Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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Where There Is Jesus There Is Peace

Matthew 14:22-33

 Jesus walking on the water is one of his best known miracles.  Part of the reason for that is it’s found in three of the four Gospels, all but Luke.  Some of his miracles are only found in one of them.  But when Mark and John tell the story of this miracle, they don’t mention Peter stepping out of the boat to go to Jesus.  Only Matthew includes that detail.   

 Why not the others? Perhaps because it’s not the most flattering detail for Peter, who of course went on to become one of the most important leaders in the early Church.  We’ll talk later about why it’s not a flattering story for Peter.

 This is immediately after the feeding of the 5000, which happened near the town of Bethsaida, on the northeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee.  After that miracle, Jesus sends the disciples away by boat.  

 Why does he do that?  Well, John’s Gospel tells us that after the feeding of the 5000, the crowd got so worked up that they wanted to take Jesus and make him king by force, which was not what he was looking for! And perhaps the disciples being there only complicated the situation, since they were often prone to thinking of him as a political figure as well.  So Jesus sends both the disciples and the crowd away and then goes up into the hills to be alone in prayer.

 Jesus often spent time alone in the outdoors in prayer, to renew and strengthen that relationship with his heavenly Father.  There are about thirty places in the Gospels where it says Jesus did that.  If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to do that, needed to come apart from the world and spend focused time in prayer, then we are foolish to think that we do not.  

 Meanwhile, the disciples are headed back across the Sea of Galilee by boat.  They are headed for the village of Gennesaret, which was the next village south of Capernaum, Jesus’ “base of operations.”  It was about six miles from Bethsaida to Gennesaret.  

 But they are struck by a windstorm on the way, a common occurrence on the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea of Galilee sits 700 feet below sea level, so the climate there is hot and humid.  But the Sea is surrounded by mountains that reach up to almost 4000 feet above sea level, and the air in the mountains is much cooler and dryer.  When the sun

sets, the cool air from the mountains often rushes downhill and meets the hot air above the Sea.  And when hot meets cool, you get storms.  

 Our Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Dorsey, told us stories about the time he spent living in Israel.  He used to tool around the country on a motorcycle.  And he talked about he was at the Sea of Galilee, and it was just oppressively hot.  So he and his wife hopped on the bike and rode 15 miles into Upper Galilee.  Then they had to stop and put on their coats.  That was the recipe for the storms of the Sea of Galilee.

 In the fourth watch of the night, which was 3 to 6 AM, Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on the water.  There were some Old Testament stories about miracles involving water.  There was Israel passing through the Red Sea on the Exodus journey.  Their children passed through the Jordan in the same way.  The prophet Elisha did a miracle in which an iron axe head floated.  But walking on the water; that was different.  That was something only God could do.  Job 9:8 describes God by saying “He alone marches on the waves of the sea.”  

   The disciples are afraid; they think he is a ghost.  Most Jewish people in the first century believed in ghosts, even though the theologians of the day denied their existence.  They are terrified; as we would be!  No doubt they were already quite anxious being out in a small boat at night in heavy seas and this is just too much to bear. 

 Jesus says to them, literally in the Greek, “Fear not, I AM.”  And of course, the title “I AM” is significant because that is God’s name in the Old Testament.  God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh,” which means I AM, or it could also mean “I am the Living One.”  Combined with Jesus walking on the water, something only God could do, this is a pretty strong case for the deity of Christ.  And at the end of the story, they worship him, with good reason!

 But Peter doubts.  He says to Jesus, “If it’s really you, tell me to come.”  There is a hint of reminiscence here.  In Matthew chapter 4, after his baptism, that moment when God declares, “This is my beloved Son,” Jesus goes into the wilderness, and Satan says to him, “If you are the Son of God.”  In both cases there is in some way a proclamation of Jesus’ deity, and then immediately, someone says, “If you really are…”  Only this time, the doubting voice is not that of Satan, but that of Peter, the leader of the disciples.  In other words, Peter is not shown in a very good light in this story!  

 “If it’s you, tell me to come.”  And Jesus agrees, “Okay, come on, Peter.”  And Peter gets out of the boat.  

 Part of it is just who Peter is, right?  Peter is impulsive.  He is always promising more than he can deliver.  “Even if everyone else deserts you, Jesus, I never will.”  How did that work out, Peter?  He doesn’t stop to count the cost.  He doesn’t stop to consider if he can follow through. 

 But there’s doubt here, too.  Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; I AM.”  And Peter doesn’t take Jesus at his word.  He doubts.  He doubts God is there.  He doubts that there is no reason to fear.  

 He steps out of the boat, and he starts to sink.  Why? 

 The most common interpretation of this story is that Peter sinks because he takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to focus on his circumstances.  “I’m walking on the water.  At night.  In a storm!”  And then the moral of the story is keep your eyes on Jesus, not on the storms of life.  

 And I’ll admit, that works.  “That’ll preach!” as they say.  That’s not a bad takeaway!

 And what’s more, when Peter starts to sink, he cries out for Jesus!  That’ll preach, too!  And Jesus reaches out and lifts him up.  Psalm 18:16 says, “He reached down from heaven and rescued me.  He drew me out of deep waters.”  Oh, that’s just perfect, right?  Peter may have doubted, but Jesus is still faithful.

 But clearly, there is a lack of faith on Peter’s part.  Once they’re back in the boat, Jesus chides him for his lack of faith.  

 Let me tell you what someone else said about the story.  This is from a professor named Eugene Boring.  He used to be a professor at Texas Christian University.  I don’t know if he still is or not.  And by the way, if you think Dr. Boring is a good name for a professor, you’re not alone!  He writes, “Faith is not walking on the water.  Only God can do that.”  

   There is a way of thinking out there that says that if we have enough faith, then we can escape from the “laws of reality.”  If you get sick, you’ll be healed, if you have

enough faith.  If you have enough faith, bad things won’t happen.  If you have enough faith, you can pick up that venomous snake.  

But then if bad things do happen, it means you didn’t have enough faith.  If you lose your job, you didn’t have enough faith.  If you get sick, you didn’t have enough faith.  If your marriage falls apart, you didn’t have enough faith.  Then we are to blame for the bad things.  It’s our fault.  We didn’t have enough faith.  Is that how this all works?  

Dr. Boring goes on, “Faith is believing, in spite of the evidence, that God is with us in the boat, in the community of faith.”  One of the oldest pictures of the Church is that it is a boat.  That’s the reason why the sanctuary of a church building is called the nave, from the same word that means navy, as in boats.  It goes back to the story of Noah and the Flood.  The church is the Ark, the place of refuge from the storm outside.  

Why?  Because Jesus is here.  This is the Body of Christ.  And where Jesus is, there is peace.  And we are never alone in the storms of life.  God is with us.  He is with us in the Holy Spirit.   But he is also with us in a tangible way, in the Body of Christ.  And the Body of Christ is the presence of God in the midst of the storms of life.  

So perhaps a better morale of the story is, don’t step out of the boat.  Don’t leave the Body of Christ.

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