“Take Courage” Matthew 14:22-27
The Sanctuary Sermon for 8/9/20
The Sanctuary Sermon for 8/9/20
“Take Courage” Matthew 14:22-27
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
When I was a kid, the door to the stairway going upstairs at my grandparent’s house was always kept closed. It was never left open and rarely did anyone go up there, because as grandfather Wiegand said, it was “Verboten!” I never asked my grandmother about that. I didn’t need to. I had been warned. An older cousin had told me all about the ghost of a German boy that lived upstairs. That’s why the door was always closed. That’s why no one went up there. Sometimes on a dare and when grandfather wasn’t around, I would go half-way up the steps and say ‘hello’ then listen for a response but was always scared and I came right back down.
Then, for nights during one summer of our adolescence, my brother and I continually awoke in the night to scratching sounds coming from the ceiling which would promptly cause Mark and me to scream like little girls and yell for dad, convinced that the house was haunted. After the third night or so, dad stood in the hallway in his boxers scratching his head mumbling about squirrels in the attic, to knock it off and go to sleep. Okay, Pops!
I’ve since outgrown those fears, but I haven’t outgrown fear itself. Just last week I awoke from an all too real dream where I was a passenger in a horrific car accident with my last thought being that I’d never see any loved ones again.
I’ve been in the same boat as the disciples in today’s gospel. Maybe you have too.
My childhood ghost stories haven’t ended; they’ve just changed. They’re now adulthood ghost stories. I suspect that’s true for all of us. We all have our fears. We all have our own ghost stories. Regardless of whether ghosts are real, fear is. You know what I mean, right? I’ll bet each one of you could tell a story about fear in your life, about a ghost that haunts and frightens you. There are all sorts of fears, ghosts and haunts.
We fear our own death and the deaths of our loved ones. We fear the loss of health, security, success, and reputation. We fear rejection, failure and what others will think about us. We fear of being left marginal and powerless. We fear the unknown, what will happen, and what might not happen. We fear others; those who look, act, and believe differently than us. We fear not being enough and being found out. These days we fear the Corona while staring at the world behind masks, or more aptly from some who don’t. And the list goes on and on. Each one of you could add to the list. What would you put on it? What do you fear?
I’ve come to believe that fear is a primary driver and controller of our lives. I’ve experienced that in my own life, and I’ve seen it in the lives of others. I’ve seen how it can take hold of us, distort our vision, and drown our lives. Fear often determines the choices we make, the words we say, the actions we take, and the prayers we offer.
Look at the events of today’s world and you’ll see fear. It’s one thing both sides in any conflict have in common. Fear is the loudest and most talkative voice there is. Just turn on any news coverage, whatever network, and you’ll see unrelenting stories of present and projected fear. What will happen? What if this, what if that?
Well, fear not little flock. If you study the scriptures, you’ll discover that the most common thing God tells his people is to not be afraid. And yet, most of us are. We row the same boat as the disciples. We’ve been tossed about by the storms of life. We’ve seen the ghost and we’ve cried out in fear. Sometimes it seems like we’re rowing against the wind in the darkness all alone soaked to the bone, making no headway in a perfect storm, far from land and a safe harbor.
If you know what that’s like, then you know what it was like for the disciples in today’s gospel. In those circumstances it’s easy to see ghosts, to be terrified, and to cry out in fear. It happens to us. It’s happening throughout our world.
The world today is crying out in fear. Some cry out with tears and screams of horror. Some cry out with silence, through paralysis, not knowing what to say or do. Some cry out in ignorance. Some cry out in violence in our cities night after night setting fires, destroying property and lives. Some cry out with political rhetoric, posturing for power. In whatever way we do it, at some point we all cry out in fear.
More often than not, we cry out to be rescued from the circumstances of which we are afraid. We want to escape the storm and avoid the ghost. We want to be picked up and set down somewhere else, somewhere that is safe, calm, and comfortable. Jesus doesn’t do that. He didn’t do that for the disciples, and he doesn’t do that for us. Instead, Jesus reveals himself, speaks, and comes to the disciples in and from the very midst of the storm itself. He didn’t take the disciples out of their storm; he entered their storm.
Jesus doesn’t come to us from outside our storms and fears like some divine search and rescue mission. Yet that’s often where we look for him, outside the circumstances of our lives. We are too easily persuaded that the solution to dire circumstances comes only from outside the circumstances themselves. That’s the exact opposite of what today’s passage tells us.
Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water, through the wind, and in the darkness. Jesus’ peace, words of comfort, and presence are not outside the storm but in the eye of the storm. So why do we not look for him in that place, in the place of our fear? That’s where Jesus shows up. Where else would he be, this one we call Emmanuel, God with us? If Jesus is not in our storms and fears, then he is not Emmanuel. He is not God-with-us.
I wonder if we sometimes miss what’s really happening in this passage. If all we see is a gravity defying water walking Jesus, then we’ve missed the miracle. The wind and the waves are about more than the weather conditions. They are more descriptive of what’s happening within the disciples than what is happening around them.
The real miracle in this story is that Jesus walks on the storms that brew and rage within us. That means divine power and presence have and always will trample on, overcome, and conquer human fear. It means that Jesus is Emmanuel. He is with us in the direst of circumstances. But the disciples couldn’t recognize this. Sometimes we don’t either. “It’s a ghost,” they screamed in terror. It’s the only thing that made sense. People don’t walk on water. It had to be a ghost. What else could it be? That is the power of fear—to deceive, distort, and drown.
It makes no sense to think that the very elements that threaten our lives are the same elements from which new life comes. Yet, isn’t that the way of the cross? Isn’t that the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection? Isn’t that the good news we so desperately want and need to hear?
Our storms and fears are the place in which we abandon ourselves to God. Most of us, however, don’t do that until we first feel abandoned by God. Surely that’s how the disciples must have felt. Jesus compelled them to get in the boat and cross the sea seemingly alone. They were left to the open sea, the darkness, the waves, the wind and the futility of their own efforts. They were abandoned to their own un-self-sufficiency so that they might abandon themselves to God.
The very elements that threatened to destroy the disciples became the environment in which they recognized Jesus as the Son of God. What they first perceived in fear as ‘the perfect storm’ became God’s way of revealing himself as I Am, Emmanuel, God with us. The abiding abundant life, hope, and salvation.
Every time we cry out in fear Christ comes to us saying, “Take courage, take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” That’s the invitation to abandon ourselves to God in the midst of our storms and fears. How hard it is to hear and heed those words when the waves are breaking, the wind is howling, and the ghost is approaching.
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” No matter how high the waves build they’re the waves on which Jesus walks to us. No matter how strong the wind blows it is the wind through which Jesus walks to us. No matter how dark the night, it is the night in which Jesus comes to us. No matter how great our fear, it is the fear that Christ has already trampled on and defeated.
Here’s my take on living life in the shadow of fear for what it’s worth. I’m all about life eternal and I certainly believe in and look forward to it, but then there’s this—we only get one go ‘round in this mortal shelf life. We all have an expiration date, we just can’t see where it’s printed on our lid. Hmmmph. The older I get, I realize that fear is a thief and has robbed me of many things, opportunities and possibilities in life. At this point, on the back nine fairways of life I refuse to spend it in sand traps and the bunker of fear. You know what? I suggest that you play on as well.
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.