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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

He to Rescue Me from Danger

Wandering Heart, a Lenten sermon series, week 2 of 6, using the life of Peter beside Jesus and the hymn “Come Thou Fount”, from SantifiedArt.com, preached Feb 25, 2024


Context

This season of Lent, we are following Peter and humming a tune. Each week, we are remembering a unique encounter between Peter and Jesus, and trying to see ourselves in Peter, his belief and doubt, his confusion and faith, they are ours. The tune guiding on this journey is, Come Thou Fount, as it beautifully parallels the ups and downs of Peter’s life, and ours.


Last week, Caitlan read from Luke 5, Jesus’ call of Peter and the disciples by the lakeshore, and we sang the lyric “Jesus Sought Me when a stranger”… Caitlan wondered with us, though, are we ever really strangers to God? We might feel like we are, but this God knows us, better than we know ourselves. This God encourages us to go deeper with God, try something new, try something again differently, and in so doing be transformed into who God is calling us to become.


This week, Peter and the disciples encounter Jesus in a storm, and let’s imagine we are in the boat too, singing “He to rescue me from danger…”


Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord.


Scripture MATTHEW 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.


When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[b] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


28 Peter answered him, “Lord, IF it IS you, command ME to come to you on the water.” 29 Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and coming toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter noticed the strong wind,[c] he became frightened, and, began to sink, so he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”


32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Sermon Rescue Me from Danger

Most of the historical opinions on Peter “walking on water” toward Jesus talk about Peter’s great courage. Wow, how faithful Peter must have been to get out of the boat and walk on water even just a few steps toward Jesus! Those same commentaries then grieve how quickly Peter’s faith faded, how doubt crashed in, and they assume doubt is why Peter began to sink. They even hear Jesus’ words, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” as if Jesus is scolding Peter and anyone with too little faith and too much doubt. But I’m not so sure.


When Jesus tells them get in the boat, they do. They were all faithful to Jesus’ request at that point, and their faith didn’t have much reason to doubt the assignment. The sky was clear. The waves were calm. They had gone back and forth across this water many times, and they probably felt pretty confident in a boat, on the water, and in their own abilities to do again what they had done before. So, while it was faithful to obey him, they didn’t need very much faith at all to set off in the boat as he asked.


Then night fell. There’s something about the night, when we can’t see, where we have to trust and believe a bit more. Some people don’t like driving at night, but if it’s a familiar path, one they’ve driven many times before, they might trust they could drive it, even in the dark. Even if it’s the same task, and the same faith, there’s always a bit more doubt in the dark.


Then, a storm rose. Not only are they unable to see in the dark of night, there is a consistent resistance to them in the wind and waves. The storm would block out the stars which they needed to navigate. It would disorient them and spin them off course so their efforts do not move them in the intended direction. The storm delays them, forcing them to spend time and energy bailing out the boat instead of moving forward.


When have you felt like that… like you did something that felt right, that you trusted God wanted you to do. Then, things got a little darker. You kept going, but you felt the whispers of doubt creep in, and strained to focus on where you were trying to go. Then things got a little stormy, and you really felt spun around. You felt like you were working harder than ever before, but not sure at all you were making any progress at all.


I feel that in Jill sometimes, as a math teacher. She is clearly called by God and gifted with a unique skillset of math ability and personal abilities. She doesn’t just teach her students math. She teaches them life, and uses the subject of math as the boat where they learn to row together in a good direction. But there are days when she comes home, and I see it in her body, and her eyes. She paddled so hard today, but did she get anywhere with them? Did she make any difference at all? From my perspective, safe on the shore, I can say yes, honey. You did. You did great. You did awesome. Maybe you can’t see it today, in that class, or in that student, but yes, you did make a huge difference. But it’s hard to see in the boat, on the water, at night, in the storm.


The disciples kept battling the storm through the night. The same faith they had before to get in and set off, was it still enough to overcome their self-doubt when darkness came, and when they couldn’t tell if they were making headway against the winds and waters? I wonder if their faith remembered Jesus sent them on this trip. I wonder if they thought horrible things of Jesus at that point, in the darkness, in the storm. I wonder if they accused Jesus of abandoning them, sending them to their doom.


Just before the morning is rising, Jesus appears to them at a distance, walking on the water. They can’t make him out clearly and wonder if he is a specter, a sea monster, and they are afraid. I can’t blame them for that. If I was in a boat at night battling a storm and thought I saw someone walking on the water, I’d be scared too. Jesus replies to them loudly, “No, it’s me. Take heart. Do not be afraid.” Jesus was walking on the water toward them in the midst of a storm. If he could do that, and was coming their way, surely with even the slightest faith, they would feel they were safe now. The same little faith they had before, if it was solid, then why didn’t they cheer and celebrate right there in the middle of the storm, welcome Jesus on board and open a bottle of the good wine and wait out the storm, safe, with their Lord aboard?


Not one of them relaxes. No one trusts. No one cheers and celebrates. Peter doesn’t cheer or celebrate. He doubts. It’s subtle, but it’s there. “IF its really you…” Do you hear it? It takes some measure of faith to even speak to God, or in God’s direction. But how strong is a faith that says to God, “Oh yeah, well, IF its really you, prove it.”


Have you been there, at a moment of confusion or desperation in your life, and you hoped, needed God to give you assurance, a sign? Have you asked for God to verify God’s presence with you, and support of you going forward? Have you ever bargained with God? “Okay God, if you really want me to trust you, you’re gonna need to do something for me.”

Somehow Peter gets the reputation of being a faithful courageous disciple for stepping out of the boat. And sure, we see some courage and faith in that. Peter dared to imagine it just might be God, and dared to trust God’s calling of him out of the boat onto the waters. But Peter also expected Jesus to prove something to him first.


Do you remember the story of “doubting” Thomas? Poor Thomas gets beat up as a doubter for demanding to see the marks on Jesus hands and touch the scar on Jesus’ side first, before he will believe. Isn’t that the same thing Peter is doing? Both Thomas and Peter are saying, “Oh yeah, well, if you really are God, the son of God, then prove it by meeting my conditions. Then I’ll have faith, believe, act.” So why do we call Peter courageous and Thomas doubtful?


It is kind of impressive that when Jesus calls back to Peter, “come,” Peter steps out of the boat. Does that prove Peter’s faith? After all, none of the other disciples did. Does that make Peter braver, more faithful than the others? I don’t know. None of the others put a condition on Jesus. None of the others felt the right to test Jesus. None of the others asked for some special benefit or power from Jesus. I can see why some might claim faith and courage in what Peter did, but I can also see the lack of faith, the doubt in Peter even from the boat.


Once upon a time, I might have imagined Jesus, calling back to Peter, “Come” and beaming with pride as Peter stepped out of the boat. But now, I imagine Jesus’ heavy sigh and resigned grin, knowing what happens when someone conditions their faith or belief in God on certain outcomes from God. A woman promises God she will give 10% to charity IF she gets the job, but someone else is promoted. A family promises God they will all go back to church IF dad is healed from stage 4 cancer, and he dies. A teen promises God they will not cut themselves anymore IF the bullying at school will stop, but the bullies are still at it again tomorrow. These kind of conditions on God are not faithful. They are controlling and betray our mistrust of God’s love and care of us through the good and the bad.


“Boldly, in the middle of a storm, Peter steps out of the boat to join Jesus who is walking on top of the waves. He, too, walks on water until he feels the squishy waters below him and the swirling winds around him, and he begins to sink.” Even when Jesus met Peter’s condition, Peter’s faith in Jesus faltered under the pushes and pulls of the winds and storms of life.


Don’t hear me picking on Peter, though. This whole Lenten sermon series is about how much like Peter we all are. “Many of us know what it feels like to be thrown off balance” by the winds and storms of life. We know what it’s like to set off in some direction, fairly confident or at least trusting God wants us to go that way, only for darkness to fall around us and storms arise against us. In those moments, whatever faith we had before, the doubt we also had gets louder and we may begin to question God’s direction, or presence, or support.


Have you been there? Do you remember a moment when you believed you felt God’s presence, guidance, but then things got harder? In the midst of the struggle, like Peter, did you wonder, was it ever really God? Is God really nearby now, in the storm? Did you test to see if it was God, or try to make some bargain? “Hey God, if that’s really you, tell me something, show me something, prove it.” That’s what Peter does, and what we often do to test God’s presence and power, God’s love, before we believe or act faithfully despite the storms and struggles.


We can’t hold ourselves to the expectation of having pure faith, and no doubt. Any religion that condemns doubt, questions, fear, is not faithful. Brian McLaren argues that doubt is “the passageway” from one stage of faith to the next; without doubt, faith cannot grow, mature, and develop. Instead, we must accept doubt will always be with us. Only one had perfect faith, Jesus, and even he asked God to remove the cup of storms from him when his death seemed imminent. Faith is not the absence of doubt, but the courage to keep trying and trusting despite our doubts.


“This is the reality of life and faith: we inevitably face many emotional, relational, professional, physical, and global storms.” Our faith will always have doubt, and Jesus doesn’t expect us to erase our doubts or our fears. Jesus does encourage us to trust, believe, and act in faith anyway despite our doubts and fears.


The lyric for this week is “he, to rescue me from danger…” Like Peter, we may sink amid life’s challenges. However, as we are sinking, Jesus rescues us. Sometimes, the danger is of our own making. Sometimes we sink simply because we had the courage to try. Other times, we sink because we get overwhelmed by what’s crashing around us. Meanwhile, Jesus extends a rescuing hand—and his love is greater than whatever causes us to sink. Cry out to the Lord, as Peter did, and discover Jesus has more faith in us than we have in him.


Let’s pray…


Prayer

Charge

Benediction


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