Set Your Goal On Jesus
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b (C) -- "Seek the Lord and His strength."
* Hymn of Praise Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart # 111
Invitation to the Celebration
In the Name of the living Christ, we come to worship, not as passive spectators, but as active participants. We participate through prayer, expectancy, listening, alertness, disagreeing, anticipation, challenging, giving, loving, confronting. This means getting out of the boat into the water. Are you ready for a God-event in your life, in the church's life? Ready or not, we plunge ahead!
P: Please repeat after me:
1. We are here!
2. We are ready!
3. We know that God is here!
4. We know that God is ready for us! And, all the people said, WOW!!!
* INVOCATION AND LORD'S PRAYER Holy and Loving God, make this act of worship a life-giving event in our lives. Grant that your Spirit will cleanse us at the center of our being; freshening the springs of life; probing the hidden depths of our hearts; searching our secret brokenness, alienation, self-justifications; teaching us about stepping out of boats into water; and purifying our aims and ambitions. May Christ claim us anew, and the Holy Spirit receive and empower us, in the name of the Christ.
SCRIPTURE READING Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
1 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. 12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am." 14 So he said to him, "Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me." So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" 16 "I am seeking my brothers," he said; "tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock." 17 The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." 22 Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him"--that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. READER Greg Bond
OFFERING Raymond B. Fosdick has said, "It is always through those who are unafraid to be different that advance comes to humanity."
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION "Grant, O Lord, that what we have said with our lips, we may believe in our hearts; and that what we believe in our hearts, we may practice in our lives."
CHILDREN'S STORY TIME Message with the Children of All Ages
How many of you have walked on water for one minute? Thirty seconds? Twenty seconds? One second? Doesn't seem possible, does it, unless David Copperfield is around. (Show the children that taking risks is something they can do, rather than just going along with the crowd. Perhaps you can apply this example to your own situation: A high school girl moved to town. Her clothes were delayed in shipment. After wearing her one dress to school the first day, she returned home and insisted that her parents provide her with a new wardrobe. "Your clothes will arrive in a day or so," her mother consoled her. But the girl exclaimed, "I'd rather die than go to school wearing the same dress tomorrow. What would everyone think? How can I possibly face everyone at school?" She preferred the boat to the water. You, too?
PRAYER Storms beset us, O God. We pray for those in whom the tempest beats against their fearful hearts, for minds troubled by anxiety and doubt, and those for whom fear is a constant companion. We pray for them the reassurance of your constant presence and your calming love.
* PREPARATIONAL HYMN A Mighty Fortress Is Our God # 1
SCRIPTURE TEXT Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 14:30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
SERMON Set Your Goal On Jesus
They said it couldn't be done. People for decades had said it was impossible for a human being to run a mile in less than four minutes. The great American miler Glenn Cunningham had held the world standard of 4:06.4 in 1934, but it was a Swedish runner, Gunder Haag, who clocked an amazing time of 4:01.4 in 1945, a record which stood for nearly a decade. Although the four-minute mile appeared physically and more importantly psychologically unattainable, the standard did fall on May 7, 1954, when a British medical student, Roger Bannister, in a dual meet at Oxford University, broke the tape in 3:59.4. Roger Bannister had proved the world wrong.
In many ways Bannister had spent his whole life running. Born and raised in England, Roger ran from those who told him that the lofty dreams he held were impossible. He came from a poor and less-educated family and thus his dream to become a physician seemed remote at best. But Roger Bannister did not allow obstacles or outside influences to derail him from the goal which he had set. He gained admission to one of the world's most prestigious universities, Oxford, and then went on to St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London. Bannister ran track at both schools, earning British championships in the mile run in 1951, 1953, and 1954, and a European title in the 1500 meters in 1954. Bannister was a gifted athlete who studied the mechanics of running. This knowledge helped him run faster, but it was his determination to keep his mind fixed on the goal that resulted in the first sub-four-minute mile. Roger Bannister's ability to keep his objective in focus and not allow the overly pragmatic to influence him made the impossible possible. The setting of goals and the pursuit of their accomplishment is an integral part of our daily human drama. Everyone sets goals, some of which are accomplished and others which we fail to achieve. It is appropriate when speaking of something as basically human as the setting and attainment of goals that Peter, who the Gospels depict as the most human of apostles, is at the center of today's reading. Peter demonstrates his humanity most visibly in his failures and faith. The apostle many times does not understand Jesus and the mission which the Lord must undertake. We recall that immediately after Jesus calls Peter the rock (Matthew 16:18), the foundation of the new Church, the apostle tells the Lord that he must be spared his predicted death. Peter fails to comprehend the big picture; he does not understand Jesus' mission as savior and the need for his salvific death. None of us as well can forget Peter's failure the night of Jesus' arrest and his three denials of the Lord. Yet, it is this same Peter who, after the Resurrection, is described in the Acts of the Apostles as one who possesses a rock-like faith which allows him to perform great signs and miracles.
Today's familiar Gospel passage describes another failure of Peter -- his lack of faith. More importantly, however, we see how the forces which surrounded Peter derailed him from achieving his goal -- union with the Lord. Jesus asks Peter to come to him on the water; his goal is to reach the Lord. Initially Peter is fine because he keeps his eye and mind on the goal. Then, as Matthew describes it, Peter allows the wind, an outside force, to distract him. The apostle's inability to keep focused on his goal causes him to fail. On a human level Peter realizes that it is impossible to walk on the water. He probably said to himself, "I can't do this." His shallow faith is easily compromised when he allows the wind and waves to be of more concern than the goal of reaching Jesus. Thus, he begins to sink until the Lord reaches out and saves him. Peter allowed things on the outside to cloud his vision. Matthew tells us that the apostle was fine until he began to fear the wind; then he began to sink. Jesus criticizes Peter for his lack of faith, the doubt he possessed which kept him from his goal. ///
We must be like Roger Bannister and keep our sight fixed on the goals we set, even if people say they are impossible. We cannot allow outside influences -- people, situations, or events -- to keep us from achieving our objectives. In the days of the great sailing ships, when a vessel encountered a storm, all hands were sent to their duty stations until the crisis passed. One day as a storm arose, a young cabin boy was sent to the crow's nest above the main mast to act as a lookout. As he climbed, the howl of the wind and the rocking of the ship caused him to look down and he began to waver. Fearing the boy would fall, an old sailor shouted to the lad, "Look up to your goal; don't look down." The sailor could well have spoken to Peter; he speaks to us today as well. We cannot allow the wind and surf in our life to steal away the one true goal of our life -- union with Jesus. /// Life today is not easy. Every day it seems that the world becomes more complex and we become increasingly busy. Life is a flurry of dynamism; nothing seems static any longer. More than once I am sure each one of us has felt that our life could be titled, like the popular television program of the 1970s, Mission Impossible. In each episode the head of the Impossible Missions Force (the IMF) was offered an assignment for his team which could be accepted or rejected. Like the program, it appears on the surface that we have an option to reject the mission offered to us. We think we can opt out, throw in the towel, and surrender to the multitude of forces which make our contemporary existence a challenge -- what we might label Mission Impossible. But the true Christian has only one option. We cannot avoid reality but we must do our best to meet the challenges that reality brings with all the weapons at our disposal. Author David Knight says the true Christian is one who tackles reality and does his/her best to keep focused on the goal, which is union with our Lord.
Many people, events, and things encountered along the path of life will vie for our attention. Some of these outside forces will foster our relationship with God and assist us along the road to our goal. Others, however, will be like the wind and surf which frightened Peter, made him shift his focus away from his goal, and led to his failure. We must keep our attention focused on Jesus and our goal to find union with him. The allure of the world, fascination with created things, and "prophets of the impossible" gain many adherents in our world. We, as followers of Jesus, must demonstrate a different attitude that places our relationship with the Lord as our highest and most desired goal -- one from which we cannot be deterred.
Roger Bannister, a medical student from England with a few running titles to his name, did what was thought to be humanly impossible in running a sub-four-minute mile. He possessed many native physical skills and worked hard in perfecting them. He achieved a place in ports history, however, by keeping his attention fixed on his goal and not allowing outside forces, especially soothsayers who said it was impossible, to derail his drive. Let us set our goal on Jesus and concentrate all our efforts toward the promotion of his reign. Our reward in heaven will be great!
* INVITATIONAL HYMN O God, Our Help in Ages Past # 67
* BENEDICTION It is relatively easy to accept the vows of church membership, and pay one's weekly pledge for its support; it is rather comfortable to sit in one's pew on Sunday morning, and listen to music which inspires and a sermon which reassures; it gives one a sense of social respectability to point to one's church membership as an evidence of good character and good citizenship. And it is an entirely different matter to keep the Lord's Day holy in the midst of a secular society; to take a stand for justice in the face of the respectable people of the church and community; to maintain a family time for study and prayer in these days of disorganization. So, how will we find ways to get out of the boat into the water?
The Act of Confession
Sigmund Freud defined sin, probably without realizing he had done so. He called it the "Pleasure Principle." Here it is: "I want what I want when I want it -- and never mind the consequences." It's time to stop debating the "worst" sins, which, of course, are the ones that you commit; and begin to examine our own SIN, namely, of justifying our thoughts, feelings, words, behaviors -- and never mind the consequences. (Give the people four full minutes of silence to consider these remarks; ask them to write down their responses. After the four minutes, ask if anyone would take the risk of getting out of the boat and sharing. Wait; never rush through the confession and forgiveness.)
The Assurance of Pardon
David asked God to search for sin and point it out, even to the level of testing his thoughts. This is exploratory surgery for sin. How are we to recognize sin unless God points it out? Then, when God shows us, we can repent and be forgiven. Make this verse your prayer. If you ask the Lord to search your heart and your thoughts and to reveal your sin, you will be continuing on “the path of everlasting life.”
Forgiveness and reconciliation begin with the confession of our own "I want what I want," not somebody else's, though we do enjoy confessing other people's sinking into the sea.
So, because confession begins within us, not outside of us, I invite us to pray together Psalm 139:23-24 as printed in your bulletin
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.