Matthew 14:22-33 (Pentecost 10A)
St. John, Galveston 8/13/17
Rev. Alan Taylor
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The story in the Gospel reading this morning is a great one because, in one little incident, it sums up perfectly the life of a disciple in terms of his faith in Jesus. Peter, of course, is the subject, but he really represents all of us.
Jesus had just fed the 5,000 which we heard about last Sunday. That evening He told His disciples to get in their boat and to sail to the other side of the sea so He could have some time alone to pray. After the disciples headed out to sea, He dismissed the crowd. When evening came He was there on the hillside all alone.
Sometime between 3 and 6 in the morning, what Matthew calls the third watch of the night, the disciples ran into some trouble at sea. They had rowed about 3 or 4 miles out. Their boat was being tossed around and beaten by the waves.
Jesus, aware of their situation, came to them. He walked on the sea and when they saw Him, they were disturbed, or, as the translation were using this morning says, they were terrified. It’s an interesting word the Holy Spirit gives to Matthew to describe the disciples condition that night. It’s used also to describe the mood of a crowd when they are whipped up to the point of rioting. It’s a frenzied sort of mood. We might say, in seeing Jesus walk on the sea the disciples became “unglued,” they were beside themselves.
Seeing this figure walking toward them on the water, they didn’t know what to think. Matthew says, they thought Jesus was a phantasma, a ghost, or, a spirit of some kind. Jesus, sensing their fear, immediately said, “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
And this is where we come to Simon Peter. “Lord (he said), if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” We might be inclined at this point to take Peter’s response as a sign of doubt, as if he questioned whether, or, not it was really Jesus. If we make that assumption, however, I think we do Peter an injustice. First, when Peter says, “Lord, IF it is you,” we should note that that phrase could just as easily be translated “Lord, SINCE it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
But, more importantly, Jesus had just identified Himself to Peter and to the other disciples in a pretty remarkable and unmistakable way. Remember, He first said, “take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” The “it is I” in that little phrase is equivalent to the Hebrew word Yahweh, which is the name God gave to Moses when he was sent to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. God said to him, “I am that I am.” So, when Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples, “it is I,” He was saying, “I am Yahweh, the Covenant God of Israel, the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Essentially, He was saying, “I am the creator of the heavens and the earth.” “It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Peter, at Jesus’ bidding and with great confidence and faith in Jesus, stepped out of the boat and began walk toward Him on the sea. This too, was a remarkable thing. Peter’s eyes were on Jesus and nothing around Him, even the ragging waves, threatened him. He was like the Israelites marching around the walls of Jericho, or, like King David as he stood defiantly before the giant Goliath. He was confident like St. Paul as he stood before his accusers in Jerusalem who insisted that he no longer preach in the name of Jesus. “I could not, Paul said, be disobedient to the heavenly vision.”
Peter wasn’t afraid, that is, until he took his eyes off Jesus. It was at that point that he saw the wind, which is the say, he saw the effect of the wind, the waves, and he began to sink beneath the water. And then he began to doubt.
This is where the story in this morning’s Gospel reading is so descriptive of all of us as disciples of Jesus. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and he began to be afraid. Worse yet, he began to doubt. What in the world am I doing out here walking on water, he must have thought? What was I thinking? I can’t walk on water! Besides, look how big these waves are! And any one of them could sweep over me and send me down to the depths of the sea! What was I thinking?
We don’t always see it, but we sense it, that is, the spiritual forces arrayed against us. As the apostle says, “we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The battle is fierce and the warfare long. And sometimes we take our eyes off Jesus and we look for victory in ourselves, or, in someone else. And, when we do, when we try stand alone, or, when we try to stand handle the battle, as it were, by ourselves, we begin sink beneath the waves that rage against us.
Peter, coming to his senses, finally called out for Jesus to save him. “Lord, save me, he said.” It may initially seem like a bit of a stretch, but there is a beautiful connection between Peter’s cry for Jesus to save him and the cry of another one of Jesus’ disciples. While Peter was threatened by the sea and waves, Martin Luther was threatened by other forces that were no less frightening. Peter said, “Lord, save me.” And immediately Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of him.
Luther often dwelt on his sin and his unworthiness before God. It was the relentless demand of the Law that often threatened to overwhelm him. In the context of this morning’s Gospel reading, the Law and it’s punishing blow was the wave that threatened to send Luther down to the depths of the sea, if you will.
In his moments of greatest doubt, when he simply couldn’t, or, wouldn’t see God as merciful and loving, Luther turned to a man by the name of Johann von Staupitz. Staupitz was what we would call Luther’s father confessor. He would listen to Luther’s confession and he would give him absolution, the forgiveness of his sins in Christ. Luther though, even then struggled with the threat of the Law. He saw God as angry and bitter toward him.
Staupitz, who was always trying to direct Luther to the merits of Christ, once said, “Martin, God is not angry with you. You are angry with God!” He then taught Luther a very simply exercise of faith. He said, when the Law threatens you, when you begin to think that God is angry with you, or, when you take your eyes off Jesus, so to speak, learn to say, “Lord, I am yours. Save me.”
That little bit of council from Staupitz afforded Luther an incredible measure of peace. “Lord, I am yours. Save me.” You bought me with price, the price of your own precious blood and your innocent suffering and death. You claimed me when I drowned and died in the water of Holy Baptism. That water washed over me and I wasn’t afraid because it was a wonderful sign of your grace, of your loving disposition toward me. And now, though I’m yours, I am in trouble. So, “Lord, save me!” Lift me up high upon a rock and rescue from the threatening perils that surround me.
It’s true! In life, my focus easily drifts from you, Lord, to the waves that would so easily engulf me. So, as I contend with “rulers and authorities, with cosmic powers over this present darkness, and with spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” I cry out, “Lord, I am yours. Save me!” 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 +
Send Rev. Alan Taylor an email.