Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22
Let us pray:
In the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I wonder did you notice a theme throughout our readings today? It is strongest in the New Testament readings but the reading from Genesis and our Psalm also point us to a key theme.
That theme brothers and sisters is faith. Our Genesis account begins he account of Joseph, who as we know goes on to become a symbol of faith. Joseph maintains his faith throughout his ordeals, from being sold into slavery by his own brothers, Joseph goes on to become a ruler in Egypt.
The Psalm spells out for us what Joseph’s faith achieved – he was tested, he suffered, but he held firm to his trust in God and was eventually rewarded, enabling him to save his people from famine.
Lets then look t what St Paul has to say to us. Paul in our reading from Romans is establishing for us very clearly that it is not through our external obedience to the Law of the Old Testament that we will find salvation. Moses he says taught that righteousness is achieved through obedience to the Law – but we are now set free from the Law, a Law which we could never hope to obey in every way at all times. We are all weak, we all fall short and stumble in our relationship with God. The Law was established to show us how to live, as a holy people in proper relationship with God – but because of our broken nature and our inability to meet the requirements of the Law, God gave us another way.
The basis for right living and right relationship (righteousness) is being at one with the word which dwells within - ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’. Paul points us to the answer Jesus Christ is the Word that is in our heart, and on our lips and if we confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
So often we hear people say things like ‘oh I’m a good person, I’ll be going to heaven’. The point that Paul is making to us is that being a ‘good person’ is simply not enough, if we are striving to be ‘good’ enough to get into right relationship with the perfect, all powerful, all knowing creator and sustainer of all that is – seen and unseen – we will fall short. If we have committed even one breach of the Law – if we have failed just once then we have broken our relationship with God, and we cannot ever repair it by ourselves. You see God is eternal – therefore if we offend against God our offence is eternal.
But God so loves us that he could not bear for us to be separated from Him for all eternity – so he gave us a way home. God himself became incarnate as a human being, and lived a perfect life, so that as a human being he could offer himself as the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and as God incarnate that sacrifice is eternal – ever lasting. His offering of himself is available to everyone – as Paul says there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, which Paul’s audience would have understood to mean salvation is open to all. That is the Gospel, the Good News – that God has opened the way for us to be in right relationship with Him, even though we fail, even though we mess up, no matter what we have done we an be reconciled with God – and the way to that reconciliation is – Faith.
All we are asked to do to receive this gift of salvation, this gift of life eternal is to place our faith and hope in Jesus. Nothing we can do will earn it, being ‘good’ will leave us short.
Faith then, is the key – faith is what counts – not how well we meet the external requirements of the Law, not how good a person we are – because even the very best of people fall shot of the glory of God. So why then do Christians do so many good works? We are called to lives of love, compassion, forgiveness and charity not because we can earn salvation through them – but because we have already been saved – when we are reconciled to God through Christ we are brought into union with Him, and through that union with God we seek to emulate Jesus love, compassion and faithfulness in our own lives.
The Gospel reading from Matthew also points us to faith – Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and says ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus says to Him – ‘Come’. Now as we well know peter was far from being the perfect disciple, it is Peter who denies Christ and abandons Him at his trial before the crucifixion, it is Peter who is rebuked by Jesus, for speaking word’s from Satan when He tries to stop Jesus talking about his coming death and resurrection. It is Peter who is rebuked by St Paul at Antioch for hypocrisy about eating with gentiles. Peter then was a flawed human being – just like me and you, and yet through the power of His faith in Christ he was able to step out of the boat and begin walking on the Sea of Galilee – now I was at the sea of Galilee a few weeks ago and I can tell you that the water there is just like the water here and if you try and walk on it you end up getting very wet very fast.
But Peter could do it – such was the power of his faith – that is of course until he allowed fear to cause him to doubt. Now lots of preachers will tell you that the reason that Peter began to sink is that he took his eyes off of Jesus – but the text doesn’t say that – Jesus after rescuing Peter says ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ You see it was doubt that made Peter begin to sink, it was doubt that put up the barrier. And where did the doubt come from? ‘But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened’.
You see Peter’s faith had allowed him to something incredible, something supernatural – but then he allowed fear to take hold, and he began to doubt - he began to ask himself the questions we all ask when we are fearful – what if… what if the wind is to strong and the waves to big – I could drown… Do you ever have fears that make you push your faith aside? I know its something that has happened to me..
What if they think I’m some nut job for talking about Jesus? What if they ask questions I can’t answer? What if my friends don’t want to have anything to do with me? What if they think I’m some judgemental dinosaur if I take a stand on moral or justice issues?
Fear is a tool of the enemy to turn us away from Christ. Fear is his tool to make us stumble, to question and doubt. Do not let fear rule your hearts, and when you feel fear creeping in and causing you to stumble – use Peter as your example and cry out to Jesus for help, and he will reach out and save you before you sink.
Of course the fears we encounter in our free democracy are insignificant compared to those elsewhere in the world. The Christians in Iraq have been given a choice by the ISIS terrorists to either convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant ‘protection tax’ for not converting (which generally amounted to everything they owned – or if they refused to do either of those things then to be killed. We need to be praying for those Christians, and for other minorities targeted by ISIS. We need to pray that those Christians will be delivered from this terror, and that they will know the presence and peace of Christ with them, that they might hold firm in their faith.
So then, brothers and sisters, as you go on with your loves this week, look to Christ and place your faith and hope in Him. Know that it is through your faith you are reconciled to God, and not through any external works of human goodness. Understand that Christians are called to lives of love, compassion, forgiveness and charity not because those things can earn us salvation, but because we have already been saved.
Finally do not let fear and doubt cause you to stumble and sink, but as St Paul calls us to: confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved.
The Lord be with you.