Stepping Out In Faith

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 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, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


Pent8 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran / 8-7-11

Children’s Time: “Floaters & Sinkers” Present a variety of small items and a bowl of water. Have the kids guess which ones will float and which ones will sink? Tell the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus. When did Peter begin to sink? When the wind blew and he got scared and took his eyes off Jesus. Which one are you? A floater or a sinker? Let’s pray to God that we, too, will keep our eyes on Jesus when we’re afraid. (credit:sermons4kids.com)

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I love this story of Jesus walking on the water. The last time the disciples were tossed at sea by a storm was in Matthew 8, where Jesus was in the boat with them, asleep on the cushion. He woke up, calmed the storm and went back to sleep! But this time (in Matthew 14) they’re on their own. The same Matthew who gave us the Greek word: Emmanuel, which means “God With Us,” tells us that God wasn’t with them in that boat. Jesus was on the mountain, praying, and having some overdue alone time to grieve the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. No sooner did he come down, than a storm had whipped up on the sea, so at the dawn, Jesus came to them, walking on the water!

In biblical times, the sea was a symbol of chaos and disorder – kept in check only by God. Remember the great flood and Noah’s Ark? The rock band U2, has a song about that called: “It’s a Beautiful Day – don’t let it get away!” There’s a line that goes: “See the bird with a leaf in her mouth, after the flood all the colors came out!” (Referring to the dove who brought proof of dry land and the rainbow – God’s promise never to flood the world again).

U2 performed in concert last month at the TCF Stadium, and when they did this song, they dedicated it to congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who gave her service to this country and nearly lost her life in service to this country. Her husband (Commander Mark Kelly) is an astronaut, who recorded a video from the International Space Station where he put signs out for the all the fans to read, floating there in zero gravity:

ONE NATION
IMAGINATION
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY
“I’m coming home,” he said, “Tell my wife I love her very much.”

For all that his family has been through – to stop and acknowledge the beauty in life – takes more than wishful thinking. It takes faith, and a hope for tomorrow. As Paul said in our second lesson to day from Romans: “how will they believe if they have never heard, and how will they hear unless someone proclaims, and how will they proclaim unless they are sent? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

That’s our calling – to find beauty each day and to lift it up in the midst of life’s storms – to keep the faith that after the flood all the colors come out.

Kathleen Norris’ in her book: Dakota, reminds us of the wisdom of Hawaii (where she once lived, before returning to her hometown of Lemmon, SD out on the Great Plains):

“Never turn your back on the sea,” is Hawaii’s wisdom. “Or the sky,” we Plains folk might add. …In a blizzard, or one of our sudden cold snaps that can take the temperature from thirty degrees above to thirty-five below in a matter of hours, not knowing can kill you.” (Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, p. 13, 20)

So, storms are real – both in natural disasters and inter-personal disasters. You don’t have to look far to see the damages. What storms have rocked your world and splashed waves over the bow of your life?

Divorce – it leaves lovers wounded and hurting, not to mention the hurts felt by children who may be involved, and the whole family (in-laws, cousins, and friends) – even church families don’t know what to say or do in such a storm, when one or the other ends up leaving.

Alcoholism & other addictions, can pit us against members of our own family, whom we love very much – getting us caught between enabling dysfunctional behavior and exercising “tough love” for those who raised us – or who we ourselves brought into the world!

Abuse, at the hands of someone we once trusted, can leave us confused, angry, and lonely, especially if no one else stands up for you.

Unemployment, can leave us with a sense of despair and a loss of purpose, especially with the trend of many who have long-term unemployment and are still looking for jobs 6 months to a year later – praying for the tide to come in with that new opportunity.

The death, of a loved one – whether sudden or a long, drawn out ordeal – can beat against the sides of our boat with grief too great for words.

Disease, Depression, Mental illness, even church conflict can batter against the sides of the boat so much that we can’t see Jesus there right in front of us. And when we do, we may mistake him for the Boogey Man! When the disciples finally did see, they thought Jesus was a ghost!

And what did he say in the midst of their storm? “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”
“Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

This Greek phrase: “It is I” (ego eimi) is the same form as the Hebrew name for God in Genesis and Exodus: “The Great I AM” which Moses encountered at the burning bush – the Great I AM whose spirit hovered over the deep in the beginning and brought order out of chaos.

Take heart, I AM, do not be afraid.

I like what Tim Button-Harrison said about this. He writes: “Any of us who is or has been or will be a leader in the church is forever indebted to Peter for that daring step out of the boat and into faith. For in doing so, Peter has shown from the very start that the highest authority is not the storm nor the wind nor even the church. The highest authority, the true author of our lives is Jesus Christ.”

Peter did us all a great favor by calling to Jesus and stepping out in faith onto the water. In that moment of recognition, he knew all he needed to know – they weren’t alone in the storm. “If it is you, call for me to join you on the water!”

“What, are you crazy?” the others must’ve thought. He’s not even hearing them – or the waves or the winds – all he sees is the one person in the world who matters – and he puts his foot down on a wave.

And. It. Holds. Firm.

Another step, and then another. He’s getting closer to Jesus with each step, probably not even aware of the miracle going on under right under his feet – literally. All he sees is his savior… until the wind begins to blow through his hair and the spray of foam stings into his cheeks. All it took was a moment of looking away to snap him back to reality – “Oh my gosh! I’m walking on water! And there’s a huge wave coming in right there! I’m a gonner for sure!”

Then, the one Jesus so fondly name “The Rock” begins to sink just like one. Down he goes, flapping in the waves like a helpless puppy. It didn’t matter that these guys were seasoned fishermen. They knew better than to take the sea for granted. And Peter had turned his back on it.

Now, he could have cried out for his shipmates: “Throw me a line, fellas! I’m goin’ down!” But he calls to Jesus: “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus grabbed his hand and helped him back into the boat, with a loving reprimand: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

When we face storms in life, who do we turn to? Do we “take it to the Lord in prayer”? Or do we rely on ourselves to figure it out? Do we call on our friends for help? Or, is our very first call to the only one who matters? “Lord, save me!”

Former Bishop of the ELCA, H. George Anderson, once said that in America today, “we want comfort, pleasure, and to be left alone. What we need are service, sacrifice, and to be brought together.” You might say that’s why you’re here today – to offer your service to God – to come together in worship – to step out in faith, presenting yourselves, your time, and your possessions as a living sacrifice – remembering we’re all in the same boat. And, to not dwell on the wind and the waves of life – but only the goal of coming to Christ and following where he leads.

When it all comes down, we are all in the same boat together, facing the same trials and storms. It is as we read in 1Corinthians 12:26 – “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

Sink or swim, we’re in this together. And, while it’s true, a smooth sea never made a good sailor, we dare not embark to the other side without the knowledge that Jesus is with us. And, when we keep our eyes on him, not only is there is nothing to fear, but we are on Holy Ground, stepping out into miracles.

Amen.

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