Matthew 14:22-33 (9th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 14)
“Down by the River Walking on Water”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 10, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson for the day recorded in Matthew 14:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
How do you and I see ourselves in comparison to others? We are constantly comparing ourselves, intentionally or not, to others. Most, if not all of us, prefer to see ourselves as better than the rest. Or, at the very least, not as bad as the rest. In the movie “Tombstone,” Doc Holliday was asked where Wyatt Earp was. Doc’s reply was one of the classic lines of film, “He’s down by the creek, walking on water.” That phrase is used of someone we think is acting “holier than thou.” “So-and-so thinks she’s walking on water.” Someone who is said to be “walking on water” is either considered to be better than the rest, or acting like they think they are better than others. I wonder how many times people have had the occasion to say of us, “He’s down by the river walking on water.”
We’ve all been a little more “uppity” than we should. Each of us has acted as if we are better than someone else. Many times you and I have even said so. And this is the very nature of our human sin displaying its true colors. You and I are not wired to be humble people. Sin has us configured to consider ourselves at the top and others somehow inferior to us and to our standards. The world around us confirms us in our thinking and acting this way. The culture encourages us to believe and act like we are the only ones worth anything. And so you and I try hard to cover up our foibles. We try to sweep our inferiorities under the rug. We don’t want anyone to know that we have weaknesses and chinks in our armor because that hurts our egos. It damages others’ views of us. It knocks us off our “top dog” pedestals.
Imagine Simon Peter today in our Gospel reading as Jesus puts things into a very real spiritual perspective for him after he sank: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter must have been crushed, as well as soaking wet. Now, do you want to consider the possibility that you are also one “of little faith”? I don’t. That means I’m not as spiritually adept as I thought I was. It means that I have a spiritual weakness, and God forbid that anyone, even the Lord, should know about that!
However, you and I demonstrate to the Lord, to others, and to ourselves that, at times, we are like Peter, men and women of little faith. The example of Peter in our Gospel focuses us on the times that we, like Peter, doubt the promises that God has made to us. Consider the text. When the disciples in the boat see Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee they are troubled. They shout, “It’s a ghost!” And they cry out from fear, “Ahhhh!” But Jesus immediately has compassion on them. Christ calms them with his invitation, “Have courage.” Jesus identifies Himself with overtones from His identification to Moses at the burning bush, “I Am He.” In other words, “Yahweh.” And because Yahweh, God-Made-Flesh in Jesus is the one coming to them as the God-Man walking on the sea, He speaks the assuring words, “Stop being afraid.”
Jesus matched their needs immediately, right there in the presence of the disciples. This amazing Being who has mastery over the sea and who comes to them walking on the water is none other than Jesus, their Lord and Master. They don’t have to be afraid. His very Word announces to them who He is and that promise means there is no cause for fear or doubt. But Peter doesn’t quite believe Christ’s words because he doesn’t quite believe that it is Jesus. For Peter, the Lord’s words are not enough and so he asks for something more, something bizarre: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the waters.” Jesus responds with one word, “Come.” What will it take for Peter to believe that it is Jesus?
He stepped out of the boat and onto the sea. Peter walked on the water and came to Jesus, so near to Jesus that He could simply extend His hand to take hold of Peter when he started to sink. Peter was right there, standing on the water with Jesus! But Peter saw the wind and became afraid. For all of his demands, Peter ended up just like the other disciples, crying out in fear, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of Peter. The compassionate God met Peter’s need and saved him from death in the water. But Jesus has no word of praise for Peter. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Not once but twice! First, “Lord, if it is you…” And then, “Lord, save me.” He doubted Jesus’ word—whether it was really Jesus as He had said and whether Jesus, who commanded Peter “Come,” was really able to do what He said He would.
O you of little faith. O me of little faith. Why do we doubt? We, too, have failed always to believe the promises that the Lord has made to us. We have not always trusted His Word. How quick you and I are when the troubles of life collapse on us to say, “God doesn’t love me enough,” even though His Word of Promise assures us, for example, in Romans 8, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39 ESV) When we feel we don’t have enough of the good things in life we sometimes act as if the Lord is cheating us out of what we deserve. It is then we fail to trust the words of Jesus, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:25-33 ESV)
When we come to realize that we are often those of little faith we might begin to wonder, if we have failed to believe the promises Christ has made to us in His Word, will Jesus abandon us since we didn’t believe Him the first time? What if we find in ourselves only doubt when we should have faith that grows and becomes great? Will Jesus save us, or will He, in all His divine power over creation and His frightening majesty, let us sink and give us over to what you and I deserve as sinners?
Our Gospel text answers that for us. Jesus can save, and He has saved everyone—even if at times we doubt. Jesus Christ is the compassionate God, the great I Am, who is Lord over creation and Savior of all. He met the needs of the sick and healed them. He fed the 5000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Jesus calmed and assured the disciples in the boat as He came to them walking on the water, “Have courage, it is I. Stop being afraid.” Christ commanded Peter to come to Him and reached out His hand to save the sinking man. And He reached out His hands to save you and me, too.
By grace, Christ’s hands reached out and were nailed to the wood of a cross. Jesus didn’t count Himself better than His creation. In perfect obedience to God the Father, Christ Jesus bled and died for all our sins including the sins of pride, seeing ourselves better than others. Jesus suffered and died for us and rose again for us, so that, even though we are weak in faith and often doubt His promises, we are guaranteed that His promises are sure and certain forever. In the waters of Holy Baptism, Christ reaches out to you and me and calls us to be children of God by grace through faith. Washed by water and the Spirit, you and I stand forgiven. You and I have received the free gift of eternal life. And that means even a little faith is more than enough to receive the nail-marked hands of Jesus who reaches out into your life through the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament to save, comfort, and assure you of God’s love and presence every day.
I’m sure, after all was said and done, that Peter was glad Jesus was there, walking on the water that night on the Sea of Galilee. Even with his doubt and near drowning experience, Peter’s little faith, along with that of the other disciples, saw Jesus for who He is. “Truly, you are the Son of God.” And how thankful Peter and the disciples then, along with you and I and all of Jesus’ disciples today, are that Jesus is the compassionate God who saves us even though we are often of little faith. That’s what we call amazing grace. It is God’s undeserved loved showered upon us. Therefore, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we each offer this prayer to Christ in faith, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Increase my faith.” God grant our request because of the merits and mediation of Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.