Welcome to our worship for today. Today we hear of the disciples caught in a storm on the sea of Galilee. The image is of a boat on the sea of Galilee in May 2013. It was a calm sunny day but a wind quickly got up and you can see the choppy waves. It just as quickly died down and you can easily imagine Jesus walking on the water out to where the disciples were waiting. This morning’s message is given by Rev Martin Turner.
It seemed so easy – Matthew 14:22-33
The cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist, has been murdered by Herod. Jesus had wanted to get away to a quiet place to be on his own and pray as he reflects upon this terrible news, but the crowd have other ideas and follow him: some 5000 men with the woman and children added to that number and at the end of the day they are miraculously fed as Jesus takes and blesses five loaves and two small fish. Now they are gone, and Jesus is again trying to get away to be on his own (verses 22 and 23).
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone
Perhaps he wants to work on the unfinished business of thinking about John. Perhaps he is tired after a day of healing and teaching and providing for the needs of so many, or perhaps it was a just part of his everyday routine: a making space to be alone with God the Father. For time and again in the gospels we see Jesus on his own, often upon a mountain or in a garden making the time and space to pray.
I think there is a model here that we can learn from, for here we see Jesus very intentionally making space for himself, often going to a specific place, and usually wanting to be on his own.
Now I wonder if any of you watch TOWIE? – “The Only Way is Essex?”. What a classy programme that is! Mostly set in places around my home town of Loughton at the end of the Central Line. I went on the internet to try and find an Essex joke to tell you but there was not one joke suitable for a sermon! However the secret Essex is Epping Forest, a beautiful stretch of ancient woodland running right into the East End, and in the heart of the Forest there is High Beech Church. When I was a young man I would walk through the forest from my house and go and sit in that Church and pray whenever I had big decisions to make. For me, it was a special and holy place and if you watched Countryfile a few weeks ago you would have seen Epping Forest featured and our son Luke being interviewed, for it is now a special place for him as well.
I am sure that if I went round asking you many of you would have special and holy places these are often called “thin places”, those places where God seems so much closer. For me High Beech Church was such a “thin place.”
Do you sometimes try to be alone and centre yourself upon God: in a special chair, a special room, a special place? For when you do that peace and calm which seemed to characterise Jesus will be yours as well. But that picture of the calm Jesus found a contrast in the picture of the disciples, (verse 24):
24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[a] for the wind was against them.
Biddy and I lived right by the River Thames at Wandsworth in London for 14 years,
well you wouldn’t think that the River Thames at Wandsworth could get rough, but when the tide was up and flowing in one direction and the wind was blowing in the opposite direction even our little bit of the river could be very rough indeed, and if you were in a small boat I imagine it could be quite frightening.
Interestingly here though it does not say that the disciples were frightened by the storm as they were on another stormy occasion when Jesus was in the boat with them and they thought the boat was going to sink, no here they are not afraid of the storm they are afraid of Jesus, (verses 25 – 26)
5 And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.
I can understand that, for it can be quite frightening when we see the supernatural activity of God breaking in to our everyday experience.
It is thrilling to see someone healed but there is also a real sense of awe in what happens. It is great when someone is converted but for that person to realise that God has touched their lives can be very un-nerving. When you sense a specific call of God to something, especially if it is something you do not want to do or do not feel equipped to do, that is certainly a very frightening thing, no wonder Moses took his shoes off and hid his face in front of the burning bush.
You see we live our lives on a level where we expect to understand everything and explain everything and even control everything, that is so for us as individuals but that is also too often so even for us in the Church, those outside the Church chase after the supernatural as they watch horror films and used weeja boards and tarot cards but the Church has excluded the supernatural.
We read a gospel story such as this and we are cynical. We sing a hymn such as “my chains fell off” with great gusto but it would never occur to us that our chains might indeed fall off. We pray that people should be healed and we are amazed when they are. We have cut God down to our own size and it is as if we have made a roaring lion into a cuddly toy. But when the supernatural activity of God breaks in all that is familiar is turned on its head and we are unsettled and un–nerved and wondering what is going on and often very fearful as well. That is how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus coming to them over the water, they were terrified!
But what does Jesus say to them? (verse 27): 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
We worry that if we let the supernatural take charge things might get out of control and we would frighten people off but we forget that Jesus is there at the heart of all this, and Jesus says that we are to have courage, to realise that He is at the heart of what is happening, and that therefore we should not fear.
My Sisters and Brothers, in many ways it may well be frightening if and when we see the supernatural activity of God but there is always love at the heart of it, whatever God does in your life or in the life of your Church there is nothing to fear for He has a good purpose for your life and a good purpose for this community of faith.
In response to all this what happens? Well what do you expect when Peter is around? I don’t know if it was to show off, or to prove his leadership, or to re-assure himself that indeed it was Jesus he was seeing, but he gets over the side and into the water, it seems so easy, (verses 28 and 29):
28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29 He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.
I don’t know why Peter did it but as I thought about this sermon the idea which came so strongly to me was that Peter did it because he wanted to do what Jesus was doing, and that that was no bad thing. It would be no bad thing for me to want to do what Jesus is doing either, and no bad thing either for you to want to do what Jesus is doing!
We look at Jesus and see him loving all who came to Him, perhaps I could love a little more and do what Jesus did? We look at Jesus and see him forgiving those who mistreated him, perhaps I could forgive at least one or two people and do what Jesus did? We look at Jesus and see that his words and his lifestyle are totally in line, perhaps I could line up my words and lifestyle like Jesus did? We see the compassion of Jesus to those in need, perhaps I could be just a little bit as compassionate as Jesus?
So when we read of Peter than beginning to sink please don’t point the finger at him for his lack of faith, at least Peter got out of the boat and gave it a try! I would still have been in the boat desperately trying to do up my life-jacket!
So what happens? (verse 30) 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink,
Well poor old Peter wanted to do what Jesus was doing, which was a good thing, but then he took his eyes off Jesus and looked instead at everything else going on and he started to sink, and how many times have you and I done that? We rushed in with good intentions but then started sinking!
We offer to visit that person in need; we offer to serve on that committee; we offer to get involved in that piece of caring activity in the community; we offer to make time to have a coffee with the friend who is depressed; you know the sort of thing. We thought we could do it; we thought it would be OK, but after a bit we start sinking in a sea of inadequacy; sinking in a sea of tiredness; sinking a sea of frustration; sinking in a sea of resentment; sinking in a sea of faithlessness and when that is happening there is just one sensible thing to do and it is exactly the thing that Peter, who was not always very sensible, did on this occasion: we cry out to God just as he did. “he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ “
And how does Jesus respond? (Verses 31 to 33)
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
That is how Jesus still is, that is how He is for you this morning if you are struggling in the deep water of life’s troubles in some way or another, that is how He will deal with you if you have set off with good intention and then started to sink, that is how He will deal with you if in the midst of that need you have in your heart this morning you cry out to him to save you.
Jesus will reach out His hand to you and through the work of the Holy Spirit bring you back into the boat, then the normality of your life can be restored, then you will know just as the disciples knew that day, that truly Jesus is the Son of God.
Will you do it?
Will you do it now?
Will you reach out to Him?
Will you call on Him to save you?
When you do, that strong hand of Jesus will touch your life and save you from sinking just as Peter was saved so many years ago.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we thank you that when the storm rages and we seem to sink you reach out in love to us.
We thank you that when we set out in great faith and hope and then lose our way you reach out and restore us.
We thank you that when we cry out to you for salvation you do not disappoint us but hear us and reach out in love to us, that love shown in the cross of Jesus.
When we are sinking you always reach out to us if we call on you, for that we give you our deepest thanks, Amen.
Rev Martin Turner 9th August 2020.