Calm in the Storm
10th Sunday After Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father, His Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
When I was a Boy Scout in the late ‘70’s I attended a camp out at Grizzly Base Camp, just north of Bigfork off Highway 35. At this camp was a small lake where the scouts learned how to canoe, row boat, swim and how to rescue someone drowning.
One of my fellow scouts in my troop told me that he had a great fear of deep water. He could swim and boat and all the other activities on the water, but his greatest fear was being alone in the water where he couldn’t see the bottom. When I tried to pinpoint his fear of the water, he said, “I don’t know what it is. I just become afraid of what I can’t see.”
I don’t know how many of you have ever been in a great storm at sea, on a lake or even on land. Those of you who are fishermen have probably been caught in a storm or two. Any of you who were or are sailors or who like to go boating may have experienced a storm. This does not mean any ‘Land Lubber’ cannot experience a life-threatening storm. Tornados, hurricanes, ice, snow and rainstorms can also be as terrifying and powerful as to imperil one’s life and limb.
Even if one is a good swimmer, being in a deep lake or the ocean far from land can cause fear. Even if the water is calm, fear may creep in because we know we are out of our element. And it doesn’t have to be a large body of water, it can be a deep forest or vast desert, the unknown and what we can’t see can bring anxiety.
No, I am sure everybody has or will experience at least one confluence of forces so great and frightening that one fears for their very life. Some may find themselves drowning in an ocean of health tribulations such as cancer or heart disease with no sign of the dry land that is wholeness and well-being of body. Some may suffer the onslaught of addiction and abuse of drugs seemingly forever lost at sea.
Such storms need not be physical either. Such storms in life can be emotional or spiritual as well. Some may find themselves in financial turmoil, constantly being battered about by the swells and troughs created by economic winds. Others may be plagued with the dark clouds of grief or mourning by the loss of a loved one. In some instances, which may be more common, one struggles with the loss of faith in God.
In all the various storms of life, one can see how difficult it is to save one’s self – if one can be saved at all…
All people of every walk of life, walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Our good God and Creator of the universe did not create a world of torment and fear. He created a perfect world without pain, hardship or stormy winds. Yet in this perfect world came a slithering beast bringing the destruction of paradise.
Deceit led to sin and sin led to the fall of God’s creation. Because of that fall from grace, the world has become subject to the storms of our iniquities. Once we lived on the mountain of God in the light of the world, and now we traverse a valley full of storm clouds of sin and death.
Into this dark and stormy night of humankind, God threw us a lifeline. This lifeline was a covenant with his creation. This contract was formed through the statutes and laws of the Ten Commandments. To follow these commands meant a declaration of righteousness in the eyes of God. These commandments were our ship we were to sail through the uncharted waters of our transgressions.
Then we encountered the storm that had been building for thousands of years. We could not control our fathoms deep depravity. Day by day, minute by minute, our sin grew greater and greater. We could not hold the planks of our salvation through the covenant together while the nails failed and the hull split. We foundered in the Law of God and became shipwrecked on the deserted island of wickedness.
Like the characters in a tragedy, we try to live our lives as best we can apart from God. We all too often hear of movie stars who believe that fame and beauty will bring them salvation from this lowly state. They think that if other people love them and want them in their lives then God will want them too.
Some believe that if they are simple, kind and good to others, then God will welcome them in his home. Many think that money and power will earn them a place in God’s kingdom so they strive for all they can grasp.
Or, a person may trust knowledge as their salvation. Our culture has already thrown away truth or facts, and now they demand we trust in ‘The Science’ Why not? Was it not knowledge of good and evil the first temptation? Was it not the promise of the Devil that through knowledge we would become like God?
In the end, beauty withers and fades like the grass. Power and wealth of this realm means nothing to the true power of God. Being good in the eyes of human beings is a folly compared to the righteousness of our Father in heaven. And Science? Evolution? Philosophy? All of these are a pitiful wisdom constructed by faulty broken minds of fallen creatures who once held the true image of their creator.
Thus, we become captains of our own destinies with no seaworthy ship to sail. We are forever doomed, lost and cast away from our true home. Those of us who long for our homes and remember the Law of God pull the planks of the broken boat, form a raft, and bind it together with our faith.
We venture out into the great ocean hoping to find our way home. When the storm arises, we become afraid and struggle to hold our raft together, but our faith is not strong enough. We lose our first plank, maybe it is the one labeled, ‘You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.’ Then, maybe, the plank, which says, ‘You shall keep the Sabbath day holy’ is the next to slip through our fingers.
Board by board, commandment by commandment begin to break away in the storm. We may still be able to cling to that first law, ‘You are to have no other gods’ but even that seems futile – and it is! Our human faith cannot hold onto a pure and holy command. We cry out into the closing darkness, ‘Lord save me!’
We gasp for life as we are about to be pulled down for the last time when we see Jesus, walking on the sea. We become terrified and cry out in fear, but immediately, Jesus speaks to us, saying, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Matthew 14:26-27]
This Jesus, through whom all things were made in heaven and earth, speaks to us in our dying. This Jesus, with all authority over the wind, the waves and even our death, speaks words of comfort. For it is by his power that our sin does not touch him. It is by his sacrifice on the mast on the ship of his Father’s Law that he rescues us from eternal death.
In the witness of Matthew, this is what happens to the disciples on their fateful trip across the Sea of Galilee. Their boat is on the verge of capsizing and they see Jesus walking on the sea. They cry out in fear and Jesus speaks to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Matthew 14:26-27]
What Peter does next may seem foolish to us but I want to emphasize what he says. “And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’” [Matthew 14:28] What he requests may be subtle but it is nonetheless important. Peter says, ‘Lord…command me to come to you on the water.’ Peter does not say, ‘let me come by my own reason and strength.’ He does not say, ‘Stay right there! I’ll come to you!’ No, he says, ‘command me.’
Just as you command the wind and the waves, Jesus, command me to come to you. Just as the forces of this world have no power over you, just as nothing can touch you without your command, command me to come to you.
[Jesus] said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:29-31]
This is a perfect example of how we come to Jesus. We are sinking in our sin. Our faith cannot hold together our means of salvation through the Law. Jesus commands us to come to him. If we try to come to him in our pitiful human faith, we will not make it. Therefore, Jesus reaches out and gives us his faith.
In our baptism in the water and the Word, the Holy Spirit imparts in us the faith of Jesus Christ. This is his command and the means by which we can go to him. However, when we see the furious storm of life about us, we doubt and we begin to sink. We take our eyes off Jesus, we revert to the fear of our sin, and we begin to sink.
When I was a young child of 6 or 7 years of age, my family and another family with children my age went sledding in a park. As you know, once you sled down the hill, you have to hike back up to the top if you want to do it again.
The snow was plentiful and deep and my little legs had trouble navigating the snow as I would sink to my waist with every step. The father of the family we were with would take the hands of the little kids like me and walk up the hill pulling us along. This man was an auto mechanic and he had a grip of steel. When he took my hand and started hiking up the hill, there was no way I was not going with him. My feet barely touched the snow let alone sink into it.
In Holy Communion, Jesus reaches out his hand and takes hold of us. Once again, through the body and blood of our Lord, our sins are forgiven and the faith of Christ is restored in us.
He grasps onto us with a grip that will never let us go and with a grip from which no human being can ever separate. This hand that holds us is the same hand that created the earth and rules the earth with full domination. Jesus shows his authority over the earth and the elements and he shows his authority over sin and death.
When the wind died down the disciples confessed their faith by saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”[Matt 14:33b] We confess our faith when we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This is now your faith that keeps you in Christ. This is the faith given to you in Holy Baptism. ‘I believe in Jesus Christ our Lord’ is what you confess when you come to the sacrament of the altar. ‘This is his body, this is his blood, given to me for the forgiveness of sins.’ Truly this is the Son of God.
We are all in the midst of a great storm today; not just our community, or our nation but the entire world! We are all sharing the same struggles and fears, but we also have a Lord and Savior who takes us by the hand, lifts us up and saves us from eternal death. Jesus has commanded us to come to him. With his faith to keep us in his hand, we can all confess with the disciples before us, “Truly you are the Son of God.”[Matt 14:33b]