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Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

9th Aug 2020


Sermon for Trinity 9 Year A


“Take Heart, It is I; do not be afraid”  Matthew 14.27

 

To remain faithful and steadfast in the midst of all that life can throw at us, requires enormous amounts staying power. The story in the Gospel in which Jesus, walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee encourages Peter to do the same is a story about that same keeping of faith, with faith’s working partner, trust. The story depicts Jesus having prayed alone on the mountain, the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee and the crowd on the shore. Each, from their own perspective, like us, are challenged and tested to keep the faith. And this is not what we call ‘blind faith’ or an act of our own will power but ‘faith in God’ involving self-surrender. The same God who brought this world into being is the God who works with the faith we have to offer and at the same time grounds it and makes it more real. And so the question of the day by day ‘keeping of faith’ is central to our discipleship as Christians. Ours in the ‘faith in…’   …faith in God through Jesus Christ. As the chorus of a rousing old hymn “Will Your Anchor Hold?” puts it:

 

We have an anchor that keeps the soul

Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,

Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,

Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.

 

 

Life must test us. It can do no other. Life gives none of us a holiday from its trials. And sometimes life will test us to the very limit of our own felt capacity to meet that test. And I don’t know a reason why should we be exempted from that testing? One of the translations of the Lord’s prayer substitutes ‘lead us not into temptation’ with ‘…and do not bring us to the time of trial’. No one would be foolish enough to willingly invite the time of great trial, but to refuse or  ignore or circumvent the reality of human trial and suffering would be  a profound denial.

 

The keeping of strong faith has been revealed this week in Beirut, where the populace, devastated by loss and destruction and rightly angered by corruption in their society have nerved themselves to support the thousands of homeless, to provide food for the hungry and, by these acts, have offered encouragement and hope for the greater number of citizens. To rebuild, to angrily challenge the dead hand of the state whilst re-establishing bonds of peace and trust. This is the keeping of faith in our basic humanity, which, though often blown off course by the machinations of the few, has declared itself to be strong, united and hopeful. The faith dynamic is the one in which Jesus, the love of God in human form, comes toward us as love and says “Take heart; it is I, do not be afraid”.

 

From the Christian point of view our own lives are, each and every one of them, journeys of faith. Faith in God, and, by natural extension, journeys of faith in one another. This morning we will be reading the marriage banns for Tor Garnett and Tom Parker. Out of an old and very traditional ecclesiastical custom comes the Church and congregation standing alongside the couple and cheering them on. That special group of couples who marry at Holy Cross Church will want to hear their banns read, and have considered these three Sundays very special acts of dedication. For they declare before God and the gathered church a great desire and intention. That the love which has been found in these two persons now becomes the key commitment for a startlingly real journey of faith and hope and trust. In this sense this morning’s gospel teaching on the need for faith is so apt. We know, all of us, whether married, single, in partnerships or otherwise, that we need great resources of real love that is buttressed by equal resources of faith and trust and hope. We must all know that in the words of the song from Queen, life is ‘no bed of roses’.

 

But it's been no bed of roses

No pleasure cruise

I consider it a challenge before the whole human race...

 

Our Gospel reminds us that we will of course rely upon our own strength and the strength of our primary relationships to see us through. But for the Christian another vital dimension is added, and that is faith in God, who in Christ has not only shown us the way, but also feeds in our inward selves as we continue the journey. Jesus tells Peter and us as he walks toward us “Take heart, do not be afraid, it is I”. God is the One who beckons. He the one who shapes our truer destiny.

The shortest word that Jesus speaks is in fact a letter, and the letter is “I”. Whenever Jesus speaks in the first person singular his hearers, most of them versed in the Jewish religion, would have immediately know what was being said. For in Jewish tradition the personal “I” when spoken by the prophet means God; Jesus then proclaims that he is Son of God, and the disciples recognise this and accept it. They accept that individual personal strength will never be completely adequate to the vocation for living and loving unless their own “I” has its spiritual root and grounding in Jesus. The Church must continually remind us that our lives and loves owe all their meaning and purpose to the God who made us and who keeps us. This is primary. We cannot with any possibility of true surety, run our lives as our own directors.

 

And so now on this day, we pray for the people of Beirut in their hour of need, we pray for Tor and Tom as they embark upon their journey of faith and hope and love and trust and we pray for us all, and for the increase and the deepening of our faith. That Christ will meet us as and where we are, to provide us with that deep trust and assurance which is faith’s natural outcome.  As Jesus tells us this morning,  “Take heart, It is I!”

 

Amen.