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“Just Get Back in the Boat, Peter” (August 13, 2017)

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus, on hearing of John the Baptist’s death, tried to get away to mourn. Because the crowds followed him and he had compassion for them, he delayed his period of grief and began to heal their sick.

Now, after feeding the 5000+, he tries again to go off by himself. He not only sends the crowds on their way, but he makes his disciples leave too. He orders them to get into a boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He was finally able to spend some time alone.

The disciples, however, didn’t have such a refreshing night. A storm came up and kept them from reaching land. Fighting all night long against the wind and the waves, they couldn’t get to the other side of the sea. Even though Jesus told them to go, the storm kept them from obeying him.

Frightened and exhausted, in the midst of the storm they see someone walking across the water toward them. It was still dark, and I can’t even imagine how terrifying that would be on top of everything else. Of course they think it’s a ghost. What else would they think?

So even though Jesus tries to reassure them, Peter makes a really stupid suggestion, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” I can just hear Jesus thinking to himself, “Peter, just stay in boat with the others like I told you.” But I envision Jesus heaving a big sigh and saying, “Alright, Peter. Go ahead.”

I get being terrified, and I get wanting to be near Jesus. But I’m not sure why Peter would think walking on the water would be the best way to deal with his fear. Why not ask for the storm to stop? Or to be transported to land? Or a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich?

Because here’s how I see Peter’s attempt to walk on water. Not an act of faith, but of selfishness. He not only forgets Jesus’ command to the disciples, but he abandons them in order to ease his own panic. He’s going to do whatever it takes to be comforted in his fear, even if it means leaving the relative safety of the boat and the team effort of his friends. He’s striking out on his own so that he can be with Jesus, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. In the face of his own panic, this is an act of cowardice and selfishness, hardly one of faith.

I keep coming back to one of Jesus’ primary themes in Matthew. You are all in this life together, so you better hang in there together. Quit creating divisions. The parable of the different soils—he seed will still come to you. The parable of the weeds and the wheat—hang in there together. If we abandon others just so we can get closer to Jesus on our own, we wind up sinking.

Now, hear what I’m saying. I’m not saying we shouldn’t turn to Jesus when we’re afraid. But I am saying that sometimes “faith” means sticking it out with the other disciples in the boat. Sometimes “faith” means holding to what Jesus tells us to do even if that means heading into the storm. Sometimes “faith” means supporting each other when we’re afraid and trusting that Jesus will meet us there. Sometimes “faith” means recognizing that God is God, Jesus is Jesus, and we are not. Jesus walks on water, we don’t. Sometimes “faith” means staying in the boat together, which, by the way, is where Jesus told Peter to be in the first place.

I’m afraid that sometimes, in order to seek our own personal comfort with Jesus, we abandon the others in the boat. And I think that is the lack of faith—the doubting—that Jesus confronts Peter with. If we are forsaking others for our own sense of spiritual righteousness, we’ll sink. If we want Jesus to save us while ignoring others in the boat, we’ll sink. If we are so terrified of the wind and the waves that we bail on our community with the excuse of getting closer to Jesus, we’ll sink.

Sure, Jesus reaches out and saves the sinking Peter. But the point of the story isn’t that Peter is a good example. Rather, that even if we panic, even if we abandon others in the boat, even if we are so terrified that we do ridiculous things, Jesus still comes to us and reaches out to us. But Jesus is coming to us whether we’re afraid or not.

We all get terrified at some points in our lives and can’t see Jesus there, right? We all have points at which we want to abandon others for our own safety and comfort.

When we face the first holiday without a loved one, we can be filled with dread.

When the symptoms of a disease we thought was gone begin to re-emerge, we can sense the panic.

As we foolishly tinker with the possibility of nuclear war, we can begin to feel the nervousness.

As we look on, aghast, at the hatred and violence and the evil of racism so boldly displayed in Charlotsville, Virginia, and we begin to get concerned about where this will lead.

As we watch our Muslim siblings, our immigrant siblings, our transgender siblings face very real discrimination and even persecution, we can begin to give in to our fear of what’s coming next. And it can take over our actions. We might simply want to abandon everything and everyone else and run to Jesus. We want to escape our fear and be held in his comfort. Even if that means doing something dumb like abandoning those in the boat and trying to walk on water on our own. Fear can do that to us.

But Jesus is coming to us. Just stay in the boat together.

We may not recognize him, but he’s walking across the fear to us. Just stay in the boat together.

At first, his approach may cause even more fear. But he’s there. Just stay in the boat together.

We’re in a boat together. And we sink or are saved together. And Jesus comes to us across the chaos, through the fear, together. And when we’re all together in the boat, and the storm is stilled, we worship him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

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Posted by on August 13, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Step Out into Failure (Matthew 14:22-33)

There’s a lesson in this text for all who wish to be disciples of Jesus: If you are faithful and obedient to Jesus, sooner or later you’ll sink.

I’m not kidding. Jesus just told the disciples to feed the thousands with a little bread and few fish. Now he “makes” the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side of the sea. Then he dismisses the crowds and goes up a mountain to pray.

He’s the one who sends them out into a stormy sea while he is praying by himself. The disciples, who are only doing what they were told to do by Jesus, are fighting the wind and the waves all night long. They are exhausted, having been trying to stay alive. And in the dark, before the light of dawn, Jesus strolls out to them on top of the water. In their exhausted, frightened state, they believe him to be a ghost or a demon, and I can’t blame them. Jesus reassures them, but Peter is willing to check it out.

“If it’s you, command me to get out of the boat and come out into the storm with you.” Jesus tells him to come on out, and Peter does.

Nothing but faith, obedience, and trust in Jesus. Jesus sends them into the stormy sea, and they go. Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and step out into the waves, and he does. What does he get for his faithfulness and trust? He sinks. And the rest of us Christians all over the world shake our heads and say, “Yup, dumb ol’ Peter. Never shoulda taken his eyes of Jesus. That’s what he did wrong. Shows he just doesn’t have enough faith.”

Of course, that might mean a little more if we weren’t critiquing him from the relative safety of dry land. The disciples, only because they trust Jesus and do what he commands them, are in the fight of their lives in a storm that’s threatening to sink them. And Peter, only because he trusts Jesus and does what he commands him, gets out of he only protection he has–their boat–and steps right into the waves and the wind.

I hear people all the time saying things like, “If you give your life to Jesus all will be well.” “Trust in Jesus and prosper.” “Everything fell into place; it must be God’s will.”

Uhmm. . . Read this text again. Trusting Jesus, obeying Jesus means we will end up right in the heart of a storm. It means we’ll be fighting wind and waves in the darkness. It means we’ll sink. It means we will fail. The storms and the winds will get the better of us. Follow Jesus and we risk our lives. Trust Jesus and things will be hard. Obey Jesus and we will sink. Jesus doesn’t keep us free from the waves, he sends us into them. He doesn’t keep us from sinking, he reaches down under the water and pulls us up. He doesn’t help us to be successful, he commands us to come to him–even if it means stepping out of the boat and into the storm.

And there we will sink.

Think about it. Can you honestly say that following Jesus–really following Jesus–is safe and easy? Have you failed at forgiving someone whose deeply hurt you? Have you begun to sink in your guilt for not being generous enough? Have you ever passed a homeless person without helping them or a hungry person without feeding them? Have you ever avoided sacrifice for the sake of convenience?

We all have, right? We have all stepped out of the boat and sunk. We’ve all been battered by the waves and beaten by the wind. We try to be faithful. We try to trust Jesus. And we’ve all failed sometimes. We’ve all sunk under the surface sometimes. We’ve all had to cry out, “Lord, save me!” because the wind is too frightening. It’s one of the things we all have in common.

We know what these disciples are experiencing. Peter floundering is more familiar to us than we might think. But because the wind is so fierce, because the waves are so high, these disciples come to the point where they fall down in worship, “Truly you are the Son of God!”

The love, compassion, power, and identity of Jesus are most evident in the chaos of the storm, because that’s when he comes to us and lifts us out of the depths and gets into the boat with us.

Oh, yes, we’ll sink, we’ll fail, we’ll mess things up. Even when we’re trying our very best, we’ll still fall below the waves. Following Jesus pretty much guarantees that we’ll be stepping into the storm. And we will be frightened and we will sink, because the wind and the waves of this world are very, very real. And they are frightening. And who really wants to sink?

When have your failed in your discipleship? What about following Jesus makes you want to just stay on the shore where it’s safe? Where are you sinking?

When we’re sinking, we need to know two things: 1) It’s not because you’re a bad disciple. It’s entirely possible that, like Peter, you are experiencing failure because you ARE trusting Jesus! If you’re not following him, you’re not in the storm right?

And 2) It’s when you’re sinking that Jesus reaches out to save you. And it’s when Jesus does save you and brings you back into the boat, gets in it with you, and calms the waves, that’s when you really say with Peter and the other disciples, “Truly you are the Son of God!”

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Sermon

 

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