In Over Our Heads
Call to Worship Pastor:The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders over mighty waters.
People:The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
Pastor:The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
People:May the Lord give strength to God’s people!
May the Lord bless the people with peace!
*Hymn of Praise # 313 “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) Be known to us in the midst of our struggling moments. Hold us firm as we wait to receive you and be clear to us among our doubts and confusions, clear in Spirit and clear in truth, we pray.
Our Offering to God In gratitude and praise, let us bring our gifts to God.
Prayer of Dedication Loving God, may these gifts be useful in your work of lifting the sprits of those who are feeling low – those who feel like no one cares. Use them to ease the burden of those who are being held down and held back, and who do not trust the rich and abundant life of your realm. As we offer our gifts, we offer ourselves to you. Amen.
*Hymn of Prayer # 422 “Give to the Winds Thy Fears”
Pastoral Prayer Great and gracious God, how awesome it is to realize you know us well, and yet you continue to love us. How amazing it is to acknowledge that nothing can separate us from your love and that you are present in all places. Whether we are riding high on a mountaintop experience or struggling to find our way out of a valley of darkness, you are not far from us. You come to us regardless of the depth of our fears or the weakness of our faith. When we find life to be a voyage on rough waters, you draw near to bring us peace and calm. When it is hard for us to keep our heads above the water, you offer the life–preserving presence of your Son, Jesus Christ. We thank you for being the kind of God who is an everywhere, ever–present source of help. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
Forever-loving and forgiving God, when we feel overwhelmed by what life does to us, we confess that we find it hard to see beyond our own difficulties to how you are sending us hope and help. Though we know we are to keep our eyes upon Jesus, we often just see our problems. We confess to you that often when we feel overwhelmed and burdened, we forget that you are God-with-us. Forgive us when we only complain about what’s wrong, rather than thank you for what you have already made right. When we are guilty of failing to look beyond our own troubles to the needs of others, remind us that we are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill your will for us. Help us to do better. Amen.
*Hymn of Praise # 48 “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”
Few biblical stories are more vivid than the account of Jesus walking on the water. We see the boat tossed by the waves. We hear the sounds of the disciples’ terrified cries. We feel Peter’s fear as he begins sinking into the swirling sea, overcome by doubt.
Isaac Watts’ text reminds us that God’s pledge of protection and security has been and remains ours, no matter what “stormy blasts” may come.
Scripture Reading Matthew 14:22–33
Message In Over Our Heads
Jesus reaches out to us, and often down to us, to pull us up and pull us along.
A commercial shows a couple “drowning in a sea of debt.” This could be one of the reasons we might have a “sinking feeling.” Any number of things can be at work in our lives to pull us down and hold us down. We may feel buried, like the football player who is tackled and falls to the ground, only to have the opposing team pile on. Our troubles have a way of piling up.
During one of the worst hurricane seasons Florida had ever experienced, a friend who was having a hard time of it emailed and began his litany of troubles by saying, “I feel like Florida.” He also could have said, “I feel like Job.” In fact, he could have said, “I feel like the psalmist.”
For my life is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help (Ps 88:3–4) The psalmist spoke of his situation as being “in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep” (Ps 88:6). Haven’t we all felt that way?
One thing we learn from reading the Psalms is that we are not the first to exaggerate a bit or to employ figurative language when it comes to describing our situation in life. When the psalmist said he felt like one who had gone down to “the Pit,” he was echoing the actual experience of Joseph, who was put in a pit by his brothers, and Jeremiah, whose enemies put him into a pit. The pit referred to an experience of being rendered powerless. The word Sheol was similar. It was a place of nonexistence where one was removed from life and from God. We may put different labels to the experience of being “in the pits.” There was a time we described depression as being “down in the dumps.” John Bunyan called it the “slough of despond.” St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul.” Whatever we call it, it is a description of those times when we call to God and anyone else who will listen from “out of the depths.” There is nothing worse than feeling like we have been cut off from God and from others.
Isn’t that how Peter must have felt out there on the lake, as he sank deeper and deeper? Sometime earlier, Jesus had put his friends into a boat so they could meet him on the other side of the lake. “I will be there when you get there,” he may have assured them, and he went back to dismiss the crowds that had gotten caught up in his latest miracle (feeding the five thousand). Jesus felt the need to go off and pray, and while he was tending to the needs of his soul, the disciples were some distance from the shore. Not only that, but they were being beaten by the waves and wind. A sudden storm had caught them off guard. They were terrified. Then Matthew tells us that Jesus came to them “early in the morning.” The disciples see Jesus walking on water, and they believe him to be a ghost. (Don’t lots of things look like ghosts when it’s dark?) Jesus tries to calm them by telling them who he is. Peter gets out of the boat to walk to him on the water. He does fairly well as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus, but when he sees nothing but the wind and the storm, he is overcome by fear and cries out, “Lord, save me!” And he begins to sink. Many are the times you and I lose sight of God, and we can see nothing but the storms and stresses of life. Our fears and our problems overwhelm us, and we feel as if we “are sunk.” The worst thing about those times of hitting bottom is that we feel as if there is no help, no hope, no God to care about us and do anything for us. We frantically search for solid footing. I believe that when we are at our absolute lowest point, God stretches out a hand to help us up and help us out. One woman related how her life had hit bottom. She became depressed. She withdrew from everyone and everything. She contemplated suicide. Through the church, she met Jesus Christ. Later, she said, she knew she had a long way to go but at least she felt she was going in the right direction: “When I trip, Jesus is there to reach down and give me a hand and set me back on my feet again. I have felt his touch many times.” That same thought is repeated throughout the psalms: God “drew me up from the desolate pit” (Ps 40:2) and “delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps 86:13). Wherever we are, God can find us and put us back on our feet again. One of the ways God does that is through other people. The story is told of a man in a prison for civilians in Singapore whose friend was sentenced to solitary confinement. He wondered what he could do to help him. He learned that the prisoners were allowed to have their hair cut once a month, so he applied for the job of barber. Though he was able to see his friend regularly, he could not give him anything or talk to him. So he would keep saying to him, “Please keep your chin up, keep your chin up!” while he snipped away at his hair. The guards thought it had something to do with barbering, but it was really an attempt to offer encouragement to a friend in a hopeless situation. ///
The pit is sometimes another way of saying “pity.” We need to think about things other than our own misery. One minister told a chronically gloomy woman that she was needed at church every Monday morning to pick up a list of people who were sick, homebound, and hospitalized. He told her to visit at least five of them every week for six months. Week by week a miracle took place in her life. She became one of the most radiant people in the congregation!
When you feel like you are about as low as you can go, keep your eyes upon Jesus. And look around to see if there might be someone to whom you might reach out.– William M. Schwein
*Hymn of Response insert “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”
Communion Hymn # 207 Blest Be the Tie that Binds
Following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus dismisses the crowds who had been amazed by this miracle. He sends the disciples to the other side of the lake, while he stays back to pray. A storm comes up and Jesus walks on water to go to them.
There are times when we feel like we are so far down that we can never get back up.
Thought for the Day
Wherever and whoever you are, you can find God. Wherever and whoever you are, God can find you.