Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Back before I went to seminary, today’s Gospel used to make me uncomfortable. I felt so sorry for poor Peter. He tries to have faith amidst the wind and waves, but all his efforts are not good enough. And he becomes a symbol of doubt. Peter has often been held up as an example of what not to do!
Today’s passage is a continuation of the story we heard last week. Finally, Jesus has a chance to be alone. He has been trying to get a few minutes to himself since early morning. Remember, in last week’s Gospel, when John’s friends brought Jesus the news that John had been executed by Herod, Jesus tried to go off by himself. But the crowds followed him. He taught them, healed them – and with the disciples’ five loaves of bread and two fish – Jesus fed them. Now he really needs some time alone.
So, Jesus pushes the disciples into the boat, and sends them away. Then he dismisses the crowd, and goes off into the mountains to pray. This is the first time the disciples have been left alone without Jesus to guide them. And they are soon in big trouble. Long after midnight, Jesus notices the disciples, now far out on the lake. A storm has come up, and the disciples are struggling to keep their boat from capsizing in the raging wind and waves. It doesn’t look good for them.
Looking up, one of them sees a figure approaching on the water. Look!! A ghost!! Now they are all looking. They have forgotten the storm. Terror has paralyzed them. They gape at the figure as it approaches. It is Jesus, but they don’t recognize him. Jesus is coming to them – walking on the water. But they think he’s a ghost. Jesus calls out to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Instantly, the disciples are relieved. But then Peter speaks up, “If it is you, Lord…?” IF – what a powerful word! Only two letters, but they say so much about faith and doubt. IF. Lord, if it is you, command me. If it’s really you, I dare you. “Come,” Jesus says without hesitation.
So out Peter goes. For a minute, it seems to be working. But then down Peter sinks. Jesus reaches out and pulls Peter out of the water. Oh, ye of little faith. You were walking on water, Peter! You were doing great! We are tempted to think, if only Peter had kept his eyes on Jesus, he would have made it. Or, if Peter had stayed on the boat and waited for Jesus to come to him.
We suffer in the same way as Peter, don’t we? It is easy to believe that our troubles are caused by our lack of faith. If I had trusted God, I might not have lost my job, If I had prayed more consistently, my mother wouldn’t have died. If I had just gone to church more, my husband wouldn’t have left me. If, if, if… If we tried harder, we prayed harder, everything would be fine.
But that kind of thinking is upside down. Faith isn’t about us getting it exactly right. If it was, Jesus would have let Peter drown, because he doubted. You see, this isn’t about us or about what we can do. It’s about Jesus and what he can do! Jesus comes to us in the storm, even when we don’t recognize him. And if we do manage to see Jesus clearly, even for a moment, we jump out of the boat. We keep our eyes on Jesus and we try not to be distracted by the storms around us.
But the wind rages, and the storms of life close in around us. And we sink. We cry out “Jesus, help!” And Jesus looks at us with loving eyes and a wry smile, “O ye of little faith.” We are lifted out of the water, just as Jesus pulls Peter out of the water, chiding him gently. “O ye of little faith.” Here I am, and yet you need to test. Here I am, you’ve already seen so much. I fed all those people with the loaves and fish because I care. And here you are, full of anxiety and fear. You’ve seen me teach the crowds with wisdom and authority. And here you are, worried again that I have forgotten you. Here I am Peter. Let’s get back to our friends.
The storm continues to rage. Jesus gets into the boat and pulls Peter in after him. We are there too, in the midst of the storm. Like Peter, we bounce from trust to anxiety. I am praying as hard as I know how, Lord. Why are things so tough? Help I'm sinking! In the story, Jesus did not immediately quell the storm.
And our storms continue to rage, don’t they? Families break up. Jobs are lost. Loved ones still die. The world is a scary place. And life just happens. We want to ask God, “Why?! Why is there pain? Why is there evil?” There are no ‘why’ answers. Jesus just pulls us out of the water. Us, of little faith. The storm continues to rage. The boat rocks and rolls on the waves. And just like in the Gospel, Jesus climbs into the boat, right next to us and our friends. Jesus grabs hold and keeps you and I from sinking. He really loves us – us of little faith, who bounce between trust and anxiety.
Jesus cares about you. Through Jesus, you and I find the grace and power to live life as his disciples, no matter what life dishes out. In the storms and chaos that grow strong in your life, Jesus holds your hand and brings you to the safety of your friends. He sits beside you while you dry off, and shares stories of sinking and rescue. He holds you and calms your fears.
In the midst of the storm, sometimes it feels like we have been abandoned to the chaos. Yet, Jesus is right there with us. Even in our darkest moments, Jesus says, “Be not afraid. It is I.” Life can be hard. We are often buffeted by storms that seem to sink us, but we can hear Jesus calling? “Take heart, it is I. Don’t be afraid. I am with you, even to the end of the age.” Amen.