Let us pray: O God – Light of the hearts that know you, life of the souls that love you, and strength of the thoughts that seek you — May we all hear the words of reassurance that Jesus is in the boat with us. And like the wind and the sea, may we grow calm and yield to His power. Amen.
A sinking feeling. That’s what Elijah and Peter had in common, a sinking feeling. Elijah had run away from trouble and hidden in a cave. He just KNEW his whole world was crashing down around him and so he ran away from everything, hoping to save his life – if it was worth saving! But, God thought Elijah’s life was worth more than he’d ever know. God came to Elijah – not in the wind, earthquake or fire – but in a quiet, unassuming whispered voice lifting Elijah out of his depression and fear, rescuing him from his resignation from life. God raised Elijah from certain self-imposed lifelessness and brought him back to serve God’s own purposes.
Sometimes we might say to someone “You go on ahead: I'll catch up with you later.” But in this case, it was different. These may have been the words of Jesus and he was sending his disciples off across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. “You go on ahead: I'll catch up with you later.” They did what he said, but there must have been questions running through their minds: Exactly how and when was Jesus going to catch up with them later? After all it was getting late, and there was the small matter of getting a crowd of five thousand people to disperse. It was a strange experience for those disciples that night: crowded together in a small boat, in the dark with a bad wind that defied all their straining efforts. It was a kind of time of pointless human effort, of chaos, when that combination of water and wind was at its most frightening.
According to Matthew’s version of this miracle account, Peter and his fellow fishermen were out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during that dark and stormy night. As morning dawned, Jesus came to them across the water and they were afraid he was a ghost. Even though Jesus reassured them and told them not to fear, they wondered if they could trust him. Peter spoke for them all: “Lord, if it IS you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Peter, like many of us, wasn’t sure he could count on Jesus when everything around him seemed to be telling him he shouldn’t. He’d been battered by the wind and the waves all night long. And now, when he was tired of fighting the elements, exhausted by life in general, a vision of hope appears to him and he’s not really sure if it’s real. But Jesus invites him to walk into the future, to walk toward Jesus’ loving embrace.
While Peter kept his eyes trained on Jesus’ face, he was able to overcome impossible odds. “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, …” Jesus raised Peter from certain self-imposed lifelessness and brought him back to serve God’s purposes. Elijah and Peter had that sinking feeling in common. And, also in common, they had a Creator and Redeemer who loved them and had a purpose for their lives.
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Unfortunately, these comforting words (let alone the ability to defy gravity) do not quite satisfy Peter, who seeks further proof of Jesus’ identity. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus agrees, “C’mon.” And so, Peter does. But after just a few steps, the wind startles him and he begins to sink, crying, “Lord, save me!” Of course, Jesus does save him, but he also asks him this sobering question: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Make no mistake, these questions are just as much for us as they were for those early disciples.
So, why do we doubt? Jesus calmed a storm with his voice, fed five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread, and walked on water. In light of all this, why would we ever lack faith?
Well, one answer is fear. Like the disciples, sometimes storms pop up in our lives and scare us half to death. That’s what storms do. It’s only natural for a dog to hide under the bed when he hears thunder; for a child to cling to her mother when she sees lightning; for the driver to pull over when he can no longer see the road.
But it’s not just wind and rainstorms that scare us; so, do the figurative storms of our lives. Things like global pandemics, contentious elections, scary diagnoses, economic downturns, rioting and looting. In the midst of difficult setbacks like these, it’s not uncommon to get a sinking feeling, or anyone to doubt their faith in God. That’s exactly what happened to Peter in today’s gospel, and it’s exactly what the disciples did previously in chapter eight. All Jesus does is ask why. Like any good teacher, he already knows the answer to the question, but he wants us to know it, too.
Simply put, it’s because we are human. Fear is, quite literally, instinctual. Humans are wired with a fight-or-flight response. We have this reflex for a reason. When our lives are in jeopardy or—more commonly for us today—when our way of life is threatened, we are naturally inclined to react in fleeting ways. When that happens, we tend to leave calm, rational thought behind. For that reason, we often need some assistance getting back to a more faithful frame of mind.
Jesus’ question prompts us to realize that faith is always within our reach. In other words, even in the stormiest times of life, when we most doubt our ability to make it through, we can remain faithful to God. Staying faithful to God doesn’t simply mean going through the motions. It doesn’t mean saying the creed while thinking about a shopping list, or repeating Bible verses from memory. It means for us, just like Peter, refocusing on our commitment to faith.
Over the years, regarding our Gospel today, much has been said about Peter’s impetuousness... about the disciples’ unwillingness to take a risk and about stepping out in faith...
But I have to confess to you, that I can never get past the single amazing fact that Jesus, in whom God was so very present, came to them in the middle of the storm, and reached out and gave them comfort.
--- Let us remember, it was Jesus who sent his friends out onto the sea where storms are always a possibility. He didn’t prevent the storm from raging... but he could do something much better than that... He could get into the boat and ride it out with them.
Let us remember to keep an eye on that barometer, because storms continue to come... but so will the God of Jesus. You see God doesn’t come and go like storms... God only comes... God will always be with us, no matter how scary or dangerous or risky things might get. --- And most importantly, God will find a way to be with us in those sinking feeling times.
Let us pray: Help us, O Lord, when the storms of life overwhelm us, to entrust ourselves to your mercy, that you might draw us out of the waters that engulf us, and place us in the safe harbor of your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.