I’m a person who has always been fascinated with language. I taught high school English for five years.
I’ve always been interested in the origin of phrases and colloquialisms. A colloquialism is a group of words, the meaning of which everyone knows from common usage, but which does not make as much sense literally. When we say, for instance, that the actor “brought the house down,” we mean that the audience responded enthusiastically – not that the theater caved in. A few years ago when Pepsi began marketing its product in China, it found it could not use its popular slogan, “Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation” because, in Chinese it translated into “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.” Pepsi is good, but not THAT good!
This morning I’m interested in a colloquialism which Jesus uses. The phrase comes in the midst of verse 27 of today’s gospel from Matthew where Jesus says, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.” I’m interested in that phrase, “Take heart.” It’s a phrase which we cannot take literally because, if we did, it would translate as “steal the human organ which pumps blood throughout the body.” “Take heart.”
However, you and I know “take heart” to be a phrase which means “Have confidence.” “Be encouraged.” “Be bold.” “Have faith.” These are all things which “take heart” can mean.
This morning I wish for all of us that we might “take heart.” I want us to hear Jesus’ good news and comfort and “take heart.” I want us to remember, once again, a familiar Bible story and “take heart.” I want for us to look at those things which scare the bejabbers out of us in our lives and “take heart.”
The scene is a familiar one – one which is the subject of many paintings; Peter’s attempt to walk on the water and Jesus’ calming of the storm. After Jesus had feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, Jesus had gone up the mountain by himself t prayer. The disciples had started, by boat, for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then a storm blew up very quickly. It got dark. All night long the disciples battled against the wind and the sea. They were afraid. Very afraid. Then, as it got light in the morning, the disciples looked out and saw Jesus walking out to them on the water. And they were even more afraid. They thought it was a ghost It is at this point that Jesus says to them, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Now, someone has said that those words you see on the salad dressing bottles are really directions for a life in Christ. You know those words: “Shake before using.” Sometimes God shakes us up before using us to accomplish his will. In this case the disciples were pretty shaken. But Jesus says, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
I’m not sure that there is any worse emotion than fear. It is fear which causes us to doubt ourselves. It is fear which causes us to be angry with others. They tell us that financial fears are among the most devastating. Worrying about how to pay the bills or where the next mortgage payment will come from can cause stress, ulcers, and illness. It can absolutely wreck marriages.
As a pastor, I think the most common fear I deal with is people’s fears of illness. When something goes wrong all the flags go up. What does this illness mean for me? Will it involve pain? Will I be affected permanently? Will I live? Physical worries can sometimes eat away at us worse than the disease we’re we’re worrying about. And maybe the fear that all of us have which we don’t necessarily know we have is fear of the future. What will tomorrow bring? Am I doing enough today to prepare for tomorrow? What if a catastrophe comes along? What will I do?
Did you see what happened to Peter when fear overtook him? Oh, at first Peter was so very confident. He had his eye on Jesus – his savior come to rescue him from the storm. And everything was alright just as long as he had his eye on Jesus. Confidently – with his eye on Jesus – Peter stepped out of the boat. With his eye on Jesus Peteer began walking on the water. On top of the water. Confidently. With his eye on Jesus.
But then he noticed the strong wind. And he took his eye off Jesus. What happened? He began to sink. One commentator has wondered if Peter’s quick sinking down into the water wasn’t the reason Jesus nicknamed him “the rock!” But do you see what happens when we take our eye off Jesus and pay attention to the storm? We become afraid. But, as with the disciples in the boat, Jesus comes walking to us with the message, “Take heart. Have confidence. Be encouraged. Be bold. Have faith. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
This is where we can “take heart” also. When storms rage about us and ourfaith becomes weak, Jesus reaches out his hand and pulls us from whatever sea it is in which we are sinking like a rock. “Take heart! I am here.” “Take heart! I will save you.”
It was the prophet Isaiah who said, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Today, we might change that slightly to read, “How wet are the feet of those who bring good news.” Jesus walking on the water.
Think for a minute just what Peter did. He got out of the boat. He got out of the boat. On the water. In a storm. Nobody gets out of a boat. On the water. In a storm. People do not walk on water. What Peter did was to take a chance. To do something new and different. To try something which had never, ever before been tried. He took a risk.
A farmer was once asked by a neighbor, “John, what are you going to plant this year? Corn?” John said, “Nope. Scared of corn borers.” “Well, what about potatoes?” John said, “Nope, too much danger of potato bugs.” “Well,” the neighbor wanted to know, “What are you going to plant?” And John said, “I am going to play it safe. I’m not going to plant anything.”
If we want the good news of Jesus to be proclaimed to the community around us we need to be bold and daring. We need to try new and different things. We need to be able to risk. We neeed to get our feet wet. If we just sit back and play it safe, nothing will grow. “How wet are the feet of those who bring good news.”
Edward Mote was a London cabinetmaker who became a minister at the age of fifty-five. Like all churches, hymns were sung in church by people who would come to church. But Edward Mote found himself needing to minister to a woman in his congregation who was dying. Most ministers simply make calls in such situations. Visit the sick person. Converse. Have prayer. But Edward Mote did something new and different by way of bringing the good news of Jesus to a dying person. He wrote a hymn for her, took the hymn to her bedside, and sang it to her.
The hymn encourages her to not be afraid, to take heart. It encourages us as well. Let’s close this sermon by singing that hymn of the day, number 597, “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.” It has a wonderful familiar melody, but let’s pay particular attention to these words of Hope Pastor Mote sang to his dying member: