Sermon from Rev. Zickler for Aug 13, 2017

August 13, 2017
Matthew 14: 22-33

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The text for our meditation this morning is the Gospel Lesson, previously read.

This morning I’d like to start by doing something I’ve never explicitly done. I’d like to start by telling you what the theme of this sermon will be. This morning we’re going to talk about The Hidden God who saves us. Now as I say that, what do I mean? Well, when I say the “God who saves.” I’m guessing that’s clear to you all, although, we’ll come back to that. That’s the heart of our faith, we always have to come back to that. But what do I mean by the “Hidden God?” How could God be hidden? What does it mean for God to be hidden?

Well to start, I kind of alluded to this idea a couple of weeks ago when we talked about predestination. I talked about how questioning too far into predestination leads into God’s hidden will that we don’t know, can’t know, don’t understand, and can’t understand. That there’s so much to God that we can’t and will never know in this life – especially when it comes to what He wills. But to draw that out a little bit, which Luther did – and by the way I’m borrowing this idea from him – we see that not only is that will hidden, but that will can be so terrifying at times that it can seem like God Himself is Hidden. If we look at the way things go, sometimes it seems like God is hiding such that He’s against us, either because He’s angry with us, or doesn’t want to deal with us, or maybe isn’t there at all.

Do you understand what I mean by that? Have you ever felt like that? Where the way things were going you must have some sin that God is angry with you for, or some trial that He must want to drag you through as atonement for something? In other words, what do you know about God in those times? Not much, right? Everything related to God seems like He’s demanding something from you. I can’t tell you the times in my pastoral ministry that someone has been enduring something in their lives, and they said to me, “What does God want from me?” “What is God telling me to do here?” “What have I done that God would do this to me?” And what do we see about God in this? Only demand, right? Only a call to cower under His power. In Lutheran terms, we only see Law, don’t we? We only see God’s requirements, we only see God’s condemnation. We can feel like Job in those times can’t we?

When we feel like that, we can relate to how Job must have felt at the end of his tribulation. That is where we are in the book of Job in the Old Testament lesson. Job has experienced all of the trial and tribulation the devil put him through. He has lost his children, his animals, his health – so much of his livelihood. And his friends-and even his wife- just tell him to curse God and die. But Job refuses. And in the midst of all of that God comes and what does He say? It’s not very comforting, is it? He comes to Job and God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” Of course He goes on from there along the same lines. In other words, He comes to Job and He says, “Job I am God and you’re not. I can do this to you if I want.” And there are times we can feel like that with God too, aren’t there?

And at those times, what do we think about God? How do we picture Him? You could say it feels like God is hidden from us, doesn’t it? We want to say with the Psalmist, “God, where are you!?” I saw a video that was posted this week about how many people have trouble with faith in God because of this. The video described an imagined interaction between a college philosophy professor and a student. The goal of the video was to teach us how to interact with some of the philosophical arguments against God. Most importantly it was saying that if supposed criteria from philosophical arguments against God’s existence were consistently applied to certain more visible or tangible things, the conclusion would result that those don’t exist either, although we know they do. However, why I bring this up, is that this imaginary philosophy professor began his argument where so many do: the existence of evil. How could a good God let evil exist in the world? And as I say that, what’s the connection? When God’s will is hidden from us, when God Himself seems hidden, we look around and say the same thing “How could a good God let this evil exist against me?” Don’t we? And so we doubt.

Or even worse, God is so hidden in those times, that just as Jesus walked on the water and approached the boat the disciples were in – the boat they were in that by the way was getting beaten up by the winds, so that they’re under trial – but in those times we see what God is doing and it seems like what they thought: that Jesus was: a ghost. It feels like maybe He’s just one more thing coming to make things harder for us. He’s just one more straw on the back of the camel that’s about to fold under all the weight.

But then this God who is hidden reveals Himself. He comes and He speaks – and of course where do we know He speaks? In the Scriptures, right? He says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He comes and He comforts us, reminding us who He is. He speaks and He says, don’t worry, it’s me. What you assume for evil, I work for my good. What you experience with the pain and brokenness of this world, I have taken upon myself for salvation. Your salvation, and now in my resurrection I have promised you that this is not to harm you, but to prosper you, to benefit you. I have come and I have been crucified for you, so that your sin has been atoned for. This means that whatever’s happening to you isn’t because I want something from you, because I demand something from you, or because you need to pay for some sin you’ve committed. No, it’s because I invite you to trust me, to trust that this is actually for your good, that this is actually something that I’m doing to help you someway. It might be a way that you’ll see in this life, or it might be a way that you won’t know until you’re in my Kingdom.

And we hear that, and we take heart. We are comforted. Our fears are relieved. In fact, we’re emboldened even, aren’t we? Here this Hidden God has revealed Himself. He has shown Himself as not angry, as not harmful, as not being a ghost – or literally that word is phantasm. He’s not just an entity out there for our harm, but the One who loves us and cares for us. In fact, He is the God who created the whole world and who runs it still and He loves us! He is the God who comes in a man, in Jesus and as that man has such command over creation that He walks on water. And as that man, He buries all of that power in Himself and He willingly subjects Himself to evil for me. For my sake, for my sins – and not just some of them, every last one of them! What joy! And in that joy, we feel like we can take on the world. We feel like we can step out of the boat and walk on water with Peter.

And so we step out in this faith. We step out and we start doing things like we really believe that Jesus will care for us. We start loving others with reckless abandon because that’s what He did for us. We start giving generously because that’s what He did for us. We start stepping out of where we are comfortable and into the places where we look to Him. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” And we do that. We are bold like David standing up to Goliath.

I’m sure you all remember that story. Where the giant Goliath is standing out in the field taunting the Israelites? He’s out there challenging them to fight him, saying that if they would challenge him and lose then Israel would serve the Philistines, but if they win, then the Philistines will serve Israel? And David goes out and makes His bold confession of faith: that he knows that the Lord will take care of him. That the Lord had rescued him from lions as he had tended sheep and would do the same for him against Goliath. And what happens? Little David conquers the behemoth. Goliath is toppled and killed. You can imagine not only David’s joy, but the joy of the Israelites! And there David had kept his eyes on His Lord. But what happened? Well, eventually David’s faith failed him, didn’t it? Eventually, he really just didn’t trust enough, and wasn’t content with what the Lord gave him, so he fell into sin with Bathsheba, murdered her husband, abused his office, all of it. In the same way, Peter stepped out of the boat and He started looking around and what did he see? Did he see Jesus? No. He saw the wind; how big the waves were. It didn’t matter that this God had revealed Himself and His goodness, Peter still saw just how big the waves were coming against him, and he forgot. He forgot that this Jesus was showing just how powerful He was by walking on those waves, by holding Peter’s weight above that sea, and so he began to sink. Not only did he begin to sink, but in the passive voice, this word tells us the he began to drown. Remember it’s clear that the waves don’t die down until after Jesus gets in the boat, so these waves are probably crashing over his head. He’s probably lucky to be getting any air. And if that’s not bad enough it’s dark.

And that’s what it feels like when we fail then after we come to this faith, isn’t it? I can remember when I first became very passionate about the faith, when I had this feeling of such happiness, and the feeling that I could handle any kind of persecution. The feeling that I would step in front of a bullet – not just for the faith but for anyone. Now as a pastor I know that there’s a term for this – it’s called convert zeal. But that was me. I was sold out for Jesus! And then over time I didn’t feel that happiness quite in the same way. I had to acknowledge that there really is a time to weep and a time to laugh. I started to find that maybe there were times when I was afraid and I just wasn’t honest about it. I started to find that as I grew in Christ I still struggled with sin. I started to realize, that I maybe didn’t notice it, but I saw a lot more of the waves than I wanted to admit. What God was doing was showing me not the waves of the world to crush me – although that happened sometimes too – but He was revealing how blind I was to the water coming up to my knees. But then I saw it. And hopefully we all see it, because what we have to realize is that this story isn’t just about having great faith, faith to walk on water, but it’s to see what that faith really is.

Don’t get me wrong, we need to trust in Jesus. But we have to be careful because so often what we boast about as faith is really self-righteousness masquerading as boldness. Rather, look what happens when Peter sinks. Who at that point does he have to depend on? Jesus. Right? And Jesus alone. He has to cry out, “Save me!” “Lord, I can’t do it! Lord pick me up, because I can’t pick myself up!” Again, don’t get me wrong, Peter shouldn’t have wavered, Jesus says so. But in the end, when He calls out, what does the Lord do? He stretches out His hand, and pulls Peter up. Christians, this is who our God is. He is the God who saves us. He is the God who seems to hide in trials, but comes to us and shows himself and His love on the cross. And as we see our weakness, He stretches out His hand and rescues us. He stretches out His hand drawing us to life out of the waters of baptism. He stretches out His hand and feeds us with His body and blood. He stretches out His hand and pulls us up from certain death in sin. He is the Hidden God, the God revealed in Jesus, who saves even us. Amen.