Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
July 22, 2018
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This sermon is not for everyone that is here today. Usually I try to write a sermon that can be applied to everyone who is here. Today that is not the case. Sometimes a sermon will have little connection to your life. But at least my intent is that it is intended for everyone here. But this sermon may not be for you. So, if that is you, put up with me today and hopefully next week’s message will be better.
A few years ago we made petitions to God for those whose faith is strong, for those whose faith is weak, and for those who have no faith at all. Today I want to speak not to those whose faith is strong (and I hope that is most of you) nor to those who do not have any faith in Jesus, but to those whose faith is weak. The prayer that we have said is this, “For those among us whose faith is weak, that we might find in Your Word the Holy Spirit’s faith-strengthening influence.”
Today I want to speak to you, those whose faith is weak. Sometimes we can be filled with doubts about our faith. We can question the truth of the Bible. We can wonder about the death of Jesus and His resurrection. We wonder if such things are real and true. What if someone just made them all up and put them into this book? What about God? Is He real? Is there a God? For some once faith was certain and solid but now it seems to have faded and there is not so much joy in it.
If you find yourself in this place, you are not alone. The struggles of a weak faith are all over the world and are found in the Bible. They are found in the man who struggled with his faith quite often, a man called Peter. Our Gospel reading from Matthew about Jesus walking on the water, then Peter walking on the water and then Peter falling into the water is a message about faith and doubt. This is the account – Jesus has just fed the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread. He stays on land and the disciples head toward their next place by boat. They are several miles from the shore and a terrible storm hits. They are struggling to get back to land but find that the wind and waves are too strong for them. Then at the darkest point of the night, between 3 and 6, they see something or someone coming toward them. They think it is a ghost. But it isn’t – it is Jesus, walking on top on the water. And He didn’t get there because he knew where the rocks were!! He is Lord over all things, including the natural law that says you can’t walk on top of water.
Jesus sensed their terror and spoke the words, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27). But Peter, never the follower, always the leader, said, “If it is You, Lord, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) After receiving the invitation from Jesus, Peter also walked on the water!! “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” (Matthew 14:29) What a feat!! What a God!! What a faith!! But it didn’t last long!! “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord save me’”. (Matthew 14:30) Do you remember that Peter was given a name from Jesus when they first met? Peter was named Simon by his mother but Jesus gave him the name “Peter’ which means “Rock”. Rock gives the image of solid, sure and certain. It is the picture of something that doesn’t crumble so easily but has depth and strength. In this section Jesus give him a new name, far different from Peter. One translator says it this way, “Little-faith, why did you doubt.”
“Little-faith” – maybe that is our name. When I read the account of Job, I sense that Job began to doubt the presence and the goodness of God. His suffering was extreme and God seemed so silent. He wanted an answer to why he was suffering. He wanted an end to his suffering. During parts of his life the name “Little-faith” could have been Job’s name.
In Mark 9 we read the account of Jesus healing a boy who had an evil spirit. I begin reading the account partway through as Jesus carries on a conversation with the boy’s father, “Jesus called the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’ ‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘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.’ ‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.’” (Mark 9:21-24)
So what do you do if you find yourself there? The ‘if-you-can’ faith? Weak faith? Declining faith? Little-faith? More doubts than convictions? Saying with that father, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” You want to be strong in faith but you know you are not there.
The first thing you must do is you must be certain that God has not given up on you. He wants to restore you to a full and strong faith!! He comes to you now, just as you are. God has good news for you. In Isaiah we read this concerning how God looks at those who struggle in faith and life, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3) This is a great picture of the utter patience of God. We are that wick that is not brightly lighting the room and though its light is no longer bright, He doesn’t snuff it out, extinguishing its weak flame, but brings it again to a full flame. A reed is a plant in the river and the one mentioned here is bent and limp. I guess it should be pulled out from among the healthy plants, but it isn’t plucked and broken. It is allowed to remain.
If you find yourself in this struggle, God has not abandoned you, not forgotten you and He does not want to get rid of you. The personal concern and the individual attention for those who are of weak or declining faith is found in what Jesus did for Thomas, “Doubting Thomas”. Jesus had died for the sins of the world, to make payment for them on the cross on Good Friday. Three days later He rose from the dead and defeated the last enemy that we will face, death itself. On that Sunday evening he came to a room that 10 of the Apostles were in. Judas was already dead and Thomas was not with the others. During that week Thomas was told what he missed and he said that he would believe in a resurrected Lord only if he could put his fingers into the place where the nails where and put his hand into the side of Jesus, where the spear pierced Him. He was Doubting Thomas. But Jesus comes to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27) Jesus does not want us to persist in unbelief. He comes to make the small faith a larger faith. He comes to make a weak faith into a stronger faith.
When Peter, in the account that we read, begins to sink, Jesus must have been right beside him. Jesus did not watch him sink but He reached out His hand and caught him. He rescued him from his little faith.
When faith is weak and puny there is only one place to go – into the hands of Jesus. In the hymn Just as I Am, without One Plea we sing of our struggles and our one hope. In the third verse it reads, “Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” (LSB 570)
In the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Yeast Jesus speaks about something starting quite weak and small but becoming large and strong and effective. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in the field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Again He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:31-33) It all starts so small and then it grows. So it is with faith. It may be little and quite small but our Heavenly Father has great plans for it and for us. The mustard seed became the largest of plants. The yeast worked itself throughout the dough to make some great bread.
Peter, or as Jesus gave him the nick-name, “Little-faith”, was rescued from his doubts by a living Lord. So also us!! In his epistle Peter speaks about a God who is ever at work to bring us to a strong, fervent and living faith and confession. He speaks about the source of this strength, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (I Peter 1:23)
Today we acknowledge that Christians can have struggles with their faith. It can be the worst time of your life. It can cause you to lose sleep and put you into a difficult depression. But at that moment God does not abandon you. He does not disown you. Rather He comes to you – showing compassion and understanding. He invites you to see His Word, the life-giving Savior, and His Word, the Scriptures that He has given us, in a new and full way.
When Jesus brought Peter to safety it tells us of a change for Peter and the circumstances that overwhelmed all of them. It says, “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” (Matthew 14:32) Jesus gave him faith again. He made things peaceful. Our faith, at times, may be little but our God is always big!!
Today I pray for you and I pray for myself, “For those among us whose faith is weak, that we might find in Your Word the Holy Spirit’s faith strengthening influence.” Amen!!
(This sermon, with minor changes, was preached at Ascension on August 10, 2014)