Sermon – Sunday, August 10, 2014
Christ Lutheran Church – Gettysburg, PA
Those eyes. I’ll never forget them. They still haunt me. I was barely 7 years old, sitting alone in the dark of my bedroom before going to sleep. My older sister was not there yet and I sat there, immobilized from fear. I couldn’t even scream out. I knew it was some kind of rat, or maybe a snake, or some other wild creature. I loved animals, but I was certain this was not a friendly creature. I had never seen eyes that looked like that. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid. I was very afraid. Where was my sister? What was taking so long. Surely she would save me, but the eyes, the eyes kept coming closer and closer. Where was my sister?
I wonder if the disciples didn’t ask a similar question sitting in the boat surrounded by darkness and battering waves from the strong wind that was against them. Where was Jesus? They were afraid, but not from the waves or the wind, but from …….those eyes – that kept getting closer and closer. Someone was walking on the water! It was an apparition they thought, a ghost, a great phantasm or maybe an evil spirit. Oh, where was Jesus? Where was He when they needed Him? Why did He have to force them to get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee? They wanted to stay on the shore. They wanted to help Him dismiss the crowds after that amazing miracle. Feeding all those thousands of people with five loaves and two fish! How did He do it? They didn’t quite understand, but what they did know was that someone or something was getting closer and closer to the boat. What could they do? They couldn’t steer the boat to the other side any quicker. The wind was creating waves and tossing the boat around, but they were fisherman. They had been on the seas in rough weather before. This was different. This was a strange and frightening sight that they had never seen before. Their minds raced. John the Baptist had just been killed. Murdered – beheaded for ….. speaking the truth. Now Herod would be after Jesus and maybe even them. In the midst of this fear their minds kept going over all the possible scenarios. Maybe that’s why Jesus wasn’t back yet. Maybe they already apprehended Him! Oh, why did they listen to Jesus and get in the boat without Him? Now look where they are. Alone, in the middle of the lake, and some strange unspeakable thing approaching. Where was Jesus?
Jesus called out to them. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” I AM here. But they were still caught up in their fear. Their minds raced and they didn’t know what to do. Until Peter called out over the waves, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” What was Peter doing? What did the disciples think? What was Peter thinking? “If it is you?” This was a test. Peter was testing Jesus, just like Satan did in the wilderness in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, or should I say, since you are who you say you are, ….command these stones to become loaves of bread; throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple and let the angels protect you; worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” Jesus did not give in to the temptations of the devil; He would not give in to the test. But here was Jesus again, only this time, being put to the test by Peter who wanted proof of who Jesus said He was. It was not enough that Jesus told the disciples who He was. It was not enough that He came to them as He promised. No, Peter – who was most likely speaking for the rest of the disciples only they did not voice it – needed proof. Do some kind of great trick. Make me walk on the water and I will believe you. Once again, faith wasn’t enough; a miracle was needed. But Peter didn’t know what he was getting himself into, and as soon as he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink. Peter was in literally over his head and he didn’t need to be.
Don’t we do the same thing? Haven’t you ever gotten yourself into a situation that you didn’t need to be in, because of cloudy judgment? I know I have. Fear makes us do crazy and foolish things. We make rash decisions because well, if God is not going to do something about a situation then, we have to. Fear makes us behave in ways that God never intended for us. Fear makes us see enemies and monsters where there are none. Fear makes us push people away because they may potentially hurt us. They may look different than us or have different ideas and so we keep them away from us. We keep them out of our lives, and our homes, and our churches and even our country. They might take away our jobs, our homes, our freedom, our way of life and so we do not welcome the stranger. We keep to ourselves and create cliques to keep outsiders out. We gossip, we hate, we close our borders, make false accusations, and kill anyone who might possibly be a threat. We perpetuate violence and hatred because we are afraid – sometimes of nothing more than change because we think change means losing something rather than gaining something else. We have made the stranger our enemy instead of our brother and sister. We, like Peter and the disciples, do not recognize Jesus in our midst. God walks among us in the least likely of places, but we see the eyes of the stranger coming closer and closer and we react out of fear rather than love. We see the eyes of doom rather than the eyes of peace. Fear makes war. Fear destroys. Fear causes us to sink to levels we never dreamed we could ever possibly go.
But there is an antidote to fear. There is a way out of the depths that we often plunge ourselves into or that we find ourselves in. It’s called prayer. Prayer connects us to the Triune God. It connects God’s will and our will. Prayer dispels fear and replaces it with the love and peace of God. Prayer gives us courage in the midst of the storms and chaos of our lives. Before Jesus fed the thousands of people in last week’s gospel story, He prayed. Before He met the disciples on the boat, He stayed behind to pray. Jesus could speak words of peace because He found that peace by being in relationship to God through prayer. When Peter found himself sinking into the deep he prayed, “Lord, save me” and immediately “Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.” God hears our prayers even though at times it may not seem true. But what often seems like truth to us may in fact be an illusion.
Jesus came to break through the illusions of this world. He came to break through the illusions of truth we think are found in power, and greed, materialism, and sin. He came to break through the illusions of security we think are found in self-preservation, exclusionism, and racism. Jesus came to break through the illusions of scarcity to the truth of a life of abundance found in Him. When we look at life through the eyes of fear we don’t see a way out, but the good news is that through the eyes of faith there is hope and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We don’t need a huge amount of faith. Jesus tells us that all that is required is faith the size of a mustard seed. So when Jesus said to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Maybe he wasn’t chastising Peter. Maybe it was said in a kind and gentle manner, just as He speaks to us today. “My little one, why didn’t you trust me? Did you really think I would send you out and leave you all by yourself to face whatever awaited you? I told you I’d meet you. You just had to stay in the boat. I was coming to you.” Christ was walking right toward the disciples, but they didn’t recognize Him. Do we recognize Him?
Yes, the beautiful feet walking on the water were indeed carrying good news and they are carrying good news today! Jesus is still showing up in the unexpected places of our lives; we simply need to recognize Him through the eyes of faith. Jesus is found in the eyes of the people we least expect. He is found in the eyes of the person we don’t want to forgive. He is found in the eyes of the refugee. He is found in the eyes of the homeless, and the oppressed. The imprisoned and the addicted, the outcast, the stranger, and even the enemy. Faith breaks through the illusions that fear creates and helps us see the presence of God. Faith enables us to see beyond our fear and the truth might actually surprise us.
I was surprised that night long ago when I was barely 7 years old. Those eyes that kept coming closer and closer frightened me so much. But suddenly I was able to grab the flashlight and shine the light on whatever creature it was that was coming at me. My heart stopped. I couldn’t believe it. It was Beauty, my beloved cat. I felt like a fool. I had seen those eyes every day and yet somehow that night, I let my fear get the best of me. She wasn’t coming towards me to hurt me, she was coming to be near to me, to stay by my side in the darkness, to bring me comfort, just like Jesus who was coming to the disciples to be with them and bring them comfort.
Fear. It’s everywhere in our world and it’s a sinful seed that lurks within us all, but God comes to us despite our fears. God comes to us with a message of hope, and peace, and love. God comes to us to dispel our fears and bring us salvation. God loves us, we people of little faith. This good news is not an illusion. It may seem too good to be true, but it is true. God is real. God is here among us. And how beautiful are the feet of all those who bring the good news! Amen!