Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Proper 14 of Series A (Matthew 14:22-33)

“And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God!’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, the disciples didn’t want to get into the boat. Listen to the first verse of our text again: “Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.” He made them, He forced them, He compelled them to get into that boat, because they simply didn’t want to go. It wasn’t fear that held them back, nor was it even fatigue; no, instead it was a thirst for glory that made them want to stay. They had just watched as Jesus used five loaves and two fish to feed thousands of people; what else was possible for a man who could multiply food without breaking a sweat! They wanted to bask in the glory of that great miracle, perhaps some even wanted to make Jesus their ‘bread king,’ the one who could provide for all their physical needs in abundance. When you fill hungry stomachs, you have a captive audience, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

Jesus doesn’t want any part of this, and so He acts, ‘immediately,’ to get the disciples going one direction, and the crowds in another. His followers have received a taste of the glory, but now they must go out onto the lake. And the lake is hardly a place of glory. Instead, it is a place of danger, of struggles, of opposition. “The boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” The day that you became a child of God was a glorious day. The Lord poured water upon your head, claiming you as His own, delivering to you the very gifts of salvation. Each and every Sunday is a glorious day, for we come to this place to receive the great gifts of God; forgiveness, life, salvation. We receive His very Body, His true Blood, on this day for the forgiveness of all our sins. You are given here today in the Divine Service the very benefits that Christ won on Calvary’s cross! But yet, just like the disciples, at the end of this service you must go out onto the lake. Jesus compels you, He makes you get into the boat. He sent you out from the font on your baptism day, He sends you out from this altar today, and like the disciples in our text, you are sent into dangerous waters, where the wind is against you. Each and every day you encounter those who oppose your Christian faith, who try to lead you into sin and unbelief. Some are at work, some at school, and some uncomfortably close to home. The wind is against you as you struggle to pay the bills, as expenses continue to mount. In our current economy, you know what it is like to fight against the wind and the waves, trying to keep your family afloat. The wind blows hard as you sit in the doctor’s office, hearing discouraging news about yourself or a loved one; it gusts in your face whenever death invades your life. You are struggling at the oars, but it seems too often like you aren’t getting anywhere.

The disciples thought that they had to face the wind alone. “And after [Jesus] had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” It seems like Jesus has simply abandoned them to face the wind and the waves by themselves, on their own efforts. He doesn’t seem to care, or if He does, He isn’t anywhere close. He’s simply watching from far off, observing as His people struggle with sin and death in a dangerous world. This is the classic idea of the absent God, something believed by many in this world, even Christians. And you can hardly deny that you have thought the same thing; you too have felt abandoned by God, left alone to fight against the wind. You have wondered if God even cares, if He even listens to your desperate prayers.

However, appearances are deceiving: our God isn’t absent, He has not left you alone; our God is the God who comes to us. “And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.” Our God is Jesus Christ, who came to us in our own human flesh for our salvation. The same Jesus who became man, born of the Virgin Mary, comes to you and me in our distress, just as He came to the disciples as they struggled with the wind. The problem is that we often don’t identify our Lord. “But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear.” The disciples thought He was a ghost; we often fail to see Jesus in the work of a doctor, the comfort of a friend, the support of our spouse. Jesus works through means to help us in the midst of the storm, He uses people as His chosen instruments of comfort and assistance when we struggle against the wind. But as important as those instruments are, He has not left us without His own comfort. The disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost; we often fail to see Jesus in the Words of Scripture, in the Absolution of a pastor. Jesus addresses our needs with the power of His Word. “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.’”

Jesus doesn’t calm the storm for the disciples, nor does He always calm the storms in your life. Instead, He calms trembling hearts. “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” He gives the assurance of His presence, the promise that He has not abandoned you, but is at your side as the wind blows. He promises that He will deliver you from evil when He takes you to be with Himself, that He came to die so that the storm would not triumph, but instead you would reach the other side in safety. “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” You hear these words in the midst of the storm when a pastor declares: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness is yours; sin, Satan, and death have no hold upon you. Christ died to defeat the storm, to silence the wind. His Word proclaims to you the comfort of His victory, and His Word is enough. It is enough to know that the Lord of heaven and earth, who has authority over the wind and the waves, who shed His blood for your sin, cares for you and stands with you as the storm rages, promising to bring you ultimate deliverance when He takes you to be with Himself.

But is this assurance really enough? For many of us, this is a bit disappointing. We want more than mere words, we want miracles, we want glory! We want Jesus to end the storm, or else we aren’t going to believe that He’s really with us. That was Peter’s problem. “And Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’” It is hard to imagine how Peter could have the gall to say this to Jesus. Christ had just walked on the water, declared “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid,” and now Peter says, “If it is you.” If it is you. If is a word of doubt, a challenge to Jesus. Peter is putting our Lord to the test, challenging Jesus to perform some great miracle. He remembers the feeding of the five thousand, and now he wants to see more glory. It is easy to condemn Peter here, but Christians, including you and me, do this all the time. “If you really exist, you will heal me of my cancer.” “If you get me through this, I will start taking my faith seriously.” “If you are truly with me, nothing bad should happen to me.” If, if, if. Words are not enough, we demand miracles! We don’t want comfort in the storm, we want the storm to end! We, like Peter, are searching for glory, for a God that fulfills my needs when I want them fulfilled, a ‘bread king’ that gives us what we want.

Peter wants to travel on the glory road; He wants Jesus to do something even more amazing before he will believe in Him. And remarkably, Jesus agrees to Peter’s suggestion. “He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and waked on the water and came to Jesus.” So far, so good. Yes, miracles do happen; they happen each and every day. Our Lord does choose to act in the lives of people with great power and glory, healing disease, delivering from distress, stilling storms. Many of you have seen this in your lives or the lives of others. Jesus invites us to boldly pray to Him for deliverance from every storm, to pray for healing, to pray for miracles. But do we make miracles the condition of our faith in Jesus? Do we put our Lord to the test? Can the glory road sustain us in the storm? “But when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” If we stand in the storm demanding a miracle of our God as a condition of belief, our faith will fail; we will sink. And if there was ever a man that didn’t deserve rescue from drowning, it was Peter. He put Jesus to the test and mocked His words of comfort. But yet, Jesus does save him. “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” We demonstrate our little faith, we doubt our Lord in the midst of the storm, like Peter we don’t deserve any sort of rescue, but in His grace Christ provides it. He rescued us from sin and from death by giving up His own life into death for us. The storm raged against Him, indeed it killed Him, but in doing so the storm itself was defeated. Jesus died for you, to take you to a new heavens and a new earth where the wind will not rage against you, where you will live in peace forever.

And so we daily cry out for deliverance from the storms of this life, knowing full well that this deliverance may only come on the day Christ takes us home. We pray knowing that Christ has already won the victory, that His shed blood covers each and every one of our sins. We pray knowing that He has promised His presence and comfort even in the midst of the storm: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” In the Name of the One who has authority over the wind and the waves, the Creator who came to His creation to deliver it, who provides comfort in the midst of the storm, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

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