Sermon
August 8, 1999
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Matthew 14:22-33  Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

28 Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29 He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (NRSV)

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 Sermon:

Having just come back from a week at the ocean, I was interested to read this story about the wind and the waves and Jesus walking on the water. But what really caught my attention was Peter - his impulsiveness to brave the storm, to step out of the boat and walk toward the Lord.

Just as you might think, he does sink, but the Lord lifts him up and saves him and calms the storm.

I’m a tentative person around water, especially around stormy water. I think I would have stayed low in the boat, never making that leap of faith, never getting to the sinking part, let alone to the saving part.

I admire Peter - he just made the leap into the stormy sea.

I’m sure it wasn’t out of ignorance that Peter jumped - he was a fisherman, a man familiar with the sea, a man who respected its power and rage.

Peter must have been perplexed by the wind that came up against them, that turned the water’s surface into battering waves. He lived in a world where every wind that blew and every turn in the weather was seen as a judgment of God upon the purposes of those aided or afflicted.

Peter would know quite well the story of Jonah, how the word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying, "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me." But how Jonah set out to flee from the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh; "But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up."

This would make sense to Peter: Jonah was disobeying the command of God, fleeing from God’s word, so the wind rose up to resist him and turn him around.

Peter and the disciples, on the other hand, are not fleeing from the word of the Lord, but obeying it. It was Jesus who told the disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side.

They are only doing as the Lord commanded, so why then this wind, why this resistance, why this storm?

Perhaps this is a question we might ask when we are frustrated in our efforts to do the right thing - to mend broken relationships, to offer or find forgiveness, to help our children or to change our lives or our world for the better. Why the difficulty, why the turmoil, why the wind in our face?

Whatever the reason "Why?", the reality is that a faithful relationship with God does not consist merely of obedience, approval, and rewards. It is much more dynamic.

It consists of temptation and perseverance, passion and redemption, doubt and trust, betrayal and forgiveness, storm and calm, death and resurrection.

Peter’s obedience was the first step to faith, but not the last. Even in obedience the winds shifted into his face and the storm rose up before him and thwarted all his efforts to move forward.

Yet, the story goes on, early in the morning, as the wind and waves beat them back, the disciples see the Lord walking toward them on the sea.

Who is this man?

When Job argued with his friends he described God as the one

who removes mountains,

who commands the sun,

who alone stretched out the heavens

and tread upon the waves of the Sea;

There is no doubt that to the teller of this story Jesus on the water is a sign of the presence of God - a manifestation of the divine power from which creation flows and to which creation will return and in union with which all things find their proper order.

Not long before, the Pharisees asked for a sign, and Jesus said: An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah."

And yet here, although not asked for, a sign is given to the disciples - a revelation that they see in the face of Christ the very face of God, they hear in his words the very Word of God; they witness in his healing the very mercy of God; and that when they see him on the cross, they will come to know the great defenseless power that is the love of God.

But for the moment, upon first seeing him, their reaction is fear.

They would rather have the familiarity of the stormy sea than the revelation that more is possible than they could ever have imagined.

They would rather have the certainty of the shaky boat than the sight of this figure walking towards them and making plain to them that:

Things are not as they appear;

This is not going the way you expected.

God’s power is not confined to the limits of your imagination.

And so they react in fear to the very one who will save them.

Even the messenger of salvation can at first glance be terrifying, especially if he or she comes to us from a direction we don’t expect or in a way we have prejudged as impossible.

So the disciples cry out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

"Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." They have come to recognize that voice. They understand his teaching about the Good Shepherd: He calls his own by name and leads them out, and they follow him because they know his voice.

Coming to know the Lord opens a way to great comfort. To know his word, to recognize his voice, to sense his presence in the wind and the wave and stormy sea. "Take heart," he says, "it is I; do not be afraid."

Now it is Peter’s turn. "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."

It’s not recorded, but I wonder what the reaction of the other disciples was:

Peter - be quiet - be content to stay in the boat - don’t be crazy, don’t stand up - don’t rock the boat -don't step out....

But it’s too late! That familiar voice comes across the water: "Come."

What is Peter reaching for here? He wants not simply to know Christ, to admire him from a distance, but to be with Christ, to achieve a closeness, a unity. It is an expression of admiration, affection, and love. He is giving himself to Christ and to the power of Christ.

So Peter gets out of the boat, starts walking on the water, and heads toward Jesus. But when he notices the strong wind, he becomes frightened, and beginning to sink, he cries out, "Lord, save me!"

Poor Peter, he lost his focus. When he looked to the Lord he could rise above the chaos of wind and wave, but his look is not steady - he notices the strong wind and becomes frightened and begins to sink.

The full power of faith comes only with a clarity of vision, and a resistance to distraction. When we lose sight of God, when our focus shifts to the dangers and troubles that surround us, it is very easy to sink beneath the waves. What will lift us up -- Who will lift us up. Peter cries, "Lord, save me!"

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

You have probably often heard the expression that we are saved by faith. But Jesus reaches out to save when our faith fails us. He doesn’t demand perfect faith, but is ready to lift us up if our faith is only strong enough to allow us to cry out: "Lord save me."

So Peter is lifted up and when they get into the boat, the wind calms. And those in the boat worship him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

So here we are, just like those disciples. We have felt the wind in our face, we have been shaken by the pounding waves, we have seen the lord across the stormy sea, we have heard his voice and sought to answer his call.

Perhaps our faith has been less than perfect. Perhaps we have never gotten beyond clinging to the side of the boat. Or perhaps we have made a leap only to lose our focus and sink beneath the waves.

Do we at least have the strength and faith to say "Lord, save me."

If only that, it will be enough. Christ comes to us. The wind is stilled, the waves are calm, the boat suddenly steady; and we do what is only proper under these circumstances: We worship him and say: Truly You are the Son of God.

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Let us Pray:

O Master of the wind and of the wave, who comes to us at unexpected moments and in unexpected ways, we turn our hearts to you in worship and in prayer. You are our source of strength and comfort, healing and peace. From you flows every good and gracious gift of life, and in your presence we find strength and hope. Lord, save us.

Thank you for the many blessing which bring joy and happiness into our lives and into the lives of those we love. Thank you for the time we are privileged to spend together as a community of faith. And thank you for your invitation to share with you and with one another our deepest longings and fondest hopes in a time of prayer. Lord, save us.

Especially we pray for those we know who are in need of comfort and healing: The Pearsons, Leslie Jacobs, Brian Johnson, Jean Barlow, Mindy Rutz at the death of her Grandmother, and for those we name in the quiet of our hearts.

We ask a blessing on your church gathered here this morning and our life together. Especially be with Jean Grambow and David Newcomb, married her yesterday.

Strengthen us to bring the good news of your love into every circumstance and situation of our lives, and renew in us the hope of life eternal in your new creation. Lord, save us, for we pray in your name. Amen.

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Benediction:

May God give you courage to walk in the paths of peace, patience to outlast the troubles of the day, joy that radiates from the inside out and love that erases barriers and heals the wounds. God go with you. Amen.

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