Genesis 37: 1-4 & 12-28
MATTHEW 14: 22-33

August 13, 2023

It was a few years ago that this church … our church … Well, actually, the truth is St. Paul’s United Methodist Church located at 74 Church Street in West Deptford New Jersey is God’s church because not a single one of us owns this building nor the property it sits on. We are the people fortunate enough to have discovered that here in this very Holy location God is worshiped, Jesus Christ is worshiped, the Holy Spirit is alive and we experience joy in worship together! We make sure the bills are paid. Together, we pray really hard as a church family on a daily basis, we care for one another when we need to be cared for, and we welcome all other humans with a welcoming love that I believe is a loving equal or better than any other church or house of worship I have ever been in … we hear God though Jesus Christ’s teaching and then we act on it … usually.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had again confounded the politically connected power-focused Pharisees and as Matthew wrote “left the Sadducees speechless” because Jesus had told them that they “don’t know the Scriptures nor God’s power.

Jesus told them that “God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” They were so frustrated and angry by the fact that Jesus’ message contradicted the message that these leaders were trying to teach the people … a message that rewarded themselves and those they backed not at all connected to God. So they sent a legal expert to test Jesus amidst the crowd of onlookers. Knowing that all of those around him were probably focused in on historical Jewish law and the Ten Commandments (You know the type, they were probably demanding that the Ten Commandments be posted in every building and school.). The legal expert looked Jesus in the eyes hoping to catch Jesus in a clear mistake and loudly asked so that all around Him could hear … “EXCUSE ME TEACHER, what is the greatest commandment in THE LAW?”

Jesus’ answer … the answer that this church clearly hears week after week and year after year … the answer that is the one that has swept humans into a vital and living stream of Jesus believers and followers for 2000 plus years was this, “You MUST love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And, the second is like it. You MUST love your neighbor as you love yourself. ALL of the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Matthew does not tell us what the responses of the legal expert and his supporters in this setting were, but we do know that those religious leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees … whose power mattered more than their relationship with God … they continued to plot against Jesus trying find a way to kill Him so that His message could be silenced.

But friends, when you are dealing with God … the Creator of the Universe … God whose love for all humans is recorded throughout what we call the Bible … Holy Scripture … the teachings of God’s expectations … mere humans cannot silence God. But humans can choose whether or not to get in the stream of living water through faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ or they can rush to join the throngs of humans who live lives that openly reject what Jesus taught becoming one with those who might stop by a church on Christmas Eve or Easter morning after bragging about giving up chocolate but who otherwise live as if God is only for the dead or perhaps as if God is actually dead.

To counteract the popular view of the world, a few years ago, the leadership of this church, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, made an active decision to tell our neighbors, our friends, and strangers to GET IN THE STREAM … the stream of worship … the Jesus stream.

We changed our website’s name to read St. Paul’s Alive because this congregation and church family is alive and understands the truth that Jesus preached that day before being questioned by the legal expert … “GOD is not the God of the dead but the GOD OF THE LIVING” and as I look around this church today we are pretty much alive so Jesus’ truth about who God is for means God is for us. And, we also know that God is alive for our family members, our neighbors, the crowds at the football game, those of every color, creed, and life reality who walk this planet. GOD of the LIVING … and we made a commitment at that time to share our story so that others could get in the stream of Jesus followers alongside of us! To even grow this church.

Together as a church, we heard Jesus final instruction that Matthew recorded at the end of his history of Jesus’ life, “Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.””

GET ALIVE IN THE STREAM … we created these cool invitational bookmarks and from the front of this church all of you were urged to share your faith story by connecting it to St. Paul’s. Perhaps some of you worshiping with us today on FACEBOOK discovered us through the GET ALIVE in THE STREAM campaign … perhaps some of you in worship here in church did. But as we head into the fall of 2023 I am asking us to revitalize the campaign and to challenge each of you to consider whether you are interested in inviting others to enter the stream of Jesus’ believers. To become a follower of Jesus in a season when so many want to become followers of humans. To rediscover and believe in God!

Did you accept my recent challenge to read the Twenty Third Psalm once EVERY SINGLE WEEK preferably using a different translation of God’s Word … to get besides the still waters so you will then be ready to rush into the stream of activist believers. With God’s Word as close as our phones … that means you and I can read the 23rd Psalm during a TV commercial break or while we wait for our check at breakfast. The BIBLE APP is free … so, I will give you your weekly reading right now … from THE MESSAGE … from my phone <OPEN PHONE>… “God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”

Didn’t take too long … God, you find me quiet pools to drink from true to Your Word. You let me catch my breath ahhhhh and you send me in the right direction, Your Holy Spirit does. Actually, that means listening to God and if you were listening you heard these words … “I AM NOT AFRAID WHEN YOU WALK AT MY SIDE.”

It had been a stress-filled busy day for the disciples as once again Jesus had worked miracles while teaching God’s truths … LOVE GOD and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. Jesus had demonstrated that it is important to feed those who are hungry by feeding a crowd of five thousand. Jesus went up to pray by Himself on a hillside but first He told the disciples to get into their boat and to go across the Sea of Galilee ahead of Him.

Have you ever been totally exhausted … worn down … not wanting to do one more thing … just rest and sleep. Imagine 12 men working a crowd of 5000 and feeding them. These Disciples of Jesus were tired as they pushed the boat off into the waters without their leader but they just wanted to get across the lake and finally rest but friends THE STORM CAME UPON THE SEA …. It was truly a dark and stormy night! The wind rushed in from nowhere raising the waves against the wooden hull … waves cresting into the boat itself covering the men with water and they were in the middle of the Galilee Sea not close to any shoreline.

Do you think they were considering God in those moments? Probably not, they were exhausted and the next thing they saw was what looked like a person strolling across the water directly towards their boat … IT’s a GHOST THEY SCREAMED!! They were TERRIFIED Matthew reports.

But then they heard THAT VOICE … the VOICE they knew … a VOICE we should know as believers … and Jesus said, “Be encouraged it is me. DO NOT BE AFRAID”

Friends, when you consider your faith connection with God … when you read the 23rd Psalm during the week and hear God offer up a refuge besides the still stream … the waters of faith ARE YOU ENCOURAGED? Are you ready again to live for God?

Peter, in this history we all know so well, answered, “Lord, if it is YOU, order me to come to You on the water.” And, Jesus said, “Come.” Peter was doing really well and walking on the water until Peter allowed the storm around him to frighten him out of the safe Jesus stream, he took his eyes off of Jesus, and into the stormy sea. Jesus had to reach out and physically grab Peter and pulled him back into the boat. That lingering question was there when once again the waters stilled. Jesus was back in the stream with them … “You man of weak faith, why did you have your doubts.”

The disciples worshiped Jesus in the boat and declared, “You must be God’s Son.” A truth, I hope we all agree on but where does that leave us as summer crests in the year 2023?

Do we have doubts? Is our faith weak? Are we inviting people to get into the stream of believers with us … to experience the restoring of our very souls by God besides the still waters. Jesus offers us the answers but we need to hear God through Jesus.

I looked at the bookmark … again realizing we need a Men’s Bible Study thinking we need more families in church and Sunday School. West Deptford Days on September 16th needs a leader and a team. At yesterday’s wedding, the father of the groom was wowed to hear we had 73 kids in Vacation Bible School because they hardly had any and he asked how and why.n. I said because people from our church invited and stepped up.

The how and why friends is each of us through our faith with joy getting into the stream and doing all we can with what we have to take advantage of this special place where God and Jesus Christ are worshiped with joy and all are welcomed with love. We know

GOD is not the God of the dead but the GOD OF THE LIVING and now we need to hear the call to get in the stream and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life. It is the ultimate teaching of Jesus out of love. AMEN

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ