Sermon for Pentecost 10 – August 9, 2020
+ 10th Sunday after Pentecost – August 9th, 2020 +
Series A: Job 38:4-18; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
“Walking on the Water”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We tend to think of the sea as a place of beauty and peace. Beach towels and sand toys. Kites and bonfires. Maybe, like me, you enjoy the calming sounds of ocean waves, or a relaxing day at the beach. And it certainly is all those things.
However, the sea can be both friend and foe. “Never turn your back on the Pacific,” my parents always told us on our trips to the Oregon Coast.
That’s a good backdrop for today’s Gospel reading, Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water. Like last Sunday’s account of Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, it’s a familiar story. But this isn’t a story, like so many say, about Peter’s great faith, or how we should be like Peter and step out of the boat. If that’s the point, Peter failed and so do we. No. It’s a miracle story, that, like all of Jesus’ miracles, reveals his great power and authority. And more. It reveals Jesus’ great patience and rescue and saving love for foolish sinners. For Jesus’ miracles, like his parables, point us to the grand miracle of his death on the cross for us his resurrection for us.
Immediately Jesus compelled the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
Remember how the disciples wanted to dismiss the crowds before dinner? Not Jesus. He dismisses the crowds only after they’re fed and satisfied. This is how Jesus works. Compassionately. Selflessly. Placing the crowds and their needs above his own. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
Meanwhile, the disciples are out on the sea, rowing their boat into the wind. Probably several miles from shore. Stroke after stroke, and yet the wind and waves prevailed. The harder they pulled the oars, the more they seem to be rowing in place. All night they row, row, row their boat. Until the 4th watch of the night, Matthew says. About 3 AM. The last watch before dawn.
Then they look out upon the water and see a shape, a figure. And he’s walking on water.
Now, remember, the disciples are sane, rational men. At least four of them are fishermen, no strangers to tough weather or the ways of the sea. Yet, notice how Matthew draws our attention to their fear. They’re not afraid of the wind and the waves like they were back in Matthew 8. They’re not afraid of the boat capsizing. Nor even of drowning (at least not yet for Peter). When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified (and honestly, wouldn’t we be too if we were in a boat, alone on the water, at 3 AM and we saw a figure walking towards us on the water!), and they said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. They’re afraid of Jesus. Afraid of their own unworthiness in his holy presence. Afraid of the same thing we are. Death. A holy God and me, an unholy, poor miserable sinner.
Jesus, however, answers their three fears, and ours, with three words of comfort. Be courageous. It is I, I AM. Do not be afraid. This isn’t Jesus’ way of saying, “Hey you guys” like the Goonies. No. This is Jesus invoking the divine name, I AM. As in I AM who I AM. YHWH. Jesus tells his disciples they need not fear because he is the Lord. Jesus.
But just to make sure, Peter speaks up. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
And Jesus says, “Come.” One word. But this one word is no ordinary word. It is the Word from the Word Incarnate, the Word in the flesh, the Word through whom all things were made, the Word that laid the foundation of the earth, that shut the sea behind its doors, that made the clouds, and said to the proud waves of the Deep “thus far shall you come and no farther.” So when Jesus says to Peter “Come” that’s all it takes to bring him out of the boat and walking to Jesus on the surface of the deep.
This is no small thing for Peter. Jesus’ disciples would not have thought of the sea, even a smaller sea like Galilee, as a place of peace and quiet, but peril and chaos. Being good first century Jews, steeped in the Old Testament, the sea was the void and abyss of chaos before creation. The sea was the place of the great Leviathan. A place where death and Satan dwelled. The sea was darkness. The abyss. The deep. Death personified. The sea could swallow you up and never spit you out again (remember the story of Jonah!).
So when Jesus treads over the waves and walks on the water, He is showing not only His lordship over creation but also His lordship over Death. He’s walking on the back of Leviathan, treading the old serpent underfoot.
“Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But here’s the difference. We have no word from Jesus to do this. So don’t try walking across Commencement Bay. You have a different word spoken in the water of your Baptism. Justified. Declared righteous before God. Forgiven. Holy. And that word too does what it says. You don’t walk on water, you live in the water of your Baptism. Drowned in forgiveness. Buried with Jesus into His death. Living with Jesus in His life. And that is as sure as the word that propelled Peter out of the boat to Jesus across the choppy Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ word does what he says and promises. For Peter, and for you.
But when Peter saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” That’s our prayer too. “Lord, save me. I’m drowning. In fear. In sin. In death. In darkness.”
And immediately (immediately!) Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter. Freeze that moment in your mind. Peter sinking, panicking, praying “Lord, save me.” Jesus reaching out His strong and sure hand and grabbing hold of Peter. Who’s grip mattered most at that moment? Like Peter, Jesus is all we have, and all we need. He pulls us out of death by going into death for us.
I love how Matthew ends the story. Jesus gets into the boat with Peter. The wind stops. All is quiet. Peace. Calm. For Jesus was present. With his disciples. In the boat. And they worship. They confess. Truly you are the Son of God. It’s no accident that the inside of a church often looks like a ship. For Christ is with us on the sea. In the storm. Present with us. And with him, peace.
Jesus comes to us in the fourth watch of our day, when we are weakest and most exhausted. When we can’t pull our oars any longer. When the depths of Death have had their way with us. And He speaks a sure and powerful Word to us: Forgiven. It’s the same Word that caused Peter to walk on the water will raise you up to dance on Death and the grave. Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.