Stepping out in faith

19th Sunday Year A
10 August 2014
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

The readings today present daunting challenges to our faith.

In the 1st Reading, we find the great prophet Elijah in a cave on Mt Horeb, also known as Mt Sinai, the mountain of God where the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush and where he received from God, the law, the 10 commandments. Elijah was exhausted after a long trek through the desert and he was depressed and overcome by despair asking God to let him die; the land is evil, the king is evil, the prophets are dead and his life is being threatened by Jezebel, the depraved wife of the king. And the Lord comes to him; an unusual encounter. The voice of God is not heard in the strong winds, or in the earthquake or in the fire that follows. Elijah hears the Lord in a whispering breeze; the still quiet voice of God in a noisy silence. The Lord hears his complaints but seemingly ignores them and tells him this is not a time to run away and sulk – he is a prophet anointed by God and there’s work to be done.

We too, through our Baptism and Confirmation, have been anointed as prophets; to be the ones who bring the message of God to the world. And as difficult as it so often is to remain hopeful, joyful, compassionate, forgiving, loving and prophetic in a violent world gone mad, that is what God asks of us.

The 2nd Reading is a deeply emotional statement by Paul expressing his sorrow and anguish that his own people, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, have rejected Jesus as the Saviour of the world. He says that he’d even be prepared to be cursed by the Messiah if that would bring the Israelites to know and accept Jesus as their Lord. We can hear him asking the question: How is this unbelief possible? They had everything going for them – a privileged relationship with God, adopted as his own children, the covenants, the law, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the very people that have produced the Messiah!  And yet, they do not believe.

The reading poses a few questions for us too. We are greatly privileged in our relationship with God. We are anointed and blessed with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Are we living the responsibilities that come with this privilege? Are our lives witnesses to what we believe? Are we the living presence of Christ in the world?

In the gospel reading we find some guidance: as long as we are focused on our faith, we’re in good hands; when we focus on our fears, we are in trouble.

The disciples were in a boat some distance off shore, battling in heavy seas against strong winds in the early hours of the morning; sometime between 3am-6am. They were fisherman; seasoned professionals. They knew about boats and sailing and the Sea of Galilee was their home turf. They’d have been familiar with the winds and the unpredictable weather and would have been fearful of the risk of sinking or capsizing. When they saw Jesus coming across the water they were terrified and who can blame them? Peter had the courage to put his complete trust in Jesus and getting out of the boat he walked towards the Lord.

Peter got out of the boat in obedience to the call from Jesus and he walked on water. The moment he took his eyes off Jesus and focused instead on the howling wind around him, he sank but Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.

Many of us I’m sure struggle as I do between the security of the boat and the courage to climb out and walk in complete faith to Jesus. Peter’s experience and Jesus’ immediate response bring great comfort and confidence. Jesus reaches out to each of us when we are sinking. We of course in turn have to take his hand if we’re to stay above the water; focus on our faith not on our fears.

We each cling to our own boats – that with which we are familiar and to which we clutch for security. And often when the going gets stormy we are faced with the challenge – do we get out of the boat and walk towards Jesus or do we stay put and rely on our own experience and skills.

To quote a book title by the evangelist John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”

Jesus calls each of us. ‘Come’ he says:  Put your trust in me and together we can walk on water. Together we can do the impossible. He is calling us to take a step.

Putting our trust in Jesus and taking that step, the risk of climbing out of the boat as Peter did, takes great courage, faith and humility.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, the great German Lutheran Pastor and theologian who was hanged in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany in 1945, in his book “The Cost of Discipleship” wrote “Peter had to leave the boat and risk his life on the sea, in order to learn both his own weakness and the almighty power of his Lord. If Peter had not taken the risk, he would never have learnt the meaning of faith….. The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. Unless a definitive step is demanded, the call vanishes into thin air, and if people imagine that they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves.”

In receiving the Holy Eucharist at this Mass we take a step of faith towards Jesus. Many of us cling to the security of our boats and are afraid of the storms raging around us in our lives.

Jesus whispers to each one of us in the Eucharist: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

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