“Walk in the Storm”
Sermon Series: “If You Want to Walk On Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat”
Rev. Todd Buegler
Trinity Lutheran Church
February 25, 2015
Wednesday Evening Lenten Service
Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus Christ, who stands in the storm. Amen.
“Walking on Water” is not about “doing more.” It is about “relying more.” Let me say that one more time: “Walking on Water” is not about “doing more.” It is about “relying more.”
Much of our attention in this powerful Gospel story is rightfully drawn to Peter, and the great faith he has in his willingness to step out of the boat and into the water. This is, no doubt, a critical theme in our story. And for these six weeks, we are all about stepping out of the boat.
But I think we might also forget another important aspect of this story that sometimes we gloss over: Where Peter was going to walk.
Remember that danger and fear permeate our story. By late in the evening, our disciple’s boat was battered by waves. The Greek word for battered literally means torture, torment or harass; figuratively it means severe distress. And the scripture says that the disciples were facing an “adverse wind” meaning that the wind was against them. You put the harassing waves, and the adverse wind together…and this little boat was in serious jeopardy.
A first-century audience would have understood the utter terror of waters unleashed on this little boat.
We may not live near the Sea of Galilee, but we do understand the awesome and dangerous power of water. I have friends who live in the Red River Valley who have lost their home to flooding…I have seen with my own eyes the immediate aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina…I was in St. Peter the day after the tornado hit there…We know how dangerous the combination of water and wind can be. While the Sea of Galilee is no ocean, it is known for how quickly dangerous winds and storms can arise.
After a night-long battle for their lives, the disciples were understandably afraid. When they saw Jesus walking toward them, they were terrified, did not recognize him, and cried out in fear. Jesus identifies himself and addresses their fear with the words, “Don’t be afraid, it is I!”
Peter takes Jesus at his word and steps out of the boat to walk on the water toward Jesus. He discovers quickly that Jesus’ words of assurance did not mean the dangerous wind and waves would stop. He was frightened for his life once again, for good reason, as he began to sink into the turbulent sea.=
We tend to think of Peter as a risk-taker, like he’s some kind of extreme sport enthusiast and bungee jumper-type from Biblical times. We equate this story with Peter’s strong faith and willingness to step out. We focus on what Peter did. And certainly there is some truth to this.
But there is another theme here, that I think actually might be even more important for us to recognize: What does it mean, as people of faith, to rely on God?
When Peter spoke to Jesus from the relative safety of the boat, he said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Two quick observations about this statement: First, Peter asked Jesus to command him. He didn’t say “Hey Jesus, hang on! I’ll be right out!” He realized that the only way that he could walk on water is if it was by the command…by the wish of Jesus. So he asked Jesus for that word; that command.
Second, Peter didn’t ask “Hey, can I come out and walk around? Can I try?” He said “Let me come out to you.” There was a purpose…a destination. Peter wasn’t asking to just walk on the water for the sake of walking on the water…Peter was asking to walk to Jesus; he was asking to be close to Jesus.
Peter apparently believed that he would be safer standing out on the water, in the storm with Jesus, than he would be staying in the boat.
So, when Peter stepped out of the boat, he was going somewhere. He wanted to be with Jesus. He was heading to safety.
In our lives, when faced with trouble, our typical response is to avoid it. We bury our problems…we avoid conflict…we hunker down…we seek shelter from the storms.
But our Gospel story asks us to remember where Jesus is; he is right in the middle of the storm
15 years ago, I journeyed with a friend, also a Lutheran pastor, through their treatment for bone cancer. It was a difficult journey. It was a fierce storm. One day he told me that he had been at Methodist Hospital for his regular chemo treatment when a woman he didn’t recognize walked into the room, smiled to him and without a word walked over to the box that contained the IV bags with the chemo medicine in them.
In an effort to make small talk, he asked her her name and what she was doing. She turned, smiled again and identified herself as a catholic nun. She said that every day, she came to the infusion unit at the hospital to pray over, and to anoint with oil, all the bags of chemo that would be given to all the patients that day. Then she smiled, turned around and went back to praying. My friend was stunned. He told me that there, in the middle of that space, in the middle of that storm, he found and experienced Jesus…then he corrected himself. “Actually, I think Jesus found me.”
And I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid, it is I.”
The story of Peter stepping out of the boat is less about what Peter did (though it was impressive!) and is much more about who Peter relied on. Peter stepped out of the boat confident that Jesus would be there, and that Jesus would take care of him. In fact, Peter only begins to sink when he looks away from Jesus…when, just for a moment, he doubted and wondered if he needed to rely on himself. But then Jesus rescued him.
It is in this season of Lent that we are reminded that we cannot do it alone. That the storms that we face daily: the little ones and those that seem overwhelming can feel like they will beat us down. The waves can be fierce, and the wind is against us. And it is within the midst of these storms when we look out and we see Jesus. And we can trust. And we can step out of our boats, step into the storm and face those things that cause us the greatest fear. And we can do this because we know that we are not alone…and that Jesus is with us.
This Lent, I encourage you to step out of the boat with the faith of Peter, not just for the sake of taking a walk, but to be with, to trust and rely fully on Jesus.