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Faith and Fear
Matthew took an experience that the disciples had with Jesus and made it into a sermon.
This story begins somewhat with an unusual setting; Jesus compelled his followers to get into the boat. My question is why did he force them into the boat?
Why force, what’s the problem? We are told the reason as to why Jesus went to the other side was to have some alone time. So maybe he had had enough conversation, and just wanted them away.
Also it might have been that Jesus sent them ahead so as to avoid danger. John the Baptist had just lost his head so danger lurked all about. Or maybe Jesus wanted to get away because the crowd wanted to make him King.
He had feed the multitude so maybe the crows said “Hey we have a bread winner. The job reports have been improving last year into this year. Let’s call him King.” There is nothing that wrecks a ministry quicker than sudden popularity.
There's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot. Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.
So all we have is get in the boat and go to the other side. So they did. After sending them in the boat, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray.
I know mountains are supposed to be holy places. That’s why most psychiatrists have their offices as high in the sky as possible. When folks look out over top of their towns and cities their problems seem to shrink.
So here we have the disciples in the boat trying to make their way over to the western shore not having any luck. They are pulling their oars, but the wind is blowing them back. They use a sail to try tacking, but they just keep struggling. The wind is up stirring the waves and water is splashing up with the waves and getting in the boat. A shallow lake is most dangerous in a storm. It doesn’t take much of a wind to toss the water around. Some of the folks are bailing water while the others row. It becomes evident that they are not going to make it.
Are they going to die here with no lights, in the dark? All through the night they bail and pull their oars. They cry out “how much further?” Did I tell my love ones I love them? I never expected to die here.
Darkness exaggerates everything. A hundred yards in the daytime can look like ten miles at night. Night just does those things.
I remember going to see the first Hannibal Lecter movie up in Libertyville. We were all grown men, but when we left the movie and walked out into the dark parking lot, we all looked at each other and said, “Wow! I’m afraid to get into me car.”
In the dark moon something is scratching at my window turn. I turn on the light and it’s only a twig brushing along the glass.
Just before dawn between 3 and 6, Jesus comes to the disciples. He comes to them on the sea the text says. Seriously? Only God walks on the water. In Job, in Isaiah, in Habakkuk, in the Psalms, it is God who walks on the storm. It’s God who makes a path on the sea. Why? To show a miracle? Hey! watch me. I’m walking on the water? No, don’t be shallow.
In ancient times the sea was often viewed as a place of evil. People believed from the creation stories that Leviathan was in the water, the great chaos maker. In the ancient world water was often seen as a place where all the forces that were set to undo creation and life lived.
And here God walks on the sea. In other words, nothing separates you from the love of God, no wind, no power, no storm no force, no weird disease that can get in the way of God’s love for your life. I think that if we see here a simple miracle, we might lose sight as to what is really happening.
In Lent we face up to the fact that we are going to die. That we are human beings with real limits as to what we know and as to what we can do. That is a holy activity. It is God who sets a terminus to all our doing and knowing. The more we know, the more questions appear. We are limited. Sin often can take us in two directions where we pretend to be more or less than who we are. So as human we have to push at the boundaries, but then also not get shocked that we have real limits.
When Jesus walks on water, I don’t think it’s a miracle. When we look at it, Jesus comes in the storm and says, “Take heart, I am Jesus. I am the name for God.” God has come to them in the storm in the person of Jesus, and what happens? They cannot believe it.
At first they shout, “it’s a ghost, it’s a ghost.” Maybe from a distance Jesus did look ghostlike. I know some folks who have never really met Jesus and for them he is still out there as a ghost thing. But as Jesus gets closer, and Simon Peter says to him, “If you are who you are, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Do you recognize those words “If you are?” When Jesus was tested in the wilderness, the evil in the world said, “If you are the son of God…” Is Simon Peter set up to be the tempter? If you are… It is no wonder that two chapters later Jesus says to Peter “get behind me.” So the fact that Peter couldn’t walk on the water is no small thing.
I’ve heard all those silly sermons that suggest that Peter tried, but took his eyes of Jesus and began to sing. So keep your eyes on Jesus. If we pay attention we see that maybe Simon Peter doesn’t believe. He wants to put Jesus to the test and in the attempt to temp Jesus, he ends up tempting himself and sinking. You don’t test God. You don’t stop your medicine and then blame God because you’re sick, that tempting God. You don’t stop studying, but pray hard before the exam, fail your class and say where was God. That’s tempting God.
Jesus got into the boat and the storm fell silent and all were safe and worshipped.
This sermon Matthew preaches is a sermon to the church. It is aimed at all followers of Christ who in all our little boats, riding through all the storms of life, trying to make it home. From the storms of cancer to arthritis, to kids dying, to parents dying all the storms that besiege us.
You see the problem with those disciples in the storm was that they were trying to make it alone and they couldn’t, but the truth was that Jesus was with them in the boat. That’s a hard lesson to learn. The church is never, you are never, exempt from the temptation to do it alone. God is in the boat with you.
A lot of folks say to me, “Well those stories in the Bible, I don’t know. Joshua making the sun stand still. I took it all in as a kid, but now I’m not a kid anymore. I just don’t believe that anymore.”
Sometimes I would like to get a garbage bag and have people write down what it is that they don’t believe in anymore and we could toss it all into the bag and take it out to the garbage. Then I would convene the same folk and ask now what is it that you do trust in.
Of course I don’t believe that there are demons in the water. No one diving from a board says “Look out for the demons.” We don’t believe that anymore. Then where are the demons if they aren’t in the water? I know where the fears are - losing your job, your heath, your wealth, your partner, your friend, etc. That’s where the fears are lurking today.
You know what jealousy is. It’s the fear of the loss of love.
Why are some so greedy to get as much as they can? It’s fear of insecurity.
Why do some cheat at school? A fear of failure.
Why do some lie? A fear of punishment.
Fear, Fear, Fear, there are some who stay on the telephone all the time, to make sure everybody is still out there.
What is your fear? A moment alone, a thunderstorm strikes and the power goes out and you have to deal with quiet? Remember when you took a hike by a lake and you sent little flat rocks sailing out to skip off the water. Often you could get one to skip five or six times, but when it slows down is that what you afraid of?
Do we have to work so hard at having a good time all the time for fear that if we stopped we’d be depressed.
I don’t believe that there are demons in the water. That’s not where they are.
They are in whatever scares you from being you.
I heard a story once of a family opening Christmas gifts. They had the means to give each one many gifts. The presents were unbelievable. Hundreds of dollars spent and the gifts were all opened in three minutes. Then one of their kids surrounded by lavish presents said “Can we rent a video?” I sometimes wish all the demon were in the water.
In the boat, and we are all in the boat, we can give pep talks to each other. We’ll make it. Some of you bail, were going to make it. We can start whistling. But the fact is without trust in God, we are going to be perpetually nervous.
But if we have trust then joy comes for we are more than conquerors through him who loved us… and neither death nor life, nor height, not depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God walking on the water.
Sunday, March 19, 2017