10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 13, 2017
Matthew 14: 22 – 33 You can click on this link to read the Bible Message in Oremus Bible Browser
Heard this story before? What are some of the lessons you have heard in this story, the ones you carried away with you that have helped you when you struggled in life or in faith? (I’m still standing in the congregation, and expecting people to tell me)
I’ve heard them all too. But I wonder if, in our reliving the past lessons from having heard this story, we have let this Gospel become good advice rather than good news. I wonder if there’s something here that can still change how we see ourselves, our lives in the light of God’s promises.
First of all, Jesus, by choosing to spend all the time he needs to rest and pray and grieve, runs the risk of having the wind be against the boat when he’s ready to summon the fishermen to come back to pick him up. They couldn’t get to him; the wind was blowing them the wrong way. Seemingly unconcerned, Jesus comes to them.
Secondly, it’s fear that drives the disciples. They are probably already worried, not able to get back to pick Jesus up, likely struggling just to stay within sight of land in the storm. And to see someone approaching the boat in the early dark? Yike. And so Jesus speaks to them, “Don’t panic! Take heart! It’s me!” This fear seems so reasonable. In all the trips these men have made, no one has ever emerged from the dark across the water walking toward their boat. What are they to think? It’s completely outside of our experience.
And then Peter: is he asking for proof? Is he intrigued by the possibility, daring himself to do something so beyond anything he ever imagined? But he does it. And walking to Jesus over the water is possible, it turns out. Until you notice that you’re actually standing there in the midst of the turbulence, walking over the waves toward Jesus, who is also standing there. Gasp! And once your attention moves to the danger instead of being fixed on Jesus, you’re a goner.
All the lessons: you’ve got to get out of the boat, don’t take your eyes off Jesus or you’ll sink. They are true, even if they are a bit trite. But the gospel is not just good advice, it is good news. In the midst of the fear that often owns us as we confront every day, there is something more, a bigger story. It is legitimate fear that drives the disciples panic and Peter’s downfall. And it’s often legitimate fear that shakes us, that makes us rush to a conclusion about what’s happening in our lives. It’s fear that cuts us off from God’s promises of presence and comfort. It’s fear that blinds us to God’s power to bring about a different end than we can imagine. But it’s our belief in God’s promises that makes it possible for us to imagine another end, another possibility. When the disciples panic, Jesus tells them to ‘take heart.’ When Peter starts to drown, Jesus reaches out and grabs him.
Our trust, our belief in the promises of God for help and comfort and presence are centered in a much larger promise. They are part of God’s grand vision of who we are created to be, and what our destiny is as God’s people, individually and communally. Our past does not determine our future. Our failings and lack of faith do not keep us from the power of God’s love to accomplish everything God has in mind for us and for us to be in our world. Nothing that has ever happened to us or that we have done can erase God’s willingness and ability to save and restore us. God isn’t finished with us yet. This is the good news. God’s unfailing love and grace drive every end to every story. We are always safe in Jesus’ grasp. Armed with courage and confidence, we are sent out into the world to share God’s abundant life, because while fear is always part of our story, God’s promise and vision for us are more powerful still. So instead of going home this morning with a “You can do it! Be brave!” You can go home with, “God’s already done it all! You never have to fear! You are right where you are supposed to be!” Amen.