For Those in Peril

Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Date: Pentecost IX Proper 14A + 8/10/14

At first hearing today’s readings and the sermon title may seem to strongly bring to mind (for those who are old enough to remember) images from the old television series “Victory at Sea” or other naval documentaries from World War II. One might conclude that the point of these readings is the hope of some miraculous deliverance from all trouble provided by the all-powerful Savior who can walk on water. And though the Lord does deliver from many earthly adversities, this is not the point.

More to the point was the point I made introducing the funeral sermon I delivered this past Thursday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Jackson (MI). On the basis of last Sunday’s reading of the feeding of the 5,000 I said that this text pointed us to the deliverance of a Lord who takes over and delivers especially when we realize the desolation of our circumstances and the feebleness of our own resources. Jesus takes over. But His “taking,” while He may “immediately” deliver us as He did the sinking/drowning Peter, always points beyond our sufferings, our fears and points to the greater deliverance that succeeds even in the face of our seeming defeat. For “Those in Peril” are not only those of “The Deadliest Catch”[1] or members of our brave naval forces, but of all people, all people held in the grip of deadly sin and the prospect of only death and the grave. For “Those in Peril” the only answer is the One who can walk on water, who can still the storm and calm its rage, in other words who has quelled the very creation’s reflection of God’s wrath over sin—yes, you heard it, sin that entangles, deceives, confiscates, damns, blinds and kills. And who is that One?

Job of old thought it was himself. Oh he did know and believe in a good and gracious God, just like you do. But he fell into the trap of self-righteousness, of relying and even boasting of his faith and faithfulness to God, in other words, faith in faith itself. You see, while it is only by faith in Christ that a person is justified and saved, it is not the faith, after all, that justifies but the Christ.

So let’s get into the boat with the disciples. That’s life. And many times it seems like Jesus gets us going but then leaves us and goes off by himself without us. Have you felt, lately, that Jesus was particularly close to you? Or have you felt alone, by yourself? Well, that night Jesus “went up on the mountain by himself to pray,” “he was there alone.” That doesn’t seem to be very helpful. But who needs to accompany Jesus to accomplish His saving purpose for you, for us? Jesus alone!

Your faith is not in yourself. It is not even in your faith. It is to be in Jesus alone!

Dear Job of old actually believed that his faith was in God alone. But it was finally revealed that his faith was in himself, his faithfulness, his theological purity. He forgot the bigger picture. What bigger picture? “Victory at Sea.” “The foundation of the earth.” “The measurements; the doors of the seas.” The levels of the oceans will not rise or fall the least without a command of God. “Where were you,” asks God almost mockingly of our presumptive sinful condition.

Your faith is not to be in yourself but in Jesus alone.

The disciples were in a storm. And before they could even ask for help, help came. Jesus came to them walking on the sea. But when He did, “they were terrified.” The disciples immediately relied on the only explanation they could come up with from the TV or movies, “It’s a ghost!”

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them.” Not your intuition, your fears or anxieties, not your imagination but God’s Word, God’s objective, rational Word takes control, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” And that’s where He meets us today, regardless of your trouble, your anxiety, your fear, your sin or your complacency.

“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Great words! Hopeful words! Right, Peter? “Lord, if it is you….” Did Peter doubt? “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “Lord, if it is you, prove it.” “Lord, if it is you, make my kids straighten out.” “Lord, if it is you, make my wife/my husband believe me, love me again.” “Lord, if it is you, take away this cancer, this guilt, this threat.”

That doesn’t seem like a very right or religious or doctrinally correct prayer. But what does Jesus say? “Come.” In other words, “Okay, let’s go. Walk as if it is true I have saved you and straightened things out.” And as long as you keep your eyes on Jesus, Peter, whoa! You’re walking on the water! But as soon as you take your eyes off Jesus, as soon as you concentrate only on the wind and the waves, the criticisms, the doubts, the incongruities, you’re sunk!

No complaints about your circumstances will deliver you from them. “Lord, save me!” is the only option. The answer is totally up to the Lord. Jesus saves even those of little faith even through our doubts and fears.

Job learned his lesson. Only when he was convinced that his situation was quite out of his control did he give up on himself and put his trust, his faith in the all-powerful yet gracious God. Peter learned his lesson. Only when he remembered that he couldn’t walk on water did he cry out to his Lord for salvation. Will we learn our lesson? It is the lesson that saving faith is not in the complex of our own hopes and fears, logic and despair. The saving faith is in Jesus alone. And that faith comes from and is strengthened by hearing the word of Christ (Rom 10:17) as when He says to you today, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

When faith fills the mind and the heart, when it casts out fear and doubt and calms the troubled soul, when it views and reviews the mercy of God, Christ Jesus’ death on a cross, His body and blood given, broken and shed for you, then we find ourselves in the same boat with all the redeemed. “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” And that’s the point.

[1] The Discovery Channel