The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Matthew 14:22-33
Walking on Water
Proper  (A), 07 August 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our Lord has been having a very busy chapter here in Matthew 14. It began with the disciples of John the Baptizer informing Jesus of John’s execution by Herod. John preached the law, as he was given to do to Herod and Herodias, now Herod’s wife, but really the wife of his brother. Preaching the truth cost John his head.
Then, in the Gospel lesson appointed for last week, Jesus feeds the five thousand men, besides women and children. Today’s text picks up where that narrative leaves off.
Immediately [Jesus] he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
Jesus compelled the disciples to get into the boat. According to His divine nature, Jesus needed no rest. But according to His human nature, he got tired just like any of us. Our Lord has been busy showing what kind of a Messiah He is. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The good news is preached to the poor in spirit, the sick are cured, the dead are raised, those with lifelong afflictions are healed, demons are exorcized, and thousands are fed with five loaves and two fish. And Jesus lost a cousin, John, the son of his mother’s relative, Elizabeth.
This is not a time to ask, What Would Jesus Do? It’s a time to ask, What DID Jesus Do? The text can answer that question. He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Is that what you do? Is that what we really do when we’re exhausted, frustrated, drained, overwhelmed? Do we go first to the Word to hear our Lord’s Word of comfort and then to Him in prayer to pour out our hearts and share our concerns and frustrations and dreams with our gracious Creator and Heavenly Father? Or, do we try to find something or someone else to help us relax?
It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It’s a measure of wisdom, of knowing your own limitations, of knowing someone who loves you, cares for you, and who can answer the prayer of faith, “Lord, save me!” We Christians are at our strongest when we are on our knees in prayer.
Meanwhile, the disciples were out on the lake a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night, on the Roman graveyard shift, 3-6 A.M., Jesus came to them, walking on the sea.
How were the disciples reacting to all this? They’d heard Jesus preaching recently about the Sabbath, unclean spirits, many parables about the kingdom, and were there to see their master rejected in his hometown. How were they responding to the death of the Baptizer and the feeding of the 5,000 plus? Well, they weren’t calm. They weren’t in prayer. They were pretty freaked out, especially when Jesus started walking towards them on the water.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
How many miracles had they seen so far? Sometimes we think to ourselves, “You know, those disciples are pretty stupid not to see who Jesus really was. If I were there, I’d do better. I’d have believed in Him.” But really, that’s the point. They were there. They did see. They didn’t get it. They didn’t comprehend who Jesus really was. And they were there. That means there’s something more than just living by sight. There’s living by faith.
Their faith was shaken, weak, fragile. Maybe all the talk about John’s death set them off. Maybe it was Jesus’ teaching about the unclean spirits, the demons, back in chapter 12. “Ghost” doesn’t fully communicate everything in this Greek word. Going by sight, they thought they saw a phantasm, an otherworldly spiritual figure coming toward them. It’s good for us to hear about this. We shouldn’t always trust what we think we see.
Down deep, we want to live by sight. We want to know in advance what the pretty girl will say if we ask her out. We want to know what heaven will really be like. We want to see Jesus in our midst, sitting in the pew next to us. We want something more than mere words, water, bread, or wine.
And that is where the gift of faith comes in. By faith we know that God loves us, even when we have struggled dating. We know heaven will be a great place where we will be with the Lord and all those who have died in the Christian faith. We know that Jesus is present in His Word and where two or three are gathered in His name. We know that Baptismal water is no mere water when combined with the Word and apprehended by faith. And even though we cannot see it, by faith we believe Jesus’ words and that in the Sacrament He gives us His blood for wine and body for bread. We live by faith and not by sight. And by these means, our Lord reaches down to us of little faith and saves us.
Immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
What more does shaken faith need to hear than these Words of comfort? The storms of life came upon the frightened and weary disciples and their Lord was there for them. Just as He is here for you. Our doors are open. My phone numbers are posted. You are part of the community of faith the Lord gathers in this place. He wants you to have His comfort. He wants you to be comforted by those who share the faith. He wants you to bear the burdens of others and be here to be the shoulder they cry upon, the person they rejoice with. Depriving yourself of the Lord’s gifts also deprives the rest of the community of your gifts, which the Lord intends for you to share.
Without Jesus by their side, the faith of the disciples became fragile. Think about yourself. How fragile do you become when you leave Jesus’ side? Let’s get back to Peter. He wanted proof that this really was Jesus.
And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
Our Lord is one of invitation. “Come,” He says. Walk by faith and not by sight. Sight tells you that humans cannot walk on water. Water skiing doesn’t count. Faith says you can walk on water. Faith keeps all eyes upon Jesus.
Do you see where Peter gets into trouble? Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. So far so good. Then, the word we’ve all been waiting for. BUT. But. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me."
Sometimes we’re doing just fine, just like Peter. We’re walking by faith, walking on water. And then we get distracted. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? You decide as a family to cheerfully give x amount to Immanuel or MLGS and then some surprise expense comes up and you wonder if you can do it. You think you’ve got the devil licked and then he comes by and tempts you, and you give in. You think you’re doing your service to the Lord in this or that area, and it dawns on you that you’ve neglected your daily devotions all week. Or, it happens. A crisis. A family trouble. A huge disappointment. A September 11th. You see the wind, and the waves, and the deep waters, and they distract you. You begin to sink. You took your eyes off of Jesus.
Your Jesus does not take His eyes off of you. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him. Can you imagine? Can you picture this? Do you know how fast Jesus had to have been moving in order to catch Peter? That’s not out of the ordinary. That’s the kind of God He is, reaching down to us humans because we could never reach up to Him, reaching down to us by taking upon human flesh to be our Savior, reaching out to you with open arms, wide open on His cross where He won that salvation for you.
When our Lord was weary and burdened, He went to His Heavenly Father for rest. Peter at least knew Who could save Him. And you do, too. "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
Faith sees what mere physical eyes cannot. He looked like just a man, or in a moment of fear, some dreadful otherworldly being. He is an otherworldly being, but not a dreadful one. He is one full of salvation and one able and willing to answer the cry, “Lord, save me!” Yes, as God He is an otherworldly being, but He is well aware of what life is like in this world, when we are far from land, buffeted by the waves and wind, and afraid. If you’re going to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat!
Walk by faith, not by sight. Why doubt? Our Lord gives you what you need to increase your faith, His Word, His Washing, His Forgiveness, and His meal. Partake, and you too will be walking on water, by faith. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.