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the sermon for

the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

13 August 2017

Matthew 14:22-33
Faith isn't walking on the water;
it's taking Jesus at his word!

08132017Last week, we read the first act of the drama. The baptizer had just been executed and Jesus withdrew to a deserted place by himself. At least, that was the plan. However, the crowd found out where he was going and got there before him. But Jesus had compassion on them, cured their sick, and even fed them with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fish.

And then, this morning, we heard act two. While Jesus was dismissing the crowd – the same crowd from act one – the disciples climbed into a boat and headed off across the lake. Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, the winds over the lake increase, and waves begin to batter the boat. Early in the morning, as day was dawning, there is Jesus, coming toward them, walking on the water! The disciples are terrified! "It's a ghost," they say! Which means they were really terrified! Considering the Jews at the time didn't believe in ghosts! Anyway, Jesus says, "Take heart! It's me! Don't be afraid!"

Now comes one of the best known scenes of the entire bible. One that's told by Matthew and by Matthew alone! I'll read it word-for-word so you don't miss anything. Listen carefully...

Jesus spoke said to the disciples, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come."

Let me read that, again. Here's Jesus coming toward them, walking on the water. They're terrified... They think he's a ghost... Jesus says, Don't be afraid...

And Peter answers him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." And Jesus says, "Come!"

Did you notice what happens, here? Whose idea is it for Peter to get out of the boat? Whose idea is it for him to walk on the water to Jesus? It's not Jesus'! It's Peter's! It was the sign PETER was looking for! The proof PETER wanted! Jesus says, "It's me!" Of course, in better English! And Peter says, If it IS you... If it really IS you... command me to get out of the boat! Tell me to walk on the water! The idea is all Peter's! And when Jesus told him to come, he was simply doing what Peter asked him to do... if it was really him!

My sense is that Jesus never wanted Peter to get out of the boat, to begin with! Jesus knew what would happen! He'd sink like a rock! After all, that's what Peter's name means, anyway! Peter! Rock! But Peter got out of the boat. Took a few steps toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink. "Lord, save me!" Jesus reaches out and catches hold of the drowning disciple. I imagine he rolled his eyes with the next words. "You of little faith! Why did you doubt?" Why did you doubt?

For years, I'd read those words and think they had to do with Peter walking – or not – on the sea. He doubted he could! Just like all those train that tried to make it over the mountain but couldn't. Only if you think you can, you think you can, you think you can, are you able to do it! Believe in yourself! Believe in Jesus! Believe in God! And anything, everything's, possible! But doubt... doubt and you can do nothing!

But that's not what it's about! Not here, in this story. Jesus comes toward them, walking on the sea. They get scared. And Jesus says, "It's me!" That's what Peter doesn't believe! That's what Peter doubts! That it's really, truly Jesus! Like Jesus said! If it's really you, Peter says, prove it! If it's really you, show me! Command me to get out of the boat and walk to you on the water! So Jesus says, Come! He does – just like Peter asks! And of course, Peter sinks! Just like Jesus knew he would! After all, that's why there are boats, in the first place! Peter was never meant to get out of the boat. And when Peter cries out, Save me, what does Jesus do? He puts him right back into the boat where he will be safe!

It's kind of like the joke. It rains and it rains and it rains. And the valley is slowly starting to flood. Everyone is being evacuated... except one man. When the sheriff offers him a ride in a car, the man refuses. He'll wait for god to save him. The water gets deeper and a neighbor offers him a ride in his boat. Again, the man refuses. God will save him. Finally, he's on the rooftop and a helicopter flies over and offers to take him to safety. Well, he refuses a third time and shortly thereafter, he drowns. As the joke goes, when he gets to heaven, he asks god why god didn't save him. God says, "I tried! I send a car and a boat and a helicopter, but you refused to go!"

Lord, if it's you, command me to come to you on the water. Jesus says, Come. But when Jesus had gotten Peter back in the boat, and Peter had caught his breath, had regained his composure, I'm sure Jesus asked him, why in the world did you want to get out of a perfectly good boat?!? When I say it's me, believe it!

You see, believing in god, here in the church, isn't simply believing that god exists. Believing in god is more than believing there is a god. Like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy! Believing in god is taking god at god's word! When Jesus says, "Take heart! It is I!" We believe it is him! What Peter did was question, doubt, whether Jesus' word was good! Peter said, Prove it, and he faced the consequences! It's just like Jesus saying, I love you! I forgive you! And us answering, responding, Prove it! Show me!

That morning, out on the sea, among the wind and the waves, so far from shore, it had nothing to do with Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water! It had everything to do with believing the "ghost" was Jesus... or not! "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" It wasn't Jesus' idea for Peter to get out of the boat! It was PETER'S! Because he couldn't take Jesus at Jesus' word! But even then, when Peter was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, Christ reached out and caught hold of him! And put him back in the boat... where he belonged, all along! Trust me, Jesus says! Trust me and don't ask to do something like this, again!

Faith... Believing... for most of us is something spectacular! Something sensational! Feeding thousands with next-to-nothing! Moving mountains with a prayer! Water into wine! Walking on the water! It should all be possible... if only we believe! Faith the size of a mustard seed! But that's not faith! That isn't believing! Believing begins with god's word!

The grace of our Lord, the love of god, the communion of the spirit, is yours!
In the mercy of almighty god, Jesus Christ was given to die...
The body of Christ given... The blood of Christ shed...

Faith begins with god's word and faith ends not in climbing out of the boat, but by saying Amen! God says, "Take heart! Do not be afraid! It is I!" And believing responds, "Yes! Yes! This is most certainly true!"

 
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