A Time to Step Out (Matthew 14:22-33)

Here is the text from my sermon on October 17, 2010 at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, Oregon. The sermon text was Matthew 14:22-33. Here is the a link to the audio.

I really don’t like hiking. I love being outside, I love physical exercise, I love seeing all the cool things that are around us. There’s just something about walking to a place that seems boring to me. The problem is, my wife LOVES to hike! Almost every weekend she’s dreaming up somewhere we can go and hike around. Every time she says, “Do you want to hike to this neat rock formation?” or whatever and I roll me eyes and think here we go again. Because I’m a huge push over and I know the old adage “if momma ain’t happy nobody’s happy.” I agree to go. We pack up our stuff grab our daughter and sometimes our dogs and we drive to a trailhead and begin our journey. Our journeys have taken us to Stein’s Pillar, The Painted Hills, up and over Smith Rock, Steelhead falls, bird sanctuaries, Dylan Falls, Paulina Peak, the Big Obsidian Flow and that’s just stuff around here. Almost every time during our hike I look at my wife and I say, “this is AWESOME! We should do this more often.” at which point she rolls her eyes at me and smiles.

You would think after realizing home enjoyable the hiking experience can be that I would be excited each time my wife suggests it, but for some reason I can’t get it through my head. Luckily, I am blessed with a patient wife. I also take solace in the fact that according to Matthew the disciples didn’t get it, either. It seems as if they had no short-term memory or an unwillingness to recognize and appreciate the miracles that they were apart of.

Take our Bible story for today. The disciples had just collected the twelve baskets of leftovers after feeding five thousand men, besides women and children with 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Immediately Jesus makes the disciples get in a boat and sends them ahead while he dismisses the crowd and retreats to pray.

The disciples’ boat becomes battered by waves and they are stuck unable to work. Jesus at around 4 AM comes walking up to them on the water. They are terrified, I pretty sure if I saw someone walking on rough water, through the wind, especially at 4 in the morning, I would be 100% freaked out.

Jesus realizing that they are afraid seeks to calm them by saying, “Take heart, it is I do not be afraid.” And maybe just maybe Peter remembered the power of Christ to do more than we could ever ask or imagine and Peter speaks up says to Jesus, “Prove it!” which like the prophets that have come before him Jesus promptly does by inviting Peter to step out of the boat. I imagine the look on Peter’s face being one of utter shock, “Really!? You want me to walk out there?” or maybe, just maybe, Peter is excited by this proposition. Maybe his face lights up as he quickly bounds over the side of the boat and races to meet his friend and Savior?

He gets so excited that he’s been called to step out of the comfort of the boat that he races with child like glee to be with Jesus. Then as he gets to him he realizes, “wait a minute, I can’t do this, I can’t walk on water” at which point he begins to sink.

Isn’t this the way it always is? We go to a conference or we read about something in the paper or we hear a sermon and we get so fired up we can’t wait to jump in to a new adventure. We make all the contacts, fill out all the paperwork, get every thing lined up and then something doesn’t go right or it’s more work than we thought or others are not as excited as you are. It starts to feel less like passion and more like work, you start to feel overwhelmed, you feel like your drowning and then you just give up and think, well it just wasn’t meant to be. I think sometimes we forget that Jesus is standing there right next to us; we forget to ask for or accept his help even when he is trying his best to offer it. We flounder and try to swim back to the boat by ourselves when Jesus is holding us up.

It reminds me of one of the first things they teach you in life saving training for lifeguards. That the person you are trying to save will fight you. That’s why you’re taught only to get in the water as a last resort. Luckily for us, no matter how much we thrash and claw we cannot overwhelm Jesus. Jesus is ALWAYS in the water. Jesus is there asking us the question, “Why did you doubt?” I believe he is saying to Peter and to us, “Why did you doubt that I would save you? That’s what I came for.” Like the disciples I always forget that no matter what there is nothing that can separate me or you from the love of God found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus celebrates with us when it goes right and when we end up all wet, he carries us back to the boat, brings us back into the fold and we move on together.

I look around the sanctuary and I see these banners listing all of the ways that members of our community respond to their call and I am amazed. I would like to take a moment to honor and celebrate all that you have done in the name of Christ…These banners; these lists represent our feeding of the multitudes. We have fed the community, we have fed the world, we have fed each other and there were leftovers. Outside in the Commons area stretching all the way down the hall to Heritage Hall is your chance to step out, a chance for you to respond to Christ’s call to “Come!”

At every table one of the many ministries of the church has a place for you to learn about and sign up to participate in a new adventure; an opportunity to put your toe in the water; an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone.

You may be thinking, I have no time, I have no experience, I’m too old, I’m too young, they don’t need me. I know that’s often what I think, then I agree to go on a hike with my wife or walk in a marathon or mentor a troubled teen or help a friend move and every time I come away with a wonderful memory, new perspective and I’m left thinking, “why don’t I do this more often.”

We are now in a position for such a time as this to step out of our comfort zones, to not rest on our laurels and accomplishments, to celebrate what we have accomplished through the grace of God and use them as a reminder of all that we can do with Christ as our lifeguard, helping us to learn how to walk on water and when we slip feel like we are drowning, Jesus is there immediately to carry us to the boat and travel with us as we continue to move through waters of this journey of faith.

The question now is not IF you are called to step out, but WHERE you are called to step out. I invite you to walk up and down the halls of the church; the tables will be here all week. Grab information, ask questions; discern where God is leading you during this stewardship season to share your gifts and skills.

Remember God does not call the equipped God equips the called. All it will take is, as a retired Navy friend of mine says, to let go of the gunnel and step out into the ocean of possibilities that are ours through Christ who loves us.

May it be so.


Rev. Greg Bolt


Holy in the Ordinary…Water (Matthew 3:13-17)

Here is the text from the message from last Sunday’s message:

Water is ordinary. We drink it, we bathe in it, we wash our dishes and cars and animals in it, we feed our lawns with it, we swim in it, we play in it. Water is in abundance here. The water in this baptismal font is no different than the water that comes out of the fountain in the Commons Area…except for maybe the temperature.

But water is just water, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

Sure water is important, we need to drink 10 8-ounce glasses a day, we need it so our crops will grow allowing us to have food. But really water is just boring…right?

I know if I have a choice over water or something else to drink I will generally pick something else.

In today’s story we learn about Jesus being baptized at the Jordan River. I remember learning this story as a child and thinking, “I bet that river is huge!” Something like the Mississippi, the Columbia, maybe even the Willamette. Then I went to see the Jordan River…the irrigation canals that snake through our county are significantly more impressive than the Jordan, specifically the place where they believe Jesus was baptized. Of all the rivers I’ve seen it certainly seems to be one that could easily be called ordinary.  It’s barely a trickle, yet it is the place where the heavens opened up and God’s spirit descended like a dove saying, “BEHOLD! This is my son with whom I am well pleased.”

For a second, if you will allow me I would like to focus on one word in this text, a word that is not even translated in this version of the Bible. The word is a Greek word that often goes un-translated, the word is (id-oo’) it means look or behold. The Greek translation of verse 17 in Matthew is, “and BEHOLD, a voice out of the heavens, saying, This is my Son the beloved in whom I have found delight.”

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book “Leaving Church” says:

The parts of the Christian story that had drawn me into the Church were not believing parts but beholding parts.

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy…”

“Behold the Lamb of God…”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock…”

Whether the narratives starred hayseed shepherds confronted by hosts of glittering angels or desert pilgrims watching something like a dove descend upon a man in a river as a voice called him “Beloved,” Christian faith seemed to depend on beholding things that were clearly beyond belief…the beliefs never seized my heart the way the mysteries did.

There are certainly times when what we believe can cloud our judgment of what we are beholding. In this sacrament of baptism people have argued for centuries what it means, when it should be done, how it should be done, how many times it should be done…true confession…I’m one of the worst offenders. Why and how we do baptism and what it means to us when we gather around this font to celebrate the adoption of a new member into our broader family is certainly important, it should not however cloud our vision of the remarkable grace of God as we behold, this congregation as Christ’s representatives to the world saying, “Hudson, OUR Beloved, with whom we are well pleased.”

We aren’t saying this because we are pleased with his accomplishments so far, though every day of a new life is met with milestones and amazement. We aren’t saying this because of what we expect of Hudson in the future, although we are excited to share in whatever that future brings. When we respond, “We do” to the question of whether we will guide, nurture and encourage him, we say to Hudson, his parents, his grandparents that we are here with you, we love you, we support you. Every time we witness this sacrament we reaffirm our belief that every one is a child of God, with whom God is well pleased.

It is said that when, Reformer, Martin Luther would feel down, have low energy or otherwise be in a funk he would shout, “I AM BAPTIZED!” and it would instantly lift his spirits and he would have the energy to keep going. What if every time you felt down, you doubted yourself, you felt like you’d failed you said to yourself, “I AM LOVED!” First off, you’d probably scare the person next to you, aside from that it might make you feel a little better about your day. Let’s try it…on the count of three I want you to say…in any volume you are comfortable with…I AM LOVED!

Does it feel any better?

What if you said to the person on either side of you, “YOU ARE LOVED!”? Try it out.

Does it feel any better? Are your spirits a little lighter? I hope they are, I know that sometimes it takes more than someone affirming the fact that you are a Child of God with whom God is well pleased. It certainly doesn’t hurt.

The other day my mother send me a very short message on Facebook that made me feel loved, that short two line message that did not include the word love in it gave me energy and focus to accomplish the tasks of the day. In my fantasy of this story of the baptism of Jesus, Jesus comes out of the water and is immediately affirmed by His father. This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. That affirmation gave Jesus the courage and focus to accomplish the tasks that were set before him.

We often think of baptism as an end point. A moment in your life where you have it figured out, you’ve been through the wilderness and come out the other side. You’ve got all your demons, shortcomings; your temptations sorted out and know you’re ready to commit to the church.

According to the Bible that’s a little backwards.

At this point in Matthew, all we know about Jesus is his genealogy, he was born and his family had a hard time moving all over the place. Jesus hasn’t done anything…as far as we know (I’m sure we could infer some things but all we have on paper is…he’s alive).

In my fantasy, Jesus has come to visit his cousin, John, I’m sure Jesus had heard about the things that John was doing. Jesus feels a nudge to be baptized by his cousin; maybe it’s a little stronger than a nudge. I don’t believe that Jesus knew exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t think that he had his whole life planned out. I am sure that he had some idea of who he was and whose he was, but I don’t think he’d worked out all the details. I don’t think he was following a blue print.

Jesus walks out in to the water and John protests, “WAIT a second, you should be baptizing me!” Once again Jesus goes against what we expect. Jesus knows that he needs to be baptized; he knows that he needs this outward visible sign of the seal that God has already placed on his heart. I believe he’s not quite sure what’s next but he knows this needs to be done.

Jesus is submerged in the waters of this ordinary river and when he emerges his he hears a voice, God’s voice saying “you are my son and I love you.” God does not say this because of the work that Jesus has already done, God does not say this because of the work Jesus is going to do. God says, “You are my Beloved” because God loves Jesus just as he is no strings attached. It is only after Jesus feels that love that he has the strength to venture out into the wilderness facing his temptations before he begins his ministry.

Not even Jesus had it all worked out! It was AFTER his baptism that he was tempted in the desert. Jesus’ baptism was not an end but a beginning it was just the first of many times for the world to BEHOLD the power, grace, and majesty of God Incarnate. Today we behold the power and grace of a congregation standing up and affirming another child of God saying, “YOU ARE LOVED”

Remember you are a child of God, you are God’s beloved and God is well pleased. You have been baptized by water and the Spirit and have been sent out to remind others that they are loved just as you are loved.

We know that Hudson will have peaks and valleys; we know that sometimes he will feel as if he is all alone in the wilderness. It is at those times that I pray he remembers his baptism that he remembers that HE IS LOVED! I know that some of you feel as if you are in the wilderness now, I hope that you can hear us, body of Christ shouting to you, YOU ARE LOVED! I pray that gives you the strength to keep moving through that valley, I pray that you feel the love of God through this community walking with you as you navigate this world that seems anything but holy.

I encourage you to BEHOLD the power, majesty, grace and love of God that is all around us in our ordinary lives in our wilderness. Whether it be in the smile of a young child, a ray of sun peaking through the trees as you hike through this wonderful terrain, the breathtaking mountains, the power of a thunderstorm, the joy on the faces of friends talking over a meal, or the comfort of being in the presence of your loved ones remembering that it is through this ordinary water that Christ claims you as his own that we see God descending like a dove, whispering in your ear. It is through this ordinary act that we are given witness to the most holy of truths…you are God’s Beloved with whom God is well pleased.

May it be so…

Here’s the video of the 9:00 AM service