Matthew 14:22-33 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but bythis time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me! Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." *******************************
Before the disciples got into the boat, and this storm kicked up, they were with Jesus at the feeding of the five thousand.(Summation: Jesus had been speaking to the crowd; it started to get late, the disciples told him that the folks were hungry- Jesus says “Why don’t YOU give them something to eat?”The disciples mumble and moan- Jesus performs a miracle with two fish and five loaves of bread- and there is so much food that the disciples have to go around and collect the leftovers.WOW!)
Then Jesus puts the disciples in a boat, says, 'I’ll catch up with you later,' and goes up on a hill to pray by himself.
For my Jersey friends, the Sea of Galilee is about the same size as Lake Hopatcong (13 miles wide, 8 miles long).But it’s surrounded by mountains- and it’s actually below sea level- so when a storm blows up the wind rushes down the mountains almost like a hurricane, and can cause waves up to 12 feet high.And worse, it happens quickly.The lake can be as smooth as glass, yet within half an hour it can look like a scene from The Perfect Storm.
Add to the disciples' scenario: it’s dark.I’ve been out on Lake Hopatcong at night, and clear or not, it’s a little creepy being in a boat in the dark.
So when the mega storm whips up, the boat starts starts getting tossed around; the waves crashing over the sides of the boat and the wind... that wind is deafening.The disciples get scared.I think they have cause.
But then, through the downpour, they see a figure approaching the boat on the top of the water. Let me put in an aside: The Hebrew people of the first century were incredibly superstitious. And just because these guys had been hanging with Jesus, doesn't mean they left their superstitions behind. Their first reaction- "Holy S*** it’s a ghost!" (I also believe that would have been pretty typical for the non superstitious person.)And they are literally freaking out!
But Jesus calls out, (Over the storm? Really?) “Hey, don’t be afraid… it’s just me.”Well, he doesn’t really say that- he says- "Don’t be afraid…Take heart! I AM here"
(Greek ego eimi).
Ego eimi? I AM? The mighty, the powerful, the one who came to Moses at the burning bush? (I Am who I will be) The I AM from Isaiah? (the equivalent of the “I am here” or "it is I" is the Hebrew expression ehyeh hu:" I am He") The one who conquers and comforts and calms the stormy seas? That I AM? (While they didn’t believe in sea monsters, the ancient Hebrews of the Bible did use the image of sea monsters to symbolize evil.The old testament is filled with references about YHWH treading on the sea, stomping out evil. So cool...)
So, Jesus was framing the scene for the disciples in familiar passages of Old Testament Scripture- fresh in their minds from Passover; but also introducing himself as the One who could overcome and defeat their fears (and the storm) The only One who can walk on the sea- who can obliterate evil- is Yahweh- I AM.And I don't know about you, but that’s exactly who I long to see in the middle of a storm!
Peter calls out to Jesus, “Master!”
Now speaking this word, you figure, ahhhh, Peter gets it.But does he really? Because the next words out of his mouth are “IF it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.”
IF it’s you- Isn’t that what we do?We can be going through the most frightening and threatening times of our lives, and Christ could be right in front of us saying “Don’t be afraid- I’m here,” but we want proof. God could be telling us to do something- something that may seem crazy to the rest of the world but we know is the right thing for us, and no matter how much we want to believe it, we still test the waters- we still say things like, “OK,God- IF it’s really you, then give me a sign.... no... another sign... just ONE more sign, OK?"
It wasn’t that Peter wanted to walk on the water- remember the waves and the storm were still going on at this point and he’s scared out of his wits- but Peter heard the name of the only one who could conquer chaos- the only one who could calm his fears- the only one he wanted to be near when he was afraid.
I mean, weigh out Peter's options- stay in this boat that’s about to sink?Be near I AM?Hmmmm. No contest.
How he would get to Jesus was an afterthought.I love that. Did you ever stop to notice that when you’re doing what you can to be nearer to God, miraculous things happen along the way? It’s almost like a bi-product of faith isn’t it?
It’s also interesting that, even though he’s willing to take that step of faith and get out of the boat, Peter doesn’t just leap out and say, 'OK Lord, here I come.' He says, “Command me to come”… “Order me to come”… “I want to be near you and I know you can make that happen, so if you order it, it will be!”
Peter (so smart) knows enough not to rely on his own strength to get him there- and he recognizes the power in the spoken word of God; that when God commands- when God orders something, it will be.So, in asking Jesus to command HIM, it’s like the ultimate traveler's insurance. It's security.
And Jesus says to Peter, “Come!”- in the Greek the verb is formulated just as Peter asked it to be. "Come!" It’s a command, and what this means is, that there is no turning back- there is no chance of refusal for Peter- because there is no longer, at least at that moment, any doubt.If God said it, if God orders it, just as in the days of Creation- it will be.
With that assurance from God, Peter steps out of the boat. And it’s working- he’s moving nearer to Christ- and he is almost into the arms of I AM- but then something happens- Peter gets distracted. He looks around- the wind is blowing, the storm is still going full force, and he thinks, "Holy S***" (they used that expression a lot back then) "I’m walking on the water! This is impossible, how can I be doing this?"And as a result, he starts to sink.
But Jesus immediately stretches out his hand for Peter, and brings him back to safety- and speaks just a few gentle words: "Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Now I know that in the Christianity we have a way of making this statement into a rebuke- we have a way of taking the words “little faith” and making it seem like Jesus was disgusted with Peter, or that Peter was in some way a substandard believer. But remember that this is the same Jesus who said that all you need is 'faith the size of a mustard seed and you can move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for you.' (Mt 17:20)
So Jesus was saying (lovingly of course) "What happened?Why’d you get distracted?”Jesus knew Peter had the faith to walk on water, to tread over his problems- just like he and the other disciples had to ability (and power) to feed the five thousand. But he got thrown off by what was happening around him. He believed what the world told him was possible and not what God had told him was possible.Even though he had tried to secure the way- even though he had been with Jesus and seen the miracles-(even a day before!) somehow even Peter got distracted.
So Jesus picks him up out of the water, and they get into the boat.And if you notice, it’s only after they get into the boat that the storm finally calms down.That’s a sermon in itself, and we can leave that part for later…(or discuss it in a blog)
But, here’s the part of the story where there are some holes.We don’t hear anything about what happens to Peter once they get into the boat. How did Peter feel when they were back with the others after the storm, when the sun began streaking through the clouds and the air was fresh again? When all of the other disciples started Praising God and saying “Truly you are the son of God.” (And, no doubt, lots of ooohs and ahhhhs.)
Everyone wants on the bandwagon when the sea is calm, isn’t that right? Of course, none of the other guys got out to even try… (its always easier to assess someone else's situation from inside the boat, isn’t it?)
But I wonder- did Peter feel like a failure?Did he feel like “Oh man, if I had just had more faith, I could have kept going?” And afterward, when they all go into the city and there are people who have such great faith that they are touching the hem of Jesus’ coat and being healed... What was he feeling then?
Well, if he’s like me, he would be still beating himself up for being a doubter- for once again letting that old sinking feeling have power over him. Maybe, like me, he may have seemed fine on the outside- and may have even jumped right back into ministry. But inside, did he question his faith?Was he angry at that part of himself, (not the one that had sought to be near Christ,) but the part that got distracted?
But you see, the part of Peter that was doubtful, the part of Peter that was unsure, that part that he probably couldn’t stand about himself- that part didn’t cause Jesus to hesitate even one minute before saving him.Jesus reached right out, immediately, says the text, and pulled Peter up- and do you know why?Because the part of Peter that “fell short” was just as acceptable to God as the part that was bold enough and had enough faith to get out of the boat.
And that’s where I want to challenge you today.What is the part, or the parts, of yourself or your life that you can’t stand?The part that is always falling short; the part that, if you could just get it under control, or even get rid of it once and for all, you would surely be a better person.You would be strongerwithout that part, or more faithful, or more worthy of God’s love and forgiveness if you weren’t always slipping up and letting that part of yourself come through.
Think about those parts- and name them to yourself- Because what I want you to know today, is that the part of you that you think is most revolting- the part of you that you that haunts you and reminds you of the slips ups... of the failures... of the times that you have flat out disobeyed...That part of you is just as acceptable to God as the part that always does the right thing and has faith enough to get out of the boat!
So, for the most part, I’m going to leave that one for you to wrestle with, sorry, there are no easy answers this week, but for now, I can want to leave you with my favorite Paul Tillich quote.His own life was laced with this kind of duality- trying to break free of addictions; constantly struggling with his own sense of the acceptable and loathsome parts of himself. But Tillich wrote this, and everyone should have it cross stitched on their wall somewhere:
"You are accepted, you are accepted; accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted! If that happens to us, we experience grace..."