Sermon 14A – Matthew 14:22-33
St Alban’s in the Theater, Arlington, TX
Sometimes when I am scheduled to preach, I look at the Gospel reading and think, “Oh Yay! I know this story!” but then as the week goes on, I realize that maybe I know the story a little too well. I start to feel as though everything I know about it has already been said by far better preachers than I am. I realize that you all may have heard sermons on this Gospel reading so many times that you could probably preach it yourselves. It can look quite hopeless by Wednesday, if I haven’t decided on a direction yet. So this week took a different turn. I do not know you all well as a group, but I think – I hope – that I know you well enough to preach this sermon. It was begging to be preached more specifically than I would usually do in a Supply situation, but I hope what it spoke to me this week will be helpful to you.
This is a common story in our Gospels. So common in fact, that this is the second time that the author of Matthew tells a version of it. The first version had Jesus asleep on the boat when the storm blew in, frightened disciples, Jesus showing command over the storm, “peace be still” & “oh you of little faith,” and the disciples ending up confused, “what kind of man is this?”
In Mark and John’s versions, Jesus walks on water, but not Peter. John’s has a freaky magical ending, and Mark’s ends with the disciples being confused with hardened hearts. Weird, right?! There is no version of this story in Luke – maybe he though Matthew overdid it?
And then there is today’s version. Jesus makes them leave after the Feeding of the 5,000 – pushes them onto the boat. Then he goes to pray – alone – that must be important because it’s there twice – all alone. Later, he walks across the water to catch up with the boat that is now out in the middle, being tossed about with no sign of stars under the cloud cover so they can get their bearings. Many are fisherman by trade, so I assume they were not frightened yet, but surely they were very tired. They are not afraid until they think they see a ghost – but Jesus assures them that he is not a ghost. This is where Peter comes in – this is the only story with Peter so I feel like what we are to learn may hinge on this. Let’s look at this part closer.
Peter makes a curious statement “If it is you, command me to come to you” and Jesus says “Come.” Curiouser and Curiouser as our friend Sheldon would say. “if it is you” – how many times have you prayed that? I know I have prayed that a lot! Mine usually sounds something more like “God, if this is your will – if this is how you want to be to go” “If this is you…” right? Surely I’m not the only one. This is the hard work of discernment friends. What is God calling us to do; is this what Jesus would do?
And then: “Come.” Come on into the stormy water, come into the buffeting waves, walk toward me in the rough seas, come on into the fierce headwind. Jesus – my sweet, fair, lovely, always looking out for me savior, says “Come.” The Jesus of my immature Christian life would’ve said, “Stay on the safe ship with your friends. Stay where it’s dryer, and warmer. Stay where it’s safe.” As I mature in my faith, I recognize this Jesus more and more – the one who says “Come. It’s not always going to be easy. It’s not always going to be comfortable, but my burden is easy and my yoke is light. Yes, there is a burden and a yoke. Yes there is a storm, and cold water, and a strong wind and rough seas. Come into the storm where you will find discomfort.”
If you remember, because I know you have heard this before, Matthew was written to a devout Jewish community. A community who already believed in God, but was not yet sure about who this Jesus guy was. The whole Gospel of Matthew is story after story of proving who Jesus is. Now here’s a tricky part. In Matthew’s time of writing, the Christian church was under great persecution. It was not safe to be a Christian. Still isn’t – let’s keep Iraqi & Syrian Christians high on our prayer list. Those Christians were being killed then also. So Matthew writes this story – he’s the only one to write this version with Peter that has Jesus calling Peter – the Rock of the Church – into the storm. This story has many audiences: the disciples in the boat, the people reading it in times of persecution, and us here today. How do we see this story? Are there any faithful Christians here undergoing hardship? Hmmmm.
“Oh you of little faith.” After wrestling and praying with this Gospel this last week, I hear that statement said with great love – great admiration. The hand is outstretched, the love shines in his eyes as he says “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt? Here I am. I am with you always – even in – maybe especially in the storms.” And in THIS version – the only one like this – the disciples say, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
You are a community weathering a storm. The seas are rough, the wind is strong and bites. I know you are a faithful community, discerning God’s will as well as any of us can. I know you are looking for where God is moving – looking for Jesus to walk by in the rough water. And I know that you are mature enough to know that this is temporary. You will find a faithful leader who will climb in this boat with you and help navigate to the next place God is calling you. You are trying to follow Jesus – and you are, simply by being here. You are a witness to God’s love and justice. You are God’s Beloved People. It’s been a tough summer, but you are still here. What is next, oh you of little faith? Will you stay confused and harden your hearts as in Mark and the other story in Matthew, will you wish for a magical ending like John gets? I hope not.
You are faithful disciples. You will continue to worship Jesus, look for God working here in Arlington, and listen for the wind of the Holy Spirit. You are in the midst of the storm, and I pray that when it has calmed, you will not doubt God’s faithfulness to you and you will offer praise for God’s outstretched hand as you are weathering this storm. Amen.
Hopefully this will post as an audio file on the right sidebar Podbean Player