11th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 14 – A)
Matthew 14:22-33
August 13, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from Saint Matthew.

Those of you who’ve had any interaction with children are familiar with the frustration of asking a misbehaving child, “Why’d you do that?” and the response is a shrug and “I dunno know.”  As frustrating as the answer is, it’s usually the truth.  Kids frequently act without thinking while their brains are developing.  You know though that it’s not just kids who can’t answer questions.  How many of you have been asked a question and whatever you say is going to be wrong or a lie or an excuse, or an “I dunno know”, so it’s best to say nothing at all?  As he was pulled out of the turbulent water of the Sea of Galilee, Peter was asked a tough question.  Did Peter shrug and say, “I dunno know”?  We never hear his response, but chances are we’d respond the same way.  You see the question Jesus puts before Peter is asked of each of you: O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The Gospel picks up after one of the high points in Christ’s ministry.  He had just fed five thousand men, plus women and children, and they loved Him, but they didn’t understand Him.  Saint John writes, Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself (John 6:15).  Realizing the people didn’t get that the point of the miracle was not food, but Christ’s authority, He sent His disciples across the lake.  The language Matthew uses means He compelled or forced the disciples to go.  Why?  Maybe He sent them away because they were caught up in the emotions of the crowd.  Or maybe it was to teach them, and us, a lesson.

The Sea of Galilee is situated in such a way that fierce storms can suddenly appear.  A beautiful morning can quickly turn dark and foreboding and that appears to be the situation.  As the disciples set out for a trip that should only take a few hours, they encounter a fierce headwind.  By 3:00 am, they had only gone three and half miles.  Driven by the wind, the waves battered the boat, fought its progress, and exhausted the disciples.  We don’t know if they were afraid, they had encountered this kind of wind before.  We know how we feel though, don’t we?

When the wind is whipping around us, when the going is slow and we’re exhausted by the waves battering the little ship we call our lives, doubt can certainly creep in.  Even those whom we consider the most faithful Christians waver at times.  Maybe we doubt God because we don’t think we deserve to be caught in the fierce headwinds that we’re encountering.  I don’t need to recap what these might be, do I?  You know the winds that rock your boat, the ones that making the going difficult.

Others of you may believe the wind has been blowing too hard for too long; the wind should’ve been stilled by now.  Why won’t it just calm down already?  Saint Mark writes that Jesus could see the struggle of the disciples; is Jesus watching your struggle and either not caring, or at least taking His time coming to you?  It’s possible too that you’re just exhausted.  The wind is too strong, the waves too big and you just can’t row anymore.  You’re physically, spiritually, emotionally worn out and you just want to give up.

If someone says they’ve seen a ghost, we’re skeptical.  It sounds like nonsense.  If you put your feet in the sandals of the disciples, you’ll see their reaction to seeing Jesus in the middle of the lake was perfectly natural.  Here they are, sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 am, things aren’t going well, and now there’s a ghost headed their way.  God was heading their way to help, but to them He looked like a ghost coming to make the situation worse.

When Jesus compelled the disciples to cross the lake, He knew what they were going to encounter.  Do you think He knows what you’re going to encounter in this life?  Of course, He does, and still He sends us out.  Like the disciples we must often do what the Lord in His foresight and HIs word clearly requires, even when it seems to us a strange and painful course.   And when the Lord Jesus comes to us, it’s not to make things worse!  He comes to save us.

Since ancient days, the ocean and turbulent waters have represented evil and danger.  Early explorers feared sea monsters and the unknown that lay beyond the horizon.  If you’ve ever seen those huge waves crashing over tankers or ships, you know why the ocean can be a frightening place.  So, let me ask you: what does it mean that Jesus comes walking on the water to the disciples?  He’s showing His almighty power! Job tells us that God alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea(Job 9:8).  You know!  The crashing waves, nor the evil they represented, nor the danger they threatened was enough to keep Jesus from them.  Walking as He did meant Jesus was coming with omnipotent power, a power that made the water bear His weight and prevented wind and water from disturbing Him in the slightest.  With such power He walked toward them.  He walked towards them in their danger and distress to give what only He can: help, deliverance, and safety.  He came to encourage and defend His disciples even as the waves battered their boat.

Their fear and doubt didn’t cause Jesus to change His mind and just keep walking.  He could’ve but He didn’t.  Instead, Jesus speaks over the wind: Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  He immediately comforted them.  He did so simply by speaking so they recognized His voice.  He also did so by using God’s name – I am – or in this case – it is I.

Your doubt and fear don’t cause God to keep walking by you either.  He’s not ignoring you or pretending He doesn’t see you. He comes to you with His almighty power; His power of the wind and waves of your life.  And doubt does not separate you from God.  Instead, Christ speaks over the wind that’s raging over you: Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  Take heart?  Why?  “Because it’s me, your God, your Lord, your Savior!”

In the Bible the Lord says “Fear not” or “take heart” something like forty times and in almost every instance He gives the reason for not fearing.  Fear not, for I am your shield.  Fear not, and see what your Lord will do.  Fear not, I am with you.  Fear not, I will save you.  Fear Not, I have overcome the world.  Take heart, I am the First and the Last.  Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”  Take heart, for while your fear and doubt are sins, they don’t keep your Savior from coming to you!  Christ comes to you and your floundering boat, to see you through the wind and waves.  Jesus knows your fears and your doubts, and still He speaks comforting words because He is your Lord and Savior, and no, the size of your faith doesn’t matter.

Look at Peter for a second.  He sees Jesus and he so emboldened that he wants Jesus to invite him onto the water.  Jesus says “come”, and he does.  He climbs out of the battered boat onto the churning water and walks to Jesus.  But what happens?  He takes his eyes off Jesus, he looks at the waves, feels the wind at his back, and he doubts, and as he doubts, he begins to sink.  The Old Testament reading Job says that God controls the proud waves (Job 38:11), which Peter, despite his initial confidence forgets.

But I want you to hear something important.  What does Peter say when he is sinking?  He calls out Lord, save me!”  Even as he was floundering, Peter knew that only Jesus could save him, and Jesus did.  Despite Peter’s doubt, fear, and little faith, Jesus reached down and pulled Peter back up on top of the water.

When you’re afraid, when you have little faith because you’ve taken your eyes off Christ and looked at the waves around you and wind threatening to blow you over, Jesus reaches out to you.  Lord, save me is all you have to say.  Or “Save me” or “Lord.”  And even if you can’t say the words, even if your faith has shriveled up into something tiny, Jesus hears your cry.  And when you’re sinking, Jesus pulls you up.  He saves you regardless of the size of your faith.  He didn’t leave Peter floundering because of his sin, and He won’t let you flounder either.  And this last point is important, Peter wasn’t saved because he held Jesus’ hand, and you’re not saved because you hold Jesus’ hand.  Peter was saved, and you are saved, because Jesus holds yours, and He’ll never let you go.

Fear and doubt in the face of foaming seas and lives that seem to be on the verge of capsizing is natural.  Sort of.  It’s what we do, but when we do, we’re taking our eyes off the only one who has power over the wind and waves.  In these times, when you don’t know what else to do trust and believe in what you cannot see: God at the center of your life, holding your hand and raising you up.  As the Lord promises in Psalm 107: Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.  He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”    Jesus asked Peter, and when He asks you, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” He’s saying something you can take to heart, He is here for you.  You don’t need to doubt, not once, not ever because He is the One who stills the wind and waves in your life.



Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen