Sermons from San Diego

Whole-hearted Faith

February 25, 2024 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ
Whole-hearted Faith
Sermons from San Diego
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Sermons from San Diego
Whole-hearted Faith
Feb 25, 2024
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

We continue to focus on the life and faith of Peter and today learn about a little-known hero of Black History - Diane Nash.

The text is Matthew 14: 22-33

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Show Notes Transcript

We continue to focus on the life and faith of Peter and today learn about a little-known hero of Black History - Diane Nash.

The text is Matthew 14: 22-33

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California


Rev. Dr. David Bahr


February 25, 2024


“Whole-hearted Faith”


Matthew 14: 22-33 – The Message

As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared to death. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

29-30 He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”


Last week we began a journey with Peter and his call as one of the first of the 12 disciples of Jesus.  We learned that he was impulsive and impetuous but even more passionate, committed and bold, even if his boldness wasn’t always well thought out – as today’s story proves.  But first:


Chapter 14 began with the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod because it’s what his daughter wanted for her birthday – the head of John the Baptist served on a platter.  Jesus was devastated by the news and got into a boat with the intention of going to a deserted place by himself, but before he even got there, crowds heard he was coming and were growing larger by the minute, waiting on the shore for him.  By the time he landed, there were thousands of people in search of hope and healing.  He really needed a break, but he had compassion upon them.  A little later the disciples arrived and saw the chaos.  After a few hours, they suggested that Jesus dismiss the crowd so they could go get something to eat, or perhaps, so that Jesus could finally get his delayed break.  But instead, Jesus told the disciples, you feed them.  A story you probably already know:  They brought him everything they could find – five loaves of bread and two fish which he blessed and broke into pieces and sent around to the crowd.  At the end, 12 basketfuls of loaves made their way back to Jesus.  About 5,000 men plus women and children had eaten that day.  


That’s the point at which Jesus sent the disciples off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he finished up.  Finally, he could go up the side of a mountain to be alone and pray.  Even Jesus needed a break from the stress and heart-heavy work of compassion.


When evening came, Jesus decided to rejoin the disciples.  I was curious, how big is the Sea of Galilee?  It’s the largest source of fresh water in Israel – about as wide as the Salton Sea, which is much longer and definitely not fresh water.  It’s about the distance between here and La Mesa, which doesn’t seem that far in a car on the freeway but think about that distance in a boat fighting against fierce winds and violent waves.  And just imagine.  It was so difficult sailing into the wind that Jesus caught up with them by walking!   


The disciples had a similar experience in a boat in chapter 8.  Jesus was in the boat with them as they were crossing when a fierce storm came up, waves so big they were filling the boat.  Jesus slept right through it, only awakened by terrified disciples begging him, “Rescue us!”  He said, “Why are you afraid, faint-hearts?”  Why??!!  Because a freaking storm is going to drown us, that’s why!  


But this time he’s not in the boat with them, he’s outside of it walking toward them.  Which, of course, freaked them out.  But when the whole “it’s a ghost!”-thing was resolved, Peter, true to his impulsive and impetuous personal style, asked to join Jesus on the water.  Actually, he said, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”  


With the fierce violent storm still raging, Peter got out of the boat, and began walking toward Jesus.  But then he notices(?) the fierce violent storm is still raging, began to sink, and he called out, “Rescue me!”  Jesus immediately reached out to grab him.


The Message translates Jesus’ response as a sympathetic, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”  I much prefer that – faint-heart – over the Common English Bible which translates the words as an accusation that Peter had “weak faith.”  “You man of weak faith, why did you begin to doubt?”  Or maybe you’re familiar with the slightly more sympathetic, “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt.”


But Peter doesn’t suffer from a weak or little faith.  He may be misguided at times, a little over-zealous perhaps, but if we can describe anyone in this way, he is a man of “whole-hearted faith.”  He has an all-in, no holding back, emotions on the sleeve kind of faith.  Cry one minute, roll on the floor laughing the next.  Weakness wasn’t his problem.  And I’m not sure it’s ours either.   Mainline Christians might not have a weak faith as much as perhaps a timid faith.  Our struggle isn’t with doubt.  We know that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith.  But what is?  Doing nothing, trying nothing, standing for nothing, is the opposite of faith.  

 Peter may be impulsive and impetuous, he may break promises and act without thinking – like a bull in a china shop – but at least he doesn’t stand outside the china shop and just peek through the window.  His faith was not weak and I thank God that Peter, full of enthusiasm, rushed right in.  But I also thank God there are also those who act boldly with great faith in thoughtful and deliberative ways too – who are prepared to do something, try something, and stand for something.   


Do you know the story of Diane Nash?[1]  In the summer of 1961 she was teaching workshops for Freedom Riders with her husband Rev. James Bevell.  She was 23 and five of her students were under 21 years old.  She was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors by encouraging them to break the law to desegregate interstate buses.  She was found guilty of five counts, each carrying a sentence of 6 months – a combined total sentence of 2 ½ years.
She appealed and the NAACP sent a $2,500 bond, the equivalent of almost $26,000 today, but the appeals court deliberately didn’t inform her of her court date.  So, because she didn’t appear, there was now a warrant out for her arrest.  That warrant was quite a dilemma – she could avoid it completely by simply leaving the state, as the state hoped she would, but abandon the work she felt passionately called to do.  Or she could go to jail.  She and her husband planned to spend their lives in Mississippi working for the liberation of Black people.  She said, “I didn’t want Mississippi white men or anyone else deciding for me where we could live and work.  I didn’t want anybody to run me anywhere I did not want to go.” 

 But even more complicated, or rather, much more complicated, she was six months pregnant, which would mean her child would be born in jail and she would miss the first two years of his life.  It wasn’t a decision to rush into so she retreated to her bedroom for three days.  She told Bevel she didn’t want to be disturbed by anyone.  “I did nothing but eat, sleep, think, and pray.  After three days I made the decision to surrender and serve the term.  With intense meditation, I had tapped into a very powerful force that I can’t totally explain.  I thought over every eventuality and was prepared to face anything.  I knew I could handle it.  There was really nothing anybody could do to hurt me.  I came to a place of strength and peace.  If they killed me, I was ready.”  


Bevel was very supportive, but faced a lot of criticism.  “Oh, Rev. Bevel, you shouldn’t make your wife do that.  That’s too much.”  They only thought of me as “the Reverend’s wife,” and as a woman, incapable of making a decision like that on my own.
 So, she presented herself to the sheriff, ready to serve her sentence.  He was clearly amused at her bulging midsection and told her to appear in Judge Moore’s court, the same Judge Moore who had found Byron De La Beckwith not guilty of killing Medgar Evers – with a gun Judge Moore kept hidden in his home.
 Diane entered his court but wasn’t going to sit in the “colored section” so she walked right down to the front.  For the “protest” of sitting in the front row, she was charged with defiance of local segregation laws and sentenced to jail for 10 days which she immediately began to serve.  
 The jail provided absolutely no accommodation for her advanced pregnancy  No vitamin pills allowed, no change of clothes or even a toothbrush.  She was kept isolated from other prisoners so as not to corrupt them with her talk of civil rights.  Only one guard was willing to engage her in conversation and, one day, seemed genuinely interested when Diane explained the discrepancy in public school funding.  For example, in Holly Bluff they spent $191.77 per white child and $1.26 per Black child.  


But the worst of her jail experience, she said, was the cockroaches, masses of them crawling up the walls at night, the clicking of their feet, and then falling from the ceiling right over her concrete slab of a bed.  


At the end of those 10 days, she appeared before Judge Moore.  He proclaimed her sentence was complete and she was free to go.  She asked, “aren’t you going to hear the case of my contributing to the delinquency of minors?”  He said no.  She told the judge very clearly that she was going to go right back to teaching young people how to do non-violent civil disobedience.  She told him her full home address for the court records so they couldn’t say they couldn’t find her.  “I want you to know I’m not hiding from you.”  But Mississippi authorities had tapped their home phone.  They were aware that every civil rights organization in the nation knew her case and decided that keeping her in jail was public relations liability.
 Diane said, “I came away from the whole experience very much spiritually strengthened.  In jail I learned that I could live with very little.  The oppressive authorities imprisoned me and withheld basic necessities to frighten and control me, but it backfired.  They are the ones who got scared.  And in the end, I was freer, more determined, and stronger than ever.”  Diane today is 85 years old and living in Chicago.


Both Peter and Diane had what I call a “whole-hearted faith.”  They put themselves all in.  Where Peter may have been impulsive and Diane was more deliberate, both acted deeply and honestly to fulfill Jesus’ call to come follow me and love our neighbors as completely as we possibly can.  Next week we’ll continue to watch Peter succeed and fail to do just that – a reassuring example of our own attempts not to act timidly in the face of need, but with a faith that is whole-hearted.  What would that mean for you today?  To live with your whole heart.


[1] For the following story, see Hands on the Freedom Plow for 55 personal accounts of women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.