Friday, August 18, 2017
The story is told of 3 pastors who went fishing together often until the Methodist minister took a call and left. So the Lutheran pastor and Roman Catholic priest decided to ask his replacement to join them. They were out on the boat for hours, drinking from their big thermoses of coffee, when the priest gets up and says he needs to excuse himself and walks across the water to the trees. He comes back and another hour passes until the pastor says he also must excuse himself and walks across the water and into the trees on the shore. The Methodist minister is now clearly uncomfortable but is sure that he can do what any Lutheran or Roman Catholic can do. He gets up out of the boat, takes a few steps on the water, falls in and drowns. Carrying the body back to town mostly in silence, the Lutheran finally speaks. "Do you suppose we should have told him where the stones were?"
Walking on water is always easy when you know where the stones are. Indeed, we often think that is why Jesus is so important. He knows where the stones are, where you can safely put your feet and where you can’t. We want Him to let us in on the secret. We want to know where the secret stones are so that when the storms of life come our way, we know where to walk to avoid the onslaught of wind and wave. We want to know the safe places to put our feet in a world that is neither safe nor certain. But that is not what Jesus does. Jesus has not come to be guide or guru. He is not a life coach or a mentor. He is come to save us and the only way He saves is when we see Jesus and Him only. He is the rock of our salvation.
In the Gospel reading for today Peter and the disciples are tossed and turned upon the waters by a storm that did not relent. They were tired and weary, they were worn and worn down, and they were afraid. Just when it seemed nothing could get worst, someone called out that Jesus was out there walking on the sea. Perhaps the first inclination of the disciples was that somebody needed to save Jesus. Jesus was not a fisherman, after all, but a carpenter. The next guess was that they were seeing things – a ghost, a shadow, and a mirage. But it was Jesus.
Jesus came to them, where they were. He came walking upon the waters of the very storm that threatened them. He came walking to them when they were most afraid. When the disciples realized that it was Jesus, they were not comforted but were even more afraid. How could it be real? Was it Jesus or some ghostly dream? They were ready to dismiss it all out of hand, when the unmistakable voice came to their ears: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Peter, yes, it had to be Peter. Peter ventures forward. “If it is you, Lord, tell me to come to You on the water.” Notice what he did not say. He did not say “because it is You I will come to You.” No, this was not faith talking but fear – pure, raw, and unadulterated fear. Jesus answered back with the scariest word of all. “Come!” And then Peter had to eat his words or trust the word of Jesus.
In the beginning, perhaps with the first few steps, Peter believed the word of Jesus. But then he began to look down to consider the power of the wind and the waves, when he saw them he no longer saw Jesus. He began to sink and cried out in fear for Jesus to save him. Peter was apparently a fisherman who could not swim! His fears turned his vision from Jesus until the only things he saw were his fears.
In the end, Jesus makes it clear what this business of Christian life is all about. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Life is filled with storms. We are daily beaten around by the winds of change and the waves of discontent. We are threatened day in and day out by forces beyond our control. Jesus does not offer Peter secrets. There are no secret stones on which to stand. There is only Jesus. There is no secret wisdom to make sense out of life’s storms. There is only Jesus. There is no secret path around those storms. There is only Jesus. There is no safe place in which to hide until the storms pass. There is only Jesus.
What was true for Peter, is certainly true for you and me. We come to Jesus looking for short cuts, for the easy paths through life’s threats, for a sanctuary where wind and wave dare not come. What we get is Jesus. Jesus who does not run from us when sin had made us unlovable. Jesus who does not abandon us when we are suffering from a predicament born of our own willfulness and pride in the Garden of Eden. Jesus who does not shrink from the cost of loving us even when that cost is His life of suffering upon the cross. Jesus who does not wait for us to find a way to Him but comes to us and is born as one of us in flesh and blood, amid the poisoned air of sin and the stench of death that accompanies every one of us. Jesus who reaches out His hand and holds on to us when we are ready to let go.
I cannot promise you an easy life or even a safe life. I cannot show you a hidden path around suffering or pain. I cannot give you tips on how to life holy or, if not holy, at least happy. All I can do is point you to Jesus. And here He is. His voice still speaks to us in our ships of discontent, amid waves of destruction, battered by the winds of change. His arms still enfold us with the absolution that takes our sins away. His hands still feed us the rich food of His flesh and blood wherein we enjoy forgiveness too rich for us to buy and peace that passes understanding.
Even now you may be hoping that a magical solution will come along. A pastor you can afford but who is better than you can afford, someone to lead you through your troubles, make strong and mighty your little congregation, overcome all obstacles and fill the pews and the coffers so that you can rest from all your labors. Somebody like that will never come along. But a pastor who will preach Jesus to you will come along. A pastor who will address you with Christ’s absolution, will come along. A pastor who will feed you Christ whose flesh is hidden in bread and whose blood is hidden in wine. A pastor who will point you to Jesus when all you see are the storms and who will speak hope to you when you are too tired to go any further.
But you need to do two things. You need to get out of the boat. Let go of yesterday’s disappointments, today’s anxieties, and tomorrow’s fears and step out in faith. Leave behind your works and your desires, and trust in Jesus. And keep looking at Jesus when the distractions of this world beckon us and Satan would use them to create doubts within. Keep looking at Jesus. When distractions come and temptations show their wares and life’s storms make it hard to see anything at all, you need to look at Jesus. That is the power of faith. Faith sees beyond eyes and hears beyond ears. The Holy Spirit is the power of this faith to hold onto Jesus and let go of your works, your merits, your sense of fairness, and your past. The Holy Spirit empowers you to look not by sight but by faith and to see through the storms to the cross and through the cross to heaven.
The world is filled with the exploits of the brave. But in the midst of the crises, they did not look brave all all. They were called fools. The world will call you foolish when you put your trust in Jesus, when your confidence in Christ refuses to waver even when the going gets impossible, and when you gladly and willingly surrender your works for the one work of Christ on the cross. Faith Lutheran Church does not need brave people or mighty leaders. This congregation needs people of faith who will look to Jesus first and always. This life does not require heroes but men and women and children of faith who believe and who live this faith when the storms of life threaten them most of all. People who confess Jesus, the Lord of life who suffered all even death to rescue and redeem a lost and condemned world.
And when it is ended. When you have taken off the life jackets and secured the boat on the beach and when the wind and wave have passed on for now. Then let it be said with one voice from this place and from this people. Truly He is the Son of God. For this confession is your hope. By this confession you will endure. By this confession the world will hear the Gospel. And by this confession, you will not stand alone but with the saints of old, great and small, and your family of faith around you now. Together we are a people convinced that God is with us, that His grace is sufficient for all our needs, and that faith is all we need to endure the storms, struggles, and sorrows of this mortal life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.