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Sermon for Sunday 9 August 2020

First Reading                                     Job 38:4-18

4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, 7when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? 8Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? 12Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, 13that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? 14It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. 15From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken. 16Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 18Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.”

Psalm                                                  Psalm 18:1-17

1I love you, O Lord my strength, O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. 2My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge: You are worthy of praise.

3I will call upon the Lord, and so shall I be saved from my enemies. 4The breakers of death rolled over me, and the torrents of oblivion made me afraid. 5The cords of hell entangled me, and the snares of death were set for me. 6I called upon the Lord in my distress and cried out to my God for help. 7He heard my voice from his heavenly dwelling; my cry of anguish came to his ears. 8The earth reeled and rocked; the roots of the mountains shook; they reeled because of his anger. 9Smoke rose from his nostrils and a consuming fire out of his mouth; hot burning coals blazed forth from him. 10He parted the heavens and came down with a storm cloud under his feet. 11He mounted on cherubim and flew; he swooped on the wings of the wind. 12He wrapped darkness about him; he made dark waters and thick clouds his pavilion. 13From the brightness of his presence, through the clouds, burst hailstones and coals of fire. 14The Lord thundered out of heaven; the Most High uttered his voice. 15He loosed his arrows and scattered them; he hurled thunderbolts and routed them. 16The beds of the seas were uncovered, and the foundations of the world laid bare, at your battle cry, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. 17He reached down from on high and grasped me; he drew me out of great waters.

Second Reading                           Romans 10:5-17

5Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Gospel                                               Matthew 14:22-33

22Immediately {Jesus} made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Lips and Hearts

A young man was sent by his company to Spain, for one year, to work in a new plant.  He accepted the new position because it would enable him to earn enough money to marry his long-time girlfriend.  Their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned.  As the lonely weeks went by, she began expressing doubts that he was being true to her.  After all, Spain is populated by beautiful women.  The young man declared that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls.  “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted.  But I fight it.  I’m keeping myself for you.”

A week or so later, the young man received a package.  It contained a note and a harmonica.  “I’m sending this to you,” his girlfriend wrote, “so you can have something to take your mind off those girls.”  The young man wrote back that he was practicing on the harmonica every night and thinking only of her.  When the young man returned home to the states, his girl was waiting for him at the airport.  As he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly, “Hold on there.  First I want to hear you play that harmonica!”  They say that seeing is believing; in this case, the proof is in the playing!

This morning’s second lesson is about lips and hearts.  This probably sounds more like a theme for Valentine’s Day than for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost.  But when you think about it, it’s a very appropriate theme for today.  Listen again to St. Paul’s words in Roman 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  For those who truly believe, this is their response, in faith, to the grace of God extended to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we believe in our hearts and we confess with our lips.

Every year thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the “stations of the cross” to stand at an outdoor crucifix.  One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross.  He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb.  Tragically, it was much neglected.  The brush had grown up around it.  Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but that’s where they stopped.  Sadly, some believers have done just that.

There are many who have followed Jesus as far as the cross, but there they have stopped.  The truth is, there’s no power in believing that once upon a time there lived a good man named Jesus who taught many good things and then died on a cross.  St. Paul says, “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead….”  When you add the affirmation that God also raised Jesus from the dead, you’re adding a whole new dimension to our faith.  

If you stop at the cross, there may be forgiveness of sin, but there is no resurrection of the body as we confess in our Creeds.  Millions of good men and women have lived and died, but only One was resurrected from the dead.  Only One still lives triumphantly.  Only One is still available to His followers today.  This is the faith that not only saves us, it’s the faith that give us hope for the future.  That’s the kind of faith that we want to continually nurture and nourish.  Without the empty tomb, we have no eternal life in the presence of God.  As St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  For those who stop at the cross and never travel to the empty tomb, their faith is diminished and incomplete.

Some are not as strong in their faith as we might expect them to be.  Even though they have confessed their faith in Jesus Christ, even though they have been baptized and are faithful members of the church, they experience an emptiness inside – an emptiness they can’t explain.  Paulette Hawkins of West Virginia has experienced those feelings.

For quite some time after she came to know Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she still felt empty.  There was something missing in her life and she just couldn’t put her finger on what it was.  Paulette always thought that once someone became a Christian he or she would be filled with instant happiness and a sense of fulfillment.  She thought she would feel different than she did, she never expected to feel this emptiness.  Paulette even began questioning the validity of her faith.

One day as Paulette was reading the Bible, she realized something she never did before.  She was struck with the realization that she was forgiven, that Christ had delivered her from her sin, but there was still a vacuum.  She read Jesus’ response to satan when He was being tempted in the wilderness: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  It was at that moment that Paulette realized she needed something more than simply signing on the bottom line and accepting Jesus as her Savior.  She needed to be continually fed spiritually.

Paulette began to set aside time each day to read her Bible and pray.  The time she spent in prayer and Bible reading soon erased her feeling of emptiness.  “Now I have an abundant life,” she says, “because I am learning wonderful things about God as I feed on the Bible’s words.  God is my best friend, she continued, and I look forward to reading my Bible every day.”  Maybe our hearts are empty because we’re not feeding on God’s word every day.  I along with our Bishop, Dr. Selbo recommend that you spend just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, excluding Sundays, in prayer and Bible study.  Biblical illiteracy is a huge problem in our people today and we can go a long way in correcting this problem in just 15 minutes a day!  We need to spend a few minutes daily in God’s word and in prayer.  

Some might also find it helpful to have a notebook handy and make notes on what you read.  That is one of the best cures I know for spiritual emptiness.  There’s a richness and a sufficiency in the Scriptures that many of us aren’t even aware of.  Chuck Colson addressed the legislature of the state of Texas sometime back.  He told them that the only answer to our nation’s serious crime problem is to take nonviolent criminals out of prison and make them pay back their victims with restitution.  This is the only effective way we can solve the prison crowding problem.  

Afterwards members of the legislature came up to Colson one after another and said things like, “That’s a tremendous idea.  Why hasn’t anyone thought of that?”  Colson replied, “Read Exodus 22.  It’s only what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.”  The Bible is an undiscovered treasure for far too many Christians today.  Biblical illiteracy is a huge problem in both our churches and society today.  St. Paul wrote, “If you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead….”  How can we come to believe that God came incarnate, that He lived, taught, healed, cast out demons, proved He was Lord even over the laws of nature, as we read in our gospel lesson for today, suffered and died for our salvation and was raised again and is now sitting at the right hand of God in power, if we don’t even read the one book that witnesses to all this?  How can we grow in faith as we ought, if we don’t spend at least 15 minutes a day in study and prayer?

But believing with our hearts is only one-half of what being a faithful follower of Jesus is all about.  St. Paul writes: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord….”  Again, there are far too many who have Jesus in their hearts but not on their lips.  In today’s anti-Christian climate, it isn’t fashionable to wear your faith on your sleeve; to be open about your faith in God.  Many of our neighbors would rather spend an evening with a cell phone salesman than with other Christians sharing and strengthening their faith.  This is a byproduct of the “personal Jesus” teachings. 

Yes, Jesus is the Lord and Savior of every person who accepts Him in faith.  But that message is meant to be shared.  But the devil has convinced far too many that our faith is to be separated from all other aspects of our lives; our faith is to be a personal, private matter.  You don’t want, nor do we need, to hurt someone else’s feelings by sharing God’s Good News with those around you.  No, we would rather make a quiet witness to our faith.  Society, that is the devil working through society, urges us, strongly I might add, that we don’t want to be a nuisance.  So, we’re told to keep our faith to ourselves.  But this isn’t what Jesus told us to do is it?  Jesus commanded us to Go.  Now to be fair, there is something to be said for a quiet witness.

I read a story recently that was datelined Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It seems that somehow a finely crafted red granite bench has mysteriously appeared in a public park.  And no one – or next to no one – knows who put it there.  Not only is the bench quite attractive, but it bears a passage from Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando.  The inscription chiseled atop the 4-foot surface of the bench comes from Chapter 5 of this novel.  It reads: “There are wild birds’ feathers – the owls, the nightjars.  I shall dream wild dreams.  I should lie at peace here with only the sky above.”  “Someone who liked to think put this here,” said one woman, who read the inscription aloud to her husband.

It’s estimated that the bench weighs 600 pounds and it had to be hauled down a steep embankment to rest where it does.  Whoever was responsible, the city has decided that the monument can stay.  There are occasions when a silent gesture is appropriate.  And Jesus did warn us about making a show of our religion.  However, more often than not, our witness needs to include a verbal confession.  And we must remember that the truth we share is to be shared in love. 

For example, when a friend is floundering in darkness and needs someone to say something positive, something reassuring, something life-giving, then remaining silent may not be the best action to take.  There are times when the disciple must put in a good word for Christ.  It need not be an eloquent statement.  It need not have all the subtleties of theology ironed out.  It does need to be a statement of simple faith – an affirmation that Christ is alive, and that Christ is available to all who call on His name.  We share what we believe in our hearts and we come to that knowledge through prayer, Bible study and fellowship with other believers in worship.

As the national president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, James Jeffries was one of the most articulate and dynamic Christian spokesmen in the country.  In many ways, Jeffries’ son Neil was a lot like his dad, strongly built, athletic, good looking, and with a deep commitment to Jesus Christ.  But there was one respect in which Neil Jeffries was as different from his father, James Jeffries, as different as night and day.  While James was a dynamic and charismatic public speaker, Neil on the other hand was afflicted with a severe stutter.  Because of his speech impediment, he was quite shy even though he was a thoughtful, wise, and intelligent young man.  To Neil’s surprise, he was chosen to speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes national conference.  

Over a thousand young athletes were in attendance as Neil stepped onto the platform and began to speak.  Many in the audience didn’t know about Neil’s speech impediment, and some, thinking his performance was a joke or a skit, began to laugh.  On the platform, however, Neil continued talking.  It took him about twenty minutes to say what you or I could have said in five or ten minutes.  Yet at the conclusion of Neil’s talk, something amazing happened.  Neil offered an invitation for those in the audience to give their lives to Jesus Christ.  

All across the audience, young men stood and began to walk forward.  More young athletes made a commitment of their lives to Christ at that moment than at any other Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference.  Neil wasn’t the most eloquent by professional speaking standards, but he was faithful in his call to share God’s message of love and hope, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, many came to know God’s saving love and grace that day.  God doesn’t always call those who are already equipped.  However, God always equips those that He calls.  All we need is to be willing to be used.  God calls us to be the light and salt of the earth.  God asks us for our lips and hearts.

I began this sermon by talking about a young couple separated by his job.  Have you ever been around someone who’s in love?  Have you ever noticed how easily they talk about their beloved?  That’s the natural inclination of anyone who believes something whole-heartedly; they will share what they firmly believe.  The question we need to be asking is, what’s going on in our heart? 

Do we really believe that Jesus came, died, was resurrected from the dead and even now sits at the right hand of God in glory?  If you don’t believe all these truths, then maybe it’s time to spend at least 15 minutes a day feeding on God’s word.  If God is in your heart, is God also on your lips?  The time for silence is over.  People today hunger for Godly values; we need to introduce them to the One who is the source of all values. 

The motion picture Gandhi starred Ben Kingsley as the central character.  Rarely has an actor made so impressive a film debut as did Kingsley in Gandhi.  He spent months preparing for the role, visiting the Indian locales that Gandhi had frequented.  He even learned to spin cotton thread on a wooden wheel, as the Mahatma did, while holding conversations.  The physical resemblance between Gandhi and Kingsley proved startling.

After filming a scene in a village south of Delhi, Kingsley stepped out of a car, and an elderly peasant knelt to touch his feet.  Embarrassed, Kingsley explained that he was merely an actor playing the Mahatma.  “We know,” replied the villager, “but through you, he will surely live again.”  That’s what the world needs to see in us.  The world needs to see in Jesus in everything we say and do.  This world desperately needs to see Christ in our hearts and on our lips.

Today, as a congregation, we celebrate 230 years in service to God and this community.  And while we have to be careful that we don’t make these buildings or our history into an idol, we do need to ask ourselves a question:  how long will it take for this congregation to fade into history if we stop believing in our hearts and confessing with our lips that Jesus is Lord?  God always takes care of His children.  But I can’t help but think, that He adds a special blessing on those who are faithful in their call to Go.  To go, to baptize, to make disciples and to teach others about God’s amazing love, His endless compassion and to obey His commands and statutes.  “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Amen

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