Pure Faith

Matthew 14:22-33

22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Pure Faith – a homily for August 13th by Mother Beth

Have you ever had a moment of pure faith?   A moment where you thought and felt like anything was possible with God?  Or maybe a moment where you were so caught up in worship or prayer that all the cares and concerns of this world seemed non-existent?   It occurs to me that we see something like that happening in the gospel reading for today.

Jesus has sent the disciples away in a boat so that he can have some time to pray.  The passage starts with an urgency, “Immediately”.  If we look back at what has happened just before this we learn that Jesus has heard about the death of John the Baptist and before he can respond to what he has heard, a crowd has surrounded him and they are hungry.  So Jesus encourages the disciples to feed the crowd of 5000 people.    You may remember that this involves a miracle – Jesus takes 5 small loaves and two fish and multiplies that food to satisfy the whole crowd.   Not only does Jesus feed the whole crowd but the disciples gather up an extra twelve baskets full.  There is a message here about generosity and God’s lavish approach of providing not just enough but much more than enough.

But now, Jesus has made the disciples get into the boat while he dismissed the crowds so that he could go aside to pray.   Why does he do this?  I don’t think it is that hard to imagine that Jesus must need time alone after all the healing and ministering that he has done.  Nor is it hard to recognize that he has heard the disturbing news about John the Baptist and now needs to spend time with God determining what the next steps are.   Perhaps he reads the signs of the times and the violence towards John as the approach of what must surely be coming his direction.

It occurred to me this week that something else may be happening as well.  If any of you are parents or caregivers you will know that as you are teaching small children there is a time when you need to offer them the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned.  Perhaps Jesus is doing something similar with the disciples.  They have been with him while he fed the crowds, while he healed the sick and did many other great miracles.  Jesus releases the disciples to go for a while on their own.  He gives them space to practice their faith.

After quite some time, we read that “the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.”   Interestingly, we do not hear how the disciples are faring at this point.

But early in the morning, Jesus appears, walking toward them on the water.  And now we hear that the disciples are terrified.   Specifically, when they saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified.  They do not recognize that it is Jesus.  They think it is a ghost.  And they cry out in fear.

Jesus responds to their fear by encouraging them to “Take heart” or “Do not be Afraid”.   These are the words that we hear throughout scripture.  The angel says them to Mary at the Anunciation.   The Angels say them after the resurrection.   Jesus recognizes that this is a fearful situation.  His appearing to them, walking on the water, is miraculous and they are struggling to comprehend it.

You might say, why are they afraid of Jesus?  I remember as a kid, my parents had a book that was a collection of various pictures of Christ.  I used to love to go through it and see the many artist’s depictions of Jesus.  But there was this one picture that terrified me.  In fact, I would try hard to skip over it.  Jesus seemed to glow and his eyes were so intense.  It was scary – a ghostlike rendering of Jesus.  It was not how I imagined him to be.  The disciples are terrified because they have not seen Jesus like this before.  They left him safely on the shore and now here he is right in the midst of the chaotic and roaring sea.

Jesus assures them by saying, “It is I or I am”.  Remember waking up from a bad dream or nightmare and being reassured by your parent – it’s ok.  I am here.  Jesus is reassuring the disciples.  I am not just a figment of this terrifying storm.  I am here.

And Peter has this moment of pure faith.   Something about seeing Jesus walking on the water, prompts him to suggest that he too might experience this amazing feat.  So he says, Lord, if it is you, ask me to come to you.    And Jesus does just that.  Jesus says, Come.  And Peter takes a step out of the boat.  Peter steps out of the realm of impossibilities = he defies natural laws and begins to move toward Christ.

As soon as he looks around – he is reminded of the wind and the waves.  He is reminded of his own frailty and his human nature and he begins to sink.  I think we can relate to Peter.  We come to church and we hear the word of God or we spend time praying and we are lifted by the presence of God.  We spend time in worship and we are transported by praise and we have a moment of pure faith.   We see God and we recognize that he can do the impossible and in that moment we say, “If this is really you, ask me to come to you”  and we take the step.

But once we are out of the boat, we are reminded of the rough sea and the wind.  We have a hard time focussing on Jesus.  We forget that he is right there with us and we begin to sink.

The good news for Peter is that Jesus was right there and was able to reach out and catch Peter.  And that is the good news for us too.  When we look around and we see the rough sea and the waves and we forget for a moment that we are not doing this alone, Jesus is right there.  Jesus is ready to catch us.  He says to us, “Do not be afraid, It is I.”

Jesus guides Peter back to the boat and in the boat with Jesus the wind stops and there is peace.

Christ guides us back to the safe place and restores peace for us too.

May God give us strength this week as we navigate the rough sea of this world.  May we keep our eyes on Jesus as we are battered about by the waves of chaos and evil that we hear so much about.  May he reach out and catch us if we momentarily forget that we are walking with him.  May he bring us back into the boat and restore his peace.  Amen.

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A transplanted Canadian living in sunny Florida. An Episcopal priest, wife, mother, dog lover, story teller and avid movie watcher.

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