Walks On

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Matthew 14:21-33
10 August, 2014

Walks On

The miraculous meal is over. The baskets are full – 12 of them. Jesus has sent the disciples away. He sent them back to the boat and to head to the other side of the sea. Jesus blesses the gathered crowd and sends them on their way. Sending them away with full bellies and overflowing spirits. And now Jesus heads to the mountain to pray. Like Moses and Elijah – there close to the clouds he spends time with the still small voice that is God.

After waiting a while for the Jesus, the disciple figure it is best to head back to the other side of the sea. This isn’t the first time Jesus has wandered off to pray, they knew he would catch up with them in the morning. The needed to get going because the fishermen among them could smell the change in the air. They knew there was a storm coming. And storms on the Sea of Galilee came on quickly and with ferocity. It is no small body of water – about the size of Washington D.C. On a good day it would take most of the day to cross, but with the storm brewing the disciples knew they would have to work hard to make it safely.

They pushed out and about a third of the way through the strong winds began to blow. They dropped the sails and began to use the oars. The twelve of them – six on each side began to rock in the rhythm of the swelling sea. The salty water stinging their eyes. For some – especially the tax collector – the bounteous gift of loaves and fish became food for the fish as he wretched overboard. The wind tossed the small wooden framed boat around like a bath toy in the hands of a sugared up toddler in the tub.

Then the rain and the lightening started. Molten arcs of burning electrons reached from the sea to the heavens. The pelting rain stung – it was coming down with such force. Thaddeus began his bailing duty. In a matter of minute the water – from the waves and the rain – had begun to fill the boat. Bucket in hand he began Sisyphean task of emptying the boat only to have new water fill the vessel.

The noise was deafening. The pouring rain on the sea. The pelting of the planks of wood on the boat. The roar of the waves outdone by the shriek of the wind. James and John along with Andrew and Peter were shouting to each other trying to figure out how to keep afloat. If these four were terrified – these fishermen who knew this sea like the back of their hands, how could the others be expected to keep calm? All hope seemed to be lost.

And then the other James began hallucinating. “Is that Jesus?” he asks to no one in particular. The others looked where he was and knew that death must be near for they all saw the ghost approaching thorough the pouring rain and rocking waves. Steady in the screaming wind. “It’s is a ghost,” another voice yelled. Panic filled the boat. The bailing had ceased. The water kept coming in. It was a moment of resignation when they knew they had lost the battle. There in the middle of the sea they would find their rest.

But then the voice. The voice they knew so well seemed to be with them on the boat. “Take heart, I AM, Do not be afraid.” And even though they couldn’t explain how, a sense of peace came over the boat. They saw Jesus. Peter leaning off the stern of the boat shouted at the the phantasm, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you.” “Come,” replied the voice.

With singleness of mind, leaving his terrified friends, Peter leapt out of the boat and on the the water and he did not sink. Tears flooded his sea salt burning eyes. His burning eyes focused on who he knew now was Jesus. Step after precarious step he walked toward Jesus, and then a Strong Wind caught him off guard changed his focus. He lost his sight and began to sink. “LORD SAVE ME!” And as water began to fill his lungs, a hand came down and pulled him out of the water. “Peter, Why did you doubt?”

****

I don’t know about you, but up until recently every time I heard this story it stopped there. Jesus seeming to scold Peter. Scolding him for not having faith. For not trusting in Jesus. This story for me as a kid was really cool. I mean, come on, Jesus was walking on water. But it was also very guilt inducing.

There were several times, at church camp, in the swimming pools, in the bathtub even when I tried to walk on the water like Peter. Now, is time for confession – please tell me I was not alone in this? Show of hands, who tried to walk on the water? I know at least one of you because we talked about it earlier this week. [Acknowledge the number]. Ok, now of those of you who tried – how man succeeded? That’s what I thought, I was the king of the splash down.

Now, how did that make you feel? For me, it made me feel like garbage. I believed in Jesus. I trusted in him. I went to church. I sang in Choir. I wore those really cheesy t-shirts in the 90’s. I was a Christian and I failed. I felt like Jesus was scolding me. “You of little faith. Why do you doubt?” When I tried to step of the water I was doing it in faith. What is wrong with me that I failed? Why wasn’t I good enough? I felt like garbage.

For so long we have been told that this story is about us. That is about our lack of faith. That we are somehow deficient and weak. That it is about us strengthening our faith so that we can walk on the water, so that we can move a mountain. How much faith is the faith of a mustard seed?

So, maybe if we lock ourselves up. If we draw into ourselves and pray more or go to church more or this or that our faith will increase. Then we will not get scolded by Jesus.

But church, if that is how we read this story. If that is how it has been ingrained into our psyches, then it misses the whole point of the story. It makes the story about us and our weakness and not about Jesus and his amazing power! This is not a story about Peter. It is not a story about us. It is a story about Jesus.

It is a story about the same Jesus who fed 10,000 and is now walking through a storm to get to those he loves. It is about a Jesus who, when Peter gets overwhelmed by the stormy winds, reaches out his hand and picks him up. It is about a Jesus who carries his friend into the boat and calms the storm. It is about the one whom the disciples – for the first time – say, “Surely this is the Son of God!”

We are characters in this story. We are Peter and the Disciples. Some of us are stuck on the boat in fear – and that is ok. That is where you are. Some of us are Peter who take that leap of faith and say, “Yes Lord.” All of us are those scared ones who are so overwhelmed by the storm winds in front of us it is hard to see Jesus. The storm winds that causes us to question. That draws our focus.

Church there are stormy winds that are always blowing in our lives.

The stormy winds blow when we are trapped by fear. When the violence around us is killing the children in our streets. When their blood rains down like the rain of the stormy sea.

The story winds blow when the news we see makes us long for the time when we will see Jesus’ return. The lives lost in Gaza. The bombs in Ukraine. The slaughter of the innocents in Iraq.

The Stormy winds blow when we cast blame for the worlds problems on the “other.” And don’t acknowledge our complicity. The fact that the bombs used to kill children in Gaza are made by us. The fact that the slaughter in Iraq stems from our ill-informed engagement. The fact that part of the reason there is violence on the streets is because the church has been silent for so long – so insulated that they did not notice the warning signs. So wrapped up in trying to survive that it misses its neighbors dying.

The story winds blow when the unemployment rate on the Near east side of Indy is near 15%. That one in three people in our neighborhood lives in poverty. That people returning from prison return to a neighborhood that has no options – and the only response is to return to crime to feed families.

The stormy winds blow when the number of prison beds is determined by 3rd grade test scores.

The stormy winds blow when children crossing our borders for safety are seen as vermin instead of the crying and grieving face of God.

The stormy winds blow when we are hit with the diagnosis what will change how we experience the world. That the angel of death is real.

The stormy winds blow when the bills have piled so high that there is no way out. That in order to survive choices need to be made that will either feed the kids or the line the pockets of the electric company.

The stormy winds blow when the cloak of invisibility covers us and we feel ignored and forgotten.

The stormy winds blow and as they do a voice cries out – “Take Heart! I AM! Do not fear.”

The voice of Jesus – the voice that healed the sick, fed the multitudes, challenged the authorities, that blew the cosmos into existence – the voice of Jesus cries out to us in the middle of the storm and we respond by stepping out of the boat. We respond in faith. “Precious Lord, take my hand.” We respond knowing and trusting that it is Jesus who calls us out into the stormy winds. It is Jesus who stands in the middle of the storm. It is Jesus who, when the winds distract us and we fall – it is Jesus who reaches out his hand and instead of scolding us say, “Why do you doubt. I am here.” It is Jesus who reaches out his hand and picks us up and carries us back to the boat. It is Jesus who calms the storm and brings us safely to the shore. It is Jesus who truly is the Son of God.

So, sisters and brothers. Don’t feel bad when you fall. When the stormy winds of life knock you about. Don’t feel that you are not worthy when your faith falters. When doubt and questions overtake you. Reach out out hand and cry with Peter. “LORD SAVE ME.” That is the act of faith. That is the acknowledgement that we depend on God rather than ourselves. That is what happens when we reach out our hands.

Jesus did not ignore or scold Peter. He does not ignore or scold us. He walks on water in the middle of the stormy winds to take our and and bring us to safety. “Precious Lord, take my hand.”

Thanks be to God.

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