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Sermon August 13 2023

Pentecost 11 A 2023 Storms of Life

Matthew 14:22-33

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I love the ocean.  I love to hear the sound of waves crashing.  I love to be out on a ship on the ocean because there is always movement, even on a calm day.  I love to sit on the beach, watch, and hear the waves break on the shore.  

Yes, waves fascinate me.  And waves take away stress.  Waves rock me to sleep when I am on a cruise ship. But waves can also be dangerous.  A rouge wave, or a sneaker wave, can pop up unexpectedly and sink even the tallest ships.  The steady movement of waves, back and forth upon a shoreline, can create a rip current that can pull even the most experienced swimmer out to sea. 

Waves, during a storm, can beat upon the shoreline and destroy buildings, bridges, and anything else in its path.  Big, strong waves can make us feel helpless. Large, towering waves can make us feel like everything is out of our control.  And when this happens, the best we can do is just try and keep our heads above water. 

But the ocean is not the only place where this can happen.  Think of all the things in this world that can make us feel like life is out of our control. 

Think about all the situations in life that seem to just wash over us, wave after wave, making it hard for us to keep our head above water. 

Think about the times in your life when you were pulled in a direction you did not want to go due to the riptides occurring in your life.

It is no wonder that there are times in our lives when we feel just like the disciples in our Gospel text, out on a boat, in the middle of the sea, riding out a storm, confused, tossed about, bruised, hurt, and not knowing if we (I) will make it.

In a moment such as this, all we can really do is hold on, and pray that the storm will pass.  And cry out in a loud voice “Lord, have mercy!” 

It was not supposed to be this way.  Jesus Himself had sent His disciples out ahead of Him. 

After feeding 5000 men and many women and children, Jesus wanted some time for Himself.  So, he sent His disciples out ahead of Him, to cross the Sea of Galilee.  And He promised that He would follow them.

What should have been a safe, easy crossing turned into chaos.  The disciples were caught in a storm, and all of them became frightened, even the most experienced seaman (fisherman) in the group became frightened.  The situation was out of control.

And just when it seemed like it could not get any worse, the disciples saw a ghostly figure walking towards them.  With the wind in their faces, and the waves crashing all around them, the disciples do not know what to think. 

“What is happening?” the disciples wondered.  “What is going on?”  None of them had ever seen anything like this before. 

Thankfully, Jesus sensed their confusion.  And He called out to them and said “It is I!  Do not be afraid!”

Now Peter does not know what to think.  He wants proof that it is Jesus that is speaking to them. And so, he does the only thing he can think of and yells out “If it is truly you, tell me to come to you on the water.”   

Peter asks for the impossible.  And Jesus grants it to him.  Jesus yells out to Peter “Come!”  So, Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus.  But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and began to sink.  In fear he shouted out “Lord, save me.”

You know, I have heard sermons in the past informing me that Peter should have believed more strongly that Jesus had the power to allow Peter to walk on water.  And that Peter should have focused more on Jesus than on the waves. 

But think about it.  It is not in man’s power to walk on water.  And ironically, the name Peter, a name of honor bestowed upon Simon by Jesus Himself, means “rock.” And you know what happens when you throw a rock into a body of water.  It sinks.  Every time.

No, what makes Peter’s faith weak is not that he did not focus on Jesus but that he doubted that Jesus was with him during his time of trial.  He cried out “If it is you Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” 

That, my friends, is the doubt that Jesus was responding to when He said to Peter “Oh ye of little faith.”  How could Peter even think that Jesus would not be with him.

Had not God promised throughout the Old Testament that He would be with us.  In the Book of Joshua, for example, we hear “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

In Deuteronomy we are told “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

And in the Hymn Book of the Old Testament, we sing “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

In the midst of the storm Peter had forgotten these promises.  And His faith became weak.  And He needed a miracle to prove that it was Jesus that was calling out to him.

And that is exactly what Jesus did for him.  Even so, the miracle does not change Peter’s situation.  And the wind keeps blowing, and the waves keep battering him, and there is still a reason to be afraid, and a reason to hang on for dear life.

No miracle will save him, no supernatural ability like walking on water will protect him, so he cries out “Lord, save me.” And Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him.  He didn’t hesitate.  Jesus was there. 

And even though Peter had doubts, Jesus helped him get back into the boat.  And as soon as He did so, the wind ceased, and the waves calmed down.  And those in the boat worshipped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

You know, in the end, it doesn’t matter.  Big faith, little faith, it is all the same.  Jesus is here with us.  And Jesus does not abandon us.  Christ is with us as we hold on for dear life. 

Christ is with us as we face all those situations in life that where we find ourselves powerless to change our outcome. 

Jesus is even with us when we doubt.  He is with us when our faith becomes weak.  He is with us even when we have trouble keeping our heads above water.

Let us not forget this.  But when we do, and we will, may we like Peter shout out “Lord, save me.”  And then rely on His Redeeming Activity.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you do not abandon your people to the power of the evil one.  Grant that those who suffer may find strength in the Cross of Jesus and be filled with your peace now and forever.  Amen.