Permission to Turn the Page

Heritage Presbyterian Church

13th Sunday after Pentecost 
August 27, 2023

Scripture readings:  Exodus 1:8-2:10 & Matthew 16:13-20

Have you ever noticed that when God decides to change directions in whatever it is that is happening to His people, those people always get choices in the matter?  No matter the options before us, we as the people of God actually get to choose.

I will admit there are flaws to this statement, and some of those flaws are right out of the Bible:

  • God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and cry out against that sinful city; instead, Jonah went the OPPOSITE direction and tried to run away from God.  Later, Jonah was thrown overboard during a storm at sea, he was swallowed by a sea critter of some kind, and he spent three days in the belly of that critter.  When the critter spat Jonah back on the shore and God told him again to go to Nineveh…Jonah still had a choice.  Some severe coercion had been used on him, so he made the logical choice.  But imagine if Jonah stood up on that beach and yelled at the sky, “NO!”
  • Jesus told Peter to cast his nets off the side of the boat after a night of fruitless fishing.  Peter did as he was told, and an amazing catch of fish was the result!  Peter hurried to shore, fell on the ground, and told Jesus, “Get away from me, for I am sinful man!”  Jesus then responded, “Follow me and I will make you a fisher of people.”  Imagine if Peter said, “NO THANKS!  After a catch like that, it is clear that my talents lie in fishing for fish!”
  • The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and informed her she was to be the mother of the Son of God.  Mary asked a couple of clarifying questions of Gabriel.  Imagine if Mary – that innocent, righteous, humble, YOUNG woman – told Gabriel and God, “I don’t think so.”

In each of these troublesome scenarios, the human being involved had a choice in the matter.  And in each case, that same person chose to turn the page – so to speak – on their previous lives and began something brand new in their walk of faith.  With God’s presence in their lives, perhaps that decision was not just an obvious one, but also one that was made somewhat easier by God’s actions.

Take for example the book of Exodus.  What would have happened if the page that turned was NOT a new pharaoh turning on his Hebrew guests, but rather continuing to embrace and welcome them as his predecessors had done?  

How would the course of human and Biblical history have been altered?

Would there have been any need for the plagues that God sent upon Egypt?

Would there have been any dramatic parting of the Red Sea?

Would there have been any wandering in the desert for 40 years by the Israelites?

And would they have been any need for the Pharaoh’s daughter to find a helpless baby boy in the reeds of the Nile River on that fateful day?

I don’t think so.  God might have done other, equally amazing things for the Hebrews.  

But when Pharaoh’s daughter found baby Moses in that basket in the bullrushes along the bank of the Nile River, the page was turned, the story took a brand-new turn, and the story of God’s people continued.

Now let’s look at the example from today’s New Testament reading, and as we do, let’s remember something I have said often about the Gospels: when all four Gospels tell us the same thing, we should draw near, focus our minds and hearts, and PAY ATTENTION.  Something special is going on here.

And that is exactly what is happening when Simon Peter answered Jesus’ question, “Who do YOU say that I am?”

Up to this point, I don’t think Simon Peter stood out from the other Apostles very much.  Other names were mentioned from the Twelve.  Other men were introduced by the Gospel writers with various stories that are interesting, intriguing, and informative.  Sometimes even the names change.

But we all know that the fisherman named Simon Peter was someone who was special.

Or did we actually know that?  Did somebody tell us this before we could turn the page and discover it for ourselves?  Did some well-intentioned Sunday school tell you when you were young, “You know…Peter was Jesus’ best friend!”

Is that how you found out about Peter’s status?

Did you learn that Peter was considered the very first leader of the Christian church before you learned why this was so?

Do you know all the stories, all the legends, and all the church history about Peter?

Or does any of it even matter?  If only one of the Twelve Apostles was brave enough to tell Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God” – do we need to learn anything else?

Or by turning those pages in our Bibles, does that fill in some content that allows us a better picture of who Peter was?

When life’s story is just cruising along, it is easy to predict what is going to happen next.  Sometimes we may be surprised, sometimes we may be shocked, and sometimes we may be devastated.

But in those stories, we almost always have the option of turning the page and getting on with life.  

Sometimes God turns the page for us.

You want some examples, I am certain.  Let me tell you a couple:

First story: Nicholas Winton was a British stockbroker who arranged the secret transport of over 600 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia just prior to the outbreak of World War II.  All the children arrived safely in Great Britain, where they remained for the duration of the War.  After the War was over, no one ever found out about Winton’s work in saving those children.  Then the page was turned one day…

His wife found a 50-year old scrapbook in their attic that documented Winton’s efforts.  She gave it to a well-known Holocaust researcher who got busy tracing all those children.  Finally, Winton and his wife were invited to be in the audience of a British TV show called “This is Your Life.”  Winton was greatly surprised when over two dozen of the children he rescued – who were now adults – went over to him and began applauding.  Then the host asked if any children or grandchildren of those 600 children would stand; the rest of the audience rose in joyful applause.

Nicholas Winton died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 106, still remembered and still loved for refusing to let the story of Jewish children being killed continue without trying to do something about it…he couldn’t stand the idea that the story would be “600 children were murdered by the Nazis because they were Jews.”  So, he turned the page.

Second story: 

His name was Timothy, and he was in BIG trouble.  He had been a partier and a drug user for some time, but then he was caught with 1.5 pounds of cocaine.  He was 25 years old when he was sentences to federal prison in Michigan.

To keep violent inmates from hurting him, Timothy began telling jokes and doing monologues that had everyone laughing – including the guards.  After serving two years, he was paroled.  He was determined to turn the page on the part of his life that had him in jail.

He took his prison experience and turned it into a comedy routine.  He regularly performed in comedy clubs and perfected his act.  He even took his skills to a sit-com on ABC called “Home Improvement.”  

Today he is also known as the voice of Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies.  He uses his fortune to help end homelessness.

He is the actor and comedian, Tim Allen.  He was given the chance to change his life, turn the page, try something completely new.  And he did it.

In these stories – and in your own too – there is NOTHING that says you can’t turn the page on the painful, the problems, the impossible situations and try something new.  

Even if nothing is going wrong, you can turn the page and try new things, get out of your rut, take a chance on success, and live the life that you are so blessed to have.

God is with us all every hour of every day.

Do you really think God only wants us to keep doing what we’re already doing?

Or is there a page to be turned in your life?