Summary: A sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, series A.
13TH Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 14] August 10, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son among us to reveal your will for our lives and to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire us with confidence that you are with us in the midst of the storms of life, to bring peace to our troubled souls and to lead your church throughout the ages. Enable us to live as your redeemed saints, that our lives may witness to our faith. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Only Luke fails to record the story of Jesus walking on water. And in the other three Gospels, this story is told as having occurred immediately following the feeding of the five thousand, which was our lesson for last Sunday. Thus, we might derive that the significance of these two stories follow a common theme – the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Inherent in this revelation, is the message that God is not only physically present to us in Jesus, but that through his life, teachings, death and resurrection, Jesus invites us to become children of God’s kingdom. As a result of our faith and baptism, we are joined together as a part of Christ’s Church, disciples of Jesus throughout the ages, who strive to live together in community with one another, according to God’s Word.
With this understanding in mind, I would like to explore this story from Matthew’s Gospel, for it is unique from the other two accounts of Jesus walking on water, in that it is the only Gospel to record Peter’s request to join Jesus on the sea. Just think about this story.
Jesus has just fed the multitude with a few loaves of bread and two small fish. It is now late in the day, and so he tells his disciples to get into a boat and set off for the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while he dismisses the crowd and seeks some quiet time for prayer.
But as Jesus spent the night in conversation with his heavenly Father, in the quiet of a mountaintop, the disciples, many of whom were seasoned fishermen, found themselves in the middle of a treacherous storm, tossed about in their small boat by large waves and gusty winds. For hours they have rowed against the wind and swirling sea, becoming cold, wet and exhausted. Blisters began to form in the palms of their hands from the chafing of the oars.
By four in the morning, desperation began to encompass them. They were frightened to death that they would not be able to survive their voyage. Those who had made their living on the sea, knew of others who had gone out on the waters, and had never returned. Panic began to take hold of their emotions, as they continued to struggle against the wind and waves.
As dawn was about to break, and totally spent of all their energy, the disciples became even more terrified, as one of them spotted this figure walking toward them on the raging waters. The disciples conclude that this must be a ghost – perhaps it was Neptune or Poseidon, the mythological god of the sea – coming to usher them into the depths of his kingdom.
While clutching the sides of the boat so tightly that their knuckles turned white, the figure on the water speaks to them: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid!” After all that the disciples had endured, still frightened of drowning, and then seeing a mysterious figure walking on a dark stormy sea, and they are not to be frightened? That would be enough to make even the most staunch-hearted sailor cringe. I don’t think there is a person here this morning who would wanted to be in that boat, at that time.
And if we were in that boat, I can’t believe that anyone of us would have responded to the greeting of this figure that they saw walking on the water, the way that Peter did! Peter called out to the ghost-like figure on the water and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. And the response came, “Come!”
Now, there is a real way to test the identity of this figure the disciples saw walking on the stormy sea. Get out of the boat, and walk over to him. If you don’t sink to your death, it must be Jesus.
Yet, according to Matthew, that is what Peter did! He stood up in the rocking boat, and stepped into the raging sea. First one step, then another. Peter was walking on water, just like Jesus. And we can imagine his thoughts. “Isn’t this great! What a miracle! What Power! In the midst of this Wind! What huge waves! I must be nuts! That’s real water swirling around my ankles! I’m sinking. “Lord save me!”