Laurel P. Deery
Sermon Mathew 14:22-33 2017
Today’s Gospel takes place just following the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus makes the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead of him, to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It is evening, late in the day to put out to sea, but that is what Jesus makes them do. It seems he wants to dismiss the crowds himself; perhaps thinking it will be easier for him to do this alone. We really do not know why.
When the crowds have finally gone, Jesus goes up the mountain by himself to pray. He has been trying to find time alone, with God, since learning of the beheading of John the Baptist, but the crowds kept following him. Now he is able to quietly pray, spend time with His Father.
During the night a windstorm has come up on the sea. The boat, far from land, is battered by the waves. Such a storm is common in the area and many of the disciples are fishermen. They know how to handle a boat in this weather. What terrifies them is seeing a ghost come walking toward them in the early morning. For surely it must be a ghost, the idea of a person walking on the water never enters their mind. They have never seen anything like this apparition! They begin to cry out in fear!! Then Jesus tells them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter, ever the one to speak impulsively, replies, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” What could have been in his mind to say this? Who would ask to walk on water, something never heard of, during a raging storm? Jesus says, “Come,” and Peter starts out. Imagine that first step, getting out of the boat and not sinking. Another step and another step, still on top of the water; Peter is so focused on Jesus that he keeps going. And then he notices the wind, fear enters and he begins to sink. “Lord save me!” And, of course, Jesus does save him and brings him to the boat, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Once Jesus and Peter are in the boat, the wind ceases. How quiet it must have been; both because the storm is over and because the men are in silent awe of what they have seen. Then they fall to their knees and worship Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
What does this powerful story have to say to us here today? If we are relating to the disciples we might want to think about a time when we have felt apart from God, going along on the way we think He has sent us, when a storm of some kind suddenly rises up. Maybe someone you love has been diagnosed with a terrible disease. It starts out with you thinking you are coping with the news, doing all the right things both for that person and for yourself, but now you do not feel you have control of any of it. You are just hanging on, barely making it through each day. Then one day someone asks you how this person is doing and you begin to talk, talk about how hard it is to see this person slowly disappear. Unexpectedly, by talking about your pain and frustration, you feel calmer. You realize that it is actually a privilege to have this time together and that the person is still the same, just not the physical body. Jesus has come in an unexpected way and gotten into the boat with you. The storm has passed and you are so grateful to God for this insight.
If we relate more to Peter, we need to look for times when we have recklessly stepped out in faith, focused on Jesus and what he has commanded us to do. Maybe we have felt compelled by God to become involved in a ministry, such as bringing communion to people who cannot get to church. We do the training and learn how to put the visiting kit together and are stepping into a new relationship with Jesus, trusting He will guide us. We go to our first visit with high expectations only to find our self tongue-tied, stumbling over the words of the service. We stop and silently ask for help, and then begin again, being carried along by the Spirit. At the end of the visit, the person thanks us and says how much they appreciate our coming to them and bringing God into their life.
This story talks about trusting God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, to be with us during the storms of our lives, just not always in the expected ways. We need to be open to the miraculous or the unknown being the way God is revealed. Even though the disciples had seen Jesus feed 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, they were not prepared to see Him walk on water and to quiet the storm. Is our faith any stronger or deeper than theirs? We believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, but do we believe we can be saved from despair and hopelessness by trusting all will be well with God by our side?
The story also tells us that by keeping our focus on Jesus, we can do anything He asks us to. We should take those leaps of faith to which we are called, believing we will be given the words we need to say, the energy demanded by the task, and the hope to see it through. Yes we will falter, as did Peter, but Jesus will pick us up and help us to start again, just as He did for Peter many times. There are 168 hours in a week. Can we give just 1% of that time, 1½ hours, focusing on Jesus, doing what He asks of us?
I would like to end with a poem by Gabrielle Hadington..
O Lord Jesus our God
Who called people from their daily work
Saying to them, “Come ye after me,”
May your children today hear your voice
And gladly answer your call
To give their lives to you
To serve your Church
And give their hearts
To you only.
Bless their hopes
The first tiny stirrings of desire
The little resolve to go forward
The small vision of what might be
Deal gently with their fears
The hesitation of uncertainty
The darkness of the unknown
The lack of confidence in their own capacity
And turn it all to trust in you.