Live audio recording of Lessons and Sermon:
Sermon Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Date: August 30 & 31, 2014
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Matthew 14:22–33 (NIV84)
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Keep Your Faith’s True Focus
What happens if you’re playing baseball or softball and don’t heed the coach’s advice to keep your eye on the ball? What happens if you’re dicing vegetables and get distracted? What happens if you’re hammering in nails and lose focus on the task? In any of those cases you’re likely to mess up what you’re doing at best, and at worst could actually get pretty hurt. When you’re dealing with a dangerous task, whether you’re chopping with a knife or driving a car, you want to stay focused so that you can do the job well and safely.
Jesus had a powerful lesson to teach his disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee. Your faith like, like every other component of your life, needs focus. Without focus, there is no faith. Faith’s most basic definition is trust, but if you’re trust is scattered all over the place, it doesn’t actually trust in anyone or anything. Jesus urges us, the Holy Spirit helps us, keep our faith’s true focus.
Our Gospel this morning picks up right where our Gospel for last week left off. Jesus had just learned of John the Baptist’s death and went by himself to pray over this sad event. But, his popularity was rising, and the crowds were determined. They found him, and despite his emotional state, Jesus had compassion on the crowd and taught them. But the lesson started to go long and the people needed food. Rather than sending the people away to find their own food, Jesus miraculously provided a full meal from just a few portions of food. He fed 5,000 men that day; including women and children it was probably more like 15 or 20,000.
Jesus sends his disciples on while he takes care of sending the crowd home. After the crowd was gone, he finally got the alone time to pray that he had originally been looking for. He’s able to pour out his heart to his heavenly Father in prayer for what seems to be a rather lengthy period of time, as the next time we see Jesus and the disciples together again it is the fourth watch of the night, that is, just before dawn. In the meantime, the disciples are following Jesus’s directions to go on ahead of him to the other side. But on the Sea of Galilee a storm had come up. We’re not told that this is quite as terrifying a storm as it was when Jesus calmed the storm earlier in his ministry, but still it was enough to really rock the boat and impede their progress.
While the disciples are fighting the wind and the waves, though, they see something out on the water. Not something, but someone. Their initial reaction is that they’re seeing a ghost, for what else could stand on top of stormy waters but a spirit? If they weren’t scared by the storm, this sight rocks their core. Jesus brings words of encouragement. “Take courage,” he says. And here, perhaps, our translation does us a disservice. How does Jesus bring them comfort while he looks like a ghost standing on the water? He doesn’t simply say, “It is I.” In Greek he uses the odd expression, “Ego eimi,” that is simply, “I am.”
As the disciples are being knocked around by the storm, as they’re shaking with fear at this thing they see out on the water, Jesus brings comfort by focusing their faith. It’s Jesus, but it shouldn’t surprise them to see Jesus out on the water, because he is God. Jesus in the midst of that storm takes them back to Old Testament, to the Moses and the Burning Bush. There God promised Moses that he was the one that always had been with them, was with them now, and would be with them in the future. Because he’s not the God of the past tense, as if he did his work and now it’s over, nor is he the God of the future tense so that he’ll get to his work when he’s good and ready. He’s the God of the present tense, always there to help, protect, support, and forgive his people. Jesus shows himself to be that ever-caring and protecting God by doing something no person could ever do—walking on the stormy sea.
God continues to be the I AM for us as well. We may well feel like our lives are a stormy sea, and we’re being buffeted by the waves as the disciples boat was. We may well be in great danger or trouble, filled with sadness and apprehension. But Jesus comes to us in the middle of all that torment and says, “Take courage; don’t be afraid, I AM.” And no matter what disaster has come our way, our faith can focus on Jesus. No matter what disaster has beset us, he is able to help, with his power, through his Word, and his powerful reminders of his love and forgiveness that are ours.
Peter, always the adventurous disciple, took the opportunity to focus on Jesus and showed his trust in a remarkable way. He reasoned that if Jesus was able to walk on the water himself, surely Jesus could let him walk on the water too. “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus invites him to come.
You can see in your mind’s eye this picture of Peter crawling out of the boat and walking on water, firm as ground, toward Jesus. He walked right up to him, focused on Jesus, all is well. He trusts Jesus to make this happen; his faith is focused on Jesus and on him only. After all, here is Peter’s God and Savior! Here is the one who can do anything! What does Peter have to be afraid of when Jesus is with him?
But then we’re told that Peter saw the wind. He took his eyes of his Savior, let his faith lose focus, and he looked around him. And what a ridiculous scene he saw! He was standing on the water in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm! What was he doing? Why was he there? He was going to get hurt, or worse, die! These waves were too much; the wind was too strong! What was going to happen to him?! He began to sink, began to drown.
I identify with Peter far more than I’m comfortable admitting. Maybe you do too. I don’t always trust God. I don’t always trust that his will is being done and that he’s working everything that happens for my eternal good. I think that my own strength needs to protect me or work things out for me, and then I don’t know what to do when my own strength is shown to be weak and my power proved to be lacking. There are storms on this sea of life that you and I can’t deal with. Those waves are crashing in and threatening to drown us! Perhaps at those times, you and I, like Peter, lose the focus of our faith. We’re more likely to focus on the problems, rather than the solution to the problems who stands right in front of us.
Notice what Jesus did. He didn’t let Peter drown and say, “Oops, you really should have trusted me. Sorry.” Nor did he even let him “suffer” a little bit in that water before ultimately rescuing him. No, Matthew who as one of the disciples was an eyewitness to all of this, says that Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. There is a slight reprimand on Jesus part, “Why did you doubt?” but its tone is one not of scolding but encouragement: “Why doubt? Remember I can always take care of you.”
We often lose the focus of our faith, when we’re more focused on the problems then the solution. At times perhaps we’re more interested in showing off our faith rather than showing off the one we believe in. Either way, our attention and focus goes away from Jesus and either focuses on ourselves and our individual strengths or weaknesses or on the problems that then seem insurmountable. They seem insurmountable because, on our own, they are.
But as we sink into our own seas, Jesus grabs us by the hand. As he pulls us up we’re reminded that while we have lost focus, he has not. And as he yanks us out of the water we’re reminded that there is forgiveness. I’ve been forgiven for those times I’ve not trusted him, you’ve been forgiven for the times you’ve been more focused on your problems than his solutions. “You of little faith,” he says to each of us, “Why do you doubt my love for you? Why do you doubt my ability to protect and help you? Why do you doubt my forgiveness?” And we have no answer because there is no reason to doubt. Jesus is faithful in his love as the covenant-keeping God, I AM. Jesus is faithful in his ability to protect as the one who has all power to work all things for our good. Jesus is faithful in his forgiveness because he paid for our sins, even our doubts and distractions, so they are no more than a distant memory.
Are sins plaguing you? Focus on your Savior who destroyed them. Are problems weighing you down? Focus on your Savior, who takes care of all things for you. Are you worried about the future? Focus on your Savior, who will be there to help you, no matter what storms may arise. Find that focus in his Word, which reminds us of the unending love and forgiveness for us all. Lord, help us to keep our focus on you today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.