a sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14A)
When Peter was afraid and cried out to be saved, Jesus reached out, grabbed him and put him back in the boat with the other disciples so that they could get on with doing the work he had called them to do. That future is open to us as well.
Once upon a time, I wanted to buy a sailboat. I learned to sail at camp when I was a boy, and when we moved here I used to go sailing with some guys from work from time to time. One day, my boss told me he was selling his sailboat and asked me if I was interested. “Sure!” I said. So we arranged a time when I could come try it out with Rindy and the girls, who were both under the age of 10 at the time. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon when we got to the dock. My boss showed me around a bit and then let me take it out for a spin. The four of us piled in and we started out. The breeze was gentle and the sun was shining – for about 45 minutes. Then all of the sudden, the sky got dark, the wind picked up to about 20 mph, and it started raining sideways. Just like that, we were caught in the middle of a storm in the middle of Lake Murray. We were panicked! I had my wife and my two small daughters on a boat I hardly knew. I could barely sea where I was going. The boat was tossing and rocking and I thought it could capsize at any moment.
The Sea of Galilee is almost exactly the same size as Lake Murray. Both of them are inland lakes where the wind can come whipping off the shore from any direction. And the fact of the matter is that storms are just as common there are they are here. So when the disciples were caught in a storm that seemed to come from nowhere, you can imagine that it wasn’t too different from the squalls that we find on our lake every week. And while they were all experienced fishermen, instead of a greenhorn recreational sailor out with his family, these storms are nothing to play around with. They were panicked and terrified. Through all of this chaos comes Jesus, calmly walking through the mist and the darkness across the wind tossed waves. And Peter sees him and gets out of the boat and begins to walk straight toward him.
Say what you want about Peter – that he should have stayed in the boat with the others, that he was just showing off, that he was full of himself – you can’t say that he didn’t have faith. Peter had at least the faith of a mustard seed, which Jesus says is all we really need. No, Peter didn’t fall for lack of faith. He fell because of fear. The wind came up and he was terrified. And who would blame him? There was enough wind and rain to sink a fishing boat, let alone drown a man. He had plenty of reason to be afraid.
And so do we. We have plenty of reasons to be afraid when chaos visits us. The diagnosis we never expected, the breakdown of a relationship we thought was rock solid, the loss of thousands of jobs at the Jenkinsville nuclear plant, the treat of nuclear war with North Korea – these are all life storms that come up when we least expect them. We struggle and flail out of fear, fear or our lives and the lives of those we love.
Yesterday, the college town of Charlottesville was struck by a storm of violence, hatred, and racism. And the protest organizers that swept into that community this weekend brought fear and chaos in their wake. Make no mistake, white supremacy, fascism and other expressions of racial superiority are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus, a Jewish man who came to the people of Israel and healed the Roman Centurion’s son, ate with tax collectors, took a drink from the Samaritan woman, and healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman. Jesus who touched the leper, cast out demons, and grieved the death of his cousin at the hand of the puppet king of the Roman Emperor. As followers of Jesus, we are called to denounce and resist this and all forms of evil, even if it terrifies us.
David Lose, a professor at Luther Seminary in Philadelphia, wrote that “Fear is the primary thing that robs the children of God of the abundant life God intends for us.” Our fears are what separate us one from another. They close our minds to new points of view and cause us to jump out of the boat, just like Peter. It is fear that ultimately isolates us.
But through all our fear, one thing remains constant: Jesus reaches out, grabs us, and lifts us back into the boat, the community of the faithful where we belong. Christ is always with us. Christ will never abandon us. Christ will save us from ourselves and restore us to where we can serve most effectively. He rescues us from our fear and restores us to our calling as disciples.
The story of Peter walking on water is not about Peter’s faith in Jesus. It is about God’s faith, through Christ, in Peter. And whatever the sources of fear in our lives, God’s faith in us never flags or wavers. Throughout the chaos and storms we encounter, God can do what we cannot hope to accomplish. God’s faithfulness always transcends our fear.
This is God’s vision for us, both as individuals and as a community: the promise that our fears will not define us, that our past doesn’t determine our future, and that our faults and failings don’t disqualify us from the love and acceptance of God, and hope for the future. No matter what kind of storms may come our way, personal or communal, God transcends all fear.
When Peter was afraid and cried out to be saved, Jesus reached out, grabbed him and put him back in the boat with the other disciples so that they could get on with doing the work he had called them to do. That future is open to us as well, no matter the sudden storms that catch us unaware, because nothing that we have done or has been done to us can erase God’s desire to restore us into relationship with God and one another.
If God is with us, who can be against us? God is not done with us yet. God will do what we cannot do ourselves.
Thanks be to God.