The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary 19, Proper 14, Year A
I Kings 19:9-18
Look at the mess the disciples are in.
They’re separated from Jesus. The wind is strong against them. The waves batter their boat.
They are in trouble.
You can picture them so busy and so anxious as they work to keep the boat above water and headed to where they’re going—they’re so wound up, that when they first see Jesus, they are terrified of him.
They’re terrified of Jesus, the man who just yesterday had fed them and thousands of other people with just five loaves and two fish. Jesus had just performed a public miracle of kindness, but now the disciples can only fear him.
The most impulsive of the disciples, Peter, dares ask Jesus to command him out onto the sea. For a few steps, it looks like Peter will be a shining example of steadfast faith. Unlike the other disciples, it looks like Peter will not be ruled by fear.
Instead, he gets scared by the wind and starts to sink.
Peter’s imperfect faith is just one more trouble among the disciples in this story.
When you and I read about the disciples being in trouble, it’s natural to think about ways that we are in trouble. After all, we are disciples of Jesus. The natural question for us this morning is: “Do we deal with trouble any better than Peter and the other disciples did?”
I want you to picture the things that are troubling you lately. I’m guessing they’re not waves and wind. Is it trouble in your family? Trouble in your job? Trouble at school? Trouble with your health?
There’s also trouble in our wider world. The waves that are battering me lately have names like Ebola, or 1800 deaths in Gaza—mostly civilians and children. I read about these troubles in our world and I find I get upset, and I don’t know what I can do, or even if there is anything to do.
And on top of any personal troubles or global troubles, we’ve also got these voices out there in our culture don’t just want you and me to be scared because of sickness or war—there are voices out there that want us to be terrified of Jesus, like the disciples were terrified.
There are preachers out there whose focus is on Jesus the Judge; Jesus the One Who Destroys the Wicked. They think the right way to bring people to faith is to make them scared of life without faith.
I’m a little scared of that Jesus. While it’s true that “Jesus the Judge” is an image of Jesus that’s found in some parts of our Bible, I don’t find myself turning to that image of Jesus too much. When I’m troubled, or when I feel like I’m sinking with Peter, I don’t picture the Judge when I cry out: “Lord save me!”
When Peter cries those words, Jesus immediately reaches out and catches him.
Jesus the Judge would have let Peter drown for his weak faith. Maybe the Judge shows up later, but not today.
Jesus speaks to the disciples: “Fear not!” and he lives up to that promise. He calls Peter to join him out on the sea. He saves Peter. Then he joins all the disciples in the boat and the wind ceases.
The disciples worship Jesus, but they aren’t afraid of him anymore. They are in awe, but they’re not terrified. Jesus has stilled the wind and brought them safely to the shore.
Jesus lives up to his word that the disciples need not fear him, and they need not fear the sea or the wind. Their faith is strengthened after this fearful journey.
What does faith in the midst of fearful troubles look like? I think Peter is an example of such faith.
I know we can talk about how his faith fails in this story—he lets the wind scare him—he loses his focus on Jesus—he starts to sink even though his faith had kept him walking on the sea toward Jesus.
Even still, Peter is a great example for you and me. Listen again to what he asks: “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
More importantly, think about what he does not ask. Peter does not ask: “Lord, stop the waves, come a little closer, and then when it’s safe, let me try this walking on water thing.”
He doesn’t ask for safety. Peter asks for a command.
What a faithful thing to say to Jesus in a fearful situation.
We have a lot to learn from Peter.
In our circumstances today, what would it mean to ask Jesus what he commands?
What would it mean to ask not for safety, but that Jesus would call us out to those places where our troubles seem so great?
I can tell you exactly what that looks like this week. It looks like Christians, especially at the Lutheran hospital in Jerusalem, tending to the wounded and providing safe haven for the victims of the conflict in Gaza. In the midst of a troubling conflict, staff at that hospital are answering the command of Christ to serve those who are hurting and in need. They are stepping out into a frightening situation, like Peter stepped out onto those waves.
It’s dangerous work they’re doing, and the command of Christ to step out to serve our hurting neighbors does not come with a promise of safety in this world.
I could also point to the work of doctors and nurses in West Africa who are answering the call of Christ to care for those who are sick with Ebola. The Christian Church is there as well, training doctors and nurses in new safety measures, sending much-needed medical supplies, and supporting hospitals.
This is what faith looks like. To not fear the power of the world—to trust in Christ above all else—is to be free to serve others no matter the risks.
Because we need not fear the trouble of the world, we are free to serve in the world no matter how big the trouble gets.
And we need not fear Jesus. I know that Jesus the Judge is in the Bible, but there are a lot of other pictures of Jesus in the Bible. There is Jesus the shepherd. Jesus the child. Jesus the crucified. Jesus the risen. When I’m in trouble, I don’t think of the Judge.
I think of Jesus in this morning’s reading. Immediately he reaches out his hand and catches Peter.
With the disciples, this morning we worship Jesus and are in awe of him, but we need not be terrified of him. He will catch us if—when—we fall.
Even the brief order of Confession and Forgiveness that began our worship here this morning is an echo of his words to the disciples. “Fear not, it is I, take heart. Your sins are forgiven.” Our invitation to his supper at this table is an echo of his words to the disciples: “Fear not, it is I, take heart. Here is my body, here is my blood.”
This is his promise and his gift for us. Fear not. He is our Lord. Take heart. Amen.