“I’m Certain…. Maybe?”
Pentecost 10A, Proper 14 – August 13, 2017
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33.
The word for today is Doubt. Do you sometimes doubt something about God, or is your faith in God rock certain?
Sometimes in our Christian walk we are made to feel ashamed when we express any doubt. Doubt is too often treated like a communicable disease. “Don’t you dare express any doubt around me! I don’t want to catch that stuff.” Today’s lessons are interesting in their presentation of the intermingling of having faith in God on-the-one-hand, versus doubting God on-the-other.
There is a scene from Mark’s Gospel, chapter 9, that illustrates this point. Jesus is coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration. When He reaches the place where the disciples have been waiting He encounters a melee. There is a large crowd and teachers of the law are arguing with the disciples.
17A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20So they brought him.
When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” 24Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed,
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
“I believe but I have doubts” said the father. Doesn’t that describe so many of us? “I believe, except when I don’t”. “I believe Jesus works miracles but I haven’t seen any so I not really sure.” “I believe God is the Creator …. But I learned that Evolution is the creator of life, so now I doubt.” Those are honest statements of faith and doubt, aren’t they? Today’s Gospel lesson also gives us insight into this dynamic between faith and doubt.
Jesus calls Peter to step out of the relative comfort and safety of a boat and experience the ‘out of this world thrill of walking on water’. By faith in Jesus’ word to him (“Come”, :29), Peter steps out of the boat onto the water of the Sea of Galilee. As long as Peter’s eyes were fixed on Jesus he was able to experience the impossible. When he diverted his attention from Jesus to the storm, fear entered his heart and his faith failed. Immediately, he began to sink into the cold water. In his fear Peter cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” (:30), and Jesus did because that is what he does, and who he is – The Savior. But Jesus needed to teach Peter – and us – something important: “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” “Yes, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Imagine a Teeter-Totter, or Seesaw.
That can serve as a symbol for the interaction of Faith and Doubt. When our faith side is high, our doubts are low. Conversely, when our Doubt Side is high our Faith side is low. Seldom is our Faith in God and our Doubts about God in equal proportion. We’re up and down. God understands this which is why Paul teaches that God sends people to preach and teach – to increase our faith; and, if we believe in God we will never be put to shame (:11).
Peter went from being scared by Jesus whom he thought was a ghost, to having his faith soar as he walked on water; to fearing for his life as his eyes left Jesus and he became aware of how much possible danger he was in – all in a matter of minutes.
In the lesson from Genesis, we encounter Joseph and his brothers, and the sibling rivalry that existed between them. “… they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. (:4)”
What is particularly interesting to me in the story is verse 19 – His brothers called Joseph a “dreamer”. Apparently, his ‘dreaming’ gift was something God gave him early in life. He carried it throughout his lifetime. It would manifest itself again in Egypt where it would save his own life, and later save the nation of Egypt, and result in reconciliation with his brothers.
In developing this theme of faith and doubt through these lessons, we see that God had been working in Joseph’s life even before he was sold into slavery. Through the gift of dreams, and their interpretation, God was building Joseph’s capacity to trust God and believe in His presence and ability to intervene in human lives. Today’s Psalm underscores this point: Psalm 105:17-22 (NIV) 17 and he sent a man before them– Joseph, sold as a slave. 18 They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, 19 till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the LORD proved him true. 20 The king sent and released him, the ruler of peoples set him free. 21He made him master of his household, ruler over all he possessed, 22 to instruct his princes as he pleased and teach his elders wisdom.
Joseph had the confidence of someone who knew he had a favorable relationship with God and was loved. Yet, I suspect Joseph suffered many dark nights of the soul as he was carried to Egypt, sold as a slave and later imprisoned because of false charges. If we were examining Joseph’s life as individual photographs, we would wonder where God was during many of those scenes. No doubt, Joseph struggled with his own doubts during those dark days and nights.
Yet, he clung to his essential belief in God, and God’s love for him, and that was able to sustain him through the darkness until the light of God’s plan for him illuminated a new era in his life. Joseph hung in there with God through the dark days and when God’s time was right, he became the Prime Minister of Egypt and the Savior of his family.
The lesson for us is? There is no shame in having moments of doubt; moments of unbelief; moments when we are confused, scared, hurt, angry, depressed, maybe even suicidal. These are moments when our eyes are off The Lord and focused instead on our problems. There is no shame in having those moments. The shame is being too proud to cry out to Jesus to come and save us.
One of the lessons of life is
We All Start Out As Doubters,
But our journey is to faith. Hopefully, we move into a solid faith relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Our faith may waver under moments of deep stress, but it doesn’t break. It holds because it is anchored to the living Lord.
In today’s letter to the Romans, St. Paul discusses acquiring a faith that is powerful enough to get us through this life and deliver us safely to Heaven’s waiting shores. This is Paul’s template for acquiring saving faith.
In verses 8-13, Paul wrote: 8But what does (Holy Scripture) say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. There it is: confess and believe. Confess that Jesus is Lord, and choose to trust what the Bible says about God’s plan to save us through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? And, it is. It’s dealing with our doubts that complicate it, doesn’t it?
Paul goes on to say: 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified (made right with God), and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (or anyone else, for God is no respecter of persons)—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Remember how Peter called on the Lord to save him when he feared drowning. What is threatening to drown you? Is it a broken relationship, or the bitter disappointment that life is not fair? Is it financial, circumstantial, relational, or emotional? What is the wave braking over your head? Are you angry at God because your prayers aren’t being answered? How many times did Joseph cry out to God as he waited in that pit, only to be sold by his brothers into slavery? Later, as he was wasting away in an Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t do, did he ever doubt God’s presence in his life? It took years of unreasonable suffering before the timing was perfect for God’s will to be manifested in Joseph’s life. And when it was, Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt.
That was beyond what Joseph was praying for; but when it happened his entire life made sense for the first time. God’s hand had always been upon Joseph. And God’s hand is upon each of us. Can you hang in there with your doubts, maintaining your essential trust in God to “work all things together for your good” (Romans 8:28), because you love the Lord, and God has a plan for your life? And what keeps us hanging on even when we doubt?
Here’s the rest of what Paul said. From verses 14 -15: 14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
This whole preaching/teaching/witnessing business we are involved in through organized religion is how God reaches souls that need to be saved from drowning in the ocean of life’s despair. You are here not only for your personal good; but also for others.
It is through our personal invitations to others that they come and experience worshipping the living God. Through our invitations we help people hear about God’s love for them, and God’s answer for their doubts. You don’t realize it but just being here can be a witness to someone else. We never know who is attracted to us and is watching us to see if our faith is genuine – will it carry us through the storms of life.
Who will you invite to come and see, and taste, and know that the Lord, He is Good? We increase the Kingdom of God, one child, one youth, one person, one family, one neighborhood at a time. We love and nurture others because God has loved and nurtured us. We exist less for ourselves than for others who are not even yet here.
You are part of something eternal. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”