Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up to the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came he was there alone.
Jesus had just learned of the death of his cousin, friend, and fellow-minister John the Baptist. In wake of this news Jesus tried to get away from the crowds that had been following so that He might have some time alone. Yet, as is the case in the Gospel according to Matthew, as Jesus attempts to draw away from the crowd they continue to follow. Jesus commanded them to sit in the grass and after teaching them for hours and hours he prayed over the famous loaves and fishes that fed the multitudes. Our scripture lesson this morning takes place immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. Christ dismissed the crowds to their homes and compelled the disciples to get into their boat so that He might have some time to be alone. Jesus then went up to the mountain by himself to pray.
In our modern culture it is next to impossible to be alone or silent. Everywhere we look there is something to connect us with other people; Televisions, computers, cell phones. Silence […] makes us uncomfortable. And I believe that silence makes us uncomfortable because it reminds us of what it means to be alone. But, sometimes loneliness is necessary to meet God face to face.
There is an Old Testament story about the prophet Elijah who fled to Mount Horeb after killing the prophets of Baal. Elijah feared for his life and was hiding in a cave when the word of the Lord appeared to him and said, “What are you doing here Elijah?” God then commanded Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain for the Lord was about to pass by. Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence, and there was the Lord.
People today often expect God to come in the spectacular, but God speaks loudest in the silence. In Elijah’s loneliness he was able to meet God on the mountain in silence. So too, Jesus, after feeding the 5,000 was able to meet his Father on top of the mountain by himself in silence.
We fear what it means to be alone, but truly I tell you, you are never alone. God abides with you in all that you do. The hard part is for us to slow down, quiet ourselves, and listen in the silence for the presence of God.
It was in a silent moment on Fort Hunt Road in Alexandria, Virginia late one December evening when I prayed to God and my call story began.
Jesus was intent on retreating away from his disciples so that he might be renewed for God’s will. In the mad rush of the death of John and the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus needed rest. True living is an alternation between rest and work, prayer and daily living.
I urge you to find silence in your life. Listen for God in those moments. You will be surprised by what you hear…
But by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
Jesus had ordered his disciples and friends to enter the boat. The storm came not because the disciples had sinned or embarked on some foolish conquest, but while they were obeying Christ’s command. This is an important lesson for us. Storms come to the wicked just as much as they come to the righteous. Following Christ is a hard and difficult task, one that is often met with storms and tribulations. Being a Christian is about being responsible to your call even when the storms roll in. In this mystery of life we are often helpless without help from God. We find this help in Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is the reason storms come, because we are helpless and they help to orient us to Christ. It is easy to be afraid when the wind of life tortures you just as the disciples were terrified on the boat…
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, I am; do no be afraid.”
Upon first inspection it may appear that Jesus was just trying to reassure the disciples that he was not a ghost. “It’s okay guys, don’t worry, it’s just me Jesus, chill out.” But this is not what Jesus said. Rather, he said, Take heart, I am. This “I am” is not only a clarification of who was walking on the water, but rather a direct connection to God Himself. In Greek the “I am” is rendered as ἐγώ εἰμι a specific reference to the Great I Am of the Old Testament when Moses met God in the burning Bush. Throughout the scriptures, the ἐγώ εἰμι is used for the self-disclosure of God. In the Gospel according to John, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane they asked for Jesus, to which Jesus replied ἐγώ εἰμι and immediately they all, the disciples and the soldiers together, fell to the ground before him. ἐγώ εἰμι is a powerful expression throughout the Gospels and cannot be over-looked. When the disciples feared for their lives Jesus reassured them that they need not worry because He Is.
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his right hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Eager Peter, ready to answer all of Jesus’ questions and prove his devotion often leapt before he looked. I will not call this a naive faith, but Peter certainly trusted in his own ability more than Jesus’. So, why is it that Peter’s faith failed him and he began to sink? He certainly believed he could do it, or he wouldn’t have gotten out of the boat. It is precisely when Peter’s takes his eyes and orientation OFF of Christ that he begins to sink. Faith is at its very strongest when its eyes are fixed on Christ.
A few weeks ago I heard a remarkable sermon here at Bryson City UMC by Wilma Reppert about orienting our life around Jesus. She used a story about horizon driving to demonstrate how through orientation on Christ our lives might be more fulfilling. She could not have been more right. In fact, Peter would have done better that day on the water if he had heard Wilma’s sermon before he walked out to Jesus. Where Peter’s faith was weakened and distracted, Christ’s faith was unaltered. Christ immediately reached out to Peter to catch him before he sank.
This is the exact same way that Christ exists with us today. Truly I tell you storms are brewing and Christ is still calling to us saying, “Come.” When we take our eyes off of Jesus we might begin to sink into the destructive power of the world, but Christ’s faith in US in unchangeable. He will always stand there on the water with his outstretched hand, waiting for us to recognize our connection with Peter.
When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Here again we can see how God speaks to us in the silence. I imagine that the storm was a terrifying thing for the disciples to experience, but I guarantee that the calm that was instituted after the storm, the silence after the wind, was profoundly more tangible for the disciples. It was in the silence after the storm that God’s presence through Jesus Christ was made manifest. Jesus had already called attention to his divine nature through his ἐγώ εἰμι, but the calm water after Peter’s episode must have been the final proof necessary. Matthew tells us that the disciples worshipped Jesus once He and Peter returned to the boat. In Greek the word is προσεκύνησαν, which does mean worship, but also carries the connotation of prostrating oneself in reverence. This is the exact same thing that happened in John’s Gospel in the Garden. When Jesus says ἐγώ εἰμι they all προσεκύνησαν, fell before him.
The disciples finally got it. They finally realized just whom it was that they were following. This was not just a man who had to the ability to work miracles and tell incredible stories. This man is the Son of God. This man is ἐγώ εἰμι.
In a few minutes you will be invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper. If you take anything away from this sermon I hope it is this: The Eucharist is one of, if not the most, fundamental ways of understanding whom Jesus is. It is our way of walking to Jesus out on the water. As you prepare to receive the meal, consider how paralleled our story is with the scripture lesson today. I am sure that many of us want Jesus to appear in our lives through a magnificent fashion, just like Elijah. I am sure that some of us try so desperately to hear God and are often met with silence. I am sure that some of us have doubts. But we also have faith, faith in the message, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is why we gather together as a community, to live into the new reality of Jesus Christ, through the Kingdom of God. We follow Christ because he stands before us walking on the water asking us to come.
Take Heart my brothers and sisters. Jesus IS! Do not be afraid.
Truly He is the Son of God
I offer this to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.