When we left the gospel last week, Jesus had just fed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. After they had eaten, well it takes a little bit to get 5000 men plus women and children headed off down the road. And Jesus needs some quiet time. He sends the disciples off- he’s going to send the rest of the crowd home and then he wants another couple minutes to himself-to pray.
Jesus trusts the disciples. He sends them out in the boat ahead of him. Start heading out- I’ll catch up with you later. And they were fine, they maybe spent some time chatting about that miracle. They kind of needed a chance to catch their breaths from it too. And they were familiar with boats. You know maybe Matthew gets a little sea sick but most of them are fishermen – or they were until they were called. They are comfortable on a boat. In fact, most of them would have seen storms out on the water already- so this is under control. They’ve got this.
Then the wind starts to blow, and thunder crashes in the distance. They hurry but before they know it the little wind has turned into a full scale storm and their little boat goes up and down the waves almost capsizing and it’s not under control. Things are not OK. They do not have this. They are afraid. All night long they battle the waves- the wind is against them- the waves batter their little boat.
When the sky begins to lighten they are still fighting to keep the boat right and moving in the right direction. Their eyes are tired from straining in the dark. Their arms are tired from rowing. They haven’t slept and they are still afraid and then they see something on top of the water in the distance- walking over toward them. The closer it gets it takes shape- it’s a figure and they think it’s a ghost and their fear becomes all out terror. And just when their terror is ready to take over they hear a familiar voice: “Take heart, It is I, do not be afraid.
To the best of my counting, this Tuesday will be 150 days of this pandemic. If these days have taught us anything it is how quickly things can change. How easy it is for life to go from everything being in control and heading one direction to out of control. I have felt just like the disciples sometimes, I bet you have too. Starting out in familiar territory- and then the wind starts to blow- the waves start to rock us- the storms come and not only are we not sure anymore, we are afraid.
Because when we are afraid it is that much harder to recognize Jesus even when he’s coming right to us. Sometimes when we are afraid, we interpret whatever else is coming as more danger or threat- even when the opposite is true. When we are afraid it is hard to think, it is hard to worry about anyone else, and it is hard to see God’s hand at work. Sometimes when we are afraid, we don’t see what Jesus is doing right in front of us.
The disciples are afraid as the waves crash and the storm rages and Jesus comes to them- he defies the laws of gravity and nature to get to where they are afraid. He walks on top of the water to get to them even though when he reaches them, they are so afraid that when the one they have left everything to follow, the one they love most of all approaches, they can’t recognize him, they think it’s a ghost, they see Jesus and feel even more afraid. Jesus doesn’t get angry or frustrated, In response Jesus says “do not be afraid.” “It’s me.” He responds to their fear with assurance.
Even with Jesus’ assurance- look at what Peter does next- He says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “If it is you …” If.
There are only a couple of other times in the whole gospel when someone addresses Jesus with “if,” and they’re not pretty. The devil does it three times to Jesus when he tempts him in the desert, “If you are the Son of God,” make stones into bread, call down special privileges from God, worship me. When Jesus is hanging on the cross, people mock him, calling out, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” And here, Peter, the Rock, says, “If it is you, Jesus, command me to come to you on the water.” If. How should Jesus respond?
Well what he does is call Peter out of the boat. If you have ever taught someone how to walk or how to do something new, then you will recognize the way Jesus takes care of Peter here. Jesus invites him to try this new hard thing on his own, to step out of the boat and to stand on the water. Jesus never takes his gaze from Peter as he takes his toddling steps across the waves and when he starts to fall, when he starts to sink, Jesus is right there to catch him, and to teach him where he went wrong so he can be better in the future.
I wonder where you find yourself in this story in your life right now. Do you feel like the disciples as the pandemic, economic, politic, just plain ick storms rage around you? Are you trying with all your might to stay on course and just not to capsize? Do you feel alone and overwhelmed? Are you having a hard time recognizing where Jesus is coming to you? Are you Peter- wanting to step into this moment and try new things in faith, but not sure how to walk steadily and sometimes fear grabs ahold of you and you start to sink?
Wherever you see yourself in this gospel, keep your eyes on Jesus. Even in the midst of storms when it is hard to recognize him, Jesus is coming and present at your side saying in a voice that resounds over the thunder do not be afraid. Jesus is coming to you defying all that holds this world captive, even death itself. Jesus calls you to try new things in faith that are sometimes scary and hard, and as you take your first steps there is not one second that Jesus does not have close watch over you, ready to catch you if you need it. Such is the love of God that you can trust -such is the amazing grace of God that will never let you down. Amen.