Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
One afternoon, my six-year-old twin granddaughters Tori and Ali asked me to watch them ride their bikes. The training wheels had just been removed and they were excited about the new experience.
I grabbed a chair from the garage and settled under the tree to watch them, but that didn’t last long. Ali was doing well, riding around the island in the cul-de-sac and down to the end of the road and back. But Tori wasn’t managing well at all. Each time she tried to get going, she lost control and never got started. She tried and tried. I gave her credit for persistence.
I tried coaching from the sidewalk, but Tori wasn’t getting any better. So I went to help her. Most of you have helped children learn to ride; you hold onto the seat to stabilize the bike and say things like, “Push hard with your feet. Look where you want to go. Keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing.” With my help, Tori began to get better at riding her bike.
Once she got the hang of riding and pushing her feet hard to keep going, she wanted to go farther, but not too far. There are two sewer covers in her street, and her daddy had told her there were alligators in the sewers. Tori was scared to go near them.
I used a little logic, “Have you ever seen an alligator on the street?” and a little assurance, “Alligators are not going to come and get you. I promise.” Soon, Tori was riding all the way to the corner and back on her own, a big grin on her face. She was so proud of herself, and she deserved to be. She learned she had to work harder to make the bike go, and she had overcome her fears of the sewer covers. She trusted in her Grandma to keep her safe and help her do more than she thought she could.
... Turning to our Hebrew Testament reading, Joseph was a sort of spoiled brat, his father’s favorite son, and had never learned to not brag about it. He is Abraham’s great grandson, and will be used by God to bring blessings to the Israelites. But not yet.
In today’s story, his brothers have had enough of him. He has recently had dreams that he will be “the boss of them” and they will bow down to him and honor him. He told his family about the dreams, and they are not at all happy with him.
Jacob sent him to look for his brothers, to see how they were doing. He foolishly wore his new special coat, a sign of his father’s favoritism. We are not sure just what this coat looked like – I wondered this week if maybe it was embroidered or appliqued, like a royal person’s clothing. Whatever it looked like, I’ll bet his mother told him to leave it at home, but he insisted on wearing it. He was seventeen years old, and knew better than anyone how to run his life and how to dress.
His brothers decided it was time to get rid of him. The brothers plotted to murder him, but Reuben and Judah stopped them from doing that. Instead, they put him into an empty well pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites or Midianites – the text says one and then the other tribe. The Ishmaelites would have been cousins – Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael’s children. “Ishmaelites” eventually seems to refer to a large group of tribes, including the Midianites.
The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt, where he had great success, eventually. What do you suppose was going through his head, though, as he traveled as a prisoner, as a possession of the Ishmaelites? I imagine he was thinking he should have listened to his brothers more, and not been such a braggart about being the favored son, and kept quiet about those dreams.
At some point, he conquered his fears and came to the attention of the supervisors and managers in Pharaoh’s household. Joseph’s story is over 20 chapters long in Genesis, and we read in some detail about his exploits, his conflicts, his imprisonment, and the way he interpreted dreams. It is his interpretation of dreams which finally got him out of prison and in charge of the master plan for the kingdom for the next fourteen years.
He believed that the God of his ancestors had sent him those dreams as a teenager. He trusted God to get him through the trials of his life in Egypt. He gave credit to God for the ability to interpret dreams. He trusted in God’s presence to overcome his fears, and God was there for him.
... Last week, we read the story of Jesus feeding over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. From there, Jesus sent the disciples across the lake, while he spent time in prayer. For hours, the disciples battled the wind and the waves as they tried to reach the shore where Jesus sent them.
It was dark, and they were working hard, and suddenly, Jesus appeared out of nowhere. They had left him on the shore, at prayer. What was he doing here? More likely, in this age of superstition, he was a ghost. They were terrified.
But Jesus called out to them. He even invited Peter to get out of the boat and walk to him. And Peter did. He summoned up his courage, got out of the boat, and began walking. We can kind of picture it, can’t we? As the waves crested and fell, so did the boat; so did Jesus; and so did Peter. Suddenly, Peter realized what an audacious thing he was doing, and he began to sink. Jesus was right there and pulled him out of the water and into the safety of the boat.
We could criticize Peter for his lack of faith. But, how many of us would have stepped out of that boat? The other disciples surely didn’t try it. The important thing is not that Peter began to doubt and fear, but that Jesus was there for him; first to encourage him to get out of the boat, and then to catch him as soon as he began to sink.
... What this means for us is summed up in the last part of the letter from Paul to the Romans for today. ‘But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"’
The part of a church building where we gather for worship is called a “nave,” which means ship – or boat. We are all called by Jesus to get out of the boat and reach out to those who need to know Jesus. There is no need to be afraid, because we can trust Jesus to be with us, to help us get out of the boat, and to encourage us and to catch us when we begin to fear.
If we don’t even try, we will never have the opportunity for some wonderful adventures. If we don’t try, try, and try again, we never learn to ride a bike without training wheels. If we trust only ourselves, our dreams do not give glory to God, but get us into deep trouble. If we don’t get out of the boat – the nave – the church – we will never get to walk on the water to Jesus, and our neighbors will never hear how much Jesus loves them and cares about them.
This week, try something new: taste a new food, drive down a new street, talk to a stranger, say the name of Jesus in public. Begin the day by asking God to help you find a new experience, and then trust God to be with you as you experiment.
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, you reach out to us with love, and with challenges to do more. But, you don’t leave us alone in those challenges; you are right here with us, ready to catch us. Help us to be like Peter, daring to do the unthinkable. Help us to be like Joseph, trusting you to interpret our dreams and our future. Help us even to be like Tori, persistently trying to do the hard new thing. Amen