Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sermon - Pentecost 13 - Matthew 14:22-33

Pentecost 13 – August 10th, 2008
Matthew 14:22-33
"Walking on Water - For You"

Jesus walking on the water. Here's one of those stories we learned about in Sunday School, and maybe remember those little felt figurine picture boards. Many people take it very simply to be an instance of Jesus doing a miracle to show his great power. And it is that, but more. As I've often said, everything Jesus does, he does for us, his people. So how does his walking on water have anything to do with you?

Well, like all his miracles, this one is a sign. The disciples read the sign correctly – it points to who he is. No one before or since has walked on water. No one demonstrates this command over nature. Truly, he is the Son of God. Miracles like this verify Jesus' identity. And if he is powerful enough to do healings and to command nature and turn a few loaves and fish into a feast for thousands.... then certainly he is powerful enough to forgive my sins and grant me eternal life.

But there is so much more here. Take, for instance, the disciples' superstitious reaction when they see the Lord's unusual approach. Thinking he was a ghost, they were filled with fear. But Jesus, true to form, says, “fear not”. And gives them a reason not to fear, “for it is I”. Jesus knows the fears of sinful men and always calms them. He knows that fear and doubt are the opposite of faith, and he wants us to calmly trust in him – even when what our eyes see doesn't make sense.

For his part, Peter gets a mixed review. He steps out of the boat in great faith. He shows his trust in Jesus against the odds and in the face of nature's laws. He responds to the powerful word of the almighty God – one little word - “come!”. And he takes his walk on the waves. So far so good. But then Peter does exactly what Jesus said not to do – he fears. He looks at the wind and wave, and realizes somehow, “hey, I'm walking on water! Humans can't do that!” And fear takes hold.

And isn't Peter just like us? One minute we are ready to step out in faith, the next minute we are beset again by fear. One moment we act like a selfless saint, the next we are surely a sinner again. The Christian life is not such an easy switch from absolutely outward wickedness to a perfected life triumphant over sin – at least not in how we see ourselves act. We are alternately faithful and fearful, believing and doubting. The struggle goes on. When our attention is fixed on Jesus, we are much better off. Only when we focus on the wind and wave – the troubles and worries of life – do we begin to sink.

But like for Peter, the good news is that Jesus comes to the rescue. When in his weakness, Peter begins to sink, Jesus immediately reaches out and rescues him. So too for us. Jesus doesn't let us flounder in sin and unbelief, but stands ready with his strong hand to snatch us from disaster. Where we go back and forth between faith and fear, he is always faithful.

His unlikely journey for us is even more amazing than a stroll across the sea. He walks the way of the cross. He treads the path of death. He crosses that river ahead of us, for us, only to return in triumph. For just as men don't walk on water, mere men don't live after death. And just as Jesus included Peter in the miracle, so too does he give us a part in his greatest miracle. We too will rise from the dead.

In a sense, we already have. By the almighty power of his word he has called us from the living death of original sin to the new life of faith beginning at our baptism. Christians are already living the eternal life promised by God. And one day even our bodies will catch up to this reality, in a resurrection like Christ's. This hope gives us calm in the midst of fear, and peace even in the face of death.

I mentioned how Jesus' command over nature here showed his true identity as the Son of God. And perhaps here a word about creation is in order. It's a common mistake for people today - to fall for the lies of evolutionary thinking, which supposes that we are here by accident, without a creator.

Christians know that, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. But we too are tempted by the ever-present evolutionary propaganda. For the Scriptures are clear not only who made it, but also how. The Lord by his word, created everything that is in six days, and rested on the seventh. And John's Gospel reminds us that Jesus, as the living Word of God, had a hand in it. “Through him all things were made”. In other words, Jesus is Lord of creation.

Many of us want to find a middle ground, where science is right, and the Bible is right – just each in their own way. This won't do either. It doesn't answer the question of how death got here – which Genesis makes clear – death is a result of sin, and doesn't belong in creation. Humans are not the byproduct of evolutionary “survival of the fittest”, but instead, we are the crown of God's creation, made in his own image. And Jesus comes, in part, to restore that creation that our sin had broken.

He who created us, has also re-created us. He who commands nature, even walks on the water, can and will command us to rise from death on the last day. He who calls Peter to walk amidst the waves, calls us to trust him as well, for he will not fail us either. His death and resurrection accomplish our salvation, bring us new life and the promise of our own resurrection.

And like the disciples who all witnessed these events on the sea, we too are drawn to respond in faith and worship. We must confess with them, “Truly, you are the Son of God”. And truly, he walked on water, and does everything, for you and me. Amen.

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