- St. Paul's
Sermon - 10 Pentecost
In the Name…
Someone once said that confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation.
A bad experience can cause us to lose confidence and become fearful and apprehensive. For example, you’re involved in a car accident. No one is hurt, but your confidence takes a hit. It might be a while before you feel up to driving again. Or, someone once criticized your ability to do something and from that moment you have doubted your talent at it and not considered it worth pursuing.
Doubt. It’s the breeding ground of fear and anxiety that makes us take our eyes off what is real and true and distorts reality. And, that's what happened to Peter when his faith gave way to fear.
It was a very dramatic reading. In the dead of night, far out on the lake, the disciples find themselves in the midst of a fierce storm. The churning water, the huge waves, the howling wind tossed their boat about and the disciples were straining every muscle as they tried to row against it. Remember, only four of them were experienced boatmen. The rest were landlubbers. It must have been terrifying.
And, what makes things worse is a ghost-like figure which appears walking across the stormy water towards them.
Then, above the wind they hear a voice: ‘Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid!’ It's Jesus. Jesus’ presence in the middle of the stormy sea – the symbol of chaotic evil – says a lot to us. Just as he knew when the disciples were in trouble, he also knows when we need his help. Whenever we are at our lowest - fearful, doubting and uncertain of what will happen next – even in the midst of the storm, he is walking up with his reassuring words, “I’m here. Don’t be afraid.” And, that’s a good lesson for a sermon.
But, while this incident is recorded in the other Gospels, Matthew has something to add to the story. He tells us about Peter. Peter is typically impulsive and has a strange request, “Tell me to come out of the water with you.”
Now, why on earth did he say that? To believe that he could actually walk on water like Jesus is insane. I mean, what was he thinking? Well, one thing he might have been thinking was that, in the past, Jesus had asked the disciples to do things he did, such as heal the sick. That was impossible, too, until Jesus gave them the power to do it. Maybe, Peter was thinking this was also something Jesus wanted them to do. So, to him, maybe this wasn’t such a crazy request. And, Jesus said, “Well, come on, then.”
And, Peter did. The rest of them must have been horrified and I can picture him shrugging them off as they tried to restrain him. He swung his legs over the side of the boat, and took a few steps toward Jesus across the heaving surface. And, to the amazement of all, it seems he was doing fine until he got scared and felt his feet sinking into the black waves below.
Peter accepted the risk of faith by answering Jesus’ call and climbing out of the boat, but his fear overwhelmed him when he felt the force of the wind and saw the size of the waves. He shifted his attention from the power of God in Jesus to his own limitations and fears.
Have we ever been in this situation? I have. Not strolling across a lake, but, so full of confidence about something one minute, and the next, gurgling and spluttering, flailing about trying to stay figuratively afloat. Everything seems to be too much. The trouble, the problem, is too overwhelming. We’ve all been there.
Now, in our minds we know Jesus is more powerful than any problem or evil that can come into our lives, but somehow that knowledge doesn’t stop us from taking our eyes off him. And, that’s when we find we’re overwhelmed. Matthew says the waves “harassed” the little boat the disciples were in. And, that’s exactly what the storms of life around us do. They harass us until we are worn down.
But, Peter but managed to cry out, “Lord, save me.” And, this is also a lesson. He knows who to call and who can save him. Not the other disciples back in the boat, but Jesus. And “immediately”, Matthew emphasises, Jesus reached out to catch him and haul him to the surface. Once there he found he could once again walk across the waves, but only with Jesus by his side.
It’s true Jesus commented to Peter, “You have such a little faith, why did you doubt that I would keep you safe?” but that didn’t stop Jesus immediately reaching out to give him a hand. You see, this isn’t a story about the size of Peter’s faith, but how he used it. As he gurgled and spluttered in the wild seas he knew there was only one who could really help him and that’s the one to whom he turned.
Jesus reaches out to anyone who is “of little faith” and that is very good news indeed, because like Peter, faith and doubt are all mixed up in us. One minute we are filled with courage; the next filled with fear. We walk and sink, we believe and doubt. It’s not like we do only one or the other. We do both.
So, this is a story about those times when we find that for some reason Jesus seems distant to us and we can’t come to him. But, when we can't walk to Jesus, Jesus walks toward us to bring us the help that we need. And, that’s the way God is, full of grace and never-ending love.
We haven’t quite come to the end this story yet. Remember, the storm is still raging all this time, but when Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the storm finally stopped, and all the disciples worshipped Jesus. They had been afraid; they had believed that chaos represented by the turbulent sea was in control, but, in the end, Jesus had shown he was the one with authority over all things and he was the one who would not let down those whom he loved.
In the middle of chaos, may we listen to the voice and, like Peter, experience the peace that comes when Jesus takes control, knowing the grace and love of the Son of God.
Then, confidence becomes the feeling we have because we do understand the situation. Completely.
In the Name…