August 13, 2023
Readings: Genesis 37:1-4,12-28; Psa. 105:1-6,16-22,45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifying Sustainer. Amen.
St. Paul concludes today’s reading from his letter to the Romans saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Paul is citing the prophet Isaiah who said, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace.”(Isa 52:7). Now, while I wouldn’t describe my feet as beautiful – (they are not) - this reference to feet is a good one because regardless of how they might appear to us, feet enable us to run, to march, to walk and pace, and upon them we stand. Feet can help us move forward in our journeys of faith that are often filled with opportunities to bring the good news of God’s love and forgiveness offered in Christ Jesus our Lord. But feet can also do the opposite. The truth is, whether news is good or bad is dependent upon our perception of events around us: dependent upon circumstances, one’s choices in life, one’s experience of God and perhaps, more important, one’s experience of those who call themselves God’s people.
Christians have been reminded over and again throughout history that one of the greatest theological points St. Paul raised in his letter to the Romans is that God’s salvation includes both Jews and Gentiles. For Paul, salvation is a gift of God who desires that all creation be restored to a wholesome and healing relationship with God and neighbor. Paul reminds his hearers that God is always near, that regardless of who or what or where they are, all who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. And yet, in many, many churches today, to suggest that “all truly means all” – that God’s grace is available to anyone who asks, that God is present and very near to everyone – is bad news for those who think God should only save people like, you know, us: People who worship like us, or pray using our words, or dress or share the same ethnicity as us; People who never have doubts and never fall into sin. So often, how people – especially our neighbors - respond to God’s message of grace, forgiveness, mercy and wholeness is very much dependent upon the attitude and life-witness of the messenger.
That was our Lord’s reality. See for the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the disabled, the blind and lame, those shunned by society in Jesus’ day, our Lord’s actions, in the words of Mary his mother, “to lift up the lowly and exalt the humble and meek” (that is, to heal, to feed, to clothe and forgive) was good news. At the same time, his insistence upon upholding the dignity of every human being – even the woman caught in adultery, even the tax collector who cheated his own people – Jesus’ words were cause for concern among the self-righteous and especially, the religious. For them, Jesus’ message that all who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved, was bad news because it threatened their assumed authority to determine who is welcome in God’s kingdom, or condemned.
Joseph, the great patriarch of the Hebrew faith, knew from personal experience that not all feet bring good news, that not all feet are beautiful. Our reading from Genesis tells how Joseph came to Egypt. It begins with an intriguing description of his relationship with his father Israel, and his brothers. And while some might think of Joseph as a wonderful fellow from the day he was born, a careful reading of Genesis suggests otherwise.
See, when it comes to being a messenger, Joseph’s feet tended to bring bad news. In fact, today’s reading suggests he enjoyed bringing his father bad reports about his brothers. Our lesson also tells us that his father, “loved (him) more than any of his children.” So much so, he gave Joseph a very special coat and, our lesson says, while Joseph tended flocks nearby, he wasn’t required to do so in distant places like his brothers. In other words, Joseph was a tattletale who not only received special gifts, but special treatment as well. Yet, there’s even more to this story: Our lesson leaves out verses five through eleven which describe two dreams Joseph had. Each ended with his brothers bowing down to him and Joseph, being the humble fellow that he was, just couldn’t wait to tell them all about those dreams. No wonder they hated him and sought to kill him. And yet, Genesis tells us that when they had a chance to do so, his brothers had a change of heart. Instead, they sold him as a slave to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt. Now it was the brothers’ turn to bring bad news: bad news for Joseph who will find himself in a strange land with an uncertain future, and bad news for his father, who will be told the lie that his beloved son is dead. While feet have the potential to bring good or bad news, the kind of news they bring, we bring, is always a choice we make. How it is interpreted and understood is always up to the hearer because not all feet bring good news. Not all feet are beautiful.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus appears walking upon the water towards the disciple’s boat and the disciples, who have spent a horrendous night being tossed about by a raging storm, are terrified at seeing this figure approach them. Matthew says they thought he was a ghost. But, then Jesus identifies himself, assures them that all is well, and invites Peter to step out of the boat and join him. Peter walks on the water just like Jesus and then reality sets in as to how risky this is, how uncertain his footing has become. He panics and begins to sink. So, Peter cries out, “Lord save me” and Jesus immediately reaches out and brings him to safety. As St. Paul says, “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter discovered that Jesus is always near and ready to save even in the midst of storms and overwhelming circumstances, in the midst of unfamiliar surroundings with uncertain footing. For Peter, that was good news, and in these days of turmoil and division politically, socially, and especially in many communities of faith, it is good news for us if we will so choose to step up, share it, and live like we believe it.
The truth is, beloved, the Church is forever stepping into unfamiliar territory. The gospel, our life in Christ, always urges us forward to transform how we think and act. And sometimes we might feel like we are sinking or wonder if we’re heading in the wrong direction, or on the wrong path. (I know I do ... the unknown is always a mystery, an enigma.) Yet, our Gospel tells us that if we answer our Lord’s invitation to “Come” regardless of where we are stepping, Jesus is very much present. Christians believe and place our trust, our future, our hope by faith in Christ, and thus, are able to step forward into the unknown certain of our Lord’s saving presence and bring good news. We carry the message of the Gospel wherever we are and go. But, like Peter experienced, living and being that Gospel message requires that we choose to step out of our boats – boats of complacency, boats of comfort - and step into what is often unfamiliar.
See, in affirming that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, St. Paul challenged the Church, challenges us, by asking, “How can people call on that which they have never heard and how are they going to hear unless we proclaim it?” In other words, if we don’t do it: if we don’t live it; who will? Like Paul, we have a message to bring and, as our Baptismal Covenant affirms, we proclaim and demonstrate that message, the good news of the Gospel, by how we choose to live each day. Our every word, action, deed, and encounter is an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel: to bring good news; to preach the Gospel of peace. (Oh, but I’m not a preacher, I’m not a good public speaker. I prefer to do things in the background.) That’s okay! St. Francis of Assisi said, “Go forth and preach the gospel … even use words, if necessary.” Remember, our actions say and teach so much more than our words. (Just ask any parent … ask any grandparent!)
Scripture is filled with stories of messengers described as having beautiful feet simply because they stood up and spoke up for God’s justice and for what is right and, in so doing, brought the good news that there is another more liberating way to live – God’s way; God’s way that seeks fairness in all things. And when embodied so deep within us that it becomes alive through us, that is the kind of good news that makes our feet, your feet and mine, beautiful.
Like Joseph, sometimes our feet, our circumstances, do take us into unfamiliar territory. Like Peter, sometimes we do tread upon strange paths with uncertain footing and then second guess ourselves. And yet, whether we choose the right or the wrong path, God is always near to us. All who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. That is the promise of God. And when I look back on my life, especially my shortcomings, I find that to be very good news. I think you do, too.
Friends, to paraphrase the words of this morning’s Collect, may God grant us not only the spirit to live according to God’s word, to breathe, to speak, to demonstrate in our lives the good news of God in Christ that “All who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved”, but also the will and the grace to live and be that good news. Amen.