Holding On

Sermon from Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011
Utz Terrace Retirement Community, Hanover, PA
Matt. 14:22-33

Go on ahead of me; I’ll catch up with you later. Haven’t we all said this at one time or another? We make plans to do something with our friends and we remember we have something we need to do first. So we tell them to go ahead and we’ll meet them there, wherever there is.

That’s exactly what Jesus said to the disciples in today’s Gospel. He had just fed the multitudes with 5 loaves and 2 fish and he said to the disciples you go get in the boat and I’ll catch up with you later. He wanted to go up to the mountain, away from the crowds, and pray. You see, for Jesus, it all began with prayer. Before he did anything, he prayed. Prayer was what joined him with the Father. Prayer is what joined him with the power of the Holy Spirit. Through prayer, the Divine relationship was complete.

Meanwhile, back in the boat, while Jesus was praying, the disciples were enjoying time out in the open seas. The waves were high and the winds were rough, but the disciples were used to rocky seas. They were fisherman and they enjoyed the sense of excitement and adventure that the wind and waves gave to a fishing trip. They were out on the water having a good time expecting to see Jesus on the other side. They were not expecting to see someone walking on the water! That’s what terrified them. It wasn’t the waves or the wind it was what they thought was a ghost! When you’re out on the rough waters you don’t expect someone to be walking on the water.

But it was Jesus. How could they not see that it was Jesus? How could they not recognize him? They were friends. They ate together, fished together, laughed together. He was like one of them, except for the miracles. There were the miracles. But he looked like them. This image walking on the water didn’t look like them. This image, this ghostly apparition, was frightening. It was powerful. It walked on the chaotic waters. It defied the laws of nature. This was something all- together too powerful. This was not something they knew, so they were terrified and they cried out in fear. Immediately, Jesus spoke to them and said “It is I; do not be afraid.” It is I.

These words are the same ones spoken to Moses from the Burning Bush. It is I or I AM. When Moses came down from the mountain he was changed, transformed and his face glowed from seeing the living God. When Jesus came down from the mountain after praying, he too was on fire with the light of the living God. He was filled with a power that was too much for the disciples to comprehend. So Jesus says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” But Jesus’ words do not comfort them and so Peter says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” That small word if makes a big difference.

If it is you, command me to come to you on the water” Peter demanded. “If it is you, command these stones to turn into bread” Satan tempted. “If it is you, come down off of that cross” the soldiers mocked.Peter wasn’t just questioning whether it was Jesus on the water that day, he was questioning whether Jesus was truly the Son of God – just like Satan in the wilderness, just like the soldiers at the foot of the cross, just like us. We test God.

If it is you, give me the money I need.”

If it is you, make my family treat me better.”

If it is you, take away my pain.”

If it is you, make all the sufferings in the world disappear.”

If it is you, give me whatever I want.”

 Like Peter, we want to walk on the water too. We want to be like God and we want to tell God what to do. But when we do that we fail because ultimately God is in control, not us.  Like Peter we sink into the depths and need rescuing. And just as Jesus was right there to pull Peter out of the sea, Jesus reaches out his hand to pull us out the chaos we find ourselves in.

Today’s Gospel message is not about Peter coming to Christ; it is about Christ coming to Peter and each to each one of us. Jesus gave the disciples a command to go on ahead of him in the boat and he would meet them on the other side.
Staying in the boat with each other was Jesus’ command, but Peter was not satisfied with that. He didn’t trust that Jesus would meet them.

God has given each one of us a command and purpose too. Sometimes it may seem like we aren’t doing anything. Like the disciples, we’re in the boat together, but there’s not much going on. We wonder if we are making a difference. We don’t see any progress. We want to do something bigger, something that will make a huge impact on the world and we fail to see that we are right where God wants us to be. He didn’t ask Peter or any of the disciples to walk on the water. He asked them to get in the boat and go where he sent them. He asked them to stay the course, no matter how mundane it may seem or how difficult it may be.

A Vietnamese monk, peace activist, poet and writer named Thich Nhat Hahn wrote that “The miracle is not to walk on water but on the earth.” That’s a real miracle at times isn’t it. It’s hard to walk on the earth, sometimes it seems almost impossible. We have to go where we may not want to go. We get a diagnosis that shatters our hopes.
We’re faced with a decision that leaves us feeling torn apart. Illnesses, pain, anxieties batter us like the waves of the ocean and we are thrown deep into a sea of depression, drowning and crying out to God for help. We look at the winds of change and we are frightened. We are terrified at what we see. Is this God walking toward us to aid us in our distress or is it an illusion only to leave us alone.

It is the faithful and merciful God who walks toward us. Who walks on top of the chaos of life, who rules over the turbulent waters and the troubled earth. We need not fear. It is the Great I AM who saw a suffering world and filled with compassion reached out from heaven and sent a Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes to live among us and bring us hope. It is the Great I AM who hung on cross to save us from death itself and redeem our souls.  It is the Great I AM who rose from the dead and is alive – walking with us, abiding in us, stirring up the Holy Spirit to intercede with sighs too deep for words when our words are gone. It is the Great I Am who reaches out in love to grasp us from whatever is holding us down.

We do not have to walk on water. It is enough to walk on the earth. It is the Great I AM who reaches out with love and grace and brings us safely to the other side. Just hold on, pray, and be not afraid. Amen.

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