SERMON August 13, 2017

“Choosing slavery or freedom”

Mt 14:22-33 & Gen 37:12-28

Ellen Rankin

            Lectionary churches follow a 3 year pattern of scripture texts for Sunday's sermons.  Following the Lectionary is a way of assuring a broad variety of texts are read on Sunday, and that the preacher is stretched far beyond his or her favorite passages.

It also means that the preacher is faced with pairings of scriptures that run the gambit from hand-in- glove, to seemingly off-the-wall. 

At first blush, these texts seemed to me to be the more ‘off-the-wall’ pairing. 

            What in the world is the connection between Joseph’s brother’s selling him into slavery, and the miracle of faith Peter displays as he walks on the water? 

            Joseph’s story details an act of deception, and cruelty, prompted by nothing more than Israel’s love for his youngest son.  Outside of a “long robe, with sleeves” there was no threat to any of the brothers.  Nevertheless, it was Ruben’s lone dissenting voice that stopped them from killing Joseph with their bare hands, and instead, throwing him into a pit.  This pit must have been similar to what we would consider today an open well, because upon discovering that there was no water in the pit for Joseph to drown in, the brothers decide to just leave him to starve to death.

No one would hear him. 

No one would find him. 

He would simply waste away.

             With Joseph neatly disposed of, the cruelty of the brothers is underlined and highlighted by their decision to sit down and have a bite to eat.  It was merely the happenstance of a band of merchants passing by, and Judah’s suggestion that they may as well make a little money on the deal, resulted in Joseph being hauled out of the hole… and sold into slavery for 20 pieces of silver – which, in today’s economy, would be about $145.00.

            All in all, an unbelievably chilling story.

            Switching to our Gospel story, opens a very different narrative. 

The disciples are told to go ahead of Jesus, and that he would join them on the other side of the sea after he dismissed the crowd they had just fed. Crossing from one shore to another, a storm blows in. The word used to describe the waves against the boat is usually translated as “battered”.  But, in the Greek it would be more nuanced to translate it as “tortured”. 

The boat was tortured by the waves. 

Those in the boat were afraid for their lives, and in the midst of all the chaos and fear, a figure appears doing what they knew was impossible, even in the 1st Century... And yet, Peter - impetuous, some times loud-mouthed Peter, says “…if it is you,… command me to come to you on the water…” and, with Jesus’ command, he gets out of the battered, tortured boat, and walks. 

Yes!  Ok… He doesn’t quite make it all the way to Jesus, BUT –  The last time Jesus used the expression, “oh, you of little faith…” it was in the middle of the postlude to the Beatitudes, as Jesus is speaking about the Lilies of the field, and the abundance of God…

This is not a rebuke. It’s just a statement of fact:

We don’t trust that God will feed and cloth us like the lilies of the field, and we have “little faith”, if any, that we can walk on water, or do other things we’ve never seen done before!!

You see, as I consider this story on a personal level, I don’t remember a time that I have felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit that it didn’t demand that I respond to my fear of something. 

And here in our two passages is demonstrated, in stark contrast,… the choice we must make:…

Do we choose for slavery – throwing brother or sister under the bus (so to speak) for our own protection, or profit, or just to make ourselves feel better, bigger, more important…

Or… do we choose freedom. Face into the storm, and navigate the waves we KNOW will come our way… and torture us?


The ubiquitousness of this choice faces us ALL THE TIME, as we choose again and again, for freedom or for slavery.  

Each of us has faced / will face / is facing a situation in which our response can lead us either direction. 

We face it as a nation, right now, with our politics leading us either into doubling-down in our commitment to looking backwards, banking on “what was” with coal and manufacturing; securing our boarders by exclusion, and white supremicist raleys … and, even more terrifying, by raising the specter of nuclear war…

On the other hand, our choice is to look down the throat of an uncertain future… often having nothing more than hope for jobs and industries that, sometimes, have not yet even been created… And as we look down this amorphous throat, we must have faith; faith in the face of fear of all stripes…

So, how do we respond to the violence, and lose of life in Charlottesville?  How do we respond to the rhetoric of “…Fire and fury…”?

Is it with Peter’s faith?... Or is it with continually escalating fear until we can get whoever -or whatever into a pit that will contain them?  

Living life, it is impossible NOT to face the choice of slavery or freedom on whatever level we turn our attention.

Joseph’s brothers showed us, in no uncertain terms, that even LOVE can be contracted against,… railed against,… and rejected.

BUT, before we choose, remember:  Peter makes clear, that freedom is NOT free, but instead, takes gut-wrenching commitment.

We must be honest about what in our lives would we be willing to step out of a tortured boat, to walk on battering waves? 

For that, I believe, is where we will find the Spirit… and where the Spirit is, we will find Freedom…

I guarantee it!