Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 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. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”” (Matthew 14:22–33, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now I don’t know about you, but you wouldn’t find me walking on the water in the middle of a deep lake. I like to fish, I like boats, but I’ve always been uncomfortable out there on the water. You see, I don’t swim. Oh, I took swimming lessons when I was young, but they didn’t seem to take. Swimming seems, well, just a little unnatural. I kind of feel like those who talk about skydiving, “Why would you what to step out of a perfectly good airplane.” “Why would you want to step out of a perfectly good boat?” That’s what Peter does. He steps out of a perfectly good boat and expects to walk on top of the water. As I like to say, “not this little grey duck.” But that is exactly what Peter does. Not that it’s more amazing than what Jesus has done. Peter takes a few steps and sinks like I would. Jesus has treaded out to the middle of the lake against the wind and the waves. The Sea of Galilee is 7-12 miles wide and the text tells us that the boat was ‘many stadia from shore’ probably a mile or more. Jesus walks out there as if it’s a walk in the park. And if you still think that’s not much, just look at the disciple’s reaction, “when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!” I’d also like you to take note of the fact that they weren’t afraid before they saw the “ghost” on the water. There’s not great big storm threatening to drown them. “They were beaten by waves because the wind was against them.” The going is tough, they weren’t making good time in the crossing, it was the middle of the night (3 am), and they were dead tired. The last thing they expected to see was a person walking on the water. When they saw that, they were overcome by fear. Well, and who wouldn’t be? They didn’t know who it was. They weren’t thinking about Jesus, they were thinking about getting across the lake. Out there on the waves, in the dark of night, the disciple’s faith wavered. That’s what happens when we lose sight of who Jesus is.
Peter, nicknamed the Rock, sank like a stone. At his first steps, everything was ok. He was kicking out on the water, eyes on Jesus, doing what Jesus was doing, by invitation. But the wind driven waves were more than he could ignore. Maybe one lapped up a little farther and made him uncomfortable. In the end, it was fear that gripped him, out on the waves his faith wavered, and down he went. He shouts the shortest prayer known to man. “Lord, save me!” Jesus reached out his hand and saved him. When the man was a goner, Jesus rescued him from death. When it was all over, when Jesus carried Peter back to the boat and the wind made its miraculous stop, the disciples knew something they didn’t know before, something they’d forgotten. They knew Jesus for who he was. They fell down and worshipped him, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
What kind of waves cause your faith to waver? What waves make it tough to keep going? It’s easy to forget about Jesus and who he is when things get hard, isn’t it? We just look to getting through the trouble, putting it all behind us. We focus on the shore instead of looking for Jesus in the midst of our troubles. When the waves push against us, our faith might waver.
When money runs short, we panic and look for an easy way out. More money must be the answer. The waves make our faith waver and we are afraid because we don’t see Jesus at work there, pushing us to depend on him in all things, wanting us to trust him, to look for him, even in our finances. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, ESV)
And whose faith is strong enough to hold even when facing death? And yet Jesus comes to us especially then. Cancer kills; Bones break; Arthritis doesn’t give up; Diabetes has no cure; God doesn’t always take it all away. The introit today speaks to us about being afraid when we waver. I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4, ESV) At times like these, we don’t have to go it alone; Jesus comes to us and deals with our fear.
It’s easy to forget that Jesus has his own purposes in mind for our church. When we look around at the pews and there isn’t the attendance we think we should have. When we wonder why parents don’t bring their teenagers to church. When the crying baby is an oddity. When nothing we do seems to make any difference in the numbers in the pews. The fear comes from forgetting about who Jesus is and why we are here. It’s easy to forget about Jesus… we are tempted to try anything try anything to ward off the fear, change what’s most important about who we are, set aside what we believe to be more appealing… But we are here as a church because of Him. We aren’t here so that we have special social events to attend. We aren’t here just to maintain this building, and keep it open until we die. We aren’t even here to provide income to a pastor. We are here to focus on Jesus. We are here to bring Him and His Word to bear in this community. We will be successful in that only through faith in Jesus. If we turn out attention from Jesus, if we fail to see Jesus at the heart of all we do, we’ll be just as the disciples were, afraid and bound to fail.
Jesus doesn’t leave us to go it alone, just as he didn’t leave the disciples to go it alone. He comes to us and reminds us who he is and what he has done for us. Out there on the sea, He walked on water. Jesus comes to us in water. Just think of the hundreds of times He’s made promises to our children right here at this font. And remember he made those same promises to you. In the Small Catechism Martin Luther placed prayers for morning and evening. At the start of each he reminds us of our baptism and says,
In the morning/evening when you get up/go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. A literal translation says God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, watch over me.
When we are reminded of our baptism, it’s like Jesus saying to us, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. He has come to us and claimed us as His own by placing His name on us.
Jesus comes to us in wonderful words of encouragement, too. His Word brings Him to us even in our fear. It’s echoed in the hymns we sing:
Evening and morning, sunset and dawning,
Wealth, peace and gladness,
Comfort in sadness;
These are your works and bring glory to you. (LW 419)
And He even comes to us in His body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. All of this he does to remind us who he is, and what he has done.
You remember how Jesus reached out his hand to save Peter. Jesus saved us when we were goners. When our sins weigh us down and we feel like we are far from God trying to go it alone sinking like a stone, Jesus reaches out his hand to save us. We cry out that simple prayer that means, “Jesus, forgive me for my doubts and fears.” “Lord, have mercy!” Forgive me and save me. He does. And not because our faith is so strong, but because he is who he is. This Jesus who saves us through his innocent suffering and death and his holy and precious blood shed for us on the cross. He gave himself to free us from sin and and death and fear.
We can count on him because… well he’s the one who walks on water. The disciples reacted by saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” We say it like this: very God of very God…
who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried.
And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures
and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.
And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead,
whose kingdom will have no end. (Nicene Creed)
I could say to you, “keep your eyes on Jesus and he’ll calm the storms of your life.” But the truth is Jesus isn’t going to calm all the storms. He invites you to look for him to come to you when then the waves cause you to waver. He invites you to see him for who he is, especially when you are sinking. He wants you to know him as God, who will never leave you or forsake you, even when the going gets tough. He wants you to place your faith in Him and what He has done and continues to do for you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.