Reflection – Sunday 09 August 2020

Here’s my reflection for Sunday 09 August

The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week .

If you want to join in just email me – newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com – for details. We’d love to see you.

Mark Taylor

Sunday 09 August 2020 – A Reflection

Call to Worship

We gather together to worship God,

who comes to us when we least expect it,

who calls us out of the safety of our ordered lives

and invites us to join Him in the adventure of faith.

Let’s worship God together!

Prayer

Gracious God,

we gather once again to offer You praise and thanksgiving

for Your unfailing love and faithfulness,

shown most clearly through Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Grant us grace to worship You in spirit and in truth.

Through the power of Your Holy Spirit,

open our eyes to recognize You here among us.

Give us courage to step out in faith to meet You,

and confidence to follow where You lead.

For You are our God,

and we are Your people, called by Your name.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. 

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

The theme for August and September two months is ‘leaning into God’.

I want to talk today a bit about a story from the New Testament where someone had literally to lean on God, in the form of Jesus.

But first we’re going to watch a film clip. It’s from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade starring Harrison Ford and Sean Connery as his father. The film is all about the search for the Holy Grail – the legendary cup which is the one Jesus was supposed to have used at the Last Supper.

In this clip from near the end of the film they are getting close to the Grail. Sean Connery has been shot and it’s only if Indiana Jones can get the Grail that he can be saved…

It’s time for our reading

Reading  Matthew 14:22-33 – Jesus walks on the water

Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people away. After sending the people away, he went up a hill by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone; and by this time the boat was far out in the lake, tossed about by the waves, because the wind was blowing against it.

Between three and six o’clock in the morning Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. When they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and screamed with fear.

Jesus spoke to them at once. “Courage!” he said. “It is I. Don’t be afraid!”

Then Peter spoke up. “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”

“Come!” answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. “Save me, Lord!” he cried.

At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, “What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”

They both got into the boat, and the wind died down. Then the disciples in the boat worshiped Jesus. “Truly you are the Son of God!” they exclaimed

Song: ‘He Will Hold Me Fast’ by Keith and Kristen Getty

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so, He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so, He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight, When He comes at last!

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so, He will hold me fast.

So what do we make of our bible reading.

Of course it’s the story of a miracle. Jesus walking on the water. It’s a story that’s passed into common parlance – if you say he or she can walk on water it’s a shorthand way of saying they are really special – they can do things ordinary people can’t. They used to say that Brian Clough used to get to the City Ground by walking up the River Trent – the documentary film they made about his time at Nottingham Forest was called Miracles Do Happen.

But if we just read this as a story of something special that Jesus did then I think we’re missing a lot. I don’t think it actually matters very much whether you think that the miracle happened in the way it’s described or not – the story is actually about something else – something that speaks to us today

I’ve been re-reading a book by a chap called John Ortberg. It’s called ‘If you want to walk on the water you’ve got to get out of the boat.’

And it’s all about this story. 200 pages of it all about a story that takes up 12 verses. So I thought the best way of spending our Sunday today would just be if I sat here and read it to you. Are you sitting comfortably?

Or I could just try and take some points for us to consider. Let’s see how we get on.

So first – I think this is a story that’s not primarily about Jesus but about  Peter.  To recap quickly: the disciples are out in the boat, there’s a storm; they are astonished to see Jesus walking on the water towards them; Peter wants to be sure it is Jesus and says – well if it is you tell me to come out and walk on the water too. Jesus says come and Peter sets out – he can do it too! For a little while but then he begins to sink. In the end Jesus rescues him.

What would we have done if we were in that boat? I would suggest that most of us – probably all of us – would have clung on tightly to whatever bit of the boat we could and waited for the storm to abate. But not Peter – he went for it. That’s a story about Peter’s faith overcoming his fear.

There’s a fine line to be drawn between being unafraid and being ridiculous.

Now I’m not great at telling jokes but let’s see if this one helps to make the point:

A man turns up at the pearly gates and meets St Peter who asks him – have you done anything of particular merit that would persuade me that I ought to let you in.

Well says the man – I can think of one thing. There was this group of leather clad bikers who were threatening a young woman. I asked them politely to leave her alone but they wouldn’t listen. So I went up to the largest, most heavily tattooed biker. I punched him on the head, kicked his motor bike over, ripped out his nose ring and threw it on the ground and told him “Now leave her alone or you’ll answer to me!”

St Peter was very impressed! “When did this happen?” he said

A couple of minutes ago says the man.

The story is not about saying that you should just get out of your metaphorical boat regardless. I remain convinced that God does actually want us to use our brains when we do something about our faith. Peter could be quite impetuous but he did a bit of thinking before he leapt into – or should it be onto – the sea – he at least wanted reassurance from Jesus – he wanted Jesus to tell him what to do. For Peter that was the right thing to do at that time.

I have to say that if I’d been on that boat there would have been no way I would have got out. As my wife Deborah will tell you I am not good on or in the water. I was once seasick on a canal boat. I went swimming in the sea off a boat in Turkey and couldn’t wait to climb the ladder to get back on board – the thought of the depth of water below me panicked me so much. I’d be staying in that particular boat.

But it’s sometimes too easy to stay in every boat where you’re comfortable. If life’s going well and things are easy why would you want to do something that takes you out of that happy place?

John Ortberg uses an illustration of a little girl, perhaps 2 or 3 years old standing by the side of a swimming pool. Her dad is in the water and he’s telling her to jump in. “Don’t be afraid” he’s saying – “I’ll catch you – you can trust me.”

But the little girl knows she can’t swim – the water is deep – what if something goes wrong? It’s right for her to be scared. On the other hand she does trust her Daddy – he’s never let her down before. There’s fear and there’s trust – and what she chooses to do will affect her future. If she jumps in her Daddy will catch her and keep her safe and she’ll have even more trust and faith in him that she already has. She’ll probably learn to swim quite quickly and be confident in the water. But if she lets the fear win she won’t grow from the experience – and she might end up like the wimp clinging desperately to the ladder at the back of a boat in the Mediterranean somewhere off the coast of Turkey.

For the little girl it will be better for her to trust and to take the literal leap of faith. She’ll end up better for it.

If you never do anything outside your comfort zone you’ll never develop your full potential.

I used to absolutely loath public speaking. It terrified me. Part of it sprung I’m sure from my adolescence – I had a huge problem with my voice breaking – I used to emit horrible squawking sounds for a long time as it happened and I did everything possibly to not say a word so I wouldn’t be embarrassed. Now I don’t remember that there was a one-off decision that changed things – but in my work I did have to do it – it was part of the job. I may not have been very good at it but I resigned myself to doing it. And now I really enjoy it. I dare to think I might have some talent for it even. But if I’d carried on avoiding it I never would have developed any skills in that area and I certainly wouldn’t have ended up doing any preaching.

I leave it to you all to judge whether that would have been a good thing!

I think we can all draw a lesson from this story as the life of our church moves on. Our boat is on the water – we’ve set off from the safety of the shore. We’ve got somewhere to go. We’re convinced that there is a job for us to do for God. But the waters we are sailing over won’t always be smooth. There’ll be rough seas sometimes. We’ve got Virgin Media letting us down with our Wifi connection to contend with – the disciples never had that problem! But if we’re going to do new things as a church then that means some of us individually will have to do new things. If we all just sit in our comfortable seats in the boat then nothing new can happen can it?

I think we’re seeing signs of that happening already. People are stepping up and stepping out. They are thinking about what they can do to help and they are getting on with it. Martin and I are convinced that things are happening here and that there is great potential for our church to make a difference in our community. If some of us are prepared to step out of the boat you never know what we might achieve.

But before I finish for today there’s something else to mention. I’ve also been reading another book – by Jeff Lucas. This one’s called ‘If you want to walk on water consider staying in the boat’! Because while we’ve been thinking about Peter and what he did it’s easy to forget that there were another 11 people in the story. The other disciples. The ones that didn’t get out of the boat.

Jeff Lucas makes the very good point that people who say you can do anything with God are talking nonsense. Lucas says that he can’t speak Cantonese, he can’t play the bassoon, he can’t give birth to twins and he’ll never be able to do those things. It’s back to the chap at the gates of heaven – perhaps in retrospect he’d have been better off not being quite so confrontational with the biker. What we need to do is to distinguish between a comfort zone and a sphere. We should be prepared to step out of the first but hesitant to go beyond the boundaries of the second. Stepping out of our comfort zone is an act of faith. When we step outside our sphere it is an act of foolishness.

We don’t all have to do the same things when we step out of the boat. We need to look into ourselves think about what we might be able to do, take advice from others – and then take that step of faith.

Indiana Jones would never have got the Holy Grail if he hadn’t taken that step.

Let’s have our second hymn 

Hymn: Be Still my Soul performed by an a cappella group Eclipse 6

It uses the tune that was referenced in our first song this morning – the great theme from Finlandia by Sibelius

Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently, the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God, to order and provide
In every change, He faithful will remain
Be still, my soul, thy best thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways, leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last

The Grace

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Be with us all, now and forever more.

Amen.

2 thoughts on “Reflection – Sunday 09 August 2020

  1. Mark and Martin – really enjoying the reflections. You are both doing a sterling job in these difficult times. Keep up the good work.

    Like

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