Summary: In the midst of this dark and stormy world, we must always stay focused on our Savior, who pulls us out of the depths and calms the stormy seas.
Any of us who have been around teenagers for any period of time know how difficult it is to keep them focused! In my days of serving as a youth director, I couldn't make it through at single Sunday School lesson or youth group program without have to say "Focus guys!" at least once; and usually more like five or six times. It's just so easy to get distracted, for teenagers and for us. Teenagers tend to have trouble focusing because of friends or games or TV. For adults, the distractions can be a bit more complicated. Nonetheless, staying focused on the right things is important for all of us, especially when it comes to matters of faith.
Last week, our lesson focused on the feeding of the 5,000, which happens just before the scene we heard recounted a few moments ago. The story of the feeding of the 5,000 is a lesson about discipleship and our call as Christians to make sacrifices in service to others and to God, not excuses. The story of Jesus walking on water is a lesson about faith, and about staying focused on Christ in faith, even when things are not going all that well.
If you remember from last week, Jesus had just learned of John the Baptist's death when a crowd gathered and he spent an entire day healing the sick, and then he had fed the multitudes with just a few loaves and fish. Now that the day is over and the people have been fed and satisfied, Jesus finally finds that he has some time for the much-needed solitude he had been seeking earlier in the day. So Jesus sends the crowds away, he instructs the disciples to go ahead of him in the boat, and then he escapes up the mountain to pray. After several hours, Jesus decides it's time to catch up to the disciples. Or maybe the storm had rolled in and he got concerned about his friends and decided he needed to find them. Either way, a storm was roiling, the disciples were having quite a rough go of it, and in the midst of it all, Jesus does something God-like. He walks on water.
Now, the disciples were studied fisherman. They knew the Sea of Galilee like the back of their hand. They had surely ridden out storms before. But for some reason, this storm is worse, and the disciples are tired and concerned. It's no wonder that when they see some sort of figure heading toward them in the midst of this great maelstrom that they were "terrified"!
"'It's a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear." That's when Jesus speaks, immediately responding to the distress of the men in the boat. "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." What an amazing and wonderful word from our Lord. Isn't this exactly what this world needs to hear? Isn't this the word we need to hear? "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
So many people are so frightened today, terrified. Everywhere, people feel they are in way over their heads. The storms of life of raging, and where there should be joy, there is only fear. We've got plant managers struggling to make payroll in a down economy; parents with rebellious teenagers, marriages trying to survive, elderly folks trying to pay astronomical hospital bills out of tiny pension checks, working folks worrying about whether there will even be a pension when they retire. Indeed, modern life can be like a deep and stormy sea that threatens to swallow us whole. And certainly, we all need to hear the words of Christ over and over and over again in the midst of it all: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
As Jesus' words echo across the tossing waves, without hesitation, Peter responds. "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." Peter tends to get a bad rap in a lot of ways. He's impulsive, he takes risks. He acts first and thinks later. When it comes to this story, people say Peter didn't have enough faith because when he saw the waves and the wind, he began to sink. But what did it take for Peter to get out of that boat in the first place. In the midst of that crazy storm that had every one of the disciples scared, what did it take for Peter to step out of the boat? It took faith. He had to have faith in who Jesus Christ was in order to say to him, "Lord if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." But that's exactly what Peter said; impulsively, without even thinking about it, in faith. And do you remember what Christ says about faith even the size of a mustard seed?