The audio was recorded at our Praise and Worship service on August 10, 2014.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."
Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
“The Presence of Jesus in the midst of Life’s Storms”
About this time five years ago I was in the middle of one of the biggest changes of my life. I had just wrapped up my fourth and final summer at camp Chrysalis and was beginning to pack for my move to Chicago. I was about to enter uncharted waters. I had visited Chicago, but there is a big difference between packing a suitcase and packing up a Penske truck. For a rural kid from Texas, Chicago was the other side of life. I had never lived in an urban setting. I would be without a vehicle for the first time in my life. I would be moving to a place where I knew no one - to a neighborhood I had only walked through once. I was starting the final chapter of my life leading up to ordination. For me, Chicago represented the other side of life as I had known it thus far on the journey. I was nervous. I was anxious. I was excited. All normal emotions for dealing with an other side moment.
Today we encounter a trip to the "other side" for the disciples. They have been busy as of late. Jesus has just led them through a in depth training session on the kingdom of heaven, parables that help them to engage the kingdom of heaven as it comes into the world through Jesus. They have gone through the emotions of the death of John the Baptist. They have watched and experienced the feeding of the hungry poor in the wilderness. And now Jesus is putting them in a boat for a trip to the “other side.”
This story is filled with rich imagery. It’s a great story, especially when we dig deep into the metaphors that Matthew is using. For starters let’s explore the location - the other side. Very nondescript. No city or town. No port. Just the “other side.” The disciples have already been to the other side with Jesus. In the first crossing story back in chapter 8, they cross to the other side of the lake into Gentile territory. It’s the first time Jesus had ventured outside the boundaries of his own people. The other side was a metaphor for new territory for the message of the Gospel. For us this is a clue for our own lives.
Today we get caught up in the movement of the disciples to the other side. And just like the first trip, this one meets resistance. Any trip to the other side, any attempt to extend the boundaries of the kingdom of God is going to meet resistance. The winds of chaos and the storms of opposition will do their best to put a stop to God’s kingdom breaking into our world. The life and ministry of Jesus makes waves and rocks the boat of tradition. But Jesus’ mission to the other side will not be stopped. God’s kingdom will not be denied, God’s purpose will not be thwarted. Jesus pushes the disciples out to the other side. And the winds begin to pick up.
The storm is another clue for us. The winds kick up the waters of the sea. This is also a metaphor. In the Old Testament, the sea was a place of chaos - a image of the chaotic waters that God ordered in the act of creation. God’s Spirit moved over the waters at chaos as God order the life of the world, calling what God made good. The waters of chaos are kept at bay, but not gone. They reappear at the Reed Sea when the Israelites have their backs against the wall. Again God’s power moves over the waters, creating a way of salvation for the people of Israel. The waters of chaos appear again in the storms on the sea. These chaotic waters are set against the kingdom of heaven and the ministry of Jesus. But Jesus has power over these chaotic waters. Jesus can walk on them, calming the waves and the wind. Jesus can do this because he is God’s presence on earth.
Matthew points this our to us, but rather subtly. When the disciples cry out in fear, claiming they have seen a ghost, Jesus responds, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Hidden right here in plain sight is the Greek phrase ego emi - literally “I am.” This phrase connects us back to the burning bush and the Exodus. To the very name and presence of God - the great “I Am” - “I AM WHO I AM” - “I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Jesus is God’s presence in the midst of the chaos. Jesus was with the disciples when the waters of chaos threaten to overtake them. Jesus is with us when the waters of chaos rage in our own lives.
Here there is a caution. Sometimes we are encouraged to be like Peter. To have faith enough to get out of the boat. But I think this is misguided. For us who follow Jesus, our call is not necessarily to get out to the boat. We can get lost if we try to emulate Peter who attempts to walk on the chaotic waters. Jesus is the one who has that power. Our call is to recognize that we are not in the rocking boat alone. We receive the reminder and the assurance that Jesus is with us in the midst of the chaotic moments. That is our reminder today.
I remember being in Seattle on a mission trip in high school and the crew I was a part of had been assigned the project of installing a new set of steps at one of the houses across town. We were headed to the other side. The community spoke mostly Spanish, most of them probably recent immigrants to the area. Separated by boundaries of language and culture, we set to work taking out the old steps and putting in the supports for the new ones. The water company had come out earlier in the week and marked all the major water lines for us so we steered clear of the pink markers on the ground. We were finishing the hole to set the last post when the storm struck.
With what was supposed to be the final thrust of my shovel, a strange crunching sound erupted from the hole. I had struck the water line and watched in horror as a geyser 10 feet tall formed in the front yard. The house emptied out to witness this chaotic sight. I tried to explain in broken Spanish that not all was lost, but my face was covered in a fear that I saw matched by the woman of the house. We were kind strangers, but the mission was failing. In that moment, when the chaotic waters were raging, it was important to remember the words of Jesus - “Be encouraged! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” We sat down to figure things out. After a few phone calls we got the water shut off and a crew came out to fix the pipe. We came back to the sight the next day, expecting to be asked to leave, but we were met with a smile. God was present in our new relationships with one another. God was present with us in our work. God was present in the forgiveness of the family. The rhythm of the kingdom of heaven could continue, the storm had been calmed.
Friends, when we follow in the footsteps of Jesus we are not promised that all will be clear. The winds of chaos will come and the storms of destruction will threaten to stop us in our tracks. But remember that we are not alone. Jesus journeys with us and through his love and power we can weather the storms. Jesus, the one who calmed winds of the sea. Jesus is the the one who broke the sting of death when the winds of chaos raged on Good Friday. Jesus is the one through whom God worked the promise of new life. Jesus is the one who brought a word of peace and a promise of new life through his resurrection and he is still in our boat today. With peace and power and healing, he goes with as we spread the good news of God’s love.