Pentecost 10: Little Faith, Big Job, Big God

The Gospel Reading for this, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, is Matthew 14:2-33


Jesus comes to the boat of the disciples in spite of battering waves. He walks on the waves. Peter hopes to do the same. Jesus says, “Come.” Peter tries, but the wind and his fear cause him to sink, and he calls out for salvation. Jesus catches him, but says, “You of little faith.”


I can’t remember who it was, or even if it was a report about an acquaintance, or something I read. But the story goes like this: A reporter interviews an exemplary Christian, and says, “I’m so happy to be able to speak to you. I heard you are that person with great faith.” The interviewee responds, “No, I’m the person with weak faith in a great God.”


Yes, that story is a bit of cliché. But it is very apropos for anyone’s faith, at any time—especially so for this moment of multiple crises for our country and our world.


If you think our President is doing a fantastic job with the pandemic, with racism and social justice, with preparations for this years’ crucial elections, and with things in general, I know I can’t reach you or convince you otherwise. But do try to face the evidence he sends us every day in tweets and in his vanity-serving interviews: This President has a big ego, but he mistakes that for a big heart, big brain, and even a big faith. In that delusion he is causing immense damage.


Our President has accelerated the polarization of our country, and even our world. The division is so extreme that even the simplest gestures toward community consciousness, such as wearing a mask, is turned into a political flash point.


Lord willing, this November will see the first step toward a more perfect union that we all desperately need. But, no matter what, we Christians have a BIG JOB to do. We must be the ones who draw people together, restore a spirit of cooperation, and work for peace and justice in the world. There is no way to “make America great,” unless the whole world is made great. There is no way to make our neighborhoods, our “way of life” or our congregations whole unless all God’s creation and all God’s people are made whole.


Jesus, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is on the road for the sake of our salvation. But he will do that saving through his followers. They have this huge job to do. Jesus will call them to pick up their crosses and follow him in ministering to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But that is not enough. Israel cannot be restored unless all creation is restored. So Jesus will, after his Resurrection, send his followers to all the nations: to baptize and to teach the world so that people can obey Jesus’ commands.


But all through Matthew Jesus addresses these disciples—foundations of the church—as people of “little faith.” The only two people in the Gospel who are said to have great faith are the Roman centurion and a woman called a Canaanite—a term for a people of long ago that were said by some biblical authors to be the rightful target of divinely sanctioned ethnic cleansing. Calling those “other folk” people of great faith, Jesus is saying people “out there” are ripe. They are ready. They are hungering and thirsting for the profound news of God’s self-sacrificing love.


And, surely, there is no single more crucial disciple than Peter. He wants to pick up his cross and follow Jesus into the storm of life. But the wind and waves are strong against him, and he is undone by his fear.


But Peter is a man of weak faith in a great God. Jesus takes him by the hand, the storm calms, and everyone worships Jesus as Son of God. The boat can sail on.


It is good that we can count on the boat, hand holding, and worship. But eventually we must quit feeling sorry for ourselves and hiding in our hopelessness. We must quit retreating from our mission and do it. We must be the church.


In the days ahead, in the wake of the pandemic, and the election, we will have no less a job to do than to make disciples of all nations. Unless the world gets its act together we will all be a sitting duck for every virus, ruthless politician, and gun-running authoritarian lurking out there.


A health professional lamented the lack of discipline of the people, and lack of leadership by her governor and President. She sympathized, however, and said that the politicians are caught between scientific evidence and the opinions of many of their constituents. In other words, they are sorely pressed to sacrifice public health for the sake of more votes. ICU units in her state were overflowing while some politicians fretted over their polling numbers.


We Christians must the warriors of public opinion. We must proclaim the  Truth in such a way that we can sway that people’s hearts can be calmed in the storm, and we can cooperate and not divide. We must teach all nations the fundamental truth that we can fight virus, fight for justice, and restore our world only if we work together and quit calling each other names.


In our online Bible study this past Monday someone noted that we have to quit being so self serving, and begin to serve others. But we are of little faith, with this big job to do. That’s why it is great to feel Jesus’ hand pulling us out of the deep waters, and getting us back in the boat. That’s why those last words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel are so precious: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”



About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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