- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon yesterday by the Rev. Duncan McIntosh at First Baptist Church of Silver Spring.
The current financial crisis represented by Enron makes me think of the advice given by the business guru Peter Drucker, who also speaks at churches. He always says, "For a business to succeed, it must know its business and stick to it."
This applies to the church, as well, where our business is faith. What did Jesus mean by faith? He often referred to people with greater or lesser degrees of faith. Many modern definitions for belief or faith mean mental assent. We often relate the term "faith" to institutional churches and authorities.
But in its origins, faith meant a relationship of trust. The German origin of the word "belief" came from love, and the English root for faith connotes a confidence in a speaker. Neither of these words guarantees the rationality of what is being trusted. Faith is something deep and focused, and the Scripture readings today allow us to understand that better.
The story of Joseph in the Old Testament [Genesis 37: 1-28] is about a chosen or favorite son. He had a sense of a higher calling. Because of this, his older brothers turn on him in hatred. They sold him into slavery. But none of these distractions spoiled Joseph's intuitive sense of his calling. For that reason, Joseph became a model of faithfulness for Israel to follow.
The example is carried over to Christians in the "faith chapter" of Hebrews. Joseph may have questioned why he retained his faith amid the difficulty, but it seemed he could do nothing else. He had a faith that overcame all distractions.
This is the faith that Paul speaks of [Romans 10] as the conviction of the heart. Faith in the resurrected Christ was the faith Paul urged in the face of distractions as severe as persecution and death in Rome. He urged them to confess Jesus rather than Caesar. Now, we may see why Jesus called Peter by the name "little faith" in the gospel today [Matthew 14: 22-23].
Peter's faith was so easily distracted. While Joseph's faith is a positive example, Peter's can be negative. That is why Peter is loved by so many of us. He is like us all. Brash, presumptive, a bit arrogant but very courageous. This portrayal may have something to do with the writer Matthew, who used to be a tax collector. Fisherman and tax collectors were never the best of friends. Yet they both spent two years with Jesus, and it seems Matthew wanted to convey the outspoken fisherman's human side. Neither Mark nor John mention the incident of Peter trying to walk on water.
Why did Peter even want to try? Peter is often portrayed as first among the twelve. Perhaps he needed some authentication of his role as being No. 1. Think of Joseph telling his brothers, "I am the sun and you are the stars." Now, Peter is saying, "I am the No. 1 guy, so let me walk on these rolling waves, too." Jesus invites him to try. Peter looks back and says, "OK, guys, I guess we know who is best." Just then a gust of wind distracts Peter, and he begins to sink.
Peter's faith was distracted. Why? He was being very human. He was trying to impress the others. The wind unsettled him, and his tunic was getting wet. Jesus reaches out and brings him into the boat, and the winds calm. The disciples were awed and said to Jesus, "Truly you are the son of God." It would take Peter yet some more time before he could make the same confession.
Jesus asked Peter, "Why was your faith in Me distracted by your self, your friends, and the environment?" Why couldn't Peter focus uniquely on Jesus? Think of faith as a person on the trapeze might, letting go and trusting the catcher will be there. The catcher's timing and skill are important, as Peter learned when Jesus pulled him into the boat. Jesus was there at the right time.
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Roger Schellenberg at Church of the Spirit in Kingstowne.

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