We All Sink, My Sermon for August 13
We All Sink
Matthew 14: 22 – 33
August 13, 2023
Joseph United Methodist Church
I want to thank Pastor Beth for the invitation to preach this morning. I appreciate the chance to give my preaching muscles a little workout. Will you join me in prayer as we all listen for God’s word to us this morning?
When she preached last week on the miracle of the 5 loaves and two fishes, Beth noted that story is one of the most well-known of the stories of Jesus, one that appears in all four of the gospels. Today’s Scripture reading, when it comes to familiarity, may be a close second. It is the story of Jesus walking on the water.
So the feeding of the 5,000 — or maybe the 20,000 as Beth suggested — wraps up. Jesus dismissed the big crowd. And he got the disciples all into a boat and sent them on to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while he heads up the mountain for some time alone in prayer. Finally, the company has gone home.
You know this story, right? You don’t know it? No worries. Here it is: It’s evening, night coming on. Jesus is alone on the mountain. The disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee where their boat is increasingly “battered by the waves” because, as Matthew tells us, “The wind was against them.” Think about those words for a moment. “The wind was against them.” Ever have that feeling, that the wind is against you? That’s how life is often enough. We’re in a boat called life and the wind seems, at least often, to be against us.
Like your former pastor Craig, I do a little painting. For one painting I did recently, a kind of abstract thing that looked to me like it had daunting walls and narrow precipices, I incorporated a phrase I heard somewhere. I just wrote it across the bottom of the painting.
It read, “Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” “Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I liked that, so I put it in a painting. So often when we look at other people, everything looks pretty good. But when you go a little deeper you discover that these words are true. “Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” It may be a hard time in marriage, or a broken relationship with a son or a sister, or maybe loneliness, an addiction, or a sense of regret.
Often we look at others and think, they have a great life or a successful life, while we know our own struggles and flaws. I liked what Anne Lamott had to say about that: “Never compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”
“The wind was against them.” Jesus had stayed behind, finally catching a little alone-time. He had sent the disciples off, a kind of advance party for their ministry ahead, and now it’s dark. The waves were beating on the disciples boat and the wind was against them. As the light began to slowly come again the disciples saw what they thought was a ghost on the water. But it’s Jesus walking toward them over the waves. He calls out to them, “Take heart. It is I; do not be afraid.”
Now here’s an important little side note: for the Jewish people and throughout the Bible the sea and bodies of water represents chaos. I know, a lot of the time when we look at Wallowa Lake on a summer’s day or the ocean, it looks just so calm and beautiful, the sun glistening on the water. But I remember one time, I was kid, we took my grandfather’s boat with its little 7.5 horsepower motor and went over to the other side of the Lake for a picnic, probably before there were many houses on the west side of the Lake.
We had our picnic and got back in the boat. My aunt Margaret yanked on the starter cable, the engine started up. She threw it into gear but we didn’t move. It turned out, the propeller had fallen off and disappeared in the Lake. So we pulled out the oars. A bit of challenge, but not insurmountable, not that is until the sky darkened, the wind came up, white caps starting slapping the sides of the boat, spraying us with water, and the wind was pushing us off course and down the lake. At such moments, you get why the sea is often thought in the Bible as chaos, as a kind of demonic power.
The disciples found themselves in the grip of this demonic power — as we may find ourselves in the grip of addiction, a violent emotion or a conflict that threatens to spiral, or a the storm of illness or disease. Jesus walking on the water, over the angry sea, is the Scripture’s way of telling us that he is the Lord, he is the one who rules over and subdues the evil and demonic powers.
So Jesus came — the Lord of wind and wave — and spoke loving, reassuring words. “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” But we’re not done yet.
Jesus’ words of assurance aren’t quite enough for Peter, who is kind of an impulsive guy. Peter was a “ready, fire, aim,” kind of fellow. I relate to that. I can be a little impulsive. When I was a boy, my mother, an Eastern Oregon girl, would often say to me, “You go at everything like you’re killing snakes!”
So an impulsive Peter said to Jesus, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says, “okay, come on.” Peter climbed out of the boat and actually did, at least for an instant, walk on the water. But very quickly Peter “noticed the strong wind, got scared and started to sink.”
Remember when you learned to ride a bike? Your Dad or Mom had one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand on the bike seat as you started to peddle. Pretty soon you were going faster and Dad or Mom only had his hand on the seat. You went faster still, they let go. You were, for the first time, riding a bike! Wow! Whopee! And then you thought to yourself, “I’m riding a bike . . . and no one is holding on to me.” Wobble, wobble, crash.
But here’s where a lot of sermons on this story, probably some that I have preached, take a wrong turn. That wrong turn goes like this. If only Peter had kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he would have continued to dance the light fantastic over the water. But alas — continue these sermons — Peter lost his Jesus-focus and “glub, glub, glub.” So, say we preachers, keep your eyes on Jesus and you’ll never sink.
What’s wrong with that? Well, it’s all about Peter, ergo, all about us. It’s all about what we should do. Maintain a laser-focus on Jesus, which we being humans don’t ever actually do. The underlying message is, “If we get this right, if we are just better, maybe even perfect, in our faith and devotion, in our life of service and love, then we too can walk on water, conquer chaos, and be amazing.
If your faith is sure and strong, then you will never sink. That is often the message sermons on this passage have given. Notice, it’s an “if/ then” messsage, which means, it’s what the Bible calls “Law.” But the Law is not the Gospel. In the church we often turn the Gospel, the good news about Jesus and his grace, into Law, which is all the things we must do so that God will love and approve of us.
We get such “if/ then” messages all the time, and we give them too. “If you are a good boy, you can have this special treat.” “If you get straight A’s, you’ll get into the right job or college.” “If you are a perfect wife and mother, then everyone will love you and you’ll have the super family.”
The gospel is not an “if/ then” message. It’s not, “If you just keep your eyes on Jesus, if your faith is perfect and without any doubts, then you’re golden and you’ll never sink.” It’s not, it’s really not.
Here’s the truth, we all sink. WE ALL SINK. We are all flawed, broken and confused people struggling to keep our heads above water.
So the message here isn’t “Keep your eyes on Jesus, never waver, never doubt, never be frightened, so you won’t sink like Peter.”
The message is “We all sink,” and when we do we have a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Jesus is there to save us. We all on the bicycle of life and will wobble, careen and crash.
Peter cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus reached out his hand to catch Peter. This isn’t a story about Peter or his daring. It’s a story about Jesus and his saving. It’s not a story about us being better or stronger or more daring. It is about Jesus who saves us when we’re sinking and going under. He acts to save us. He has acted fully and finally to forgive us our sins and to free us.
The gospel isn’t “You must do.” It is, “He has done.” Rest in this. Trust in this.
The wind may be against you, but Jesus is for you. Not in some silly “Prosperity Gospel,” way. Not “Jesus is for you,” so you’ll get your dream house, a promotion at work, and all your kids or grandkids will get “straight A’s.” No Jesus is for you, has taken your side, and will never leave it.
As he pulled Peter from the drink, Jesus says, “why did you doubt?” Now there are two ways we can hear this. We can hear as Law or as Gospel. As Law, it sounds like blame and judgment. “You idiot, what’s wrong with you, why did you doubt?” A word of harsh judgment. As if the Dad who had been helping you learn to ride a bike caught up to you after you wobbled and fell and yelled, “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you stay up?” That’s the voice of Law.
I don’t think that’s how Jesus spoke to Peter, do you? I think he spoke like Mom or Dad or Grandpa did when you wobbled and fell. “Are you okay? You did so great, you really were riding that bike. You’re getting it. Soon you’ll have it.” God doesn’t speak to us a harsh word, but a loving and gentle one.
“You’re doing great. I’m so proud of you.”
You say, “But I fell.” And Grandpa says, “We all fall.” But I’m here to help you up, to dust you off, to clean your cut and put on the band-aid, and help you back on the bike.” And God’s word says to you and to me today, “We all fall. Even when we really, really know how to ride a bike, sometimes we still fall off. Even us big, competent adults still fall off every now and then. We all need a Savior. We all need his grace.
When everyone was back in the boat, when the commotion was over, the crashing waves had calmed, Peter was sopping wet, here is how the story ends: the disciples worshipped Jesus. They said, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” “You really do rule the crashing sea and howling wind.” The chaos, the demons, don’t get the last word. Jesus gets the last word. The wind may be against us, but Jesus is for us.
Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle . . . but we do not to fight it alone. There is one who has taken our side.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the power of God, strong to save. He reaches out to catch us.
Maybe you sank in life’s churning waters this week. Maybe you’re sinking right now. Maybe the wind is against you as you come this morning. The wind may be against you, but Jesus is for you.
Today, we worship him, we call on his name. We praise God and putting our faith and hope down on the One, who is our Lord and our God, the One who breaks the power of evil and rules over chaos, the One who takes your hand, and who brings you to the distant shore, to other side of the Sea, where we shall follow him in his ministry of the gospel of mercy and grace for all the people . . . for all the people . . . for all the people.
Thanks be to God! Amen!