Sermon – Matthew 14:22-32

Matthew 14:22-32

I was once told by a mentor of mine…”Be wary of people who ‘know’ things.”  People who speak with such certainty and assurance that you can’t help but question their certainty.  We all know someone like this.  In fact, we might be someone like this at times.  They are the ones who know everything and speak with such confidence about everything in life that it drives you….crazy.  They give you advice when you don’t ask for it; they explain things that don’t really have an explanation.  Their confidence level is just a little too high to be believable.  Eventually, you start to see that all of it is a façade, a mask, something hiding their own great and deep insecurity.  What’s really sad is if you ever see a person like this fail at something or be proven wrong, you’ll see their confidence, their ability to know and do everything, drop like a stone in water.  Because their confidence was never that high to begin with.

This is how I have been seeing Peter in our gospel story, as one of those overly confident people.  Jesus and the disciples have just left the great feeding of five thousand people.  Jesus tells the disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead of him, while Jesus finally gets some time to himself.  While Jesus is off praying, the disciples are out in boat in the middle of the sea.  Each of them has one blistered hand on an ore and one on the bench their sitting on, as they bounce off wave after wave.  They just try to keep rowing so that the winds don’t push them backwards.  All night this lasts, until the early hours of the morning.  Until a time that people familiar with life on the sea call the fourth watch.[1]  It is the time when strange things start to happen.  In the darkness and mist, your eyes start to play tricks on you.  You start to see things that aren’t really there like rocks up ahead, or other ships headed right for you.  Or maybe even…a ghost.  Which is what the disciples thought they saw when Jesus came to them walking on water.  “It is a ghost!” they cry out.  And then like a parent comforting their child who just had a nightmare, Jesus says, “Shhh….take heart.  It’s okay.  It’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”

But then comes Peter, the know-it-all, the teacher’s pet, the show off, the one who always needs to be in the spot light.  Jesus has just said, “’s me. Don’t be afraid,” and along comes Peter who responds, “Oh yeah…prove it.  If it really is you, prove it by commanding me to come to you on the water.”  Which is such a funny thing to say if you think about it.  Notice how Peter didn’t say, “If it is you, make me walk on water like you.”  No, all Peter says is “Command me to come to you on the water.  I already know I can walk on water.  In fact, I can probably do it better than you, I just need you to ask me, so that I know it is you.”  But then, like so many of us, Peter comes face to face with his own failure.  Just after Peter has thrown his legs over the edge of the boat taken a few wobbly steps, big wind gust comes and nearly knocks him off his feet, and suddenly whatever it was that kept him up on the water begins to melt.  Frantically, he starts lifting his feet, up and down, up and down, trying to regain his footing, but it’s no use.  Peter, which means rock, is a stone in water.  He’s sinking.  And just as the water level creeps up to his neck, he thrusts out his hand and yells, “Lord, save me!”  And immediately, Jesus thrusts his hand out, latching on to Peter’s and pulling him into the boat.  And then comes the phrase that so many of us don’t know what to do with.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I struggle with this phrase, because truth be told…I am a doubter.  I mask my confidence.  Thank goodness for Peter in this story, because I am Peter, because every day, I doubt too.  I doubt my belief in God.  My belief in the god revealed in Jesus.  I doubt the activity of God in my life and throughout the world.  And it often feels like sinking.  Some days, it’s faster then others, but it’s still a sinking feel.  And so every day, it seems that I have to rediscover my faith in God.  A famous trumpet player once said that each day he had to relearn how to play the trumpet. And some days are better than others.  I think the same is true with faith.  Everyday, we have to rediscover our own faith.  And some days are better than others.

So of course, Peter doubted.  He was never that confident to begin with.  Just like so many of us.  We’re never as confident and certain as we wished or present ourselves to be.  Never confident that we are valuable just the way we are.  Never certain about the path we’ve chosen in life.  Never certain in our faith.  We doubt ourselves.  But is this the doubt that Jesus is talking about?  Is Jesus talking about Peter doubting Peter’s own faith.  If it is, then all Peter needs to do is just have more faith and he will be able to walk on water.  It’s all about what Peter does for himself.  And if the gospel word from Jesus is that it is all about what we can do for ourselves, then we all might as well go home, lock the doors behind us, and throw away the key, because then there is no need for God.  But what if Peter’s doubt that Jesus mentions isn’t Peter’s own faith or his own ability to walk on water?  What if Peter doubted that Jesus would save him?  Or that he was even worth saving?

“Lord, save me!” Peter cries out.  You only say, “Lord, save me” if you think there might be a chance that you won’t be saved.  It is like when a parent is teaching their child how to ride a bike for the first time.  When the child starts to lose control, they call out, “Mom…dad!” out of fear that their parent hasn’t noticed them losing control.  It’s a way of saying, “Are you there, are you there!? Will you catch me?”  To which the parent says, “Shhh…it’s me.  I’m here.  Why did you doubt?”

What is so beautiful about this story is that it shows us that life of faith is not one of certainty, for we are doubters.  But the life of faith is a life of hope in the midst our own uncertainty.  Hope that God will be near to us and will save us from all that threatens us – depression, illness, pain, debt, broken relationships, fear, addiction, job loss, disappointment, even death.  Hope that God will be faithful to us even we aren’t – or maybe even when we can’t be – faith to God.  It is a hope that whether we call our God’s name or not, God will still grab us by the arm when we are sinking.

Today, we have the great joy of having not one, but two baptisms in our service.  When we bring a child to be baptized by God (because it is God who does the baptizing, by the way), we do not bring them into a life of certainty.  We bring them into a life of hope.   You see when a child is baptized, it doesn’t mean that all our fears go away.  Sam and Karen, Tina and Stuart, you’ll still wake up in the middle of the night to go and check on your sleeping Aston and Abigail.  In 15 years, you’ll still worry when it’s 10 past midnight and they haven’t come home from the party yet.  Baptism does not take away our fears with certainty, but gives us hope in the midst of uncertainty.  It gives us something to hold on to when the road ahead is unknown.

In baptism, like Peter in our gospel story today, we sink down into the water.  But also in baptism, just like Peter, Jesus reaches down and pulls us out.  In baptism we hear a promise that God has already given to us before we were even born.  I promise that says you do not need to be afraid anymore, even though I know you are afraid.  You do not need to doubt anymore, even though I know you doubt.  It’s okay.  We hear the promise that God will be faithful to us even when we struggle to be faithful to God.  We are turned into the chaotic waters of life, not away from them but into them, with the hope that we will discover fullness of life and depth of soul in it’s midst.

“Take heart,” Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “It is I, do not be afraid.”    AMEN


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, p. 103.








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