Jesus’ Presence Changes Everything

 This is the sermon I preached August 6 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The passage is Matthew 14:22-33.


The Sea of Galilee is not a sea. It is a lake, often called Kinneret. It is larger than Chautauqua Lake, but not a lot. The word, translated ”sea,” could also be translated “Lake.” Given the storm we find the disciples in, it’s no wonder translators opted for “sea.”  

The sea was understood to be a living, chaotic, potentially deadly spirit (David Ewart, holytextures.com). And it was between 3 and 6 am when Jesus was walking toward the disciples. How would you feel? Don’t things always seem worse in the middle of the night? And in a storm?

The disciples were frightened. Scripture says they were “terrified” when they saw Jesus walking in the storm on the sea. The word used here for “terrified” can also be used to describe a sea that has been agitated and stirred up. In other words, the disciples' inner state is now a perfect reflection of their outer circumstances (Ewart). 

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” These words convey the essence of this gospel passage. The disciples do not have to originate the encounter. Remember, God is the God who always comes down, who always is the initiator who draws followers to God self. Jesus walks to them and calls to them from a distance.  

“…do not be afraid.” Jesus is with his people. They’re in trouble. He knows it and comes to them. We have two responses to Jesus’ presence with the disciples. The first is comfort.  

In the middle of the terrors of the night, when you have been drowning in problems, have you heard that voice saying, “…do not be afraid?” God is with us in the midst of frightening diagnoses, weather that has overwhelmed our neighborhoods, like it has in Hawaii. Not to mention the many wars around the world. Here in Bemus Point, we are relatively untouched by much of the negative, scary occurrences in our world today. At times, we get a lot of rain, but it doesn’t look like a river is running through the village. It’s rare when we have a tornado watch like yesterday. Yes, high winds have blown down trees and caused some damage, but not like it does on a regular basis in other places.  

What a difference the presence of Christ makes for the believer then and now. It not only comforts believers, but gives them courage. Peter got so excited he couldn't stay put. The text says if it is Jesus, but a better translation is since. Hear the difference. “Lord, [since] it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter knew it was Jesus. Here is a challenge of faith because of Christ’s presence.  

Jesus did issue the command and Peter did obey. We know the rest of the story. Peter was walking along just fine until he noticed he was walking on the sea during a terrible storm. As long as he looked at Jesus, all was well.

Peter walked on water over daunting circumstances. After all, he and the other disciples could have died in such a severe storm. It’s not only over adverse circumstances that Peter walked. He also walked to greater discipleship. Peter advanced into God’s desired future for himself, for the other disciples, and for the church of the time to come. “There is always a personal cost to be paid, a radical summons to faith to be heard and answered. Spirituality must take the form of discipleship” (I Wan Russell-Jones, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost). 

What challenges has God issued to us as individuals and as a church? Can we keep our hope in God and not get distracted by the storms of financial limitations? Can we continue to walk in God’s desired future as we work to eliminate childhood hunger? Can we work together as the people of God, sharing God’s love with those who choose to stay home on Sunday mornings? How else has God challenged you personally?

When we lived in RI, Ray and I were both on the church council of Emanuel Lutheran Church in West Warwick. One evening, another council member passed out copies of a book to each of us. The title was, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat.  Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Amen!

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