Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 10 [Proper 13]

"Lord! _(?)_ me!"

Matthew 14:23-33

August 13, 2017

As I was meditating on today's Gospel reading, one little word jumped out at me. When you ask someone to "give you a hand" or "help me out here," who is in control? When you cry out "save me," who in is control? When Peter is going down into the angry water, he doesn't cry out "Lord, help me." Listen again to the words again. Peter cries out, "Lord, save me!" There is a big difference between help and save.

Matthew 14:23-33. After he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."

And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He 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?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

What if I told you this is not a story of faith but rather a lack of it? How often have you heard, "if you have faith, you can walk on water"? When people challenge you with the words "If you have faith," they are assuming that you don't. When you challenge yourself with those same words, are you not also questioning your faith? As we look at this episode, we might ask where is Peter's faith?

This story of Peter walking on the water is not so much about his faith as the lack of it. Three times, we see Peter doubting. At then end of the story he is chastised for this doubting not congratulated for his faith. Let's look at the reasons for Peter's lack of faith.

First, he doubts that the figure walking on the water is Jesus. He and the others think they are seeing a ghost or maybe the angel of death coming for them. In their fear, they cry out in terror. Because they fail to recognize Jesus, their fear fails their faith. Jesus must assure them that it is he by calling to them over the wind, "don't be afraid, it is I."

The second time Peter doubts is when he asks to walk on the water. Look more carefully at what he says: "Lord, if it is you." In other words, prove to me it is you by letting me walk on the water. Peter is saying, "If it is you and if I can walk on the water then everything will be cool." Think about this. Is it possible that when Peter demands to walk on the water, he does so as one who does NOT fully recognize or appreciate Jesus until his personal agenda fails in the face of the wind and the waves? Yes, there is high adventure and a stoked ego to be able to defy nature by walking on the waves. However, is this supposed to be the focus of faith?

The third time Peter doubts is as he takes his eyes off Jesus and sees the wind whipping the waves around him. As he sees the rough waves, he panics. What's the difference between help and save. When Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink like a rock, he doesn't cry "help!" It is then that he looks back to Jesus and cries out, "Lord! Save me!" Peter realizes the desperate situation he is in. He is no longer in control. When he asks Jesus to give him a hand, it is not a cry to help him out but it is a plea for salvation. Peter knew he could neither help nor save himself. Only Jesus could save him now.

Jesus teaches Peter the fullness of their names. Jesus means "the Lord saves." Peter means "rock." As Peter begins to sink like a rock in the stormy water, he cries out "Lord, save me!" Jesus lives up to His name and does just that. He pulls Peter out of the water and brings him safely to the boat.

When they reach the safety of the boat, Jesus chastises Peter, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Yes, why did he doubt? The same question is being put to us, "why do you doubt?" How are we going to answer that question?

As we think about all this, we will begin to realize that this is not a lesson about stepping out in faith so much as one that teaches us about Jesus and the fullness of His identity as both God and the Christ. Here we see the fullness of our Lord's divinity. He, who was present at creation, shows that He is master of all natural forces. He defies the laws of gravity by walking on the water. Then, later, He will command the storm to cease and it does.

He lives up to His name by saving Peter from drowning and brings the disciples' boat safely to shore. Yet, the fullness of His salvation was realized only on the cross. Here our Lord truly and most fully saved us. On the cross, He took all of the sin of the world upon Himself. He suffered the very God-forsakenness of hell for us. He took our rightful punishment as the innocent, righteous Lamb of God, so that we will never know what it is to experience the wrath of God. He is in every sense of the word the one who saves us.

He receives the disciples' confession of faith as they worship Him saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." Only God is to be worshiped. If Jesus were not God but only some sort of super human, He could not have received their worship and praise. Because He is the second Person of the holy Trinity, we do offer Him our worship. He is the One through whom we pray to the Father. His is the name that is confessed to world.

Here's the bad news. We are too often like Peter in our lack of faith. We are challenged by that little word "if;" if you really believed or if you really had faith, then what? We hear these challenges in our vulnerability and weakness when we are admonished: "If you really believed, you wouldn't have cancer. If you had faith, your problems would go away. If you really loved the Lord, then you would be fully healed, cured and rich." Isn't this an example of demanding Jesus on your terms and not His?

If you had faith, you could walk on water and move mountains. But, since you don't walk on water or move mountains, does this mean you have no faith? Faith is received not manufactured. You can't generate enough faith to make your own miracles. When these miracles don't happen, we turn to Jesus Christ who reaches out to you when you cry, "Lord, save me!" He grabs hold of you and brings you into the safety of His love.

Christ comes to us today. He comes to save us, strengthen our faith and lead us safely home. He comes to us in the assurance of His word. So, as the Lord's people we don't demean other by saying "if you had faith." Nor, do we constantly question "if" we have faith to do big things. In the end, we don't want to have that kind of man-made faith that seeks its own glory. By God's grace the Holy Spirit focuses our eyes on Jesus so that in every situation of life, we cry out "Lord, save me!" and He does. Amen.


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