When The Storms Come
Matthew 14: 22-33
[This is, for the most part, the sermon I preached on the morning before the arrival of Hurricane Gustav.]
Jesus, as he often did, went away to be alone and to pray.Â He longed for that intimate relationship between Himself and the Father.Â He had sent the disciples on ahead of him in their boat while he dismissed the crowd that had been listening to him teach.
During the night, while Jesus prayed and while the disciples rowed, a terrible storm blew up.Â It was about three oâ€™clock in the morning.Â The storm blew them in the opposite direction that they wanted to go.Â Mark says that Jesus could see them out in the storm, rowing hard trying to make it to the shore.Â But, the wind was blowing against them, blowing them farther out to sea.Â Seeing his disciples in trouble, Matthew says that Jesus came to them, walking on the water.
I can see the twelve in a tiny, rickety boat that the fishermen of that day used.Â The waves were swelling and the whitecaps were forming all around them.Â The waters that had provided them with a living were now dangerous tongues of water sweeping over their tiny boat, bobbling like a cork in the angry sea.Â I hear the rough, desperate voice of Peter issuing commands and the disciples bail water and desperately pull on the oars.
One of them saw a figure moving over the water.Â It first it was just a whitecap that did not roll with the wave.Â Soon it seemed to move in their direction.Â Finally they all saw that it was a person and he was walking on the water through the storm.Â Of course they had never seen anything like that before and they cried out in fear, It is a ghost, they said.Â They thought that the evil spirits of the deep had risen up to take them.
Jesus was within shouting distance and he cried out, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”Â Don’t you think that it is odd that in the middle of the storm, fighting for their lives, they did not recognize Jesus as he came into their midst?Â But, there was the familiar voice of their master.Â At the “it is I; do not fear,” a sense of strength and faith stirred up in Peter.
And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.â€ And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
Peter actually stepped out of that boat and onto the water and began to walk toward Jesus.Â Â Â But, he took his eye off Jesus and he began to watch the high waves crashing around him.Â He heard the wind howling and remembered that humans aren’t supposed to walk on water.Â His faith failed him and he began to sink.Â He cried out to Jesus, “Lord, Save me!”Â And immediately Jesus reached out and took hold of Peter.Â With the wind and the rain around them, Jesus said to him “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”Â Peter had seen Jesus control nature: He had healed the sick and raised the dead and even commanded the tempest to cease.Â The weather obeyed him.Â But, when it got personal, Peter doubted.
Jesus hauled Peter into the boat.Â As he sat there, coughing and straining to catch his breath, water draining out of his hair and beard, the storm ceased.Â In that little, tiny boat, the disciples bowed their heads and worshiped Jesus saying, “You are certainly God’s Son.”
It is hard for us to predict when the storms will come.Â These were seasoned fishermen.Â They knew about the sea.Â But this was a terrible thing, a storm caught them off guard and scared these seasoned men to death.Â We know how they feel.Â We see this monster (Gustav) churning out there in the gulf.Â We hear all the talk on the radio and TV.Â All to well we remember Katrina and Rita.Â Â It churns us up and we donâ€™t know what to do.Â Is it wise to stay or should we leave?Â What will happen to my stuff? The disciples would understand our questions.
Even though Jesus was off on the shore, in a lonely place to pray, he knew exactly what was happening to disciples.Â His eye was on them.Â And he did not leave them alone in the storm.Â Instead, Jesus came to them walking on the water.Â They did not expect this.Â It had not crossed their minds that Jesus was aware of their trouble and was coming to their aid.Â They saw him coming toward them and they thought he was a ghost!Â Donâ€™t we sometimes interpret God coming to us as something alien and strange?
I like Peter.Â I identify with his stumbling, his attempts at faith, his tripping over his own feet in the process.Â Peterâ€™s enthusiasm for the things of Jesus pushed him to do things that were beyond his ability.Â If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.Â â€œCome!â€ Jesus said.Â Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus!Â It was surreal. â€œLook!Â I am walking on water!â€Â I bet he had such a smile on his face.Â But then he noticed the wind and the waves.Â He became more impressed by the storm than he was of Jesus and he began to sink.Â Jesus lifted him up and said, â€œYou of little faith, why did you doubt?â€
Most of my life, I have heard these words in my mind as a rebuke, sort of a brief chew out.Â But I think that is wrong.Â I think these were words of sadness.Â Peter started out so well, but he hesitated, he doubted Jesus in the very act of walking on water. It was a disappointment to Jesus because Peter started out so well but then he let his fear overcome his faith. Jesus got into the boat and immediately the storm ceased.Â And they understood what that meant.Â So they worshiped him.
I do not know why we are threatened by another dangerous storm.Â If we wanted to find reasons it would not be hard.Â The Southern Decadence Festival, the Gay Mardi Gras, was taking place this weekend.Â Many Christians thought that a holiday means a holiday from God.Â If you want to play God, you can find many reasons why such a storm comes at such a time as this.Â Â But we donâ€™t know why.
Yet it is a good time to be reminded of who we are and how we are to live.Â We are the sons and daughters of God.Â And we live by faith in Christ.
Peter had placed his trust in Jesus, so much so, that he stepped out and walked on the water toward Jesus.Â But, his faith was unsure.Â He knew as well as we do that you canâ€™t walk on water.Â He took his eyes off Jesus and he was threatened by the reality of water and wind and waves. With his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. The problem was not the circumstances nor was it Jesus, it was Peter.Â He took his eyes of Jesus.
Most of the time we talk about faith as a theory.Â But faith is only real when it is practiced, when it is put into action.Â Faith means that we know God, we have seen his evidence and we place our trust in his Word to us.Â If that is so, when these threatening times come, should we not turn to Christ instead of turning to fear?Â It is precisely in desperate times when we need to turn our attention to Christ.Â It is appropriate both to seek his help and to fall down and worship him.
Perhaps this is what we need to remember this morning.Â We are all scared of the storm and it is ok to be scared.Â It is ok to go elsewhere while it comes a shore.Â It fact, leaving may be the wise thing to do.Â But the one thing we should not do, is take our eyes off of Jesus.Â If you place your faith in material things like houses and cars, you may very well be disappointed by the end of the week.Â If you look at the storm and take your eyes off of Jesus you may find yourself very disappointed, not in the storm but in yourself.
There is always a storm coming.Â What should we do?Â You do all the reasonable things you are supposed to do.Â The disciples rowed their boat, they bailed out water, they did what they are supposed to do.Â But there is one other thing that we must to do.Â We must place our faith in Christ and not in the storm.Â We need to cast our eyes on Jesus and follow him.