“Does Our Faith Rock the Boat?”

This was the title of the October 14th sermon by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen.

Preparing for the Word

 The first part of the service—“Preparing for the Word”—included the congregation’s reciting the following unison Prayer of Confession led by Associate Pastor Alana Simone Tyler: https://www.westminstermpls.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/1030am_10-14-18_Final.pdf

  • “Lord our God, you call us to proclaim the gospel, but we remain silent in the presence of evil. You call us to be reconciled to you and one another, but we are content to live in separation. You call us to seek the good of all, but we fail to resist the powers of oppression. You call us to fight pretensions and injustice, but we sit idly by, endangering the lives of people far and near. Forgive us, O Lord. Reconcile us to you by the power of your Spirit, and give us the courage and strength to be reconciled to others; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior.”

Listening for the Word

The second part of the service—Listening for the Word– included the reading the Scriptural passages for the day and the sermon.

The Scriptures:

Exodus 5: 1-9 (NRSV):

“Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’ Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.’ But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!’ Pharaoh continued, ‘Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!’ That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.’”

John 5: 1-13 (NRSV):

“After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”

“Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.” They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there.”

The Sermon:

“There’s a scene in [the 1950 musical comedy] Guys and Dolls at the Save-A-Soul Salvation Army mission where one of the characters, a gangster named Nicely-Nicely Johnson, offers testimony in the form of a song. The song tells of a dream Nicely has in which he’s on a ship sailing to heaven but is standing on the deck with gambling dice in his hand. ‘Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down” the rest of the passengers in the dream sing. “Sit down ‘cause you’re rockin’ the boat.. . .”

“The song becomes, in a way, the center of the musical. The pious faithful at the Salvation Army, it turns out, rock the boat of the gangsters. By the end of the show they reform their ways. … [It’s] also a story at least partly repeated many times over in real life: the awakening of faith that can cause transformation. Go to any Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous meeting and you’ll hear about it. People’s lives can take a different tack when they stop and go deep and discover a power higher than themselves and gain perspective on how they’ve been living.”

“Christian faith, it turns out, changes lives, in ways big and small. . . .”

Does our faith rock the boat? Not only in little ways, but sometimes in life-altering ways? . . . .”

“Jesus is in the boat-rocking business. In today’s parlance he’d be called a disruptor. He subverts the way things are – not only systems of injustice, but also in much more personal ways in our lives and our relationships. If our Christianity doesn’t destabilize and challenge us then we might not be paying close enough attention.”

“Our faith should knock us off balance, at least once in a while. Whether that’s in the gestures we make or the language we use, the attitudes we have or the way we spend money, how we exercise power or how we live with our neighbors, Christianity is anything but passive. It’s a faith we practice, and put into real life and use, and it changes us.”

“There’s a rebellious quality to our faith. Jesus displays it most obviously when he breaks the Sabbath law by healing a paralyzed man. One of the Ten Commandments declares that Jews were to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.’ For centuries that had been interpreted as doing no labor of any kind on the day of rest. Some Jewish congregations and movements still view the commandment like that today.”

“But Jesus turns the law on its head; for him, to heal someone is holy whenever it happens, and it takes precedent over tradition. Keeping the Sabbath is not limited to maintaining a ritual simply for the sake of following the rules. What can be more holy than healing a person suffering paralysis?”

“Here’s how John tells the story:

  • ‘A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’
  • ‘The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.'”

“Imagine that: for 38 years, trying to drag his paralyzed body into the healing waters of the pool but being bumped out of the way by able-bodied people. Over and over, day after day, for nearly four decades. Out of compassion Jesus says to him,

  • “‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’
  • “At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.”
  • “Now that day was a sabbath.  So the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been cured, ‘’It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’”

“In other words, ‘Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down. Sit down ‘cause you’re rockin’ the boat.’”

“Rules can cloud our vision sometimes. It happens still today. We Presbyterians are really good at it. We are known for being sticklers on order and process and protocol – which sometimes causes us to miss the point of faith. And when that happens we don’t take many chances. We become risk averse. Faith like that doesn’t rock many boats, or change many lives, or alter many systems.”

“Jesus is not the first boat-rocker in the Bible. In fact, scripture is full of them. Moses does it ages earlier, when he goes with his brother Aaron to visit Pharaoh to ask for a three-day break for the Hebrew people so they might worship God.”

“The request unsettles the peace that has kept things in balance in Pharaoh’s Egypt, and causes turmoil that had been kept to a minimum on the backs of the Hebrew people. But Moses pushes the boundaries for the sake of his oppressed people. The king gets angry and doubles down on the work required of his Israelite slaves, making it impossible for them to meet their quota. In effect, telling the Hebrews to sit down and stop rockin’ the boat. Leave the status quo alone.”

“That injustice is too much, and the die is cast. Pharaoh’s treatment of the Hebrew people turns the tide toward the liberation movement that becomes the Exodus. The request of Moses for a three-day retreat in the wilderness turns into the demand to’ “Let my people go.’ Period. It’s a defining moment for the Hebrew people. The dominant order is about to be overturned. Subversion has commenced. The boat is rocked.”

“Moses and Jesus are both on a mission from God – arising out of an encounter with the Almighty at a burning bush, in the case of Moses, and coming after 40 days in the desert, for Jesus. Everybody else – the enslaved Hebrew people, the disabled man at the pool in Jerusalem, all of us – everybody else is simply doing their best to be faithful and avoid any problems and keep their head above water. Like so many of us.”

“But in each instance it’s the common believers that take the brunt of the anger. The Temple leaders vent not at Jesus but at the man he heals, for standing and picking up his mat on the Sabbath. Pharaoh takes it out on not on Moses, but on the Hebrew people, whom he accuses of being lazy and defiant when they can’t meet their work quota.”

“In other words, even if we keep our head down and try not to rock the boat, following our faith may eventually land us in trouble.”

“Moses and Jesus are disruptors, but most of us are not. Most of us are rule-following, law-abiding citizens, religiously and politically, and that’s a good thing. A peaceful social order depends on that. We live by accepted, shared cultural norms, and we keep pursuing those norms even as it gets harder and harder. Most of us are not boat-rockers out to disrupt the present order of things. The status quo is working well for most of us. The world may need disrupting and we may need it in our personal lives, but those aren’t easy places for us. . . .”

“Yet, sometimes our faith pushes us in that direction. Westminster has learned this and has stood up on public issues. Our congregation has spoken up against current gun laws. Westminster took a stance in support of marriage equality. Our congregation has supported legislation for affordable housing and changes in the criminal justice system.”

“Christian faith changes lives – and systems – in ways big and small.”

“Our church has taken positions on public issues and policies that we feel do not reflect God’s intentions for the human family, as discerned through scripture study and prayer. We have rocked the boat and worked with others for justice. But that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable doing it.”

“Most of us – and I am in this category, too – prefer a quieter, more nuanced Christianity, a comfortable faith that doesn’t ask too much of us. A little voice inside tells us not to rock the boat, whether it’s working against systemic inequity or making changes in our personal lives. We’d just as soon stay seated.”

“Yet Jesus expects more from us. Those places in our lives where we need to change – and we all know where they are – are waiting for us to face them with courage, and then to act. And the injustices we see all around us in the city and the nation and the world cry out for transformation and call us to join with others in working for change.”

“The good news, the good news, is that Jesus has already given us all we need to make the change we sense is required in our world and in our lives – to stand up and rock the boat:

  • faith that gives us strength and courage,
  • hope that one day will be fulfilled, and
  • love that cannot be stopped.”

“Thanks be to God.”

Responding to the Word

The third and final part of the service—Responding to the Word—included the Pastoral Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer; the Moment for Stewardship; the Offertory; the Charge and Benediction; and the Passing of the Peace.

Reflections

Again this sermon reminds all of us that Jesus demands that we speak out and take action against injustice. This sometimes mean we have to break with order and process and protocol. We need to stand up and rock the boat!

Published by

dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

One thought on ““Does Our Faith Rock the Boat?””

  1. Between the lines of the sermon, there are sentences that oblige us to read again to understand what the real meaning is … so it is easy to say, now, that Jesus Christ wants us to fight injustice which overwhelms most parts of the World, especially the Middle East which lacks faith …hope and love !!! But we should have the courage to face the problem and try to do something to change the situation until we reach JUSTICE AND BE IMPLEMENTED … so help us, God…

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