February 2018  
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Matthew 14: 22-33   “Get Out of the Boat” 8/13/2017

Rev. Jerry W. Krueger Boardman UMC

Boats, ghosts and defying gravity.  What a mish mash of topics. In our reading today of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew lets us see and listen in with a Go-Pro like camera lens. We see a boat on the Sea of Galilee, a ghost like appearance, & a supernatural, gravity defying walk on water.

This is a teaching/ discipleship story. It follows Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, being imprisoned, then beheaded. Jesus learns of John’s beheading, and withdraws to a deserted place on a boat. Perhaps a little cove on the Sea of Galilee.  Then Jesus go ashore in the midst of a great crowd, sees the sick and lame, feels compassion for them, and heals them.  By word of mouth, people throughout the region arrive in the deserted place, just like an ancient blob of clamoring paparazzi. All wanting to see Jesus. For some, he is Messiah, for others just a free meal, for some he is healer, and for a misguided vocal group, a heretic.

In Matthew 14: 13-21, Jesus feeds 5,000 +.  And then just like that, Jesus orders the disciples into the boat where they push off from shore, to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  The Messiah says, “I will dismiss the crowds,” and after doing so, Jesus goes up to a remote desolate place to pray.

About 3 or 4 in the morning a squall pushes against the disciples in their little boat. Wind and waves push, pull and rock the struggling boat, as the disciples try to make their way across the lake. Suddenly, out of the dark, like a phantasm, Jesus appears, walking on top of the water.

And how the stage is set for the disciples.  Any tellers of ghost stories here? To tell the story in the dark around the fire, you lower your voice, lean into the gathered people, and set the stage with story details. 

Their trip across the lake is taking too much time. The wind is driving them from the shore, and they’re afraid of capsizing in their small boat. Meeting a watery death is not what they signed on for.

Their level of fear has plateaued just above “being attacked and killed by a wild animal,” and settled just below, “a stomach churning, unconscious receptive mantra of, “why did I do this. Why did I do this? Is this worth it? Is this worth it? Is this worth it?”

Then HELLO!!!! JESUS!  Walking on water, soaked to the bone, and the Common English Bible says, “Vs. 26, when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.” How frightened do you have to be to actually scream?  What would we have said, “Jesus! You scared the bee- Jesus out of me!”

Jesus calls out to the startled, scared, terrified, water logged disciples;  “It is I.  Do not be afraid.”   Jesus’ appearance should be good news, but instead, Jesus’s is greeted with fear, skepticism, and doubt.

The first disciple Peter replies to water walking Jesus, “Lord, if,,,,, it IS you, command me to come to you on the water.”

But, hang on. I understand Peter and you do to. His actions resonate with us because he is a little skeptical, doubtful, and proposes a test for Jesus. Peter’s voice doesn’t really sound like the voice of Satan, especially since Peter is willing to risk death by drowning to prove the divine reality of the Christ. Peter knows Jesus was left back on the beach. How can he be …HERE, NOW?                           

But in Matthew 4: 5-7 we listen to this;,” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, If you are the son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

He will command this angels concerning you, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Peter answered Jesus, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus gives the command, and Peter got out of the boat.

Now what do we think of this text in the usual fashion? We often say, “Wow, Peter had the faith to get out of the boat when commanded by Jesus.”  But I ask, where were the other 11 disciples? Huddled in the side of the boat, peering into the dark, listening with straining ears to hear the discourse between Jesus and Peter? The 11 didn’t even try to get out of the boat. Am I Peter? Am I one of the 11 watching from the boat?  Where do you see yourself in the story?

Can you blame Peter for being afraid? I mean, Jesus is making his way across the stormy lake in a unique and singularly, “God only” fashion!

Hear me church. This next response by Jesus has been often misinterpreted, with the result of spiritually crippling Christian’s when they have questioned their own faith at times.  Peter gets out and walks on water, and then begins to sink, “Lord save me!”  And Jesus saves Peter and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

You of little faith. Not no faith. Not a false faith. Just little faith.

This is not about if we have enough faith we can overcome illness, disease, hardship, aging, or accidents. This faith view encourages us to feel a sense of guilt because of our sometimes individual lack of faith.

But what if the message were seen as “if we had had enough faith, Peter would have believed the word of Jesus would still come to him in the boat?” This is NOT about water walking only.

Faith is not about being able to walk on water. Only God can do that. But just daring to believe in the face of all the evidence, that God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus the Christ, is with us in the boat of everyday life, as it makes its way through the storm. That is what our faith can be about.

The waves and storm in the scripture represent the worlds push and pull on our spiritual, emotional and faith lives. Forces of  greed, gossip, gain, seeking of  power, prestige, and control over others, all with unstopping wave like motion assaulting, the gates of our faith.  The world subtly, and not so subtly, scratches, gnaws, swipes at, kicks at and relentlessly bludgeons the gates of our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

The world shouts at us, “Jesus lover? Believer? Follower of Christ? Your faith gets you nothing, does nothing! Why bother to pray? God has checked out long ago. Where was God when my loved one was diagnosed? Where was God in the fatal car crash? Where is God in the famine, war, poverty, and cruelty to each other? Where was God in the you name it, event or tragedy, or loss?   Where is God in the problems that exist today, and we see no solution? Where are you? God,---- are you even there?

Jesus’s in the Gospel of Matthew is telling us, all of us collectively, “When you believe in me as your Savior and Messiah, I am with you in the boat. In the struggles of life. I am in the war ravaged country, in the hospital room, in the face of the “other.” Jesus implores us saying, “Do not give up on the disobedient crowds of neighbors who have no faith life. Do not ignore the retired couple who is settled comfortably in financial retirement, yet has no faith life.  Do not give up on the prodigal or the long time believer. My precious, I AM here, even while you are in the boat. Even when you wonder. I AM here.”

God is with us, even when we are being battered by the storms of modern day life. God is with us in the form of Jesus the Christ who gives us assurance as to who He is, even when we feel the boat is taking on water, and we are in proximity of sinking beneath the waves.

This is less about measuring Peters’ lagging faith, and more about us, recognizing who Jesus Christ is.

Today Jesus the Christ comes to each of us who are seated in the boat, or attempting like Peter, to walk on water. If you have ever been, or are now being battered by life’s pain and let downs, tossed on the waves of disappointment, or just settling for a life with minimal meaning, today Jesus comes to you in the darkness of your soul, or in the light of your life, and assures you as you profess who He is when asked the questions, “Who do you say that I am?”  “Truly you are the Son of God.”

When you get out of the boat, know that God thorough Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit is with you always. 

Who do you say that I am? Truly, you ARE the Son of God.

In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.