"Let There Be Light!"
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Jesus walking on the water and Peter's doubt are the focal points of the Gospel reading for this morning. As to Jesus' walking on the water, I think we get the point. Overcoming the forces of nature, Jesus is God in the flesh, possessing power over all of creation. In the words of God's admonition to Job, He was there "when the foundations of the earth were laid." "He shut the sea with its doors." He said of the sea "this far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!" When Jesus works a miracle we get the point, and, in the end, the disciples got the point too, for, they confessed what is essential for the child of God to confess concerning Jesus, "truly He is the Son of God." He created all things, and, in God's marvelous grace and goodness, He is also the One who gave His life for you and for me.
Still, it is Peter's doubt that mostly likely captures our attention and perhaps merits our scrutiny in the miracle before us today. You know the story. The disciples were out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee because Jesus sent them to the other side. They saw Jesus walking toward them at about 4 o'clock, or so, in the morning, the fourth watch of the night, as Matthew says. They were terrified because they thought He was a ghost, a fantasma, as the Greek text says. In their fear they cried out and Jesus sought to calm their fears with words of comfort and power. "Be of good cheer! (He said) It is I; do not be afraid."
Peter though, evidently wasn't comforted by those words. He said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." To which Jesus said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. That is, until he saw that "the wind was boisterous." Then he was afraid and he called out for Jesus to save him. Jesus, who is full of compassion and swift to show mercy, did exactly that, He stretched out His hand and caught Peter and said, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Now, pardon this little interlude. What follows does have a point. There is another story about a man who found a new bird dog who could walk on water. He was, of course, astounded by the dog's incredible agility and talent, but, he wondered how his hunting buddies would respond at the sight of such a wondrous feat. Out hunting with a buddy one day, a flock of ducks flew overhead. The two men raised their guns and shot. One of the ducks dropped into the pond. And sure enough, the new dog ran out across the water, barely breaking its tension and without sinking a bit. The friend, however, didn't say a word. Finally, on the way home, the hunter asked his friend, "I can't stand it anymore—I have to ask—did you notice anything amazing about my new dog?" "Sure I did," said the friend, "Your dog can't swim, can he?"
It is with that sort of detached disbelief that we are inclined to ignore or to take for granted the words of Jesus, and even His amazing works. He walks on water and we say, of course "He walks on water, He's God." He calms the Sea with a simple word, and we say, "I've read that story in the Bible so many times that it has sort of taken on mythical qualities for me." He tells Peter and the rest of the disciples, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid," and we, like Peter, say, "Lord, is it You? And, can we really trust what you say?" You say, "It is I; do not be afraid, but "what is such a simple word of comfort in comparison to this fear that rages within me?"
When Jesus admonished Peter, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt," we generally focus our attention on that moment when he began to sink beneath the water. Evidently he sank because he took his eyes off of Jesus, which is to say, he doubted! Interestingly enough, some even take this passage as an indication that we sometimes need to step out of the boat in trust and faith.
I'm not so sure though Peter's sinking beneath the water is the moment of doubt that Jesus refers to when He admonishes Peter. Nor did Peter have any business getting out of the boat in the first place. Remember, before Peter even got out of the boat, Jesus had said to him, "Be of good cheer, It is I; do not be afraid." The divine Word resonated out across the sea, even as the divine Word resonated over the formless void at the moment that God created the heavens and the earth. "Let there be light. And there was light." "Be of good cheer, It is I; do not be afraid." The creator of the heavens and the earth spoke. Peter's shepherd spoke. And while the sheep are supposed to hear and know the voice of their good shepherd, while they are supposed to respond to His voice because He cares for them, even lays down His life for them, Peter said, "Lord, if it is You command me to come to You on the water."
Peter's doubt, our doubt, begins, not with our unwillingness to step out of our comfort zone, our unwillingness to get out of the boat, but with God's word. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, words of comfort, words of power, words that create light out of nothing, words that calm tumultuous seas, words of forgiveness and grace. He speaks to us. But, we hear other sounds too, our conscience, the sons and daughters of this world, naysayers of a broken and fallen world, our own experience, our sufferings and our broken dreams. Sometimes, as Peter did, we question God's word. Can it really be trusted? Wouldn't it be better if God did something powerful, something miraculous to prove His Word?
Even as there is power in God's Word to create light out of darkness, so there is power to calm our fears and to quite our troubled souls. Indeed, there is power to save our souls from hell and damnation by bringing us to faith in Him, the One who stretched out His hands for our forgiveness. Our problem is the same as Peter's. Long before he took his eyes off of Jesus, only to sink beneath the waves, he took his eyes off of Jesus' words.
Years ago I taught our daughter Jennifer how to hit a plastic softball with a plastic bat. On one occasion she had substituted her regular little bat for one of those bam-bam looking bats that the neighbor kids had left in the yard. You've seen those bats before. It was about two feet long and 6 or 8 inches around, really a club more than a bat. As I pitched the ball to her I said, "now keep your eye on the ball." The ball flew the 8 or 10 feet between us, a distance in hind sight that was too close. She watched it intently and when it got to her she walloped it. I would have been proud of her, except for the fact that the ball came back to me so fast that it hit me right in the middle of the forehead.
I had told her to keep her eye on the ball and she did. I, however, took my eye off the ball. And I paid the price. Even though it was a plastic ball I stood there for a few seconds dazed, trying to regain my senses, wondering how a little plastic ball could deliver such a punch.
We do stupid things, don't we? We take our eyes off the ball. Worse yet, we take our eyes off of God's Word, doubting that it gives the very things of which it speaks. Finally, when we get to that point where we cry out with Peter, "Lord save me," those pierced hands of Jesus reach out and grab hold of us to save us from a certain death. What is so critical for us to understand is that Jesus reaches out His hands in His Word when it is read and preached, and in His body and blood when they are laid before us. And the point is, you can trust what God says and does. Indeed, listen to his voice this morning, as you wrestle with whatever doubts you might have. "My word is truth." "I am with you always, even to the very end of the age." "Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid." "Be of good cheer! It is I, do not be afraid."
"Holy and blessed Three,
Wisdom, Love, Might!
Boundless as ocean's tide,
Rolling in fullest pride,
Through the earth, far and wide,
Let there be light!"
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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