Sunday, November 26, 2017

Raising the Bar by Command - Matthew 14.22-33

I know that I tend to use this parable, along with the widow’s offering, more than any other account in the Scripture, but it appeals to me. It’s versatile. There are so many applications. That parable is the one of the Servants and the Talents. You know it.
A man is going away for a spell. He calls in his ranch hands to let them know of his extended absence. While he is gone, he has a project for each of them. He gave the first ranch hand $500 and said, “son, see what you can do with this.” Then he gave to the second ranch hand $200 dollars telling him the same thing, “son, see what happens with this here 200.” To the last ranch hand he gave just $100. Again, the Rancher tells the hand, “son, here’s a $100. See where this leads you.”
Of course, there was no further instruction. The sums each came with carte blanche. After a few seasons, the Rancher returns and looks over the spread. Pleased with what he saw, he called his three ranch hands to come in and give an account to their sums of money. After they retrieved their books and money, they appeared before the Rancher.
The first hand comes up and says, “Hefe, you didn’t tell me what to do, so I got into some stuff. Here’s your original 500 back, and 500 more.”  The Rancher gave him praise for his work.
The second hand comes up and says, “Sir, I thought I might have lost it, but I worked hard. Here’s 400 and more to come.”  The Rancher also had praise to rain on his faithful hand.
The last cowpoke came up, a bit sheepish, hat in hand. “El Hefe, Sir, I know you are an exacting man. I didn’t want to risk losing what you gave me. I couldn’t afford to replace it out of my paltry pay if I even worked for next five years free. So I put it under a fence post in the back 40. Here it is. I didn’t lose a penny of it.”
Of course we know that the Rancher had no praise but proceeded to tell his hand how lazy he thought the hand was. The hand could have played the safe route and invested in a savings account during his absence. Everyone knows that when a post is disturbed, likely there is hidden cache of money that the person wanted to keep safe and away from the banks.
Why this parable is appropriate this morning is that there were no instructions given. Each hand was freely given the money. And it was that the last man had no faith in the faith that the Rancher had in him. Think about that for a moment. The Rancher had faith in the hand that he gave the hand $100. But the hand had no faith in himself or in the Rancher. He didn’t have a clear directive what to do with the money so he didn’t do anything.
Isn’t that how it is with us as Christians? Take stock for a moment. Do you have faith in the Father’s faith in you? Do I trust that the Father’s faith in me will yield fruit for the kingdom? You see he’s given each of us the Holy Spirit by whom we live. But the Holy Spirit is only our guide. He doesn’t command us. He doesn’t rule us. Those aren’t his jobs.
I think we tend to overthink things really. Been that way since back in the Garden with the original couple. They had a simple directive. Don’t eat. That’s it. Only one law in the entire judicial system. Don’t eat. But surely it couldn’t be that simple.
They added a rule to protect themselves. Don’t eat. Don’t touch. But that wasn’t the command. With only one command, there is quite a bit of freedom to do anything one might imagine. But we over thought it and added to it. Satan challenged us on the law. He called the bluff.
And that’s not a contradiction either. God did say they would die when they ate it. But until that time, man was innocence personified. They were immortal in that they ate from the Tree of Life. When they were expelled, they ceased eating from the Tree of Life, and therefore death entered. The couple started dying. Remember, the Tree of Life was blocked by a flaming sword. Man is now no longer immortal but terminal.
Now in Christ, we are overthinking once again. It’s an argument that has been taking place at least from near the beginning of the church. It became an issue with the new Gentiles coming into the faith. Some wanted all to embrace the way of Moses and the Law. Others said that how is that fair when even the Jews themselves were unable to keep the law
So the Apostles and the Elders of Jerusalem thought it over and came to a decision. There would be 3 simple rules: 1) Abstain from sexual misconduct. 2) Don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols (idol worship), and 3) Don’t eat meat strangled or its blood. In other words, they were to respect life, worship God, and stay sexually pure. Everything else is freedom.
But we don’t like such freedom. We want someone telling us what to do, and I think this is why. So that should anything fail, we can pass it back or pass the blame on to someone else. It’s where Peter was in our passage this morning. He wanted something, but instead of acting on his own, he wants Jesus to tell him directly. He didn’t want to just be told, he wanted to be commanded. Does Jesus listen? Let’s read the text:

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.
Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”
“Come!” He said.
And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

Peter wanted to play it safe. He wanted Jesus to prove himself to him. But this isn’t going to happen. Instead, Jesus gives Peter a little lesson as to whom Jesus really is. That is why Jesus stayed after sending the disciples away. He needed to remind them, remind us that though he’s living totally as a man, he is still the Great I, the Creator of the Universe. But God doesn’t want mind-numb obedient robots to love him. He has the angels for that. Instead he wants us to have the freedom to love him.
Jesus did, in this interaction, give commands, but never so much to Peter about walking on water. Instead Command 1 was to have courage, that Jesus is with them. Peter and the rest were afraid because Jesus was acting in a manner that they couldn’t wrap around their minds. Jesus was doing something different and unexpectedly.
Instead, Jesus told the disciples to be courageous. Yes, the two are in the same verse, but they are different commands. They are related but not the same. Courage has been often defined as doing something despite the fear one might have. Firefighters for example are courageous running against the flow of people. But the firefighters are still afraid of the fire. Here in the sight of the Son of God, or God with us, the disciples are being told not to be afraid.
Then there is the command to not be afraid. Perhaps the disciples knowing where they were spiritually, being in the presence of someone so holy, it was fearful. Every time that the Angel of the Lord appeared, every time any angel appeared to people, any time something supernatural from God happens, the person or audience is immediately told not to be afraid, with the exception of the Angel of the Lord appearing to Balaam. At that moment, his sins gave him good reason to be afraid. In this moment, Jesus walking on water is supernatural. And Jesus tells them to not be afraid of him, not to be afraid of God. He is with them. He is with us.
Finally, what about Peter wanting Jesus to command him? If Peter were to fail, then whose fault would it be? The one who failed, or the one setting him up for failure. We tend to pass the buck. How often have we heard, “we were just doing what we were told/taught”? If someone else tells us to do something, then I can say that I was set up for failure. But if I have the freedom to do something on my own, then my failure is mine. But that’s situation ethics. You are told to do something, and if you know it’s a wrong or bad command, then obeying makes you as guilty for following through.  
“Peter, if you want to walk on the water, then you are free to walk on the water.” That is what Jesus was saying when he said, “come”. Peter, trust Jesus.
Let me bring it home to us. We want to be told what to do. The problem with being told what to do, once we start looking for such direction, our faith becomes ritual. It ceases to be faith. God has told us to love him with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. But what does that look like?
Jesus answered that it is being a servant to all. But what does that look like? It’s ambiguous, by design. God wants us to love Him with our mind, so we are free to imagine how we might show love to Him and to our neighbor. There is a preacher who has a dream of eliminating poverty. What will that look like? He’s still working on it. Will it eliminate it through out the community he lives in? He doubts it, but hopes that perhaps one day, it will bring glory to God.
That is a courageous step on his part. What are you thinking about for the kingdom on how to love God and to love your neighbor? Let your imagination soar. Dream. How might you bring glory to His name?
What keeps us from dreaming? Fear? You know how sinful you are, and can God use you with your brokenness? You bet he can and will. Do you fear God? Why? Through this passage, through the word of God, we are promised that if we are seeking Him, looking for him, we will find him and we don’t need to fear him.
He has set this up so that we might be saved, that we might come to him crying Abba Papa. That is what he wants. He wants to hear those precious words from our lips, from your lips. Papa, I love you. He’s so not looking to get us. He wants to love you. He desires to know and forgive you. And he freely does when we accept the work that Jesus did, to taste eternal death so that you and I won’t taste it. My prayer is that you do oft say, “I love you, Abba Papa.”
Then what might you do with such praise and affection? Perhaps it will be greater than walking on water. Listen to His word and come to him with courage free from fear.

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