Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, August 10, 2014
How do we move from cold feet to bold faith?
[Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33]
Let’s think about our feet. Where are your feet taking you these days? It’s our feet that keep us well grounded. The rest of our bodies depend upon our feet for balance and stability. Unfortunately we rarely thank our feet for their hard work. Please take a moment and look down at your feet, even if they are covered up with Sunday shoes. Thank your feet for bringing you here today.
We do notice our feet when they get cold or hurt. On our raft trip Meghan was running down the hill after dark, while playing hide and seek. A log caught her foot by surprise and sent her flying. Fortunately, her gymnastics training taught her how to tuck and roll, so she only experienced some minor scrapes.
The Apostle Paul says something profound about feet. He tells the Christians in Rome: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15) Good news needs a pair of feet to get from one person to another.
The good news Christians have to share is this: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Paul’s point in the passage Duncan read this morning is that it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a non-Jew, a Christian or a non-Christian, as long as you call on the name of the Lord. You will be saved.
Let’s think a moment about what it means to be “saved” – since that word gets thrown around a lot. People may ask you: “Have you been saved?” Sometimes we see a billboard on the road, which inquires: “Are you saved?” How do we answer the question? What are we being saved from? What if you don’t feel lost or in danger? What is the point Paul is trying to make?
The word for “save” in the Hebrew Old Testament is “yeshua” – and it literally means: “to be open, wide or free; to be safe; to free, to avenge, to defend, to deliver, help, preserve, rescue, be safe, bring salvation, save, and get victory.” How interesting that the name, Jesus, comes from this verb, since he is the person God sent to provide freedom, safety, deliverance, rescue, salvation and victory for those who believe in him.
In New Testament Greek the word for “saved” is “sodzo” which means: “to save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve, do well, and be made whole.” Healing, doing well and being made whole are experiences we need to have now. This is not a verb that refers to some indefinite future time.
Experiencing wholeness begins right where we are, in the places where we feel most broken. That’s why the Christian message is good news! Believing in Jesus is not just reserving a “spot in heaven” as some churches describe it, like an insurance policy. Although the Bible promises we will experience eternal life in Christ, the verb “TO SAVE” means experiencing healing and wholeness in the midst of our present struggles, our daily temptations & storms, as well as our most grueling trials and tribulations. Salvation is not something to squirrel away in a savings account for the future. Experiencing salvation is a way of living day-to-day & moment-by-moment. Being made whole is a way of living in God’s presence all the time.
Paul had a sense of urgency about sharing this experience with others who aren’t aware Jesus loves them. He says: “How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?”
First, a person has to experience wholeness in Christ themselves. Many people in the New Testament were touched, healed and renewed when they met Jesus. Those who experience transformation cannot wait to share it with others.
Paul says we must open our mouths and talk about it! If someone is living in the dark: troubled, broken, fragmented and imprisoned, HOW CAN THEY CALL ON ONE THEY HAVE NEVER HEARD OF? How can they HEAR about it, if no one TALKS about it? And how can those who have experienced this wholeness SHARE their experiences, if they are not SENT TO OTHERS WHO HAVE NOT HEARD?
These verses in Romans inspired ALL the great missionary movements in the world. That’s why men, women and children left homes and loved ones to travel the globe, why they struggled to speak different languages, adapt to different cultures, foods and customs, because God says: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
Paul makes it clear: “If you confess with your lips” – which means speaking— that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your hearts that God raised him from the dead, then YOU WILL BE FREED, RESCUED, MADE WHOLE NOW.
If you are sitting here thinking: “I don’t know what she is talking about. I don’t feel free, whole, saved, delivered, rescued or victorious,” then you are not quite ready to be a messenger of good news. You can’t fake it & and God doesn’t want you to pretend.
First, God wants you to experience the deepest possible level of wholeness and salvation in your present circumstances. Just as Jesus walked on the troubled waters of the Sea of Galilee, when the disciples were deathly afraid, Jesus walks on the rough waters of your life straight towards the boat you are riding in. It may be a little canoe, a raft, a fishing boat or a cruise ship. You may be stuck in a job you don’t like, have an illness you cannot shake, or may be on your last leg of patience with someone you love. Whatever boat you’re stuck in, Jesus is walking on the water straight towards you. Jesus sees you and you see Jesus. You make eye contact.
At first, you’re surprised. Is this the real deal? Who is out there on the water? Is it a ghost? A dream? Who is coming your way? Feel free to call out and ask: “Is that you, Jesus?” Jesus says: “Come. I am here with you. Take some steps. Don’t be afraid. I will catch you, if you start falling.” But you’re shaking & your feet are ice cold. You’re afraid. I can’t swim, you tell Jesus. And I know for sure I can’t walk on water. I’m scared, Jesus. “Come.” Take a step. Move your feet, one foot at a time. Climb up on the side of the boat and swing your legs over. Let go and slide into the water. Start walking. Keep your eyes on me. If you start sinking, as Peter did, I will catch you and carry you back to the boat. I will be with you every step of your journey.
When some of us rafted 5 miles of the Ocoee River in Tennessee, many had never done anything like this, so Duck, the head guide, gave instructions about how to do it. Since the guides in each raft had been down the river hundreds of times, they knew what to expect, but they needed each person in every raft to LISTEN and FOLLOW their instructions. The guides sat in the back to steer. Duck asked if there were any non-swimmers in the group. There were. He suggested they NOT sit in the front of the rafts, and explained what to do if they fell out. We all wore life jackets and helmets, and we each had a paddle. We carried our rafts to the “put in,” got down into our rafts and started paddling together, using the exact number of strokes our guide told us to take.
When it was over, none of us had fallen out and every single one of us had an extraordinary experience of God’s presence. We learned team work with the six people who shared our rafts, so that by the end of those 5 miles we were paddling together smoothly. Occasionally our guide would tell us to stop, because we weren’t paddling together. If one or two paddled forward while others paddled back, there wasn’t any progress. Sometimes we learned one side was paddling faster than the other. Matt would stop us… remind us… and then we’d begin again until we were synchronized.
The experience was a great metaphor for our journey together in the church. With Jesus in the boat as our guide, we can get through anything, but we do need bold faith as we see the huge rapids ahead of us. There’s no turning back once we climb into our rafts, but we will have a much better experience if we allow Jesus to be the guide and we aren’t all shouting out different directions at the same time. Jesus steers from behind as our rudder. Several times our guide asked us to turn around and look at him, so he could see our eyes. He said: when we’re going through the rapids, you have to do exactly what I say: “Paddle 2 forward, 3 backward, or rest. I’ll tell you when to put your paddle up in the air & when to fall into the boat. I’ll tell you to paddle harder when you need momentum to get through the next rapids. Will you listen and do what I ask you to do?”
Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is a team sport, more than an individual sport. Even though we do need to share our personal stories of how God is transforming us, it’s when we come together as a team in the church that the world sees an alternative way of living. When people see us working together with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts, moving through tough times in unity, with everyone paddling together towards a common purpose, the message of good news becomes flesh in us. People are never drawn to conflict and tension. People outside the church are drawn to us, because they see and feel unconditional love, unity and wholeness.
When the disciples were scared, Jesus found them and walked on the rough waters of their lives to save them. Peter leapt out of the boat to join Jesus, but ended up sinking, so Jesus gently picked him up & put him back in the boat with the others. With Jesus in the boat, the storm calmed down, and they realized Jesus was truly the Son of God, with power even over the natural world.
The bold faith our church needs is not a bunch of Peters jumping out of the boat, going separate ways. We need Jesus IN our boat, guiding us together. Jesus will help us synchronize our efforts to move through the challenges we face. There will be smiles on all of our faces as we do this, though at times we may have to put up our paddles and fall into the boat. With Jesus steering, we will be safe, connected to each other and purposefully engaged in the proclamation of good news for all people! Thanks be to God! Let us pray.