As we hear your Word, O God, make us mindful of all you have given us and continue to do for us. May we have the courage to live for you. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS Genesis 40:1-15,23, NCV
Joseph Interprets Two Dreams
40 After these things happened, two of the king’s officers displeased the king—the man who served wine to the king and the king’s baker. 2 The king became angry with his officer who served him wine and his baker, 3 so he put them in the prison of the captain of the guard, the same prison where Joseph was kept. 4 The captain of the guard put the two prisoners in Joseph’s care, and they stayed in prison for some time.
5 One night both the king’s officer who served him wine and the baker had a dream. Each had his own dream with its own meaning. 6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw they were worried. 7 He asked the king’s officers who were with him, “Why do you look so unhappy today?”
8 The two men answered, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can explain their meaning to us.”
Joseph said to them, “God is the only One who can explain the meaning of dreams. Tell me your dreams.”
9 So the man who served wine to the king told Joseph his dream. He said, “I dreamed I saw a vine, and 10 on the vine were three branches. I watched the branches bud and blossom, and then the grapes ripened. 11 I was holding the king’s cup, so I took the grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I gave it to the king.”
12 Then Joseph said, “I will explain the dream to you. The three branches stand for three days. 13 Before the end of three days the king will free you, and he will allow you to return to your work. You will serve the king his wine just as you did before. 14 But when you are free, remember me. Be kind to me, and tell the king about me so I can get out of this prison. 15 I was taken by force from the land of the Hebrews, and I have done nothing here to deserve being put in prison.”
16 The baker saw that Joseph’s explanation of the dream was good, so he said to him, “I also had a dream. I dreamed there were three bread baskets on my head. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked food for the king, but the birds were eating this food out of the basket on my head.”
18 Joseph answered, “I will tell you what the dream means. The three baskets stand for three days. 19 Before the end of three days, the king will cut off your head! He will hang your body on a pole, and the birds will eat your flesh.”
20 Three days later, on his birthday, the king gave a feast for all his officers. In front of his officers, he released from prison the chief officer who served his wine and the chief baker. 21 The king gave his chief officer who served wine his old position, and once again he put the king’s cup of wine into the king’s hand. 22 But the king hanged the baker on a pole. Everything happened just as Joseph had said it would, 23 but the officer who served wine did not remember Joseph. He forgot all about him.
Matthew 14:22-33, NCV
22 Immediately Jesus told his followers to get into the boat and go ahead of him across the lake. He stayed there to send the people home. 23 After he had sent them away, he went by himself up into the hills to pray. It was late, and Jesus was there alone. 24 By this time, the boat was already far away from land. It was being hit by waves, because the wind was blowing against it.
25 Between three and six o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the water. 26 When his followers saw him walking on the water, they were afraid. They said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus quickly spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 Peter said, “Lord, if it is really you, then command me to come to you on the water.”
29 Jesus said, “Come.”
And Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the wind and the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. He shouted, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. Jesus said, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?”
32 After they got into the boat, the wind became calm. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, “Truly you are the Son of God!”
SERMON Facing Fears
Getting out of the boat means facing our fears, and Thoreau was right when he said, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.” (quoted by John Ortberg in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat, p. 117) The fear factor in this story and in human lives is so significant, that it is an additional chapter in the book and a second sermon in my series. What I want to repeat from before is the Bible’s frequent reminder, “Don’t be afraid” paired with biblical promise, “I am with you always.”
The disciples first reaction to someone walking across the water was fear, but Jesus spoke to comfort them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matt. 14:27) That is what gave Peter the courage to seek permission to get out of the boat and walk on water toward Jesus. What stopped Peter in his tracks? “Peter saw the wind and the waves” in verse 29, and that’s when he started to sink. Now if Peter saw the wind and the waves, it means his eyes drifted away from Jesus, and when we drift away from God in some fashion, that’s when we are most likely to get in trouble. I’ve said the main lesson I get out of this story can be summed up in one simple chorus, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…” or the verse from Hebrews 12:2, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” Or from another translation, “We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.”
Here’s one simple version of understanding this story. It’s as if Peter asked, “Jesus, may I?” Ortberg continues this way, “Jesus stretched out his hands and said, ‘Come.’ Trust said, Jump. Fear said, No. Peter jumped.” (p. 120) But when Peter was distracted by the wind and the waves, Peter gave in to fear. As Ortberg writes, Peter “did not just sink in the water, but sank in his own anxiety and worries.” (p.120)
Fear is a heathy built in response to many situations in life. It preps our body for fight or flight as needed. It is a survival mechanism God created within us. But fear can also be unhealthy. “Fear disrupts faith and becomes the biggest obstacle to trusting and obeying God.” (Ortberg, p. 120) Perhaps you’ve experienced a fear that is paralyzing. When I was little, I had a lot of nightmares. Within them I couldn’t scream when I was being chased. I grew up with a fear that if I was in a scary situation in real life, I wouldn’t be able to scream for help. When we are in trouble, we do need to ask for help. That also means trusting someone enough to help us. When Peter began to sink in fear, he screamed, “Lord, save me!” Then “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter.” (v. 30-31) When fear disrupts our faith, seeking God’s help is an act toward reestablishing that trust.
Think about it; if I believe God created the universe, then God is obviously capable of managing anything in the universe. Whereas “Fear…makes us live as though we serve a limited, finite, partially present, semi-competent God.” (Ortberg, p. 131) If I believe God is quite competent, why would I live as if I don’t trust God?
Fear can also cause us to avoid following through on something we need to do, or we have been nudged to do by God’s Spirit. I’m really good at avoiding things I don’t want to do. It’s visible as the piles on my table here or at home, although I have tackled several of them recently. Research on self esteem suggests one major issue: “When you face a difficult situation, do you approach it, take action, and face it head on, or do you avoid it, wimp out, and run and hide?” (Ortberg, p. 124) Guess which reaction helps you grow! I’ve learned from Mike and others that you should put the one thing you don’t want to do first, then the rest of the meeting or your day gets better. Ortberg writes, “When you take on a challenge, it builds the core of who you are, even it you don’t perform flawlessly.” (p. 125)
Now what if instead of living in fear, we choose to live in faith, courage, and resilience? Challenges will come, and those of us who strive to live in faith are not immune from them. On the one hand, that’s just the way life is, and on the other hand, challenges are how we grow. Peter had the courage and faith to get out of the boat, but he still had to face the challenge of wind and waves. He wasn’t as successful in that walk as he had hoped or intended, but he did learn from it. I believe his faith did grow. As Ortberg talked about Peter seeing the wind, he shared research stories of resiliency, which is identified as “a condition whereby [people] actually enlarge their capacity to handle problems and, in the end, not only survive but grow.” (p. 97)
Social science research on this topic studied survivors of traumatic situations from WW2 concentration camps to POWs of Korea and Viet Nam, hostages in Iran, persons crippled in accidents and children with ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Findings show that resilient people, survivors of trauma, are those who seek some means of control rather than settling for being a passive victim. For example, those imprisoned established creative communication systems or followed whatever exercise regimen they could manage, or they did memory work. Resilient people had moral courage to maintain their values. For example, some maintained compassion by helping other prisoners even sacrificially. Resilient people sought purpose and meaning even in the midst of suffering. Victor Frankl who survived Nazi death camps recalls a handful of men who found meaning in comforting others, even giving away precious bits of bread. He learned the one thing that cannot be taken away from us is “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” (quoted by Ortberg, p. 108) That freedom to choose allows us to find our own meaning in life, no matter the circumstance or as noted in Ephesians 4:12 to be content in any situation. Ephesians 4:13 goes on to say we can do all things, because Christ gives us the strength. For a person of faith, all the qualities of resiliency are possible, because we believe Christ is with us.
Ortberg uses the Old Testament story of Joseph as an example of resiliency. We’ve come across his story often of late. Our reading earlier was just one snippet. Ortberg shares it in a classic good news/bad news format. (Chapter 5)
- Good news: Joseph was daddy’s favorite and had this beautiful robe to prove it.
- Bad news: That did not make his brothers very fond of him. They hated him for it.
- Good news: Dad trusted Joseph and sent him out to check on his older brothers.
- Bad news: The brothers had had enough, took his robe, threw him in a pit, sold him to traders, rubbed his beautiful robe in blood, and convinced dad he was dead.
- Good news: Though a slave, Joseph was purchased by Potiphar who appreciated his management skills and put him over his whole household.
- Bad news: Potiphar’s wife thought Joseph was handsome and tried to seduce him.
- Good news: Joseph was smart and loyal to God, so Joseph said NO!
- Bad news: Potiphar’s wife framed Joseph with false testimony and had him thrown in jail.
- Good news: The warden and inmates trusted Joseph. Joseph interpreted the dreams of a couple of prisoners who were soon released, and one of them promised to speak to Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf.
- Bad news: That promise and Joseph were both forgotten for a couple of years.
Joseph’s story goes on, but let’s take a look at his resilience up to this point. In spite of being sold as a slave and taken far from home and family, Joseph was aware that God was with him. As Ortberg puts it, “Faith believes that with God, we are never helpless victims.” (p. 102) So, Joseph used his gifts, worked hard, and earned respect. Joseph had the first quality of resilience. He didn’t accept becoming a passive victim, but he controlled what he could within the situation.
When confronted with temptation, Joseph maintained his morality and values. He said NO. Again from Ortberg’s analysis, “Loyalty to values even when it means suffering is a powerful catalyst for character formation.” (p. 105) Joseph had the second quality of resilience; he stuck to what he believed was right.
Somewhere in the midst of suffering in prison, Joseph began to develop compassion that had not previously been part of his character. Ortberg points out that “Joseph learned what life was like without the Robe.” (p. 111) That means that for a while he wasn’t anyone’s favorite, and in that setting he began to notice others rather than putting himself first. Somehow through that new development while in prison Joseph found purpose and meaning, the third quality of resilience. Through his time in prison Joseph was put in place to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, manage Egypt’s resources for enough years that they and even his own family would survive a severe famine. That was meaningful!
God may at times challenge you or allow you to go through rough times, like the ups and downs Joseph faced, or the stormy seas faced by the disciples. God will NOT leave you alone in the midst of it, but how you get through, whether or not you grow through the experience will depend on your choices and your display of resilience. Will you put your trust in God and give it your best? Or will you sink? God is ready with a helping hand if you ask.
We will each face many challenges yet in this life. I could speculate about them, but that worrying ahead about the “What ifs” of life only robs today of its joy. Instead I choose to do the best I can on any given day and trust God for the rest. Honestly, that’s a theme I know I have preached since my first church appointment more than 30 years ago. It is how I still choose to live. How about you?
Our current series for Jan. 12 - Feb. 23, 2020 is based on Rev. John Ortberg's book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get out of the Boat. This is a great book if you are stuck in a rut and wondering about the possibilities of a new adventure OR if you are facing some stormy challenges in your life and need to move forward. You'll find the gist of it here in these messages.