Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: August 9, 2020
Year A, Proper 14: Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Today’s gospel is set in the aftermath of last week’s lesson. Jesus had received the heart-breaking news that John the Baptist has been killed at the direction of Herod. As you know the story unfolds and ends with the largest picnic one may ever hear of in a desolate place. Jesus does the unexpected – for a desert is not a place where we typically go to find food.
Today, in Matthew 14, we find Jesus’ disciples terrified on the Sea of Galilee. It’s certainly not the first time. The disciples are no strangers to this lake. They’re on it all the time. Even before Jesus called them to fish for people, they fished here for food for themselves, for their families, their villages, no doubt risking life and limb for a good catch.
A quick look back at chapter eight reminds us of one traumatic experience they had not so very long ago. You may recall the story: A windstorm arises, so strong that the boat is swamped, and it begins to sink. Scared to death, the disciples yell to Jesus, who is fast asleep in the back, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jesus responds calmly, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?”
Today, however, it’s not the weather that frightens the disciples. No, today they are frightened by something else—an eerie figure walking toward them on the surface of the sea. “It is a ghost!” they cry, but Jesus reassures them. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Alas, these comforting words (let alone the ability to defy gravity) do not quite satisfy Peter. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus agrees. And so, Peter does. But after just a few steps, the wind startles him and he begins to sink, crying, “Lord, save me!” Of course, Jesus saves him, but he also asks him: “why did you doubt?”
Jesus’ question is a different version of the same one he asked back in chapter eight. It’s déjà vu—right here in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.
Make no mistake, these questions are just as much for us as they were for those early disciples.
Why do we doubt? Jesus calmed a storm with his voice, fed five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread, and walked on water. If we know this, if we believe this, why would we ever lack faith?
One answer is fear. Like the disciples, sometimes storms pop up in our lives and scare us half to death. That’s what storms do. It’s only natural for a dog to hide under the bed when he or she hears thunder; for a child to cling to her mother when he or she sees lightning; for the driver to pull over when she can no longer see the road.
Fear is a very powerful thing, but out of fear our faith can be cultivated. Our faith can grow deep roots in the face of fear. We can learn more about God and ourselves when we are fearful, when our backs are against the wall.
But it’s not just wind and rainstorms that scare us; so do the storms of our lives. Things like global pandemics, contentious election cycles, horrifying diagnoses, economic downturns, and discord in our families and our relationships can shake us to the core.
In the midst of difficult setbacks like these, it’s not uncommon for anyone to doubt their faith in God. That’s exactly what happened to Peter in today’s gospel, and it’s exactly what the disciples did in chapter eight.
All Jesus does is ask why. Like any good teacher, he already knows the answer to the question, but he wants us to know it, too.
Simply put, it’s because we are human. Fear is, quite literally, instinctual. Humans are wired with a fight-or-flight response. We have this reflex for a reason. When our lives are in jeopardy or—more commonly for us today—when our identity is threatened, we are naturally inclined to react in fleeting ways. When that happens, we tend to leave calm, rational thought behind. For that reason, we often need some assistance getting back to a more faithful frame of mind.
Jesus wants to help a frightened Peter to focus on what’s most important.
And in the realm of life’s storms, faith is what we must hold on to because faith is the foundation of human life, as important as food, water, and shelter.
This is the message of the cross. This is the message of Jesus’ whole life. And faith is what Jesus wants Peter—and all of us—to focus on when storms come.
Jesus’ question, “why do you doubt”, I hope prompts us to realize that faith is always within our reach. In other words, even in the stormiest times of life, when we most doubt our ability to make it through, we can remain faithful to God.
Staying faithful to God doesn’t simply mean going through the motions. We will not always be perfectly faithful. Doubts will creep in, but the important thing is to recover from those doubts and return to a place of faith. Our faith is strengthened and sustained by our relationship with God and nurtured by participating in our life in Christ through things like reading scripture, praying, and attending worship. Speaking of, each Sunday when we confess our sins, we admit that we don’t always get everything right, but we repent and recommit ourselves to walking in God’s ways once again.
Watching his journey reminds us of our journey, a journey on which we can—and should—choose faithfulness. And a journey on which we, just like Peter, repent, recommit, and refocus on a faithfulness that comes from the knowledge and love of Jesus, through whom we have experienced the grace of God time and time again.
Beloved, it is difficult to see what lies ahead. But as I prayed Compline from a hotel business center the other night, I was reminded that God is often nearer than we think. I remembered that I have been taught to look for God whenever I am unsure.
Currently, it seems as though chaos is seeking to become our new normal. We have entered this season in chaos – but we need not abandon ship. Our gospel lesson closes as Jesus and Peter entered the boat together – the winds ceased and the disciples worshiped.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, We may have all come in different ships but we’re all in the same boat now. In this season of chaos, uncertainty, anger, and confusion, we need not abandon ship. Let us follow the example that unfolds in today’s lesson. Let us move ahead, even in the storm, and emerge from this season in worship. After all, quitting is not an option.
God keeps showing up in unexpected ways. Our role is to take heart, to remain faithful. Because “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news in faith.
 Matthew 8:25, New Revised Standard Version
 Matthew 8:26, NRSV
 Matthew 14:26, NRSV
 Matthew 14:27, NRSV
 Matthew 14:30, NRSV
 Matthew 14:31, NRSV
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.