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Lord, Save Me!

Sermon: August 9, 2020

10th Sunday after Pentecost; Lectionary 19

Matthew 14.22-36

2Immediately he (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

28Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

34When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, 36and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

We have a story in our family that, over the years,

has become, well, legendary.

Once, before my sister came along, when my brother, Mike, and I were little, we went fishing with my dad.

We had been spending most our time that weekend out on the lake where some friends had a cabin. But on one morning, Mike and dad decided to fish from shore. It was early in the morning, and the grass on the embankment was wet from the dew. As Mike was walking down towards the lake, he slipped on the grass and slid right into the water.

Now Mike couldn’t swim, and he went under the water.

Dad raced down, took his fishing rod, and snagged Mike,

dragged him to the shore, caught him by the hand and lifted him up to safety.

After Mike stopped coughing and spitting out the water that he swallowed, he looked at my dad and said, “Dad, I don’t think we should fish here anymore.” Dad said, “No, it isn’t very safe is it?” And then, here is the legendary part of the story: Mike replied, “No, Dad, that’s not why we shouldn’t fish here. When I was under the water, I opened my eyes, and I couldn’t see any fish!”

We all laugh at this story because it is funny. And maybe we laugh because the outcome could have been so much different. What if my dad had not been able to snag Mike? What if he couldn’t find him in the water?

Mike could not have saved himself once he hit the water. The only person, my dad, that could have saved him, did. And thanks be to God.

I think about our family story every time I read our gospel text for today: “So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. .”

When I have pondered this story in the past, I have tended to read it as an indictment of Peter’s lack of faith. You know, Peter sees Jesus walking on the water (by the way, is it so hard to imagine the terror and fear the disciples felt? After all, seeing someone walk on water is not something you see every day!) and says “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus tells Peter to come. It starts out pretty well. Peter is doing it, until he notices what he is doing, and he sees the wind and waves and danger, and he sinks.

As Jesus is pulling him up, he asks Peter,

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The way this question of Jesus is translated and phrased, it is easy to think of doubt as being the opposite of having faith, trust. Perhaps a more accurate way to translate this question of Jesus is this: “Peter, why didn’t you trust me? Why did you waver and hesitate?”

We don’t know what Peter’s immediate response to Jesus is.

But I can imagine Peter, with Jesus holding on to him so that he didn’t go back under, coughing and spitting out the water that he swallowed, answering, “Well, Lord, there is a mighty storm going on, with high waves, and well, I am not you, I can’t do what you are doing. I couldn’t save myself, only you could do that.”

Jesus is the one who walks on water.

Jesus is the one who saves Peter.

Jesus is the Son of God whom the disciples worship.

I think this is the point of this episode;

and not the disciples’ fear or Peter’s hesitation and lack of faith.

Right before our reading for today, we heard the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. He sends the disciples ahead of him, but Jesus spends some more time with those who he has fed and healed and taught. And then, when he approaches the boat, he calls out to the disciples, “Take heart! It is I. Don’t be afraid!”

Did you ever notice how many times Jesus, or God, or God’s messengers say, “Don’t be afraid!?”

Here is something else that is important. Let me try a different way of reading Jesus’ response to the disciples’ fear: “Take heart! I AM! Don’t be afraid!”

“I AM” is how it reads in the original Greek of Matthew. “I AM;” the same words God uses to identify himself to Moses when Moses asks God’s name, I AM, says God. I AM sends you. It is no mistake that Jesus uses this same title to identify himself to the disciples, and to us. It is no ordinary teacher or prophet that saves Peter, that calms the storm; but Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. “I AM,” says Jesus. “Don’t be afraid!”

Did you notice that Jesus, after he has saved Peter, doesn’t just take him and toss him safely into the boat with the other disciples and then continue on walking on the water? Jesus gets into the boat with the rest. Jesus calms the storm. Jesus continues on with those with him. They reach the other side of the Sea, and Jesus brings healing and wholeness and saving to those who come into his presence. And the disciples worshiped Jesus.

Sisters and Brothers, Jesus, the Son of God, is in the boat with us, in the midst of the storm and wind and waves. Peter could not walk on the water by himself: we cannot live without Jesus either. We cannot save ourselves; we need Jesus to do that.

And wow, does it feel like we are in a boat, tossed about by the waves and storms of everything going on around us. For me, some days are better than others. I trust in Jesus. I know that Jesus is the Son of God and that we can have faith in this Messiah who is THE faithful One. But then, another wave hits; more news about the spread of the virus, more experiences of people who have forgotten what it means to love neighbor and to be kind. More worry about the coming school year or our futures, and I feel myself going under.

Dear friends, we are the church, in the boat, tossed and threatened by strong winds, and waves. But we need to remember that Jesus is with us; this Jesus who is with us bring healing

and feeds the hungry

and speaks good news about the Kingdom of God

and welcomes the stranger

and forgives and brings life in the face of death, and who says,

when we cry out, “Lord! Save me!”

“Take heart! Do not be afraid! I AM! I am in this with you. I will save you!”

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