Preached by Rev. George Yando on August 13, 2017.
You’ll likely have heard this story – or some version of – before. It’s about a man walking along the rim of the Grand Canyon who gets too close to the edge, loses his balance, and slips over the precipice. In some places it’s more than a mile deep, and just before falling thousands of feet, he grabs on to a scraggy little tree, rooted in a crack of the cliff face.
“Help me!” he hollers. “Is there anyone up there? Help me! Save me! Is there anyone up there?”
A voice answers, “This is the Lord. I can save you. Do you believe in me? Do you really want me to help you?”
“Oh, yes, Lord, I believe in You. Please help me.”
“OK,” the Lord says. “I’ll save you. Just let go.”
“What?!” the man replies.
“Just let go of that branch you’re holding on to, and I’ll save you. You have to trust me.”
The man pauses a moment, and then shouts out, “Is there anyone else up there?!”
The story prompts the question: What is the measure of our faith during the difficult times, the times of testing, the times of storms?
I’ve heard some people say,
- “If you have faith, life will be smooth sailing.”
- “If you have faith, God will cure all your ills and guard you from every danger.”
- “If you have enough faith, if you only stay close to God, you’ll never have any problems in life.”
In our Scripture reading this morning from Matthew’s gospel account, we discover that that’s not necessarily true.
Last Sunday we read the account of Jesus feeding a multitude. Crowds had gathered to hear Jesus, and as the day wore on, in response a concern raised by the disciples about the people’s need for food, Jesus tells them, “You give the people something to eat.”
Their response was, “We don’t have what it takes. Five loaves of bread and two small fish are nowhere near enough to feed all these people. We can’t possibly do what you have asked us to do, Jesus.”
Jesus said, “Give the food to me.” They do, Jesus blesses it, hands it back to the disciples, telling them to pass it out. They do, everyone eats their fill, and there are even 12 baskets full of left overs!
What do you imagine the disciples thought about all that? They were right there, present in the middle of a miracle. Maybe some in the crowd didn’t realize what had happened, but the disciples were right there, all the way through it. They witnessed and even participated in that extraordinary feat.
What might they have been thinking? Did it change them? Did it strengthen their faith? Did it firm up their resolve?
After feeding that throng, Jesus dismisses the crowd and sends them on their. Then He tells His disciples, “Get in the boat and cross the lake. I’ll join you later, but right now I need to be alone for a while to pray.”
That probably didn’t seem too strange a request for Jesus to make. He often spent time alone in pray and could always rejoin them later, either by walking around the lake, or arranging for another boat later that night.
So the disciples set sail. Within a few hours, however, the disciples find themselves out on the lake caught up in the midst of a sudden storm.
The waves are rolling, the wind is blowing, they are hard pressed to make any progress toward shore and eventually reach a point where they are in danger of being swamped.
Now, remember why they are out in the middle of the lake in the first place. Jesus told them – really, ordered them, commanded them – to get in the boat and cross the lake. They were doing exactly what Jesus had told them to do, yet as a consequence of their obedience, they soon found themselves caught in a big storm!
Whether or not Jesus knew they were going to end up in such a desperate situation is not the point. The point is they were being obedient to Jesus’ direction and command and look where they ended up?
So does that mean that being faithful and obedient to God’s leading always mean smooth sailing in life? Apparently not. Sometimes faithfully following Jesus leads to our courting trouble. Sometimes faithfully following Jesus lands us in the midst of a storm!
Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, just before first light, Jesus comes walking out to them, actually walking on the water! The disciples’ initial reaction is one of fear. They’re terrified! “It’s a ghost!” they cry. But then Jesus calls out, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
For whatever the reason – reasons that aren’t spelled out here in Matthew’s gospel account – Peter responds, “If it’s really you Lord, command me to come out on the water with you.” Jesus answers simply, “Come . . . come on, Peter.”
In some ways it would be like the man in the opening story I told you, letting go of that root that he was hanging on to for dear life. At this point, do you think it might have crossed Peter’s mind to shout, “Uh, is there anyone else up there?”
We don’t know what went through his mind, but Peter again did as Jesus bid him to do: he stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. “Impossible!” you might say. Is it any more impossible than feeding a host of people? As Jesus so plainly said, “With God, all things are possible!”
But then something happens to Peter. It’s almost as if he woke up and realized where he was.
It reminds me of those Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons where the Coyote in the midst of chasing the Roadrunner suddenly runs off a cliff yet continues to speed in a straight line while suspended in mid-air until reality sets in and gravity takes over; he finally realizes what a stupid thing he just did and then down he goes.
There was Peter, walking on the water toward Jesus, and everything seemed to be fine, but then Peter takes a look around himself, taking his eyes off Jesus, he looks around. What he sees are mountainous waves and a driving wind and there he is in the middle of it, out of the boat with no visible means of support. He becomes afraid and begins to sink.
You may remember that elsewhere in the gospel Jesus bestowed the name of Peter upon this disciple. The name “Peter” means “rock” in Greek. But instead of being a solid rock of faith, he’s sinking like a rock. In desperation, Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!”
Have you ever been there before? I don’t mean walking on water – or trying to – but in an overwhelming and impossible situation, precarious, perhaps even dangerous, troubling, even frightening?
Have you ever been in such a predicament, out of options, faced with no other recourse than to raise a cry like Peter’s from the depths of your being? It is the elemental cry of every human being when we are confronted with that which is greater than our strength, beyond our ability, outside our control. In the midst of our helplessness and powerlessness, we cry out, “Lord, save me!” A helpless, hopeless, terrifying feeling. “God, help me!”
Jesus reaches out and grabs hold of Peter, pulls him up and helps him back into the boat.
“Why did you doubt, Peter? Where is your faith? Didn’t you believe me? Didn’t you believe in me when I told you to let go?”
Suddenly the wind dies down, the waves settle. The disciples are filled with awe and amazement. Falling to their knees they declare, “Truly you are the Son of God!”
As I hear God speaking to us this morning through the Scriptures, what I hear our Lord saying to Peter and the disciples and to all of us is this:
Life is full of adventures and encounters and accidents and experiences that remind us over and over again – if our eyes are open to see it – that God alone is God. God alone is God and we are totally dependent upon the Lord as our source of life and hope and strength. And even when we are certain that God is leading us and we are acting according to God’s will, we dare never think that therefore we can go it alone, relying solely upon our own resources and abilities. The disciples were only doing what Jesus had told them to do. Remembering that enables us to press onward without fear, even in the middle of the storms that arise in our lives.
Peter only did what the Lord invited him to do. In so doing, he was actually doing the impossible, by worldly standards. But it was only when he took his eyes off Jesus and was distracted by the storm raging around him that he began to sink.
Jesus told us, on the one hand, “Without me, you can do nothing.” On the other hand, He also said, “With God, all things are possible.”
I think it’s safe to assume Peter never forgot that moment. There would be still other times of doubt and testing in his life, times during which he wasn’t always successful, not always faithful.
Is it so hard to imagine that in those times, he might have recalled that day and in so doing, cried out again, “Lord, save me!”, trusting the Lord to be there, to reach out and save him? In that remembrance, and in that crying out to God, is it so hard to imagine that Peter would have been given the help and the strength he needed?
The answer to those questions for each of us is a measure of the faith that is ours, the faith that trusts as we live in obedience to Christ’s leading, that the strength to endure and triumph over the storms that arise and the challenges that confront us in our striving to live faithfully will be there to see us through.
Life is full of perilous adventures and risky encounters, untimely accidents and unfortunate experiences, incidents and happenings that remind us over and over again and reinforce the reality that we are utterly and completely dependent upon God for our life, our hope, our salvation.
But ultimately, we also discover that when we cry out for help in times of need, there really isn’t anyone else up there, and the only choice we have is to let go and the let God work His will in our lives.
As individuals and as a congregation of God’s people, we often are faced with opportunities to let go and let God’s will be one in our midst:
- Every time we bring a little baby to the waters of Holy Baptism,
- Every time we gather around the table of the Lord,
- Every time we try to decide how to spend the money God has entrusted to us,
- Every time we face a new challenge, a new opportunity for ministry,
- Every time we gather at a funeral to mark the passing of one of God’s faithful servants.
In each and every one of those times – and in so many others – again and again we face the temptation to doubt and falter and focus on the storms that rage around us, or embrace the challenge of focussing instead upon Jesus, the Lord of life. Indeed, He is the Master of the winds and the waves and everything else that would destroy us, derail our plans and deprive us of the abundant life that God would have for us. We know that Christ is calling us forth as His people, and that God invites us to trust Him, to let go and let God.
And so we go from here, seeking to be God’s faithful people, trusting and depending on our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, always keeping our eyes focused on the One who is our source of life, hope, and salvation. May it be so in your life and mine, this day and every day. Amen.