22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Reading Romans 10:5-15
5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
14But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
One of the key questions in human existence is how to live a good life. We ask that question in different ways. Religiously we sometimes put it in terms of how to please God or how to be saved. In this passage, Paul talks about righteousness and salvation.
Paul talks first about “the righteousness that comes from the law.” His summary is brief, scriptural and to the point: “The person who does these things will live by them.” In other words, we become righteous by doing the right thing, by following the rules. We say the same thing in different ways: actions speak louder than words.
This view of righteousness is true because being righteous, doing the right thing has to include action. Laws and rules are good, and society can’t function without them. The Law Paul talks about is the Law of Moses, which is the rules and values God gave to Israel. That means they are not only a reflection of the values of the people of Israel, but a reflection of the society God wanted Israel to be. Following the law is a good thing, especially when we’re talking about God’s law.
At the same time while our actions are important they don’t tell the whole story. It’s possible to put too much emphasis on rules and behavior. Life is more complicated than a set of rules. Laws and rules work well as a guide to life (if they are good laws), but they require interpretation and an open heart to adapt to changing circumstances. Sometimes we forget this and put too much confidence in the law itself.
On the one hand we can try to live our lives by a check list: simply doing the things the law tells us to do and avoiding the things the law tells us to avoid. Living like that often makes us resentful and drains the feeling out of our faith. We can pay our workers well as the law demands, but without concern for them as people. We can worship God because tradition tells us to without actually feeling awe and love for our creator. A life or faith based mainly on rules and guilt isn’t the rich, abundant life we crave and Jesus promises.
The other danger is using the law to measure others. We imagine that since we know the law we can judge others based on how well they seem to be keeping the law. We can fall into the temptation of trying to say who’s in and who’s out because of what the rules tell us. The trouble in both cases is self-righteousness. We believe that through rules we can make ourselves righteous and we can tell whether others are righteous or not.
Jesus tells a perfect story about the temptation of the law. A Pharisee went up to pray…
The Pharisee trusts in himself and his obedience to the law. He thinks he can judge others for not following the law. The tax collector in Jesus’ story gives us a better but less straightforward path to righteousness. Paul calls it the righteousness that comes from faith; the protestant reformers called it justification by faith. What it means is that we don’t trust the law or our actions to make us righteous in God’s eyes. Instead we look to Jesus to make us righteous.
Our righteousness doesn’t have anything to do with us; it has to do with Christ.
Being right with God isn’t about our power to follow the law, it’s just about trusting in Jesus, to believe that he loves us and saves us from our sin. We are also called to try to live righteously, to treat our neighbors with love and respect, to work for justice in the world, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. But those things are not what will make us right in God’s eyes; they are simply our response to the amazing love we receive from God.
That’s all well and good, but what difference does it make in our lives? The biggest difference it makes is that it frees us from fear and guilt. We talk in the church about how Christ sets us free and gives us joy in our faith, but I bet for many of us those words ring hollow sometimes. For many Christians church still feels like an obligation, like something we are supposed to do to be right with God.
And many of us worry about what happens when we die; we worry whether we have met the requirements to go to heaven and we worry that we might come up short. When we hear that our righteousness is about faith in Christ, we get even more anxious because we feel insecure about our faith. We have questions and doubts; we sometimes feel like we “aren’t good Christians” or don’t have strong enough faith.
Fortunately, that’s not the point. We don’t have enough faith; we aren’t good enough people, but it doesn’t matter. We are righteous because Christ makes us righteous. The point isn’t that we have to believe to be saved, but we won’t know the joy and freedom of salvation until we relax and trust in Jesus to save us.
One image that comes to mind is a drowning person. In lifeguarding they teach that someone who’s drowning is so scared that they can’t be rational. They struggle and splash trying to stay above water until they run out of energy and drown. At the same time their struggling makes them very difficult, even dangerous to rescue. Sometimes people get so freaked out by the sensation of drowning they don’t even realize that they are close enough to shore to put their feet down and stand.
Sometimes in our faith we feel like we’re drowning. We feel like we aren’t doing or can’t do enough to make it. We feel like the waves are rising around us and the shore is nowhere in sight. If we trust in Christ he will pull us to safety. If we don’t trust in Christ I believe he’ll still get us safely home eventually anyhow, but we’ll have spent a lot of effort and fear struggling against his help. If we trust Jesus and just relax we’ll even enjoy the ride.
Once we learn that we can trust Jesus we don’t have to fear the water of our life. The water stops being a threat and starts being a joy. Last weekend many of us were camping, and we enjoyed the water in different ways. It’s hard to enjoy the water when we are afraid of drowning, but when we trust that the boat or lifejacket will hold us up, we can put fear behind us and have a good time.
Look at Peter, he has enough trust to ask Jesus to come walk with him, but then the wind and waves get the better of him. Still, Jesus is right there, ready to grab him out of the water. What happens next? Does Peter try again, learning to trust in Jesus more? Does he get back out of the boat to walk, skip and dance on the waves, knowing that with Jesus he is always safe?
Of course, it’s not that simple. Sometimes we hear Christ’s voice and other times the waves and distractions of the everyday drown out the sound of his calling. Sometimes we trust, relax and enjoy the voice of our savior and other times we struggle against his arms and flounder in our own direction. Sometimes we try to save ourselves by following a list of rules, and other times we try to follow God’s leading.
My prayer for us is that we learn to listen for Jesus and trust his care. I pray we come to trust him so much that we can love the water of life. I pray we will grow in trust so we can guide others to know Christ as well and help them play joyfully in the waves of God’s love.
Thanks be to God.