In sure and certain hope

Peter Seal, 9 August 2020

Genesis 37: 1–4, 12–28; Romans 10: 5–15; Matthew 14: 22–33

I want to place what I’m going to say today in the context of a prayer. It’s a prayer often used at a funeral but it fits well at any time, and especially in the context of today’s wider world. It includes these words: ‘In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life’.

The really important words for me are ‘in sure and certain hope’. I believe that what our Christian faith gives us, perhaps above all things, is a ‘sure and certain hope’. I’m hanging on to this great truth as I do my own navigating through these very strange days that we all find ourselves in.

Our faith is not ‘in vain hope’ but ‘in sure and certain hope’. With this in mind, we once again place our lives in the context of God’s great purposes. God continues to work his purpose out. God’s purpose reaches through the ups and the downs of our earthly days, into the resurrection life after we die.

I say all this by way of introduction, as we each continue to face the challenges that Covid-19 brings. In recent days I’ve found myself having to accept that the foreseeable future is not likely to change very much. Our challenge, in every area of our lives, is to live the new way of living that we find ourselves in.

As people of faith, we seek to live together as a community of believers. I’m really missing not being able to worship with you on a Sunday morning. My sense is that in the coming months we will need every stretch of our imaginations to find new ways of supporting and caring for one another. For the time being, the ways and the patterns we knew and loved have largely been suspended.

But we’re people with deep, deep faith; and rich, rich life experience. We draw on all this, and at the same time we cherish it. We live, dear friends, as those who have a ‘sure and certain hope’.

With all this in mind, let’s look at today’s gospel. It follows on directly from last week’s feeding of the 5,000, which itself followed the news that Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded. So Jesus is probably feeling sad; he’s experiencing bereavement; and he’s just faced the demands of engaging with a huge crowd. Many of these people had come to him to be cured of various illnesses.

So, the huge crowd is miraculously fed. Jesus sends the disciples off in a boat. Jesus dismisses the crowd. And then you can almost sense him drawing a deep breath of relief, as ‘He went up the mountain, by himself, to pray’.

We’re told that evening comes and that Jesus is ‘there alone’. We can picture Jesus, contentedly alone, praying to his heavenly Father … the sound of silence … the peace of the mountains … the nearer presence of the Creator … the great love of Father for Son … the great love of Son for Father. This is an intimate scene.

Meanwhile, on the lake, in the boat, the disciples are having a frightening time. We’re told, ‘The boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them’.

These images can, of course, be a description of our own times. Covid-19 does feel like a battering of waves; we too can feel as though we’re a long way from home, a long way from safety in the middle of a storm; we too feel as though the wind is against us; that making any headway is a struggle.

And then, as in the gospel story, we can picture Jesus coming towards us on the lake, described as ‘walking on the lake’. The incident with Peter is intriguing. We’ll never quite know what happened that morning. What we do know, for sure, is that the disciples’ recollection of that day and the subsequent recording of it in Holy Scripture speaks to our own experience.

Having stepped out in faith onto the water, Peter becomes frightened. Who can blame him? Here we can see ourselves again: that curious mix of stepping out in faith and then becoming fearful, that sense that we’re going under.

And then something very remarkable happens, something which has become even more poignant in our own days. We know so well that what we must at all costs avoid is coming into close contact with other people. We must avoid physical contact. The comforting arm around a shoulder, and particularly the taking of someone’s hand, is now potentially dangerous, potentially a killer.

What happens on that lake is that Jesus ‘reaches out his hand’ to catch the sinking Peter. He saves him. The days that we’re living through are a time of needing the hands of Jesus to save us from the feeling of sinking. We need Jesus’ hands to rescue, to save and to protect us.

The wonderful, extraordinary, everlasting truth is that Jesus’ hands are safe hands. Jesus gives us only that which is good and beautiful and true.

And the wonderful, extraordinary, everlasting truth is that Jesus’ hands are safe hands. Jesus gives us only that which is good and beautiful and true.

In our relating to Jesus the Lord; in our allowing him to take our hand and to hold us; in our willingness to let God in Jesus hold and embrace us; we are enfolded in a ‘sure and certain hope’.

In conclusion: our hope is in the resurrection life – a life which begins now, a life which continues to make itself known often in unexpected ways … yes, now, in the midst of so many challenges.

We believe in ‘a sure and certain hope’. Praise be to God! Amen.

View the sermon here
(13: 44)