PENTECOST 10, A – August 13, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 34; Job 38:3-14; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

In the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matt. 14)

 

From the time when I was little and first began learning stories from the Bible I’ve especially loved stories like today’s, of Jesus walking on the water. As a child I loved it because of how great it showed Jesus to be. I had many heroes – athletes like Jim Thorpe (my favorite), Bart Starr, and Pete Rose (I grew up in Cincinnati, after all!); astronauts like John Glenn (another Ohioan!); war heroes like Audie Murphy and John Basilone – but Jesus topped the list. No one was greater! Well, my appreciation of my heroes has changed over the years, and so has my appreciation of Jesus. I love Him even more because of what Bible stories like today’s tell us about Him.

What a great God is our Jesus! Even the impossible is quite simple and ordinary for Him! Matthew tells us this in His Gospel. As our story begins, dinner is over (His amazing multiplication of just five loaves of bread and two fish to feed over 5,000 people!) and it’s late in the day. Jesus sends the people home and His disciples across the Sea of Galilee in a boat while He goes off to pray. Then, it’s almost as if He looks at His watch – “Oh, would you look at the time. It’s 3 AM! I’d better get going.” – and He sets out to join His disciples. It doesn’t matter that they’re several miles out on the lake in a boat. He’ll just walk out and join them. The impossible is quite simple and ordinary for Him!

And, indeed, it is, and that’s a struggle for us; at least, for us intelligent and practical adults. Sure, we want to believe in a God who is so great that He can do anything. But, we also want to know why, and how, and have what He does make sense to us; and that is often not the case. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” God asks Job, who had demanded that God explain to him why he was suffering as he was when he hadn’t done anything wrong. Job’s demand fits right in with our technological and information rich society. We want answers. We want things to make sense to us. To believe in a God who can do anything but doesn’t act when you think He should, or who doesn’t makes sense when He does act, is hard. Even so, God expects you to believe in and trust Him. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Jesus’ response to His disciples, who cried out in fear because they thought He was a ghost, should be sufficient for us, also.

And it will be, if you keep your focus upon Jesus. He is the great God we worship: God like us, God with us as one of us; God come to us to help us and save us by serving us. This is how the Scriptures present Him. The impossible, such as walking on water, is quite simple and ordinary for Him; but He doesn’t do it for Himself and His own glory. Nor does He use His almighty power to dominate or control, as if people are His puppets. Everything He does is for the benefit of others.

He even holds back and gives us great freedom to make our own decisions and act as we wish, as we see with Peter. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Boy, doesn’t that seem like a bone-headed thing to say?! Wouldn’t a simple, “Come closer, Lord, so we can see you better” have sufficed? Well, that’s Peter for you: bold and brash, blurting out the first thing that pops into his head. “Come,” says Jesus; and Peter gets out of the boat. He begins walking on the water… and then starts to sink. It wasn’t Jesus’ fault; nor were the wind and the waves to blame. It was all Peter. He doubted Jesus.

When it comes to living your life and the things you decide to do, your God gives you a lot of freedom; but He does not leave you without guidance. He gives you His 10 Commandments, so that you might know what is good and what is harmful. He warns of the consequences of disobeying them. He invites you and urges you to follow His ways, promising that they will lead you in what is good – even if others disagree. If you follow God’s words and ways, He will be with you to help you; and all will be good. If you disobey and go your own way, you will find trouble. And the fault will be yours alone.

But, what if you are uncertain as to what to do and don’t see any clear direction in God’s commandments or Word? Jesus did not tell Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water. This was his own idea. But, Jesus did not prevent him or try to dissuade him. He invited him to act. So, even if you’re uncertain as to what to do and don’t see any clear direction, step forth boldly, with your eyes on Jesus as your Savior. He will not abandon you, even if you are foolish!

By the way, was Peter being foolish, or was he bold in faith when he stepped out of that boat and began walking on the water to Jesus? Well, I don’t know. Perhaps he was both. What was foolish was that he took his eyes off of Jesus, started noticing the wind and the waves, and said, “What am I doing? I can’t do this!” That’s when he began to sink. But, here especially is where Peter is our good example. “Lord, save me!” he cried out. He knew where his help and salvation was: standing right next to Him!

And, notice Jesus’ response. He immediately reached out and grabbed him, and only then said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” A rebuke, yes; but a mild one. Doubting Jesus is never good, and never results in good. We must not doubt our Lord but boldly trust Him. But, who can? Which of us never doubts? Which of us never makes foolish decisions and never gets distracted by the winds and waves? Many problems and dangers confront us in this life, and we are foolish sinners. We have a hard time keeping our eyes on God and walking forth in faith. But our Jesus is a God who does not reject us, even when we doubt. He never will. The smallest and simplest faith receives His help and salvation, and quickly.

As He was with Peter He is with you. He is standing right next to you, even though you cannot see Him. He is in the boat with you, wherever you go. Trust Him; worship Him; listen to Him and follow His ways. He will be with you to help you and save you; always.

Psalm 34 says well: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessèd is the man who takes refuge in him!”

In the blessed name of Jesus, who is more than our hero; He is our great God and eternal Savior! Amen.