Monday, August 14, 2017

Doubting Peter

In Nomine Iesu
St. Matthew 14:22-33
August 13, 2017
Proper 14A

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

It was one small step for man; but one giant leap for mankind. When Peter stepped out of the boat and set foot on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, he was boldly going where no man had gone before. Peter did what no mortal had done before or since. Peter walked on the water.

But that excursion on the H2O was a demonstration of foolishness, not faith. The moral of this account isn’t that we should all be bold and courageous like Peter. And I, for one, am glad. I’m glad that when it was all said and done, Jesus didn’t say, “Job well done,
Peter.” I’m glad Jesus didn’t say, “Way to show off your bold and courageous leadership skills to the other disciples—way to take the initiative and step out of your comfort zone—way to set an example of outside-the-box (boat) thinking for my other followers to emulate.” No, Jesus didn’t commend Peter. He condemned Peter: O you of little faith, why did you doubt? It’s not bold Peter. It’s not faithful Peter. It’s doubting Peter.

Jesus is the one who set into motion all the remarkable events that transpired that night on the sea. Jesus is in control of everything. Jesus had been trying to get some solitude for the entire day. He wanted time to pray—that’s all. Instead, He ended up healing hundreds and feeding a multitude of thousands. Finally, at the end of that long day, Jesus started giving orders. He “compelled” His disciples to get into the boat and head to the other side of the lake without Him. Meanwhile, Jesus dismissed the crowds and sent them all home. Finally, Jesus was able to pray alone.

Meanwhile, the disciples were out on the lake rowing their boat. But what should have been a nice sunset cruise had quickly turned into a dark night of struggle. A strong headwind suddenly picked up. White caps and choppy seas made progress nearly impossible. They were getting nowhere. The harder they dug in the oars and pulled, the more they seemed stuck in the same place. Ever feel that way about your life as a follower of Jesus? You’re trying to do the right thing—trying to lead a holy life—trying to do the very things that Jesus has compelled you to do—but the harder you try, the less progress you make.

Fatigue and exhaustion began to set in. Hands began to blister. Midnight turned into 1AM, then 2AM, then it’s three o’clock in the morning—the fourth watch of the night—when suddenly a figure—a phantom!—an apparition!—appears on the surface of the water softly illuminated by the moonlight. Now, these men were rational and sane. But under the stress of the situation, they assumed the worst.

But what they got was the best: Take heart; it is I. Stop being afraid. It was Jesus, walking on the water. But even better, it was Jesus speaking on the water—Jesus and His Word. And this should have changed everything. When you’ve got Jesus and His Word, doubt gives way to faith, and fear gives way to hope. As we heard from Romans chapter ten this morning, faith comes by hearing. And what the disciples were hearing was the voice of Jesus: “Take heart; it is I.”

Jesus said, “It is I,” but Peter said, “IF it is you, Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus speaks. And Peter doubts. Those words from Jesus should have been enough. But Jesus is patient. Jesus gives Peter one more word: Come. Even in the original Greek it’s just one word spoken into the ears of Peter: Come. But this one word is no ordinary word. It’s a Word from the Word made flesh. It is a Word from Him who laid the foundation of the earth and prescribed the limits for the sea. Faith comes by hearing. Faith came to Peter because He heard this one Word from Jesus, “Come.” And Peter proceeded to walk on the water. Witness the power of the Word!

The Word of God is powerful and faith-creating and faith-enlivening. The Word creates something out of nothing. The Word equips us to do the very things that Jesus commands. Jesus says the word, “Come” to Peter, and this doubtful disciple defies all the laws of hydrology and buoyancy and physics and actually walks on top of the water just like Jesus! And he did this not by his own will-power—not by the power of positive thinking—but in the power of a single word that had proceeded from the mouth of Jesus: Come. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.

Beloved in the Lord, we don’t give the Word of Christ nearly enough credit. We don’t hear it for what it is. The Word of God isn’t just a historical report which we believe to be accurate. It’s not just a text to be discussed over coffee like the latest volume from the book-of-the-month club. The Word of God is faith-creating. It is sin-forgiving. It gives eternal life. If we really believed that then there would be next to nothing that would keep us from hearing that Word of God preached and proclaimed right here every Lord’s Day. There would be standing room only here today. If we really believed that about the Word then we would be reading and studying the Word every day of the week. But we close our ears and we shut our eyes. Jesus comes to us in the Word saying, “Take heart; it is I. Stop being afraid.” But we prefer the futility of our own words and thoughts. We prefer our own efforts at rowing in the dark and getting nowhere. We simply don’t believe that faith comes by hearing. Like Peter, we have our doubts.

O you of little faith. Repent, and look to the object of your faith. You don’t just have faith. Faith always has an object. You have faith in something. You trust in something. Peter didn’t walk on the water solely by the power of his faith. He walked on the water by faith in the Word of Jesus. It was that word “Come” that kept him afloat. And only when Peter allowed that word to be drowned out by the noise of the wind and the waves did he start to sink.

See what happens when you turn down the volume on God’s Word? See what happens when you let other priorities stop and silence your hearing of God’s Word? See what happens when you stake your life—not on the Word of God—but on the word of man? You sink. You sink into death itself. Faith weakens. Faith withers. Faith dies. As a pastor I see it happening all the time. And there’s nothing more tragic. Families who take the summer off from worship and the Word. Baptized Christians who just walk away from Christ and His church and His Word. And behind all the excuses and all the rationales, they are slipping away from real life—sinking into death—separated from Christ.

Keep your ears and eyes tuned into Jesus. That’s where Peter’s ears and eyes needed to be—on Jesus, not on the wind and waves. Nothing but Jesus. The same goes for you. Train your attention on the world—on the culture—look inside yourself, and doubts will take over. Fear will grow. You’ll sink like stone. That’s why we’re here every Sunday to hear the Word—to receive the Supper. If you lose this—if you walk away from this—when you tune out Jesus’ Words and starve yourself of His holy Supper—you will sink and drown. You will drown in despair, in guilt, in fear. We drown in our skepticisms, our failings and weaknesses. We drown in sin and death.

It’s worth remembering that you already died in the water once before. Like Peter, you too had your moment in the water with Jesus—when you were baptized. You didn’t walk on the water of your baptism; but you did die and rise to new life in that water. You were born again in that water. You became a child of God in that water. Your sins were forgiven in that water. In that water all the blessings and benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection were applied to you. In that water the Lord placed His Word in your ears and into your heart. In that water Jesus said, “Come to me, and follow me.” Everything changed for you in the water of Holy Baptism.

Baptism leads us to pray with Peter, “Lord, save me.” When Peter began to be overwhelmed by the wind and waves, he started to sink. He prayed the same prayer that each of us has at our disposal: Lord, save me. It’s a prayer of faith. At that moment, Jesus was all that Peter had. And Jesus was all that Peter needed to save him. Peter’s prayer is our prayer too. Lord, save me. When we can’t tread water any longer and we’re about to go under. Because we are baptized we can pray: Lord, save me. St. Matthew tells us that “immediately” Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter. In that split second Peter is sinking and praying, while Jesus is grabbing a hold and lifting Peter. Whose grip matters more at that moment? In whose grip does our salvation rest?

Beloved in the Lord, those sure, strong, nail-scarred hands are no less holding onto you. When your sin is pulling your down into the depths—when you are drowning in a sin-filled mess of your own making, there is one person who will save you. When your faith is little, Jesus will save you. You can trust Him. Don’t trust Jesus because He walked on the water. Trust Him because He walked right out of His own tomb—because He has defeated death for you. Stop doubting and believe.

This account ends with worship—with all of Jesus’ followers gathered around Him in the boat. In this hour we join them. We gather in the presence of Jesus who comes to us in His Word, and in His body and blood. As you receive this meal today hear the Savior say to you: Take heart, it is I. Stop being afraid. To this we can only confess: Truly, you are the Son of God. Lord, save me.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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