“Stepping Out Into Troubled Waters”
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Matthew 14: 22-33
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
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We continue this week with our series called “Unraveled.” Last week we talked about Abraham and Sarah…the focus was on the unraveling of Sarah. For years and years she prayed for a child only to discover at a very old age she was to bear a son. The laughter of disbelief turned into laughter of celebration. But in between were these years of a gradual unraveling, waiting, and waiting for her prayers to be answered. An Unraveling that only God can weave back into a joyful life! Sarah learned to seek God when her plans fell apart! Hopefully, in this series, we too will learn to seek God when our plans fall apart!
This week we are looking at Peter, a disciple of Jesus who experienced Jesus in a new way. Scripture gives to us this powerful story of storms, water, fear, and faith! Peter filled with fear, calls out to Jesus, steps out of the boat, and attempts to walk on troubled waters. Where should we begin to decipher this formidable story?
First, let’s talk about Jesus. He has just finished a full day of preaching to the crowds and fed five thousand people. (You remember that story!) Scripture tells us that the disciples left in the boat right after this event. But Jesus stayed back and went up the mountain to pray. He then came down and saw the boat out in the water in turbulent waters and wanted to join the disciples, so he walks on the water and headed to the boat. This display of power that Jesus has over the natural elements is a new revelation for the disciples. Yes, they have seen Jesus heal people, they have watched him multiply food to feed the hungry but this, this walking on water is a whole new level of power and divinity…a visual demonstration of just who he is. When Jesus and Peter are finally back in the boat this experience led them to claim that Jesus is the Son of God. But something else is revealed here, Jesus is the Son of God but perhaps more accurately he is God. Able to have power over the natural world.
Now let’s turn to Peter. He’s looking out over the water and experiencing this dangerous storm and sees this figure moving toward him. You know what it’s like in the early morning, hard to see things clearly…Peter along with the disciples cry out in fear. Jesus speaks to them and even though the identity of Jesus is still questionable, Peter needs verification that this is Jesus and asks if he could walk on water. So, picture this scene, Peter has his eyes on Jesus, sees Jesus standing on the water, he steps out of the boat believing Jesus has given him the power to walk on water but then looks around and sees the tumbling, dangerous, frightening water and starts to sink. Then at that moment of total collapse, Jesus reaches down and pulls him up and they both get into the boat.
Now the disciples also have an important part of this story too. Along with Peter, they are frightened by the approach of this figure in the early morning light and they become witnesses to Peter’s attempt to walk on water and the action of Jesus to grab him and pull him up. What they saw convinced them and confirmed for them along with Peter that Jesus truly was the Son of God.
As we look at this story, you and me together from our own faith perspective there is so much hidden under the surface so many applications to our own life of faith. From this story, we learn that Jesus works in ways that are not always recognizable. Sometimes we get only glimpses, an outline at best, and often, so often Jesus comes into our lives in unexpected ways. I never will forget this moment I experienced that very realization. Our family was hosting a Nigerian family, a mother a daughter who came to the United States so their daughter, Buki could have a heart reconstruction surgery. Someday I will tell you more about this faith changing story but for now, this is what I want to share. One morning I was watching over Buki and she had these deep, beautiful brown eyes, and I remember so distinctly looking into her eyes thinking they were truly the eyes of Jesus and Jesus was looking back at me. Yes, Jesus does appear in unexpected ways. Also, regardless of our level of faith and trust, regardless of our doubting, Jesus is there, he is holding out a hand and pulls us up out of the water. He will not let us drown! Christ’s love and companionship will always be there and even more assuredly when we need it most!
Now with Peter, we also have some things to learn. Peter is the only disciple that stepped out of the boat. Let’s give him some credit here! Once he knew it was Jesus he stepped out relying on Jesus’s power to let him walk on water. My friends we are called to take that step of faith again and again even when there are turbulent, dangerous waters…we are to be faithful to the call of Christ and be willing to take the risk of what this faithfulness looks like. And this we must never forget, if we truly take these bold moves to follow Christ’s call in our own lives, when we start sinking (like Peter) and we will all sink at some time, we must over and over again realize that our faith is not in ourselves but in the living Christ…and like Jesus did for Peter, Christ will grab us and pull us out of the waters into a safe place. Having fear is not a reason to hold back, fear is simply a sign we are taking a risk and leaning out in faith!
Oh, but there is more to learn from this story! The disciples are also our teachers and from them, we learn totally different. Basically, they watched everything, they are simply observing what happened, and yet at the end of this “water-walking” event, they along with Peter worshipped Jesus and claimed he was the “Son of God.” As one commentary said so perfectly, “Individuals who risk boldly and move toward the call of Jesus can make a difference in the lives of other believers.” That’s true, isn’t it? Being a Christian is a risky business, but if we are willing to step out in faith, we can help others find their own courage to do the same. Others benefit from our own feeble attempts to follow Christ, even when we sink down and have to call out for help, it’s okay for there will always be a strong hand to lift us up!
I’d like to end with a quote from a sermon William H Willimon that so perfectly speaks to our life of faith, “If Peter had not ventured forth, had not obeyed the call to walk on the water, then Peter would never have had this great opportunity for recognition of Jesus and rescue by Jesus. I wonder if too many of us are merely splashing about in the safe shallows and therefore, have too few opportunities to test and deepen our faith. The story implies today that if you want to be close to Jesus, you have to venture forth out on the sea you have to prove his promises through trusting his promises, through risk and venture.”
When Peter’s life started unraveling, as he sunk into the troubled waters, Jesus was there! When our life is falling apart and we are unraveling, Christ will be there for us too! Amen