A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Lord Save Me!

Walking on Water, by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888)

Pentecost +11
Rev. Doug Floyd
Matthew 14:22-33

When Jesus hears that Herod has killed John the Baptist, he goes to a desolate place to pray. Soon the crowds learn where he is and they gather around. Jesus has great compassion on them and heals the sick and cares for the needy. Throughout the day, more and more people gather until there are thousands of people.

The disciples are getting a little nervous. Evening is coming and there is no food to feed all these people. They raise this problem with Jesus, and he invites them into the solution. “You give them something to eat.” All they can find is five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes their meager offering and feeds everyone with plenty to spare.

Now the day is closing. You can imagine that Jesus and his disciples are exhausted. Jesus sends his disciples on ahead in the boat and then he closes his day by returning to the Father in prayer alone. Exhausted from the long day, the disciples climb into the boat to cross over, but a storm comes, and the boat is beaten by the waves. This word beaten actually means tortured or harassed. It is as though the sea is a malevolent force attacking their boat for hours.

Earlier in Matthew, we have a similar story when the boat is rocked by violent waters. Jesus is sleeping on the boat and the disciples wake him in terror. He simply speaks the word “Peace be still” and the troubled waters submit to him. But now, the disciples are alone, facing the dark, unrelenting waters. They are tired, fearful, and struggling to survive. Why would the Lord send them into such violent waters?

Jesus walks to them on the waters in the fourth watch of the night. This would be between three and six a.m. They’ve been battling the waters for at least six to eight hours. Now they see light coming toward them on the water. Is this the sea monster attacking them? Is this a ghost? They are terrified. Jesus speaks the word of peace into the midst of the storm, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” When Jesus says, “It is I,” he is literally saying, “I Am.” God in Christ is coming toward them.

The wind and the waves have not subsided. “I Am” walks toward them in the midst of the chaos. Their hope of redemption is in the middle of the dark troubled waters. Then something unexpected happens.

Peter calls out, “Lord if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” What would cause Peter to make such a request? Why would he think is was a good idea or even possible to join Jesus in the middle of the turbulent waters. But he does make the request and Jesus does answer, “Come.”

Then the most amazing thing happens. Peter climbs out of the boat and joins Jesus, walking on the water. It’s more than even Peter can believe and suddenly he’s overcome by fear. “Lord save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him saying, “O you of little of faith, why did you doubt?” Then Jesus and Peter get into the boat and the winds cease.

The disciples respond in worship, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I am struck by several things in this story. One, Jesus allows his disciples to endure the fearful storm for hours before he comes to them. This is hard for us to grasp. Why Lord would you allow me to go through this? Yet, we know that the storm could not separate them from the love of God. James tells us that trials are part of our faith.

James writes, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. [1] Trials and tests of faith are part of the journey of faith. They strengthen the soul and bring a blessing. In today’s story our disciples are learning that they are not abandoned even in the most terrifying situation. These same men will eventually face threats against their lives and they will even be killed for their faith, but they have learned God’s absolute faithfulness even in the most threatening of times.

Peter, always the bold one, wants to confirm the presence of Jesus, the I AM, by requesting that he might go to Jesus. What better place to be during a dire situation than near Jesus. Even if it means stepping toward the dark waters, it is still the safest place to be.

Yes, Peter is overcome by fear, but he prays the great pray of God’s people, “Lord save me.” What a simple prayer. What a perfect prayer. It is the great prayer we might carry on our lips and in our hearts, “Lord save me.”

In our Daily Office, we pray, “O God, make speed to save us; O Lord, make haste to help us.” We do not always know what to pray, but this simple prayer captures our need. “Lord save me.” “O Lord make haste to help me.” How often I have prayed this pray. It is a breath prayer that I can cry out again and again. When life is threatening and I am out of control, and even when life is peaceful, I can still cry out, “Lord save me.”

Immediately, Jesus reaches down and takes hold of Peter. Here we have a picture of God’s redeeming grace. All humanity is adrift on the sea of sin and death. Terrified and sinking down. Jesus comes to us in our brokenness, in our fear, in our struggle, in our sin. We cannot take hold of him for we are sinking, but he takes hold of us and draws us to himself. Stilling the waves of chaos and bringing peace and comfort. He is our Great Redeemer.

Jesus is leading Peter and all the disciples more deeply into the way of faith. They will continue to doubt, continue to fear, continue to struggle. But Jesus will continue to take hold, continue to lead them, continue to speak the word of Peace. And by his grace they will grow up into the great men of faith who will lead the church through the fires of persecution.

Jesus leads us through trials and tests. It may not look like the boat in the storm, but it may feel like the threat and chaos of stormy waters. I know that he is faithful because I’ve tasted and seen his goodness. He has allowed me to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and through seasons of darkness and struggle. Yet, He has been faithful. Like the disciples of old, our response to his faithfulness is worship. We bow our heads and hearts, confessing, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jas 1:12.


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