Filed under: Sermons
It was a dark and stormy night. The hard day’s work was over, and it should have been time to rest. But by three am, the chaotic power of wind and water had woken everyone up. Some tried to do what little they could be prevent any damage. Others did their best to ensure their own safety. But everyone knew they really had no power over the forces swirling destruction around them.
It could be Monday morning, when the recent storm uprooted trees and blew others onto roads and homes. It could be thousands of years ago, as the disciples, just having witnessed the feeding of the 5000, are being tossed in their little boat on the sea.
It’s a dangerous world out there! Forces beyond our understanding and control create danger and damage. They bring us proof of the limitations of our own power. We might look many places for safety and guidance to see us through the storms: weather forecasts, sturdy basements, and fresh batteries for flashlights. But these only help us weather the storms, they don’t have any control over them.
The disciples, living some 2000 years ago, had a better sense than we do of how little they could control the power of dangerous weather, especially as they travelled on the Sea. For them, the sea represented the forces of chaos and destruction. On this day, they witness another power over the sea, conquering it underfoot.
The disciples peer out of their boat and see a frightening sight: through the storm, a human figure out on the surface of the sea. They think it is a ghost, walking on the rough waves. But then, Jesus calls out a greeting: “it is I!”
Jesus’ greeting reminds us of God’s conversation with Moses at the burning bush, when God names Godself, “I am.” In Greek, Jesus’ words are the same: ego eimi. But that’s not all: Jesus’ sacred identity as Immanuel, God-with-us, is made most clear by his miraculous action. His walking on the waves signifies his power over these forces of chaos that endanger the disciples in their boat. Only God has this type of power!
The disciples’ experience of Jesus led them to tell this story to one of the very first communities of Christians. The Church grew after Jesus’ resurrection, but continued to struggle. It struggled to be faithful to God’s mission, shown to them in Jesus Christ. It struggled because the forces of the world seemed to conspire towards its destruction. The disciples shared this story of their experience of Jesus as God, with power over wind and water, chaos and destruction, with the early Church, so that all would look to Jesus in the midst of their dangerous situations.
The early Christians would hear themselves in this story. They understood the boat as a symbol of the Church. Even today, some of our churches remind us of boats- we can sort of see it here at Redeemer, in the shape and beams of the ceiling, it looks like we’re in an upside-down boat.
The Church- at its beginning and including us here now- finds itself tossed about on the changeable sea- one moment calm, the next broiling with turmoil, doubt, and rejection. The early Church faced a hostile world, in which Jesus was largely unknown and the good news about Jesus being God here on earth sounded like blasphemy. The hostility we face takes the form more often of apathy, in which Jesus doesn’t matter, where other things on the planner take precedence over gathering and working as a community of faith. We’re tossed by the waves of difficult finances and dwindling participation. We don’t know when it might be that we capsize.
That little boat on the sea is the Church in the midst of danger. Looking out from the boat, we see plenty of reason to fear for ourselves and our future. As the disciples looked out, they saw more than just the waves. They saw the one who has power over all danger, power to give us calm in the midst of our fear. Coming to us is Jesus, who calls, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Dangers buffet us, as a congregation, and as individuals. On that little boat buffeted by waves in the sea is the disciple Peter. Peter, in whom we see all the questions and reactions we might have blurted out-loud! When Jesus declares it is he who walks on the waves, Peter responds, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Seeing Jesus walking on water isn’t enough, Peter wants to be more actively involved in the miracle before he believes the one revealed in it.
In Peter’s reaction, I see the typical prayer of, “God, if you’re there, please do this…” – be it: heal my sister’s illness, get me through this test, make this hailstorm avoid my fields… “God, if you’re really there, show me a sign… and I’ll believe.”
It’s a pretty natural request, but not exactly the most faithful! Even so, Jesus allows Peter to test him, and commands him, “come.” For a while, Peter is able to walk towards Jesus. But then reality sets in. Only God has power over the dangers of the world. Waves come crashing towards him, and Peter sinks. As he’s sinking, he calls out to Jesus. Finally he recognizes that Jesus alone has power over the dangers around them! Instead of trying to test Jesus, he simply cries out to him in the desperate plea of the faithful. He recognizes that Jesus is the only one who can save him. There is nothing in himself that will save him from waves, fear, or any other danger of the world.
Immediately, Jesus reaches out and grabs Peter. Together, they return to the boat. With Jesus on board, the boat is safe, the sea is stilled. The boat continues on to land, where Jesus and the disciples continue in their ministry: healing the crowds.
In times of fear and danger, sometimes, like Peter, we want proof. We find ourselves asking – if you’re really God, then keep me safe, or heal my loved one. But we don’t always receive the response we’d hope for. God doesn’t always prove God’s presence in that way. Peter was immediately lifted out of the waves. But sometimes our loved ones die, our church has to close, and our jobs are lost. That’s what makes me think it’s important to look at this scene as a whole. Instead of focusing on Peter’s impetuousness and Jesus’ response to him, step back and see the central witness: Jesus is God-with-us. Jesus is the only one who has power over the destructive forces in our world, and he chooses to come to us in both times of calm and of storm.
When the next storm swirls in around you, remember that you are not alone. Jesus stands with you. No storm is too strong or too dangerous. Jesus is ready and willing to walk with you through it all. Jesus willingly entered hell to show us that he will come to us, wherever we are. Even there, he had power over death. Whatever storms beset you, our congregation, or our church, Jesus, God, comes to be with us. Even if we’ve stirred up the storm ourselves, or jumped out into the middle of the sea, Jesus reaches out his hand and grasps us firmly. Jesus will not let us face the storms alone. The One who has power over all that threatens to overwhelm us will not let the waves cover our heads. United with Jesus, united with our church, we will continue on in our journey of discipleship. Our clothes may be wet and our boat battered, but Jesus accompanies us through the storms towards lives shaped by his love and presence. “Take heart… do not be afraid” Jesus Christ is here, with you.
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