10th Sunday after Pentecost

August 9, 2020

Summary

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the
crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.”
So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was
afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took
hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the
wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33
ESV)

Today we pick up where we left off last Sunday with the feeding of the 5,000+. Jesus is acting decisively and
authoritatively – dismissing the crowds and the Gospel writer, John, will mention that Jesus was also rejecting
their desire to be their king. He dismissed the disciples – “Go home (presumably back to Capernaum) across the
lake; I’ll meet you later” and they assume he’s going to take the long way round to Capernaum and walk. What
Jesus does is go further up the mountain – think of it as more the high range surrounding lots of the lake – and he
prays. Jesus and solitude and prayer are one of Jesus’ ‘things’ – he does them and it is noticed. But the story
continues and we have no details of what Jesus was praying.

What we have is what the disciples assumed – Jesus walking to catch up with them. What no one expected is the
route Jesus took. It seems a straight line – across the lake, to get to them in the boat – and they’ve had a rough
night and they are tired and battered and sore and I’m going to suggest somewhat rattled. Lake Galilee is known
to have rough and violent squalls on it and some of the disciples are experienced fisherman on their home water
but they haven’t reached land yet. Matthew suggests – hints – it’s like something in the air – they were being
beaten by waves and the wind was against them – almost as forces in their own right rather than just nuisance
weather patterns. I imagine them tired, frustrated, and just a little unnerved – perhaps they were saying, ‘Never
seen this storm before’. As I said, the words and images Mathew used can be found in relation to darkness, the
demonic, and fights – and all I’m suggesting is that their nerves are more taut than usual. So when a figure
comes towards them walking in this rough stuff near dawn, they are terrified and think him a phantom – not a
spirit – something more associated with evil. But Jesus calls back, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

These are commands. Take heart! Be of good cheer! Don’t be afraid! And it strikes me as failing Basic Help 101
– that we don’t order and command the afraid to not be afraid, the ill to be healthy, the sad to be happy, the
depressed to be no longer depressed. If you’re troubled and upset, how helpful is it if someone calls out, ‘Be of
good cheer!’? Your good cheer might happen when you thump them! But Jesus also said two little words in
Greek which our translation says, “It is I” but literally it is “I AM” and that is a calling card, an echo, a
declaration, a name that has all sorts of associations for people who have grown up with the story of Moses and a
burning bush that doesn’t burn and a God who speaks.

Peter pipes up, ‘Oh yeah, prove it!’ and you’ve got to give him credit for courage in the face of fear – foolhardy
maybe like going over the trenches in the war but there is something in Peter that responds to the phantom’s
words. Matthew is the only writer who records what happens next. Peter steps out. Peter, for some reason,
freaks. Peter sinks but calls to Jesus for help, ‘Save me, Lord’. Jesus helps. Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why
did you doubt?” Back in the boat, there is calm in the boat and in the storm – and the verdict, the thoughts, the
answer now in their heads – it is continually being refined, reformulated, revisited, restated about Jesus and on
this occasion the disciples conclude, “Truly you are the Son of God!”.

A day began with a rabbi teaching and healing and then in the afternoon he feeds in bulk in the wilderness and
by the dawn of the next day after the unnatural, unnerving sea and storm, the disciples confess Jesus to be the
Son of God. No one knows what this means, in my opinion. I mean ‘so what that someone is the Son of God –
ok, I know I’m not – but what does this Son of God want – or more importantly, want with me?’.

Jesus’ cross will trash every thought about Son of God as the stupidest conclusion ever. Jesus’ empty tomb will
resurrect that thought and people have gone back to that judgment, verdict, thought again and again as they have
gone back to Jesus who miraculously is always found standing, present, in ANY storm – whether of our own
making, whether created by the evil of others, whether it is the world dumping on you (how much more of this
can I take?), or when it is inexplicable, weird, unnerving, fearful – and this standing Jesus is always ready to
reach out and help.

I find the account of Peter perplexing because I find myself asking the question what did he see when he is on
the water and perhaps when taking his hand off the boat? Matthew records, “But when he saw the wind, he was
afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” And I go, ‘How has Peter not seen the strong wind,
the weird wind, and what does he see now?’ Why does Peter sink? Jesus will call it doubt. Doubt is not unbelief
per se but it is not a strong and confident faith either. Peter still cried to Jesus – faith was there – but he was also
sinking. And that is a tension for a believer. What do we want from our faith? Spiritual armour plating so that
nothing bad can happen to us? Maybe. But we will have trouble then when bad things happen to us and the logic
goes either there is no god or you and your lack of faith are the problem. What do we want from our faith? Often
it is magic – the quick fix, the magic carpet ride, three wishes from the genie in the lamp.

What we discover with faith is that we have hope, confidence, and a growing certainty that someone else is
trustworthy. Living with faith is not about bad things happening in this world or to us or to our loved ones but it
is about believing that there is someone we can turn to who is present and who does help. The struggle with faith
is not so much with Jesus being present when we can’t see him, it is with him not helping us when we’ve asked
and he hasn’t done what we’ve asked. Later, maybe years later, we acknowledge that Jesus did bring good out of
the situation; that Jesus did help. Often we might still secretly think it would have been better if Jesus had helped
us ‘our way’ but we do acknowledge that Jesus has helped us – saved us at that time – and the storm ended and
there was calm. Faith is not a storm smasher that eliminates them but rather is a shelter or raincoat of calm
confidence, maybe foolhardy courage, to keep hopeful, to listen well to what Jesus is saying – his commands and
promises – to trust him, and then to do stuff, actually do things that we think are what the people around us need
us to do. And the longer we live, the more we discover that Jesus does help, and faith, confidence, and trust
grows.

What storms do is up to them. Jesus, however, remains present – he can’t be blown away – and he remains
authoritative and commanding – and that is challenging at times. Who are you, Jesus, to tell me to be of good
cheer? To forgive? To show mercy? To help? Well, he is someone to listen to when he also gives himself to
help. “I AM with you always!” he says. Last week, I mentioned Baptism, the Bible, and Holy Communion as
moments in time that enrich all our time. Today I point you to them as anchors in the storm so that you can walk
in anything. And even when death comes to knock us off our feet and put us under, we face death with
confidence because Jesus will still be doing what he is doing throughout our life – helping – and lifting us,
raising us up for even the storm of death has no real power, and with Jesus there is calm.

Last Sunday’s feeding 5,000+ and today’s walk across a lake in a storm draw us to Jesus, truly human and truly
divine, who is still doing the same for us.

Bible References

  • Matthew 14:22 - 33
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