Eyes Up

Sermon Text – 07.07.2019
[Matthew 14:22-33]
          Eyes up Flushing. Long time ago, back in the 1920s, in the Lamp Division of General Electric, a group of newbie engineers was given, as a joke, the assignment of frosting a lightbulb on the inside. The supervisors thought it was funny to give this task to the young and enthusiastic engineers, because they believed that it couldn’t actually be done. Kind of a “welcome-to-the-job” practical joke. Except one of the newcomers, Marvin Pipkin, not only found a way to frost bulbs on the inside, but also developed an etching acid that gave rounded pits rather than sharp depressions. As a result, each lightbulb was materially strengthened – stronger glass, frosted on the inside. Fortunately, nobody had told him the impossible thing couldn’t be done, so he went and did it. Do you ever wonder what impossible things are actually possible – we just haven’t figured it out yet?

          Today is vision Sunday. This is my first vision Sunday at this church. Now, you’ve probably never heard of that before – because I made it up, so allow me to explain. On the anniversary of my first Sunday as your pastor – we do Vision Sunday, where I will outline our vision for the next year. As Methodists our goal is to create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is the goal of every Methodist Church on the planet. In this church specifically, we accomplish that by encouraging people to know Christ, follow Christ and share Jesus Christ. That is our job in this place at all times. Whatever other mess it going on, that’s what we do in this place. We have kind of a catchy phrase that helps us remember it: feed the spark. Fuel the flame. Feel the warmth. But vision Sunday makes it even more specific. We bring it down into the specific context of 2019. What are our goals, our guiding principles for the next 12 months. Each year we will have a guiding focus for every conversation one year at a time. This year the vision statement is very simple: Eyes Up, Flushing. And to explain that statement, we need to jump into one of the most famous stories of Jesus’ time on earth. Walking on the water.


So let’s jump right into the text in verse 22, where it says [read v.22-23]. If you didn’t look, right before this story, right before Jesus walks on water – he feeds five thousand people. He performs two of his most impressive, most famous, most talked about miracles one right after the other. But between those mountains – Jesus stopped to spend time with God. I think a lot of us overlook how much time Jesus’ spent praying to God. In his life, Jesus modeled for us how important it is to spend time with God every single day. When you wake up every single morning, just a little bit early and you read the word of God and spend five minutes in prayer – that simple act makes you more like Jesus. Personal Devotions, in this distracted culture, those moments are tiny little acts of revolution for your Spiritual walk with God.

      It keeps going, [read v.24-26]. So they are all freaked out, terrified of this ghost that’s coming towards them. And then Jesus responds. Verse 27, [read it]. Now there’s three pieces to this. 1. Do not be afraid.  2.) Take Courage. 3.) I am here. In that moment of reassurance for the 12 disciples, Jesus gives us fantastic instructions for how to deal with fear in our lives. When something happens, when anything happens, walk through Jesus’ words – do not be afraid, take courage, remember that Jesus is there.
        Then we get to the biggest part of the story, [read v.28-29]. This is probably the most impressive verse in the entire passage. Not just that Jesus did an amazing thing – Jesus did lots of amazing things, #nbd. But Peter, Peter’s just a regular guy. The fact that Peter walked on the water shows us that the power of Christ, the power to work miracles, the power to do unlimited things in this limited world – that same power is available to us. The miracle of this story is not that Jesus walked on water, but that Peter walked on water. The subtitle of this paragraph in my bible, it has like a little heading and it says, “Jesus walks on water” – like that’s the big miracle. But I think the title of this story should be “Peter walks on water,” because that’s a way bigger deal. Peter walked on water.  And then he ruins it! Verse 30 [read 30-31].There’s two things I want you to realize here. First – there are waves, it’s 3am, the disciples are in trouble, there’s wind and waves, I mean, this is sort of a crazy thing to be doing. Think about this – lot of people imagine walking on water as walking on a flat surface in broad daylight. But that’s not what the story says, that’s not the image we’ve got in front of us. There are waves, there’s a great wind – it’s gotta be worse than trying to walk in one of those bouncy houses. Walking on water, in the dark – with waves all around. Second thing I want you to realize is that it is the moment Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus that he begins to sink. His ability to do incredible, impossible, logic-defying miracles is directly connected to keeping his eyes on Jesus. When he saw the wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.
       [read v.31] Why did you doubt me? I feel like again, Jesus is not just speaking to just his disciples all those years ago – but these words echo through the ages into our hearts in the modern world. Why did you doubt me? Every time I see someone go off all doom and gloom about the future of the church or the moral fabric of our world falling apart, and what are we going to do, panic, panic, panic – I hear these words – Why did you doubt me? Do we really believe that any human plan or device can stop the work of God? And then the story ends with verse 32, [read 32-33]. I want you to pay attention to the use of the word “really” in this verse – in the pew bible, the NIV, it uses the word truly. Truly you are the son of God. You REALLY are the son of God. It’s almost like they can’t believe it, like they are asking –  Is it really you? Are you really God? When the disciples are faced with the reality of Jesus their first response is to collapse into worship. If God is really God, if he’s actually out there and able to do these incredible things – he is worthy of our worship. Our complete and total devotion. Think about what Peter said just a few verses – If it’s REALLY you, tell me to walk on water. And then in verse 33, “you REALLY are the son of God.” So much of the problem here is that the disciples cannot believe their own eyes. They hope it’s real. They want it to be real, but do they dare believe the good news that’s staring them in the face.


     Let me ask you something. How many miracles do you need to witness before you would believe that Jesus is Jesus? And if you were completely convinced – you saw the miracle, you’re completely convinced – how long would that last before you would start to doubt again? Like, one of the most popular arguments from atheists is, “if you could just give me some evidence. If you could just prove it, then I would believe.” And yet I wonder what it would take to convince the fickle human heart once and for all that God is God and that’s all we need to know. I think about these disciples – they just got done watching Jesus feed 5,000 people with a tiny bit of bread and fish, and they had loads leftover! It was an incredible multiplication of food miracle, they just witnessed an amazing miracle and they didn’t believe. They needed a second incredible miracle before they were willing to admit – you really are God. I think back to the Israelites in Egypt, when God freed them and that story I tell every time we do communion. They witnessed with their own two eyes the ten plagues. Rivers turning to blood, fire raining from the skies, the parting of the red sea – and yet not two chapters later in the bible there they are, doubting God again. And what I realized from the evidence of story after story in the bible – what we learn is that when you take your eyes off of Jesus, you begin to sink. Eyes up, Flushing.
      The good news for us this morning is that Jesus really is Jesus. God is the point and purpose of everything we do. Jesus is everything he said he was and more. Jesus claimed equal authority with God, and then he proved it – over and over. Jesus really is Jesus, son of God – savior of the world. When we come face to face with that reality, worship is the only possible response. And I think one of our greatest failings is that we have been trying to do church without that reality. So many Methodist Churches, Flushing included have been trying to prop up an institution. We have been working in this place trying to keep a building open for our own satisfaction – for what we want. We have made church about us instead of about God. In the story of Peter walking on the water, we are the other disciples. We just want to do this religion thing, to feel good about ourselves and then go home. We just wanted a boat ride across the water man. I just want to get to the other side. We don’t want actively participate in the miracle of the divine presence of Jesus working in our lives. We don’t want to walk on the water. That sounds like way more work. And because we taken the focus off of God, and brought it down to us – we have begun to sink. You take your eyes off of Jesus, you begin to sink. You know what Peter didn’t ask? Is it possible? Peter didn’t say, “Lord, if it’s possible, tell me to walk on water.” He didn’t say, “if it’s feasible, if it’s reasonable, Lord if it fits in the budget. Lord if the straw poll tells me that most people want it, tell me to walk on water. He didn’t say any of that. He said, Lord, if it’s really you – tell me to come. Jesus really is Jesus. God really is there, and with him all things are possible. Eyes up Flushing.


        I believe that one of greatest problems in this church is that we, collectively, have taken our eyes off of Jesus, and have tried to do successful “church” without Him. And we started to sink. So the application is really simple – First, don’t focus on the waves. Peter got out of the boat and walked towards Jesus, but it wasn’t until he saw the wind and the waves that he began to sink. Waves are anything in the life of this church that take our eyes off of Jesus. If we are going to do something incredible in this place – there will be waves. Make no mistake, the waves are there – you might even get wet. But if you want to walk on water – part one – don’t focus on the waves. Part two is to put your eyes back on Jesus.


Let me show you what I mean, wave number one that distracts us from Jesus in this church – gossip. We as a congregation we do not trust one another anymore. Maybe we used to, but we don’t give the benefit of the doubt anymore! When we see something we don’t like, so often we jump to the worst possible conclusion. Rather than taking the time to find out more information, to do the loving thing and talk directly to the other person – in this place we are quick to take offense, quick to judge, quick to wave the red flags. We don’t trust each other. Take your eyes off of the gossip, and put them back on Jesus. Eyes up Flushing. Wave number two: past failures. Beyond gossip, failure in our past is one of the greatest waves that distracts us from Jesus. I cannot tell you how many times an idea will be pitched and someone will say “well, we tried that in the past, and it failed.” And what I want you to understand is that failure never means give up. Our message is too important for that. A life connected to God, living in the fullness of His love that is too awesome, too wonderful to give up. Failure never means give up – it means try again. Sometimes it means be patient, sometimes it means try a different way, switch things up – but it never means give up. Take your eyes off of the past, and put them back on Jesus. And then there’s the big one – wave number three: the LGBTQ conversation and the possible split of the United Methodist Church in the future. If we are not paralyzed by the failure of the past then we are frozen by fear of the future. Now, please don’t misunderstand it’s an important conversation to have, but we have let it become a distraction to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Literally there are conversations all over the place where we are dreaming big things for this church and we are wondering, “should we even bother, because there might be a split in this church.” Shouldn’t we just wait, until we solve this problem before we try anything risky? Shouldn’t we wait, until the big wave passes before we try to walk to Jesus. That mentality, where we let the politics of a human denomination keep us from doing to the work of God in this place is a giant wave that is distracting us and we need to put our eyes back on Jesus. Eyes Up, Flushing.
        Now I want to be careful there. The winds and waves are real, and we will have those conversations when they come. But I guarantee you, we will handle the waves better if our eyes are on Jesus. There are waves coming and that’s all the more reason to put your eyes up, Flushing. Think about this, does fear of the future change what we are to instructed to do today? Jesus never said, “do ministry only when the sea is calm.” Jesus never said love your neighbor, only when it’s convenient or you’ve solved all the human problems. He said, “Get out of the boat, in the midst of the waves – come, and walk on water.”


Part 1 – don’t let the waves distract you. Part 2 – put your eyes back on Jesus. Eyes up. Part 3 – do the impossible. Get out of the boat and walk on water. Ask yourself, do you believe that Jesus really is Jesus? Do you believe that you have been given this place and this time to do the work of God, making the world a better place? I want to challenge you today, do not let the fear of what tomorrow might bring, change the reality of what this place is right now. We have a lot of opinions in this room, and despite what the world tells us about how we are supposed to hate one another – we have been able to put aside our differences, keep our eyes on Jesus and build the Kingdom of God in this place. Some churches are hunkering down in the boat, hoping to weather the storm until the waves of drama have passed. But in this place, we’re going to walk on water. We are going to believe that Jesus is still Jesus and that if we keep our eyes up, we can do anything. If I had a gauntlet this is where I would throw it.  Part 1 – don’t focus on the waves. Part 2 – Eyes up, Flushing, put your eyes back on Jesus. Part 3 – walk on water, do the impossible for God’s kingdom.
Marvin Pipkin, back in the 1920’s accomplished the impossible because nobody told him that it was impossible. If we keep our eyes on Jesus, so focused on his glory and so in awe of his wonder – we will accomplish the impossible because we will not see the waves. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you realize in your heart that Jesus really is Jesus. May that realization move your heart to authentic worship of God. And May you put your eyes back on Jesus, and do something impossible. Eyes up, Flushing. Amen.

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