke had in mind.

The part I liked was when Luke attempted to levitate the X-Wing fighter out of the swamp. Luke’s arm muscles bulge, he grits his teeth, his body strains and the X-wing starts to float, only to sink again in the swamp. Yoda tells Luke, “Focus!”

Luke replies, “I’ll try.”

“That’s why you fail,” Yoda explains. “Never try. You do or you do not.” Then this short green Jedi Master extends one of his turtle like hands, points a claw at the sunken X-Wing fighter, seems to grab it with three claws and a thumb, and raises it out of the water, hovering easily. Then he turns his paw upward and pulls his hand closer to his wrinkled chest and brings the X-wing fighter onto the dry land. “Luke, use the Force!”

Luke learns his first important lesson. Everyone in the audience realizes the lesson. It’s not Luke’s or Yoda’s physical attributes—it’s the Force that makes this happen. The Force needs the X-Wing fighter. The Force needs Luke to be a trained Jedi Knight to fly the X-wing so he can drop the photon torpedo down the exhaust hole and blow up the Death Star and defeat the Empire.

Luke needs to be open to the Force before he can become a Jedi. Everyone realizes this. You know this, don’t you? We think we can be Jedi Knights too because we know the secret.

Believing can open your life up to something great that needs you. Do not TRY. You either DO it or you DO NOT do it. Otherwise, you fail. Or as Peter finds out in today’s gospel text, your get wet feet!

Believing in Jesus got all the disciples into the boat on the Sea of Galilee. But it was Peter’s momentary insight into the deeper meaning of true discipleship that got him to throw his leg over the side of that boat and start walking on the water, trying to follow what he watched Jesus do.

Just to share the blame for his possible failure, Peter challenges Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter left Jesus no other option. Of course it was Jesus! Peter forced Jesus to tell him to come and walk on the water.

For an instant Peter throws caution to the wind and lets his feet take him where his heart knows Jesus is calling. Then Peter noticed the strong wind and lost his buoyancy. He became frightened (verse 30). Immediately Peter begins to sink, his following turns to panicky flailing. Yet Peter still believes that Jesus has the power. So, in desperation he cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” As Jesus reaches out his hand to the sinking Peter, he succinctly defines the difference between belief and faith. Peter’s belief got him rescued, but his lack of faith got him all wet.

The wind howled around his head, shouted in his ears, whipped up froth and foam, slapped waves against him. But all this raging and storming had no effect on Jesus. Peter’s journey on water began well until Peter allowed the wind to draw his attention, to claim his calm, to shift his focus away from Jesus.

The Risen Christ who lives today and forever is more than a good man and an outstanding moral teacher we should follow religiously. Jesus is an indwelling, living presence ready to live today and act through us in new and creative ways in this constantly changing world. Jesus is our Risen Savior, a Living Force of New Life.

We’re called. We’re chosen. We’re wanted. We aren’t supposed to follow in the wake of Christ, but walk on new waves for Christ! More precisely, we allow Christ to walk on new waves through us. Use the Force. Colossians 3:12 declares that the path of Christ, the way disciples are called to follow, is not some predetermined comfortably lighted boulevard. “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Use the Force.

Our Scripture lesson this morning challenges us to turn our belief into faith and to follow Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Are you ready?

Jesus walked on the storm-driven waves of Galilee. Some of his disciples were out there in a boat, fearing for their very lives, maybe a mile from land, beaten by the waves, the wind against them. Along about three o’clock Jesus came to them, emerging out of the mist and shadows. Believing they were seeing a ghost, they cried out in fear. But Jesus said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Last week I preached on the miracle of feeding five thousand from two fishes and five loaves of bread. As I taught you, you feed them! The message is to give the Lord what you have. The Lord provides the abundance. As soon as you do the math on 2 fish + 5 loaves = dinner for thousands, it doesn’t add up and you are defeated – so don’t do the math. Just don’t look at the storm or waves or listen to the wind. Turn to Jesus.

In today’s miracle, the message is to keep your focus on Jesus and become just like him – just don’t do the physics. In this sense, this miraculous event of walking on water is simply one which we do not understand.

All our discoveries are merely the process of finding out what God has known all along. I am not troubled by what I do not understand; I am challenged by it, moved by it, amazed and sometimes inspired by it. Jesus is a master of it. Use the Force!

God’s message to West Nottingham Presbyterian Church is very clear in this text. You are to be fixed on Jesus who bids you to come. Do not look at the wind, storm or waves and sink. I have told you that you are to keep your devotion and affection fixed on God in Jesus Christ who alone is head of the church – this church. Look to Jesus who alone is Head of the Church.

You may think that in the months ahead you will be like the disciples tossed in the boat at night, during a storm. Take Heart – Do not be afraid – Jesus is Head of West Nottingham Presbyterian Church.

Here’s a story of a Sunday School class that did a reenactment of this miracle. One young boy was cast as Jesus and had to memorize his lines as Jesus saying, “Take heart. It is I; do not be afraid.” On the night of the performance he stood before the congregation – and he was utterly petrified. Hesitating, and his fear mounting with every passing moment, he was unable to remember what he was supposed to say. Finally this is what came out of his mouth: “It’s me; and I’m, scared to death!”

Well, something went wrong, didn’t it? Obviously, standing there alone in the presence of all those people, the little lad was totally taken over by what he conceived to be his own predicament. He was consumed by it, and utterly paralyzed. If he kept focus on what the Word of God meant, understood its meaning, he would have done what he was supposed to do. He would have been all right. But he got to thinking of himself. He thought of the situation he was in, and he couldn’t be aware of any Help or Force beyond that. A similar thing often goes wrong with us when we fail to hear Jesus say, “It is I!” Our awareness turns in another direction, and we wrongly say, “It’s all about me.” At many of life’s raging storms we must hear Jesus say, “Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid!”  If we don’t we are very likely to think, “It’s me, and I’m scared to death.” And it’s just about that time we begin to sink. You know that sinking feeling!

Jesus walked on the water! That’s not the point of the text. Here’s the point. Jesus did not use an unknown force to walk on water. The Force is known to us all. “With God, nothing is impossible.” May the Force be with you! May God be with you.

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