August 2, 2020 The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 9, 2020
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psa. 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     I always smile when I hear today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Aside from his wonderful assurances that whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved; it is Paul’s quote from the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7) about feet that makes me smile. I smile because while I don’t want to contradict Paul or, for that matter, Isaiah, the truth is no one gazing at my feet would ever say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Nope. No way. Not my feet.

     Nevertheless, the image of feet Paul uses here is a good one. Regardless of how they may appear to us, our feet do enable us to run, to march, to walk and pace, and upon them we stand. Feet can help us move forward in our continuing life-long journeys of faith, just as they can help us sidestep or avoid altogether any hazards in our paths. Our journeys are often filled with opportunities to bring the good news of God’s love and forgiveness offered to the whole world in Christ Jesus our Lord. In that light then it could be said of us all, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

     But feet do not always bring good news, do they? In today’s reading from the Book of Genesis, we hear the story of Joseph and his brothers – all of them sons of Jacob and we might remember that after wrestling with an angel, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Our text begins by telling us that Joseph enjoyed bringing his father, Israel, bad news about his brothers. Our text also tells us that Jacob or Israel, “loved Joseph more than any of his children.” So much so, that he gave him a special, colorful coat. So, in essence Genesis suggests that Joseph, the tattletale, received special gifts and, noticing in today’s reading that he did not have to tend the flocks in the fields, it is clear he received special treatment as well. But there is more to this story. Today’s reading leaves off verses five (5) through eleven (11). In those verses we learn that Joseph had two dreams. Two dreams that he was all too eager to share with his brothers. In the first, Joseph and his brothers were binding sheaves in the field when his sheaf suddenly stood upright. His brother’s sheaves gathered around his and then bowed down to it. In the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to Joseph. You can imagine how well these stories went over with his brothers. While we tend to idolize various biblical patriarchs as heroes of the faith, the truth is, Genesis reveals that at his heart, Joseph was full of himself and enjoyed lording his preferred status over others. So, it is not surprising that his brothers hated him and sought to kill him. But, as we heard in today’s lesson, when they had a chance to kill him the brothers had a change of heart. Instead, they sold Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver and he was taken down to Egypt. Joseph soon found himself in a strange land with an uncertain future. Now, it was time for his brothers’ feet to bring bad news to their father even though their news was a lie. Not all feet are beautiful. All feet have the potential to bring good or bad news: But it really is a choice we make.

    You know, like Joseph found, sometimes our feet do take us into unfamiliar territory. We tread upon strange paths with uncertain footing and uncertain futures. In today’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is seen walking upon the water towards the disciple’s boat and the disciples are afraid. Jesus assures them that all is well, and, at Peter’s request, Jesus invites Peter to step out of the boat and join him. Peter steps out and to his surprise, he is able to walk on the water just like Jesus. But then the reality sets in as to how risky this act is, how the howling winds around him have made his footing, his security, uncertain. Peter panics and begins to sink. He 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.” In the midst of his panic and uncertainty, Peter finds that Jesus is, indeed, very near and ready to save even in the midst of the unfamiliar, the unsure, the unstable. That was good news to Peter, and it is good news for us.

   As a community and as a parish, the ongoing pandemic that seems to be intensifying right here in our County, means that we continue to step into the unfamiliar. What we thought would be, at their worst, a month or two of restricted gatherings and required social distancing, not to mention fear of spreading the virus among ourselves, has entered its fifth month. The Valle Country Fair has had to be postponed, weekly indoor worship services continue to be prohibited, your leadership is scrambling to figure out how we might offer ongoing Christian Education and Formation opportunities online – and there are some really great ideas coming forth. But the truth is, we have entered a time of what is being called a “new normal” with no end in sight. I cannot think of a more telling example of our stepping into the unfamiliar. As I have said before – and this is echoed by clergy colleagues from all sorts of church denominations, “How to respond to these circumstances was never covered in seminary.” Truth be told, many of us are flying by the seat of our pants; adjusting to the new norm that seems to change every day.

We have definitely entered into the unfamiliar and we are standing on new ground – a ground we are unsure of; a ground where our feet just don’t feel comfortable; a ground that continues to shift beneath our feet. Some say that in choosing to defer indoor worship gatherings we have taken the wrong path, just as others fear that until a properly tested and produced vaccine is available, gathering together would be a fatal decision for many.

     Yet, our Gospel this morning tells us that if we answer our Lord’s invitation to “Come” regardless of where we are stepping, Jesus is present. Our calling is to believe and, by faith, step forward into whatever unknown is before us; enter it certain of our Lord’s saving presence. We are called to let our feet bring good news: to carry the message of the Gospel. But, like Peter experienced, carrying and living the Gospel message requires that we choose to step out of the familiarity and safety of our boats into the unfamiliar. And I find that all rather scary.

     St. Paul, affirming that all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved, asks the Church, “How can they 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 step into the unknown; if we don’t tell our stories differently; if we can’t consider other ways to be the organized Church; who will? Like Paul, we have a message to proclaim and, as our Baptismal Covenant affirms, we proclaim and demonstrate the good news of the Gospel by how we live our daily lives. Our every word, action, deed, and encounter with others is an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel: to preach the Gospel of peace. Messengers with beautiful feet follow the course of God’s justice. They take God’s action. They look out for the safety and well-being of their neighbors. They set fear aside in order to stand up and speak for what is right and, in so doing, they bring good news that there is another more liberating way to live. God’s ways are ways of justice and mercy that seek to be fair and equitable in all things. Ours is a life of service to God that seeks to uphold the dignity of every human being because God’s people seek and serve Christ in every person we meet whether they are standing on familiar, or like us,unfamiliar ground.

     Beloved, if we truly seek and serve Christ in every stranger and each other, then, it stands to reason that if we look closely at each other’s feet and the feet of our neighbors, the very feet God has called us to wash; we should see the nail prints of our blessed Lord. Our Lord Jesus Christ whose feet were bathed by Mary Magdalene’s tears; at whose feet we kneel in the Eucharist and in this service of Morning Prayer, and at whose feet we bow every time we serve Christ in someone else. Could there be anything more beautiful than those wounded feet that brought to us the good news of redemption in Christ: The Gospel of Peace?

    St. Paul asks, if we don’t bring this good news, who will? Perhaps in choosing to set our fears aside and choosing to step out of the comforts of our boats, our familiar boats, our complacent boats, we will become messengers of God’s good news to this community in new ways. If our every word, deed and action witnesses to God’s good news of forgiveness and salvation through faith in Christ, and if we walk humbly before God and each other, then not only our feet, your feet and my feet, but this entire body, this whole community of faith might just be called, “beautiful.”

    St. Paul said, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” May God grant us the grace to choose each day to be messengers of God’s good news. Who knows? The next time you remove your shoes, you might just notice how beautiful your feet have, indeed, become. Thanks be to God. Amen.