Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Date: Pentecost X (Proper 14A) + 8/13/17
Today we ask simply, of what are you afraid? There are fears, for instance, regarding having enough money for the month. There were occasions when the best counselling I could provide a couple troubled by finances was teaching them how to create a budget. Some fear for their physical well being whether regarding hunger or health, illness or injury, or changing conditions requiring medications or monitoring. There are fears related to the world like threatening weather or national relations like the current concern over North Korea. Having almost drown when I was little I was always afraid of water as a child until an amazing man my first year in college taught me how to swim in five weeks! However, we still need to have a healthy fear called respect for water. Of what are you afraid?
Was Jesus ever afraid? This chapter starts with the account of the death of John the Baptist. This signaled to Jesus a major change in trajectory for Him as twice in this chapter He tried to get away by Himself to pray. But He was interrupted by a great crowd. The feeding of the 5,000 was the first great miracle in this chapter. After this, today we hear how He sent the disciples by boat to meet Him on the other side of the sea, dismissed the crowds and finally got to spend some time in prayer with His Father.
Then came the second great miracle of this chapter. Of what were the disciples afraid in their boat when the wind was against them? In this case it wasn’t really the stormy weather that caused the fear. After all they were experienced sailors. No. St. Matthew tells us it wasn’t until they saw Jesus walking on the sea that they were terrified, “and said, ‘It is a ghost!’” a phantasma, a phantom, “and they cried out in fear.” But this second great miracle ends with Jesus speaking to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And this is to be for us as we hear this word of divine absolution today in the face of any and all fears we may have. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Actually, there was more fear expressed by St. Peter. First His faith welled up when he saw that this was Jesus and asked, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” What? What was he thinking? Still Jesus answered his prayer of faith and said, “Come on.” All of a sudden Peter was participating in the miracle and began to walk on the water to Jesus. But again, fear entered the picture as Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and once again was frightened by the wind. Sinking in fear he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Immediately Jesus took Peter by the hand. They both entered the boat. The wind ceased. And they worshipped Jesus making the great confession, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
And there is the point and the answer to any and all of your fears. Many people do not believe or simply make a joke out of Jesus walking on water. But they do so because they do not know or believe who Jesus really is. So we need to ask today again, who is Jesus?
We heard the word of the Lord to Job in our first reading. After some 37 chapters of Job questioning why it seemed God was against him, allowing all the disaster that had come upon him, it was as if God had enough. The chapter begins, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’” (Job 38:1). It was as I titled this reading in your ordo or service folder, “Just who do you think you are?” Then the questions reminding Job that “God the Lord is the creator and you’re not.” God is called by His saving, covenant name, “Yahweh,” who “laid the foundation of the earth,” “who shut in the sea with doors” and “prescribed limits for it and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.’” Commands by the way that still stand even against the most hysterical predictions of our time.
Now, in the Creed we confess Jesus to be “of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” “Of one substance.” Indeed, we have heard Jesus say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), and, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). In other words, when Jesus said to the disciples, “It is I,” He was using the divine name, “I Am”! He is saying that He possesses the same creative, saving power of the Father who can and does command even the wind and the waves. And when this mighty Savior then commands Peter and you and me saying, “Do not be afraid,” His word is enough to take away fear. And not only the lesser fears but the big three also, the fear of sin, death and the devil. Fear not, He died to take away your sin. We don’t even fear death as His death destroyed the power of death for us. And by His death He destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14).
The Church has always been compared to a ship or a boat. We are sitting in the “nave,” the center part of a church building, Latin for “ship.” We might call the Church “God’s Life Boat.” This same Jesus is with us in this boat. Today He says to you the same words, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Here to Him we bring our fears and failures, even our sins because we know that, even though we still are afraid, even though we are still sinners, our Savior is not only a miracle-working example for us to imitate. He is the Lord, our “Beautiful Savior, King of creation,” “Lord of the nations, Son of God and Son of Man!” (LSB 537). To Him we cry out of all our troubles, “Lord, save me!” And He does. He did. And He will.
Peter used the same word for salvation from sin, death, and the devil, “save me.” At that Jesus reached out His hand to Peter. Here Jesus reaches out His hand to you. Only He can save you. This master of wind and wave and of all creation came to His creation taking on our human flesh. And He let it have its way with Him. It was no less as Master and Lord that He willingly, nevertheless, gave Himself over to the enemy, to death, even death on a cross. For as fearful as was that scene He knew that death could reign no longer as He would break its power and, rising from death, now conquers death and brings eternal life through the forgiveness of sins and the stilling of fear to all believers.
Of what are you afraid? Today Christ reaches out and takes you by the hand, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And so we pray:
Lord, take my hand and lead me Upon life’s way;
Direct, protect, and feed me From day to day.
Without Your grace and favor I go astray;
So take my hand, O Savior, And lead the way.
Lord, when the tempest rages, I need not fear,
For You, the Rock of Ages, Are always near.
Close by Your side abiding, I fear no foe,
For when Your hand is guiding, In peace I go.
So take my hand and lead me Unto the end. (LSB 722)