Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 14)

August 10, 2014
Text: Matt. 14:22-33

            Why does Jesus make His disciples set sail without Him into a storm that by any human standard should cause all on board to be lost?  Why does He make them endure the storm all night long?  While He’s there on the shore praying, the storm arises.  He knows they are in peril.  He knows they are there in the middle of the sea, beaten by the waves, the wind against them, fearing for their lives.  But He doesn’t go out to them until the fourth watch of the night, sometime between 3 and 6 am.  When He does finally walk out to them on the water, our text tells us “they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear” (Matt. 14:26; ESV).  Well, maybe “Ghost” is not the best translation.  They said, “It is a φάντασμά (a phantasm).”  The Jews believed that when they died, an angel would come and carry them to heaven.  Jesus teaches that, too, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22).  The Jews also believed that when someone died and went to hell, a demon, a phantasm, would come and carry them there.  You know why the disciples were crying out in fear?  They believed they were about to die and go to hell, because a phantasm had come to cart them off to Hades.  Maybe they had Jesus all wrong, after all.  They certainly knew they were sinners.  They feared the storm.  They feared God’s Judgment.  And they had forgotten Jesus’ Word. 
            Back on the shore, Jesus had told them to get into the boat and go before Him to the other side (Matt. 14:22).  We aren’t given the exact quotation, but there is a promise implicit in Jesus’ command.  You will get into the boat and you will cross to the other side.  It’s not just a command, it’s a Gospel guarantee.  You will get to the other side.  Jesus does not promise the weather will be good and the water peaceful.  He knows full well there is a storm brewing.  But when Jesus sends His disciples out in the boat without His visible presence, He wants them to remember and trust in His Word.  That’s what all of us are to do.  We are to get in the boat of the Holy Christian Church and cross through this earthly life to the other side of heaven and the resurrection.  Jesus is with us.  We know that by faith.  But we forget, because He is not visibly present with us.  In reality, He’s present with us in His Word, in His Gospel Promise.  You will cross over.  You will get to the other side.  But there will be storms.  There will be perils.  You will be beaten by the waves.  The wind will be against you.  You will fear the storm.  You will fear for your life, because death is all around you in this life.  You will fear God’s Judgment because you know your sins.  And you, like the disciples, will forget Jesus’ Word. 
            That is why He comes to you.  He comes to you on the water.  Baptism!  He comes to you in His real flesh and blood.  He comes to you and He speaks: “Take heart; it is I” (v. 27).  Well, actually, the words He uses are even stronger than that: “Take heart… I AM.”  YHWH, right here, guys!  “Do not be afraid.”  Because you don’t have to.  Jesus has it all under control.  He is the Lord of wind and wave, the Creator of heaven and earth.  Things are not always as they appear.  The disciples think Jesus has left them to face the storm alone.  In fact, He has done nothing of the sort.  He knows right where they are, precisely what is happening to them.  He sent them there to face it! They think it is a phantasm coming to drag them down to hell.  In fact, it is Jesus coming to save them from death and from hell.  So also you.  Things are not always as they appear.  Jesus sends you into the storm for your good.  You think that He has abandoned you.  In fact, He has done nothing of the sort.  He knows right where you are, precisely what you are going through.  And this is something that you cannot understand now, with your fallen and finite mind, but He is sending you through it, for your good.  That is what He has promised through the Apostle Paul, that He works all things together for your good, for your salvation, for you have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).  You may not know now why He does it.  You may not ever know in this life why He does it.  We’re always asking what lesson we’re supposed to learn from something we’ve had to endure.  You may not be given the answer.  Nor does God owe you an answer.  Often His answer is that which He gave to Job in our Old Testament reading (Job 34:4-8): “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (vv. 4-5).  In other words, “I’m God and you’re not, so just trust me that I know what I’m doing and stop trying to tell me how to be God!” 
            Just trust Him.  Believe His Word.  Believe His Promise.  You will get to the other side.  Because He will get you there.  That is one thing we learn from the storm.  We can’t do it on our own.  Really, we can’t do it at all.  We need Jesus, or we perish.  When Jesus sent the disciples away on the boat, the water was calm.  They thought they had it handled.  After all, they were professional fishermen.  And this is their lake.  They are perfectly capable of getting to the other side.  That is how we act when life is smooth.  We have it handled.  We know what we’re doing.  Sure, we need a little help and direction from Jesus, but ultimately, we’re good on our own.  Then a storm arises that blows that myth out of the water.  It exposes us in our weakness and utter helplessness.  The disciples thought that every other time they’d been on the lake and come to the other side safely, it was by their own skill.  They didn’t see that God had been the One to keep them safe every time they had pushed the boat off from shore.  So also you and I.  We know what we’re doing.  We have it under control.  We take it for granted that we’ll be safe.  Until we’re not.  We don’t see that every time we have been kept safe, every success we’ve ever enjoyed, every storm we’ve weathered, and every storm we haven’t had to endure, is from God.  We need Him always, when the lake is smooth, and when the waves beat against us.  But when we recognize that we need Jesus every moment, we can also take comfort in His Word of Promise.  He will get us to the other side.  He will keep us safe.  Because He has already done everything to guarantee our safety in His saving work on the cross and in His resurrection from the dead.  Stay in the boat and let the storm rage.  Stay in the Church and let the devil and the world assault you.  They cannot finally harm you.  Jesus comes to you.  “Take heart,” He says to you.  “I AM.” 
            There is also this matter of Peter getting out of the boat and walking to Jesus on the water.  There is a lesson for us here, as well.  It is not that you can walk on water if you just believe enough.  You can try it at the Church picnic next week.  It will never work.  Because you don’t have a word from Jesus.  He hasn’t told you to walk on water.  It was to Peter, and Peter alone, that Jesus said, “Come” (v. 29).  And that is why Peter can walk on the water.  It is not because of his faith.  It is because of the Word.  The sinking happens for the same reason Jesus sent the disciples out into the storm.  To show Peter that he isn’t walking on water because he is a great hero of faith, because he has supernatural abilities, because he is talented, or even because he believes enough.  He is walking on water for one reason only: Jesus’ Word.  On your own, you drown.  With Jesus, you’re safe.  The minute Peter loses sight of the Word, when he looks at the wind and the waves and realizes he is unable by nature to do what he’s doing, that is when he begins to go under.  But as Christians do, in the moment we’re sinking, the moment we are in peril, we call upon the Lord for help: “Lord, save me” (v. 30).  And He does.  He always does, because He is faithful.  Even though we are not, He is.  “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (v. 31).  O Peter, O Christian, beloved in the Lord, why do you doubt?  Why do you ever doubt?  Jesus will never let you perish.  Never.  He does send storms and He does let you sink.  But He always saves you, because that is who He is.  It is right there in His Name: Jesus, “the LORD saves.” 
Why doesn’t Jesus just appear and make everything better for us right now?  Why does He make us get into the boat and suffer storms with wind and waves?  Disease?  Injury?  Loneliness?  Brokenness?  Death?  Whatever it is, why doesn’t Jesus just get rid of it?  He does, but not the way you tell Him to.  He takes it into Himself and bears it to the cross.  That is why He dies.  He dies for your sins, that you be forgiven.  He dies for your hurt, that you be healed.  He dies for your death, that you live forever with Him.  And He is risen, and lives, and reigns, so that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God for you in Christ.  You have His Word on it.  And that is the Word that will carry you across, here in the boat, the holy Church.  In spite of the storms, in spite of all that this fallen world can throw at you, you will get to the other side.  Because Jesus has spoken.  He cannot lie.  Do not be afraid.  He has promised.  He will save you.  The wind and the waves will cease.  And you will bow before His throne, safe on the other side, and confess with the disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  H     

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