The following sermon was written and preached by Gerry Kraay, a long time member and past elder at St. Andrew’s Church in Saskatoon.
When Amanda asked us some time ago to take this service, she suggested we could choose a text, or use the Lectionary. I looked up what the suggested readings are for this week. When I read the passage of Matthew, I knew I would like to study that a little more.
There is a little bit of an irony: here is a man who studied Science for many years in University, and who worked for almost 40 years in the sciences. Now I am going to preach on a miracle in the Bible!
The story of Jesus walking on the water is well-known. Many jokes are made around it. When working in the yard, I always wear my wooden shoes. People ask me sometimes if I use them to walk on water.
The story of Jesus walking on the sea is found in 3 Gospels, Mark, Matthew and John. It follows on the heels of the story of the feeding of the multitude. In the evening, when the crowd has been fed, Jesus immediately sends the disciples away to row to the other side of the lake. He also sends the crowd of 5000 home. Jesus wants to be alone to pray and to grieve over the murder of his cousin John the Baptist. He had to postpone this for a day, because he had compassion on the crowd that followed him, cured their ills and fed them. But now he sends everyone away with some urgency. Notice the word immediately. Even Jesus has to make time for prayer and meditation. Should we take an example here?
The disciples get into some rough water and have to row against a strong wind battering the boat. This is probably not something too scary. Some of them at least are fisherman used to ply these waters. They row a long time. In the light of the early morning they see somebody walking towards them across the water. Apparently, they do not recognize him, as they say in fear:” it is a ghost”, and they are terrified, not of the rough sea, but of a ghost. Often the unknown causes us to fear.
Immediately, Jesus tries to reassure them, saying: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid”. Jesus uses the phrase: it is I, literally: I AM. This is the name with which God revealed himself to Moses by the burning bush. Matthew here again stresses the Godhead of Jesus.
Notice again the word immediately. Jesus responds to the fear and need of reassurance of the disciples without hesitation or delay.
The interesting thing in this passage is what follows and what made me decide on this text. Only Matthew has the added story of Peter trying to walk on the water. This is a story of fear, doubt, faith and action, all intertwined, and of the saving grace of Jesus.
Remember, Jesus has identified himself to the disciples. ”It is I”. Hear what Peter says: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”. He has heard Jesus’ voice, seen him on the water, calls him:” Lord”. Still Peter says:” if it is you…” He is still not sure of the identity of this person, does not dare to believe it is Jesus, and maybe doubts Jesus’ ability to walk on water.
Nevertheless he asks Jesus to command him to walk on the water. We don’t know what prompted Peter to ask this. Maybe he wanted to be like Jesus. That reminds me of a song I learned in kindergarten; “I wish to be like Jesus”. The end of that song is like a cold shower: “Alas, I’m not like Jesus, that’s plain for all to see”.
Jesus simply replies with one word: “Come”. And look, in spite of his hesitation or doubt, Peter steps overboard and starts walking on the waves. He leaves the relative safety of the boat and steps onto unknown territory when Jesus says: “Come”. He believes Jesus’ word and acts in this faith. He leaves his comfort zone when Jesus says “Come”, even though he has some reservations. He overcomes his doubt.
All seems to go well. Peter starts to walk and goes toward Jesus, goes in the right direction. But then troubles begin. Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and looks at the strong wind. Peter becomes frightened and begins to sink. Yet, he does not give up hope, has not lost his faith. As he is beginning to sink, he calls out to Jesus: “Lord save me”.
What is Jesus’ reaction? Does He think: let him have a good soaker, that will teach him a lesson? No, immediately Jesus reaches out and grabs Peter. No hesitation on the part of Jesus. Jesus is near, Jesus acts with saving grace. What a friend we have in Jesus.
Then Jesus says to Peter; “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I don’t think Jesus is reprimanding Peter here, rebuking him. Rather, I like to think that Jesus reminds Peter of the parable that if you have faith even the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Jesus and Peter climb into the boat and the wind ceases. The other disciples have watched this whole drama unfold. What is their reaction? They worship Jesus. They say: “You are the Son of God”. They confess their faith in Jesus.
The word used here for worship is to kneel or to prostrate yourself. It is used in the story of the Wise Men bringing gifts to Jesus. There it is translated as: they paid him homage. (In the KJV it says: “They fell down and worshiped”.)
In the end of the Gospel of Matthew the word is used again. (Chapter 28) After the resurrection the disciples are told to go to Galilee to meet Jesus. The disciples worshiped him says Matthew 28. And a few words are added: “but some doubted”. Then Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth is given to him and commands the disciples to proclaim this Good News to the entire world.
Here again faith and doubt go together. I think that is a rather comforting thought. Who does not doubt at times? We believe that this world is God’s world and that he cares for his creation. But if you watch the news or read the paper you may doubt whether God is in control. Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of heaven has come near.
This Gospel was written probably 50-60 years after Jesus died. It was written to the new churches that had been formed. They were in the Roman Empire. The Emperor was considered to be a god and was worshiped. Christians were often prosecuted. In his Gospel Matthew proclaims that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, and is to be worshiped. This is of course a theological statement. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus says when he identifies himself on the lake I AM, the name the Jews identified with God.
It is also a political statement. It is not the Emperor who rules and is worshiped. Matthew seems to say: Churches, Christians, do not worry about the political situation or about the Emperor. Worship God in Jesus. We live not in the Emperors realm, but in the Kingdom of God. We are in the world but not of the world.
We may doubt at times, but even with a little bit of faith we can move mountains. Amen.