‘How Beautiful Are the Feet” August 13, 2023
“How Beautiful Are the Feet”
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28/ 1 Kings 19:9-18
Romans10:5-15/ Matthew 14:22-33
There are a couple of southern preachers that I have been following for years now. One is John Fairless, a Methodist, and the other is a Delmer Chilton, a Lutheran. Together, these two have produced columns and podcasts under the title of “Two Bubbas and a Bible” for many years, and I’ll admit that I have shamelessly borrowed from their writings at every opportunity: always giving credit where credit is due, of course. Today is no exception. And so, from this week’s edition of the Lectionary Lab, the Bubbas shared this wonderful story of what it takes to walk on water:
“In his book “One Crowded Hour”, Tim Bowden writes about a small war in Borneo in 1964. The nations of Indonesia and Malaysia got into a shouting match that turned into a shooting match. Because of treaty relations, a group of Gurkhas from Nepal were sent to aid the Malaysians. Not long after they arrived, they were asked if they would be willing to jump into combat in a surprise attack. Because they were not trained as paratroopers they had the right to refuse.
The Gurkhas usually agreed to do anything they were asked, but this time they said “No.” The next day, one of their leaders came to the high command and reported that they had met and reconsidered, and would make the jump, but only under certain conditions. First – the land had to be soft and marshy.
The officer replied that the jump was to be in the jungle, so that would not be a problem.
Second, the planes would have to fly as slow as possible and not over a hundred feet above the ground. The officer replied that the planes always flew very low, but the one hundred feet would be a problem. At that height, the parachutes would not have room to open.
When the officer said that, the Gurkha leader smiled and said, “Parachutes? You never said anything about parachutes. Of course, we’ll do it.”
Why do we have trouble “doing what Jesus would do,” or something similar? Because, all too often, we are like the Gurkhas. Though we are willing to fully commit ourselves to a cause, we frequently forget one vital thing – we don’t have to do it all on our own. The Gurkhas forgot, or never knew, about the parachutes. They faced the problem, and they faced their fear, and because they thought they had to do it all by themselves, using only their own ability, skills, and resources, they hesitated. They sank beneath the challenge. They attempted to pare the job down to something they thought they could manage on their own. They were willing, they were enthusiastic, they were willing to try, willing to go beyond the normal call of duty. But they were also limited, limited to what they themselves were capable of accomplishing on their own. They forgot about the parachutes.”
Our gospel text today is yet another example from Matthew of what we consider the miracles of Christ. And once again, we are faced with the dilemma of what to do with it. Do we simply marvel at the notion that flesh and blood could walk on water as if it were dry land? Or do we look to find the message in this text? And there’s always a message. Always.
I would offer up That it is not the death of John the Baptist and the grief of Christ That is the focal point of this story. Nor could we point to the fact that Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat in order to be alone knowing full well that by evening the sea of Galilee might turn into a stormy mess, which was not uncommon. No, I’d have to say that the lesson to be learned here, the character that hits us closest to home, has to be Peter.
You know, I never get tired of this guy; probably because I’ve known so many people just like him. Peter has a delightful mixture of confidence and arrogance that makes him almost irresistible. I mean, just think about it: here was a group of men in a rickety old boat hanging on for dear life fighting an incredible headwind, when who should appear but Master Jesus walking through the waves. They screamed, Matthew tells us, thinking he was a ghost, but Jesus told them it was really him and not to be afraid, which I’m sure lowered the panic level somewhat.
But what did Peter do? (vs 28) Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water. Command me to come to you on the water”///
And Jesus said, “Come. And Jesus said, “Come.”
Now, I can’t say for certain, but I suspect that the first thought that went through Peter’s head When he found himself actually standing upright in the waves; when he realized he was defying the laws of physics and gravity And who knows what else – I suspect that Peter’s first thought was, “Wow, I’m doing it. I’m really doing it. Look at me. This is awesome.” But here’s the thing: it was Peter’s confidence and arrogance that proved to be his undoing. Like the Gurkhas, Peter forgot his parachute.
He forgot that no matter how good a swimmer he was or nimble footed he might be, he forgot that this was something He couldn’t pull off on his own. He forgot that without a faith that was unwavering and a trust that was absolute; he forgot that without Jesus, he was sunk.
But it’s hard, you know? We are a ’can do’ people. We see problems as opportunities and difficulties as nothing more than an exercise to build character; to make us stronger. Chances are that none of us will ever experience a test of faith the way that Peter did that day on the Sea of Galilee. But here’s the thing: chances are that none of us would ever take such a leap of faith the way that Peter did either. I mean, I can’t imagine that I would say something like “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” Really? And why is that? Why is it that we don’t as individuals, or even as a church body: why is it that we hesitate, we hold back? Could it be that deep down inside we believe that we just might find ourselves working without a net or jumping without a chute? Could it be that we’re cautious out of the fear that we must do this by ourselves with no help whatsoever?
A good friend of ours and a retired Methodist pastor, taught me a valuable lesson when it comes to the power of the spirit. If ever I approached her with a problem, be it personal or some disturbance in the church, she would always respond the same way: “have you prayed about it?” she would ask. Nine times out of nine I would answer, saying something like, “Well, not really” or something like “Not quite,” which is equally as lame of an answer. But here’s the thing: she was right. I was doing a perfectly miserable job of resolving this difficulty by myself. But oh my, what a difference it can make
If we lay our burdens at the feet of one who loves us unconditionally.
The same holds true, I believe, for churches both large and small. For example, think of the thousands of church council meetings that happen every day, And just take a guess at what they’re talking about. Oh sure, there’s the usual : finances, maintenance and that sort of thing. But sooner or later, someone is going to speak up saying something like, “We need to get more young people at our church,” Or families or children-The list goes on. Next, a committee will be assembled to study upon what to do. Hopefully, they will come up with a list of programs available along with another list of folks willing to help to make this a smashing success. Now, there is nothing wrong with this plan. We are Methodists, after all. That’s how we do things. But when we take such a leap of faith without prayerful consideration and honest discussion of our mission in the community, we might find ourselves wishing for a parachute.
After all, people are drawn to a church for its heart, not its programs.
It was Rachel Held Evans who once wrote: “Most young adults I know aren’t looking for a religion that answers all their questions, but rather a community of faith in which they feel safe to ask them.” That’s a church that is guided by the spirit. That’s a church that is inspired by love.
When Paul quoted Isaiah in our passage from Romans today, saying: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace with God and bring glad tidings of good things;” when I read that it touched a special place in my heart. First of all, I’ve always loved the poetry of that particular text. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet..” But mostly, I think and I hope and I pray to God that this might be the best way to describe the church that we could ever imagine.
That is our mission after all, don’t you think : to preach the Gospel of peace with God and bring glad tidings of good things;”
To preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things. We who are the church, we who are the body of Christ; we can do this. We are called to do this. And the best part of all is that we need not bear the burden alone.
Let me close with an apology of sorts. With all this talk about beautiful feet I really meant to put a decent shine on my shoes this morning , But there just wasn’t time. But when we leave here today and go out into the world, I don’t believe that God is gonna care much if our shoes are scuffed or shiny. What’s going to matter Is whether these feet of ours continue to walk us to places where the good news of Jesus Christ is begging to be heard. Now that’s beautiful.
Amen and Shalom