10th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 19:9-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from
the one who comes to us in the midst of storms. Amen
Today we have the story of the miracle of Jesus walking on water,
and after spending time with this story this week
I actually think that part is the least interesting thing about it,
the walking on water was a means to an end,
rather what I’ve found exciting
is that in this short story is found the whole of a life of faith.
Now this story isn’t an isolated event
and much meaning comes from what happens in the life of Jesus
and the disciples
before we get to this point.
Jesus is baptized by John
starts his public ministry
and gains wide acclaim as a teacher and healer,
but then he goes home to Nazareth
the folks in his home town reject him
and he is unable to do many deeds of power among them,
right after this rejection
he hears of the death of John the Baptist,
beheaded in prison,
and he needs some time alone to grieve and pray,
so he gets in a boat
and sets sail across the sea
intending to go out to the wilderness alone.
But the people get wind of what he is up to
and they go by land
so that by the time Jesus reaches the other shore
he is met with a great crowd
who need healing and guidance,
and he has compassion for them
and so works among them,
at the end of the day the disciples point out
that the crowds need something to eat
and with five loaves of bread and two fish
the vast crowds eat until they are full.
And that’s where our story today picks up,
Jesus still needs that time alone with God
and so we are told that
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.”
Our English translation sounds like Jesus strongly suggested
the disciples get into the boat
but the Greek paints a stronger picture,
what we hear as “made”
can also be translated as “compel or necessitate, drive by force or threats”.
Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat
in the same way a parent makes a reluctant toddler go to bed
and once he’s gotten them into the boat
and on their way
he dismisses the crowds
and finally has time to pray.
Now while Jesus is off praying
the disciples are in the boat out on the water,
and a storm has come up,
the boat is being tossed about by the waves
and the wind is driving them farther and farther from Jesus
to a point far from the land,
so far that the separation now seems permanent.
The disciples are afraid.
And that’s when Jesus comes to them,
defying all logic and the laws of nature
to be with them in the midst of the storm,
but when they see him they are terrified,
they think he’s a ghost,
they cry out in fear
“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘take heart, it is I; do not be afraid’”
Jesus speaks peace into the midst of their terror
and he uses the name of God,
or at least the name God gave Moses
all the way back at the burning bush.
Remember God appears to Moses
in a bush that is burning but not consumed by the fire,
and God tells Moses to go free the Israelites
from Egypt on God’s behalf
and Moses reluctantly agrees but says,
who shall I say sent me
and God replies “tell them I Am sent you”.
So anytime we hear Jesus say I Am,
he is revealing his divinity,
his intimacy with God.
This is what Jesus says to the terrified disciples
in the midst of the storm,
and these words produce great faith.
Peter hears these words and he says
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Now here again is a nuance of translation,
we hear the ‘if’ as Peter testing Jesus
but the sense of it is more ‘because’,
Jesus’ word of revelation moves Peter to great faith
and so he cries out “Lord, because it is you,
command me to come to you on the water”
Because you are Lord
I believe that I can do the impossible.
And Jesus says “come”
and Peter gets out of the boat
and he walks on the water to Jesus,
That is until he loses focus,
he takes his eyes off Jesus
and he notices the wind and the waves
and he realizes that he can’t walk on water
and he becomes frightened
and begins to sink
and cries out “Lord, save me!”
“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.”
and together they climb back into the boat
and at this point the storm stops,
and in the calm after the storm
the disciples worship Jesus saying ‘truly you are the Son of God.’
The disciples’ experience
is the life of faith in a nutshell.
Jesus has called them
and they have followed him,
seen him do great things,
even worked with him to do some great things
and then just when they’ve seen an amazing sight,
Jesus puts them in a boat and sends them away.
So there they are,
in a boat that they don’t want to be in,
and circumstances out of their control
are driving them away from the one they want to be with
to a point where the gap seems to great to bridge,
feeling alone, maybe a little abandoned,
and probably more than a little bit scared.
And when Jesus comes to them
in a seemingly impossible manner
they are terrified and don’t recognize him,
until he identifies himself and offers peace,
And then their faith is stronger than before,
so strong as to be able to do the impossible,
and they want to do the impossible
so they try and they’re doing it!
Until they look around
and notice all the reasons they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing
and they get scared and start to sink,
and they cry out to Jesus ‘save me’
and Jesus reaches out,
brings them to safety
and as the storm is calmed
and the disciples’ faith is strengthened once again
with the realization of the greatness of the one in their midst.
We’ve all had times like this,
where we’re following Jesus
who has called us,
and things seems to be going really well,
and then all of a sudden,
it seems like Jesus is sending us away,
Jesus is putting us in a place we don’t really want to be,
sending us somewhere we don’t really want to go
amid circumstances that seem to separate us from God.
Maybe it has been a time of learning and growth that challenges us,
or maybe it has been a time of sickness of body or relationship,
now to be clear
I don’t think Jesus ever causes illness
but it is are certainly a time
where we are in the midst of something we don’t want to be a part of
and circumstances seem to drive us far away from God.
So there we are out in our boat
And just as we’ve been battered about by the waves
and think that we have been permanently separated from God,
Jesus comes to us,
often we don’t recognize him at first
and we are afraid,
but then Jesus reveals himself
speaking peace into our fear
and our faith surges
and even though the storm is still raging
we get out of the boat
to go toward Jesus.
Have you ever seen someone going through a difficult time
and wondered just how they are able to handle it with grace and strength?
I’d say they are at this point in their life of faith,
where Jesus has spoken peace to them
giving them the strength to get out of the boat.
Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself,
the peace of Christ to move forward
through a seemingly impossible situation
and others around you are telling you
‘I don’t know how you do it’
but you are able to with the call of Jesus.
And then of course there are those times in our life of faith
where we look around at all that is going on
and we begin to sink,
where our faith is overwhelmed
by the pain and chaos of the world around us
and yet, when we cry out to Jesus,
he reaches out to catch us
and brings us to a place of calm.
The life of faith is a journey,
there are times that we experience great joy,
and times when we are terrified
and feel separate from God,
and no matter how terrified,
or far away we feel,
even when we lose focus,
Jesus comes to us,
Jesus catches us,
reveals himself to us
and brings us to a place of peace.
So wherever you are on your journey of faith,
and may the peace of Christ be with you. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.