“Are we IN or ON the water”
August 13, 2017
Triune Mercy Center, Greenville, SC
Good morning! I’m blessed to be with you today and by our worship this morning. It’s nice to change things up every so often – to get a different perspective – and to experience God in new ways. So thank you for sharing your community with me.
Sometimes there are things that become so familiar to us, we don’t even really think about them anymore. Things like a flower blooming that we pass by every day without really noticing – but a visitor points out it’s beauty! Or maybe a sign on the road that we’ve read so many times we don’t even see it anymore. Then there’s also things like the dust bunnies in our homes or the litter on the streets. Sometimes it’s something we’ve heard so many times that we tune it out – like kids yelling Mom – Mom – Mama – Mama -MOOOOOOOM – or blaring sirens or trains screeching down the tracks.
Sometimes, even things we know are important become so familiar, we don’t really think about them. Like church. Like going out of routine and going through the motions but not truly engaging. Like scripture. Like God’s story. Like our reading from the Gospel of Matthew this morning. Yea yea yea, there was a storm and Jesus walked on water. Yea yea yea Peter stepped out of the boat and then he sank. Yea yea yea, heard it before. And that’s true – some of us have heard it before, maybe many times – so many that we don’t really listen anymore. And often the ways we hear about this story are a well-intentioned call to get outside the boat – to keep our eyes focused on Jesus – to have courage in the storms – to challenge ourselves more – to put our faith into action. And certainly these are truths that come from Matthew’s story. But I dare say that maybe we’ve heard those things too many times to really think about them. Valid as they may be, moral advice that we should indeed follow – if I’m boldly honest – that doesn’t really do a whole lot for me.
I need something more – I think we all need something more. Where I found that more – where I found something new that I could really grab hold of in this story – was in the emotions of the disciples and of Peter. Fear. The common denominator of all human beings – the one thing we might possibly ALL share. Fear. Four times in this short story, we hear about fear. When the disciples were ON the water, IN the boat – when Jesus came walking toward them, they were TERRIFIED, not just afraid, TERRIFIED because they thought he was a ghost. And they CRIED OUT in FEAR. Jesus responded, telling them “do not be AFRAID”. It’s worth noticing here, that Matthew doesn’t say the disciples were afraid of the storm – the waves beating against the boat, the wind howling around them – that wasn’t what they were afraid of. It was this stranger or ghost walking on the water towards them that terrified them. The unknown. Something, Someone they did not recognize.
Then Peter, wanting to know for sure that this is really Jesus, gets out of the boat to take his shot at walking on water too. And when he noticed the wind, Matthew says what – he became FRIGHTENED! And he CRIED OUT!
Whether we are ON the water with the disciples in the boat or we are IN the water with Peter – one thing we know all too well is FEAR. Our culture is flooded with fear, anxiety and insecurity. Whether it’s the state of our country, the political polarization, the fierce hatred or the rampant injustice. Whether it’s illness, the unknown, loneliness or loss. Whatever the cause – fear makes us cry out. Just like those disciples, who thought a ghost was walking on water towards them – we cry out because our fear has paralyzed us so deeply that’s all we know how to do. This isn’t a moral platitude or life lesson. This is reality. This is that gut wrenching, stomach in your throat, anxious panic. The power of fear in our lives is debilitating.
My husband and I have a 2-year old little girl. And as she continues to grow and explore, I am experiencing a whole different kind of fear as a parent. She, however has no fear. If she can climb it, touch it, jump off it, pull it down or get right in the middle of it, she does. She has no understanding of danger, no concept that there is something she cannot or should not do, and no sense of how broken the world is or how bad she can and will get hurt. And thus my sense of fear deepens.
She is, however, starting to have some separation anxiety – her first experience of fear – fear of being alone, of us not coming back. So we have been reassuring her over and over “Mommy and Daddy always come back. We always come back.” We have even found a Daniel Tiger cartoon show that sings a song about “adults always come back.” And though I know this is the right thing to say, this is what she needs to hear as her mind is developing – my heart breaks a little every time I say it. I get that tightness in my throat because of my own fear. What happens if or when we don’t, if or when we can’t come back. And that fear is paralyzing.
Each of our fears may look different – parenting, finding stability, the death of someone we love, being accepted by those we know, being different from those we don’t know, entering retirement, the unknown of things outside our control, even fear of succeeding or not succeeding or moving forward or letting go. But we all know the power – the paralyzing, debilitating power of fear – both in this passage with Jesus disciples and Peter, and in our own lives. No moral advice or spiritual challenge is going to speak to that.
Only Jesus. Only Jesus has the power to rescue us. Only the “I am” – that’s how Jesus identifies himself to the disciples as he is walking towards them – “It is I”, THE “I am”, THE divine name of God Almighty throughout all of scripture. To their cries of fear, “It is I,” Jesus says, “I am” the source of all power, the one who does what you cannot. That’s why Jesus tells the disciples “do not be afraid.” Because he knows that he alone gives them what they need in order to get through their fear.
And he doesn’t just say it. Jesus doesn’t just tell the disciples not to be afraid. Look at Jesus – literally look at what he DOES when Peter was afraid and started sinking. Peter was sinking, paralyzed by fear, drowning into the water, CRYING OUT, “Jesus save me”. And IMMEDIATELY – without hesitation, in an instant, IMMEDIATELY – Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Grabbed him. Held him. Pulled him up. “I am” Jesus says “the one who catches you.”
“I am” the one who has the POWER to save, to rescue, to comfort – for the disciples and Peter in the storm on the sea and in each of our lives. In the midst of the sinking crisis, when it’s the middle of the long dark night, when energy reserves are completely empty, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches us, grabs us.
That’s what we need to hear. That’s the only thing that can speak life and grace into our fears. Jesus. Jesus remains the constant. Jesus cannot let go, will not give up, will always grab us when we are sinking and restore us. This promise is the only way I know that we survive our fears. They don’t go away – the wind and the waves still storm around us – but with this promise we can move forward.
Look again at Jesus – at what Jesus DOES after he catches Peter. Jesus brings him back to the boat, back ON the water, with the disciples. And together they praise God.
Jesus not only grabs us and pulls us up– he puts us back ON TOP of the water IN the boat – with other disciples – with other people with shared experiences where we can lean on one another, encourage each other and cling to God together. We are stronger together, we are braver together, we can face the fears of our life our culture, our world together. Because Jesus is IN the boat with us.
So whether you’ve heard this story for the first time this morning or for the familiar millionth time – hear this – Jesus POWER to save us is greater than any force, power or storm we endure. Whether you’re IN the water or ON the water, Jesus catches us, grabs us, pulls us out and gets in the boat with us. And together we praise God.