Sunday, August 07, 2011
Sermon - Matthew 14:22-33 - Pentecost 8
August 7th, , 2011
“Why Did You Doubt?”
It all happened so fast. The disciples were probably still trying to figure out what had happened. Jesus fed 5000 men, plus the women and children, with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. And they had 12 baskets full of leftovers. A miracle. They must have been a-buzz.
Then Jesus dismisses the crowds, puts his disciples in a boat and sends them to the other side of the sea. He goes off alone, to pray. And when night falls, the disciples are probably not thinking about the miraculous feeding anymore. The wind is against them. The waves are lapping the boat. These experienced fishermen know that this isn't ideal sailing weather, but Jesus sent them out here anyway. It seems that one way or another, they usually find trouble out on the sea.
When Jesus sends us out, it is also into a world full of danger an trouble. But more than just wind and waves, and dark of night. We face spiritual forces of evil, the devil, the sinful world. Even the enemy within us. Yes, I believe I am my own worst enemy. My own dark heart provides quite enough for me to contend with, and more. I need more than an ally or a helper in this fight. I need a savior. You need a savior.
But Jesus knows what he's doing. And he miraculously comes to his struggling disciples. Why weren't they expecting him? Because he came in an unexpected way. People don't walk on water. But Jesus is also the Son of God, and the Lord of Creation. He comes to help his people, and he comes how he pleases. No laws of nature or forces of physics stand in his way.
So too, Jesus comes to us, as he pleases and also as he promises. He comes in the strong word of the Gospel, a word which cleanses and creates and gives life to dead sinners like you and me. A far greater miracle than mere water-walking. He comes in the water of holy baptism, a one time washing which lasts forever. And he comes, miraculously, in the bread and wine of his sacrament. He comes to help, to forgive, to bless, to give, and encourage and to save.
But we doubt it. Things get in the way. The disciples didn't think it was really him. They thought it was a ghost. Superstition got in the way. Fear blinded them. They didn't trust him.
Have you ever seen those “trust exercises”? Where someone in the group is told to fall backwards while someone else will catch them? I've never been a fan of those. You couldn't pay me to do it. Besides, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
But you can always fall back on Jesus. You can always trust him to do what he says, and give what he requires. He asked Peter to do something impossible – walk on water. But he also gave him the ability to do it. Likewise, he calls us to do something impossible – to trust him with our lives, our very eternal lives. But he also gives us the faith to do it.
And when did Peter start to have problems? When he took his eyes off of Jesus. When instead of looking at Jesus, he looked at the wind and wave. When he began to trust rational logic, “uh, men don't walk on water” over the clear word of Jesus. When he doubted Christ and looked to his own devices, he began to fall, to sink, to die.
But his faith knew enough to call out, “Lord, save me!”
Just when it seems the darkest, the most fearful, the most overwhelming wind and wave are about to do you in. Jesus is standing right there, with his strong arm, grabbing you from death's clutches.
The same Jesus who brings Peter up from certain death to the safety of the boat brings us, his people, from certain death to the safety of his church. He pulls us, renewed, out of the water of Baptism. He calms the wind and storm and chases our fears away with his presence and his promise, given in his meal. With Jesus as our Savior, there is nothing to fear.
Even if you should sink down into the grave, it doesn't matter. His promise stands and his strong arm will prevail. This is our hope. This is our confidence. For he went down the the grave. He faced the depths of death for us. And he rose victorious. No small miracle. But even more, he promises us a resurrection like his. We will rise and live, because he is alive!
Jesus gently chides Peter, and us: “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Yes, we have little faith. We pray for more. We have far more fear and doubt than we want. We pray him to take them away. But more than a lecture, these gentle words of Jesus are a reminder that there's no need for doubt. With him right there, everything was always going to be ok. Why did you doubt? It's a rhetorical question. It's another way of saying, you don't need to doubt. You don't need to fear. I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Notice, the disciples see Jesus, and he's not how they expect him – so they fear. He says fear not. He tells them who he is. Dear, impetuous Peter asks for more proof, and is willing to go out and meet his Lord. But he, too, begins to fear. And Jesus does what Jesus does – he saves. He shows, and he tells – why there is no need for fear.
And so for you, dear Christian. There's no need to fear the wind and wave. There's no need to fear death and punishment. Jesus has already sunk down to the depths of death for you – only to raise you up with him. He has already faced our worst possible fears, and come out victorious. His strong arm will rescue you, too. When they lay your cold clay in the ground, and a doubting world would say you are a goner. Then the same Jesus will take you in his arms and welcome you to the safety oh his eternity. He'll wipe away every tear, and one day return to make all things new – restoring even your body to live and walk again. Maybe he'll even gently chide you, too. “Why did you doubt it?” In Jesus Name, Amen.