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Walking with Jesus
Mt. 14:22-33

One day, once upon a time, I was channel surfing, looking for something on television to look at. I stopped at a religious channel which was showing a worship service. I usually do not watch the religious channel religious programs because I have problems with the "grit your teeth and really believe" concept of Christianity. I also have problems with the idea that one who really, really believes will be safe, nay, invulnerable as Superman, from indignities, sufferings, and doubts. I find this strange in a religion whose central truth and witness is the crucified Christ who rose from the dead.

The preacher that day on that show was putting on an amazing exhibition. He told the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, a.k.a. Israel, sold by his brothers into slavery in a way that I have never heard it told before nor since, please, God. According to this preacher, Joseph was a true proto-Christian, of course, he did not use that term, but he implied that Joseph somehow had a belief worthy of Christ before there was Christ to believe in. According to the preacher, Joseph had the true marks of a Christian. He smiled constantly and he never lost faith, never lost faith that he, Joseph, was the son of the King of Heaven, and that the King of Heaven was going to crown his son, Joseph.

According to this preacher, Joseph had a positive attitude that God would protect him, Joseph, always and that he, Joseph, would end up richer than anyone else. Because Joseph had such a positive attitude, which the preacher called faith, Joseph always smiled and always was singing to himself that he was the son of the King. Because Joseph's father, mother, and brothers did not have good positive attitudes, they hated Joseph. Therefore the brothers threw Joseph into the pit and sold him into slavery. Throughout it all, Joseph kept grinning and saying, "I'm a child of the King, I'm a child of the King." At this point, the preacher strolled around the stage and the congregation applauded.

I have thought about this presentation a time or two. I am sure that the preacher believed in a perpetually grinning Jesus, even on the Cross. I had thought that those who insisted that Jesus never laughed or smiled had a warped theology, but I began to think that the perpetually grinning Jesus school could give them a run for the warped theology prize. The implication almost is that if Jesus had just a little more faith, He would not have been crucified, and if the martyrs really had faith, they would have escaped death and torture. I do believe that our Savior, Jesus Christ, had a well-developed sense of humor. I also believe that this is different from the "smile, even if it kills you" school of faith.

My experience of faith is that it is something more than agreement, something more than refusal to acknowledge reality, something more than denial of pain or sorrow or doubt. I feel that faith is much more than a desperate gritted teeth determination that nothing can stop one from believing.

The story of Joseph and his coat of many colors has an appeal that remains fresh and vital, not because it is the story of one who smiled always. I think Joseph was young, immature, vain, self-centered, insensitive to others, but he was also innocent in many ways. He was chosen by God, but where the favor of God led Joseph was frightful. Joseph was betrayed, disowned by his brothers, sold into slavery, and declared dead. I think Joseph was afraid, confused, and despondent, but he survived to mature and to serve in high capacity. This story has such appeal that Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat as a musical.

What is the appeal of the story of Joseph? He was a pampered son. He dreamed of glory and honor beyond his family. He was betrayed and sold into the living death of slavery in a strange land. I think this story has appeal to us in the same way as another story has.

During World War 2, Nazi troops entered a Jewish village, took most of the men and hung them from the trees outside town. The rest of the village was forced to watch the brutal execution. As the dying men hung from the trees, kicking and jerking, a Nazi soldier grabbed the Rabbi and yelled into his face, "Where, now, is your God?" The Rabbi pointed to the dying men, and said, "There! There is our God!" I do not think there was a smile in the place, but I do think there was deep, deep faith that would and did outlast the Nazi darkness of the soul.

I know that faith is real and true, that faith is trust and love and being in tune with the power and love of God, but our language is not so sophisticated that we can explain faith in terms all can understand. Those who have faith understand words about faith, just as those who love understand words of love. The best definition we have of faith is the example and presence of those who have faith, just as the best definition we have of God is the example and presence of the Son of God and those who know Jesus as the Christ.

Faith is difficult for us to explain, whether we do or do not have much faith. I think it is as hard to explain as the Gospel account in Matthew of Jesus walking across the water in a storm to his embattled disciples in the boat. I do not think Jesus was walking on a reef in a fresh water lake. I do not think Jesus knew where the rocks were. Jesus walking on the water in the storm made an impression on the disciples. They thought Jesus was a ghost. They were terrified until Jesus told them who he was. Then Peter, good, old impetuous, speak-before-he-thinks Peter asked Jesus to call him out on the water. Jesus called Peter. Peter hops out of the boat onto the surface of the water and does well until he looks around at the storm, fears, and begins to sink. He calls out to Jesus who pulls Peter up, and asks him, man of little faith, why he doubted. Matthew, as Matthew often does, turns this story of a nature miracle, Jesus as Lord of Nature and stiller of storms, into a lesson for his church. Though the church is tossed and threatened by the storms of time and history, Jesus, the living Christ, not a ghost, still comes to us. If we ask in faith, Jesus will call us to walk where others would drown. Even if our faith is small and weak, Jesus will rescue us, if we have faith enough to call. With Christ, the storm will cease.

Faith is a dimension of life that is not dramatic usually. Faith is invisible to many people, just as truth and love and joy are invisible, but the effects are tremendous. Most faith is expressed in small ways, day by day, as Joseph survived day by day. Most faith is a small step, as when Peter stepped out into the water. Most faith is too small, but linked with Christ, faith is another story that can change our lives forever. It may be that faith is like exercise in that a little exercise, irregularly and seldom done offers almost no benefit to health over those who never exercise at all. We do know that exercise, regularly done, does offer tremendous health advantages and strength. We also should realize that faith, regularly and often exercised is important for our spiritual health so that we can know that God is with us always, even in the darkest hours or the most threatening storms. It is just that when Jesus calls us to walk with Him, we may be surprised where Jesus takes us, but we will be safe, not by our faith, but by Christ alone. Amen and Amen.