Sermon preached by Jeanne E. Gay
August 10, 2008
Matthew 14:22-33 Exodus 3:1-15
Good morning. I’m one of the ones who followed Jesus. One of the inside group, so to speak. The ones you think of as The Twelve.
Now, I’m not gonna tell you which one I am, because then you’re gonna get all hung up about what you know about me. Was he the one who doubted? Or one of the ones whose mom wanted to get them places next to Jesus? Or the tax collector? And then everything I say, you’re goin’ to be analyzin’ it in light of what else you think you know about me. And I don’t want you doin’ that, so I’m not tellin’ you. I’m just an anonymous disciple. It’s the story I want to tell you that’s the important part, anyway.
So here’s the story about that night. We’d gotten the news the day before that Jesus’ cousin John—the one they called The Baptist?—Herod had beheaded him. I gotta tell you, that was sad … and kinda scary. Jesus sorta wanted to get away from the crowds for a while, but they followed him and—him bein’ the kind of guy he was, he spent most of the day talkin’ with them and healin’ the ones who were sick. That healin’ thing, that may sound pretty amazing to you, but by this time we’d kinda gotten used to it.
But that night—whew!—that was somethin’ else. We’d been gettin’ nervous about havin’ all these people way out there as night came, and we told Jesus to send them on because there sure wasn’t enough food for everybody out there. But—and you know, I still can’t quite get over this one—he took the little bit of food that was out there—a couple of fish and some bread—and, well, we fed all those thousands of people with that little bit of food! I gotta tell you, that was amazing!
We all wanted to talk with him about what had happened—at least, I know I did—but he did somethin’ he’d never done before that night. He sent us out on the boat without him. He said he’d get rid of the crowds, and I guess he wanted to be alone for a while. Maybe we were just as much pests to him sometimes as all those crowds of people. I gotta tell you, though, it hurt a little.
But anyway, we started out on the boat and, well, a lot of us had spent a lot of time on the water, but whew, there was some wind that night! You know how sometimes you can be out on a boat in the middle of the night, and it’s just as peaceful as it can be? Stars twinklin’ overhead and random noises from the shore, a little wisp of a breeze every now and then? Well, get that image out of your head because that night, well, I’ve never experienced such a wind. I can tell you that none of us was gettin’ any sleep, what with fightin’ that wind and tryin’ to keep the boat upright and bailin’ out the water that kept pourin’ in over the sides. And of course worryin’ a bit about Jesus not bein’ with us, and wonderin’ if we’d just missed something with all those people bein’ fed with that little bit of food, and bein’ sad about John. Nah, it wasn’t what you’d call a peaceful night.
And then, and then one of the guys started screamin’. “It’s a ghost! It’s a ghost!” And when we looked where he was pointin’, well, we could see somethin’ out there, kinda floatin’ over the water. Now, I remember my uncles, those old fishermen, talkin’ about the strange things they’d see when they’d been out on the water for days and nights, and I’ve got to tell you, my breath just caught up in my throat. The thing came nearer, and guys were screamin’ and yellin’, and danged if it didn’t look like a man. … Jesus!?
And then he called out to us to let us know that it was him. “Have courage!” he said, “Don’t be afraid.” And … now this is important. I know you’ve heard this story and heard that he said, “It is I,” but that wasn’t quite it. “Ego eimi,” he said. I AM.
Now, I don’t know about you folks and how much you know about the old scriptures, the Torah, but I gotta tell you, those are kicker words. I AM. That’s what Yahweh said when Moses asked him who he was. I AM. Folks, that’s God. That’s not-foolin’-around-here God. And there was Jesus, a-strollin’ across the water in the middle of the night just like it was, say, the middle of Capernaum on a sunshiny mornin’, and he’s sayin’ I AM. Jesus?
So we’re all still yellin’ and screamin’, and some of us are just about out of our minds and cryin’ and thinkin’ Jesus? I AM? And, well, you don’t know Peter the way we did, but I guess the adrenaline and all the excitement just grabbed hold of him, and he’s yellin’ out to Jesus: “If it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water,” and Jesus says, “Come on then,” and—whew—next thing you know Peter’s jumpin’ over the side—and now he’s walkin’ on the water.
Now that got us to quiet up, I’ll tell ya. Here’re these two guys, walkin’ toward each other on top of the water, and Peter’s just a starin’ at Jesus, and we’re starin’ at the two of them, and you can hear some sobbin’ here and there, and of course the wind is still just carryin’ on. And then you could see Peter start to look around, like he was lookin’ at the waves and the water and hearin’ that wind, and dang if he didn’t start to sink. Shoooot! “Save me!” he cries out, and sure enough, Jesus just reaches out a hand for him and pulls him up. “Oh you,” Jesus says, “you just didn’t quite have enough faith. Why did you doubt?” And then he brings Peter over to the boat so they can both get in.
And suddenly it was just as quiet as it could be. That wind just, well, it just stopped. And we’re all in the boat, tryin’ to get our heads around everything we’ve heard and seen, and just starin’. And then somebody said what we were all thinkin’: “Truly you are the son of God.” And then we were all sayin’ it, and bowin’ down and tryin’ to reach out and touch him and saying, “You’re the son of God!” Theou huios ei. Over and over: the son of God! You’re the son of God! theou huios ei!
~ ~ ~
Well, that’s the story. I’ll never forget it. And I’ve thought about it a lot over these years, and I’ve talked with a lot of folks about what it meant.
Now, some folks look at it like it’s a story about Peter and how he didn’t have enough faith, how he looked away from Jesus and started to fail. And yeah, that’s in there. It’s been true for me in my life—those times I got caught up in what I thought was “real” and kinda forgot about Jesus, well, those are the times I sank a bit. But you know, when you look back and call to Jesus for help, he’s always there.
And other folks, usually the ones with some kinda fancy “liberal arts” education, they tell the story like it’s a big “extended metaphor.” The boat is supposed to be the church, with all of us in it and bein’ rocked about a lot without Jesus …
Huh. I don’t know from extended metaphors, but I can tell you it happened. Just the way I said.
Now, they tell me I’m supposed to tell you what this means to you. Huh. I’ve met a bunch of ya, and I’ve got to say that y’all seem to be awful hung up on whether people walkin’ on water is scientifically possible. You do the same thing when it comes to Jesus bein’ raised from the dead, dontcha? And you’ve started thinkin’ that Jesus was a darn good preacher and teacher, and he said a lot of really good stuff, but then you kinda drop off.
Well, y’know, we weren’t so different at first—us disciples—before that couple of days. I mean, we’d seen Jesus healin’ the sick and all, but well, he wasn’t the only one could do that. Now, we didn’t know all the stuff you all know about science, but heck, we knew about water and that people just can’t walk on top of it. So it’s not like we were a bunch of gullible fools, thinkin’ well, hey, we didn’t know people could walk on water. ‘Cause they can’t. You know it and I know it—the world just doesn’t work that way.
But for Jesus, that one night, the world did work that way. And I don’t think it was because the world changed but because of who he was. Theou huios—the son of God. God, even. That guy Luke—and come on, I know you’ve heard of the books he wrote—Luke put it this way: “All things are possible with God” (Luke 1:37).
Cause God, well, God doesn’t follow the kinds of rules we know about down here—rules like “natural law,” and rules that people come up with, like how it’s best to stick to your own kind or how people who are different from us are probably out to get us.
So here’s what I’m hopin’ happens to you—that God comes to you in a way that just breaks all the rules. Things you never thought could happen that way, and then here’s God, just a-stridin’ through the waves, so to speak, and reachin’ out to you. And I hope maybe you’ll get excited, like Peter, and jump up and try to do it too, and then get pulled out of the brink by God when you get scared. Cause a life of faith can be scary sometimes. It can have you steppin’ out of the boat and takin’ off across the unknown.
I’m hopin’ that when Jesus—the Son of God—calls you, and you think, “Whoa, that’s not the way the world works,” that you’ll trust enough to jump out of the boat and go strollin’ with God. You’ll be glad you did.
Cause God’s there. In the middle of the lake, in the middle of the storm, God’s there.
I’m off now. Good to see ya.