Pentecost 9 2017, Proper 14
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
August 13, 2017
Psalm 18:1-6, Job 38:4-18, Romans 10:5-17, Matthew 14:22-33
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There are twelve men that night in a boat rowing against the wind and the waves soaked to the skin from the spray coming over the bow each time they crest a wave. Very likely one of them has to take a break from rowing in order to bail water out of the boat to keep it from swamping. It is dark and the wind is fierce. The men are wet and exhausted. It is long past midnight and the men are laboring at the oars without making much progress.
In the midst of their struggle and fatigue they see a figure out in the water. It’s dark, but it looks like a man walking on the water, the twelve are terrified and cry out, “It is a ghost!”
But then the figure speaks to them; it is Jesus, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
It is their Lord and teacher, Jesus. Thank God.
There are twelve disciples of Jesus in the boat, but one of them, Peter, is bold and adventurous and He calls out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus tells Him, “Come.”
And Peter, bold and awesome Peter, gets out of the boat and walks on water. Peter is willing to take some chances. Peter is courageous. Peter throws caution to the wind because He is a fully devoted follower of Jesus. You should want to be like Peter doing brave and amazing things.
We can see here that Jesus has two kinds of disciples; two kinds of followers. We have those who do bold and awesome things for Jesus and we have those who timidly stay in the boat. Which kind of disciple are you?
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Time out here. Flag on the play. Is that what this story is really about? This was becoming a story about you and how you should be more like Peter. But is that what this text is about? Is this Gospel reading all about how you need to be bold and awesome like Peter? Is the text about you? Is it about Peter? Who is this reading about?
Oh. The reading is about Jesus. It’s about Jesus sending the disciples on ahead so He could have some time alone to pray. It’s about Jesus walking on the water. It’s about Jesus saving Peter from drowning in his doubts. It’s about Jesus calming the wind. It is about Jesus being declared by the disciples to be, “The Son of God.” This is part of Jesus revealing who He is on His way to His sacrifice on that cross for the sins of the world and His resurrection from the dead. The text is not about you. The text is not about Peter. It’s about Jesus. It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus for you.
We are so tempted to make every Bible story to be about us. I want to insert myself into the Bible and make each story about me. I so much want the Bible to be about me doing bold and awesome things because I really like the idea of being bold and awesome. Pastor Jud is bold and awesome. He turns his fear into adventure. He is fully, courageously following Jesus. How cool is that? I could preach sermons about how bold and awesome I am and encourage you to be bold and awesome too; just like me. I hear this is an effective strategy at many mega churches.
This story is about Jesus and yet so many times it will preached as if it is about how you need to be bold and awesome like Peter.
But once I start to think that the Bible is about me being bold and awesome I find myself in a similar position to Peter when he tried to be bold and awesome. Peter found himself drowning in the deep water of His doubts in the Sea of Galilee. Peter didn’t believe Jesus when he said, “Take heart; it is I.” Peter doubted and needed proof. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter doubts Jesus. Peter needs hard evidence. Peter ventures out to walk on the water but quickly gets scared and begins to sink. Peter ends up the same place I end up when I think I can do things on my own; drowning in my sin and doubts, crying out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” I probably like to think that I am bold and awesome because the truth is so much the opposite. I am a poor, miserable sinner who struggles daily with temptations and doubts. I can pretend to be bold and awesome, but by myself I only sink deeper into the waters of my failure and drown in my own sin and doubt. On my own I live in terror of God and his righteous judgement on my sin.
This story is about Jesus and yet so many times it will preached as if it is about how you need to be bold and awesome like Peter. It is an easy thing for a pastor to shame other people for not doing more, shame them for being those cowardly, lazy disciples who stay on the boat. It is a simple way to motivate people through guilt by saying you should be more like Peter and get out of the boat and be bold and awesome. Because when asked the question are you more like supposedly bold and awesome Peter, or are you more like the disciples who stay in the safety of the boat. I, for one, know that I am one who needs the safety of the boat. I can’t walk on water. I sometimes fantasize about being a bold and awesome Christian who saves many people by doing things no one else has ever done. But that is the fantasy. The reality is much messier. The reality is that I am a natural born sinner trying to bring the Good News of Jesus to other natural born sinners. Trying to love and serve others. The reality is that I can’t save anyone. I can only do what I have been given to do. I can baptize and preach and teach and administer the Lord’s Supper. But I can’t save anyone. Jesus does all the saving. And indeed the Lord has saved so many. So many have been saved by Jesus right here in the waters of baptism. In these waters you were buried with Jesus through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too may live a new life. Instead of drowning in your doubts, your sins were drowned. Instead of drowning in the doubts of your self-righteousness, the Old Adam in you should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires.
I can’t save anyone, you can’t save anyone. I am not bold and awesome. You are not bold and awesome. You are an ordinary person living out an ordinary life. But you live out your ordinary life in an extraordinary way knowing you have already been saved by Jesus. The reality of life as a follower of Jesus is that you have been washed in the blood of Jesus and are set apart as salt and light in the world. You are called to love and serve one another. Loving and serving is rarely bold and awesome, but rather humble and often tedious. Doing what you have been given to do is difficult and repetitive. It is hard to do what you are given to do as a child, a parent, a husband, a wife, a student, a teacher, a worker, an employer, a citizen, a public servant, a Christian. Living out your various vocations is rarely bold and awesome and yet it is where you make the most difference in the lives of others. Our Immanuel Lutheran School teachers live this out each day as they put in long hours loving and serving their students in the name of Jesus; especially those students who are more difficult to love. Teachers model living out ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. You may be an ordinary person, but you have been saved by the Lord Jesus Himself. You are safe and secure in Jesus and are able to shine His love to others.
We are tempted to look to Peter and think how bold and courageous he is, but Peter went out on the water because he doubted. Jesus says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.” The ones who remained in the boat, these are the ones who declare to Jesus, “Truly you are the Son of God.” We are tempted to go after bold and adventurous things because that is often the attractive way; the easier way. It is easier to go after some big, exciting adventure rather than do the hard work of the mundane things of everyday life. There is not much glamour in the routine living out of life as a child of God doing what you are supposed to do. Living out your vows and responsibilities. Doing the things you have been given to do. Struggling against sin and temptation. Sorrowing over sin and repenting. This is the hard road of a disciple of Jesus. It is not too exciting.
In our call to live in love and service to others it is given to us to reach out in faith to others to plant the seeds of the Gospel. We are called to love others by telling them of the great Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for them. It’s okay to try new things. It’s okay to try new things and fail. But how bold and awesome you are is not a measure of how good you are as a disciple of Jesus.
There are not two kinds of disciples; those that are bold and awesome and those who stay in the boat. There is only one kind of disciple of Jesus; the kind that cannot do it on their own; the kind that needs to be saved by Jesus.