August 9, 2020
Who among you has not tried bargaining with God? Or getting God to prove God’s true divinity? My guess is that at one point or another we have all done one or the other.
We do not have to look too far in our own Lutheran tradition to have a solid example of this. And, if actions did not play out the way they did, we may not be here today in a Lutheran church. If you recall, Martin Luther’s intention was to become a lawyer. This was the desire of his father, Hans. However, one night when on his way home, he was caught in a strong violent storm and was nearly struck by lightning. He prayed to St. Anne (Mary’s mother) to save him from the storm and if she did, he would turn his life over to the church. Luther did see the light of day following this and left his law studies and entered the monastery.
Did God truly look over Martin Luther that dark and stormy night to bring him to safety? I believe that in that moment he was scared, and he cried for help. Much like Peter in our gospel lesson this morning as he takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to plunge into the water. There was also something much greater in his heart though, that God within us, that knew a calling to the church was the right thing. It was not just a whim that he tossed it out there, he had to have been thinking about it for some time.
As I mentioned last week, much of Jesus’ teaching takes place near or on the Sea of Galilee. Compared to Lake St. Clair, the Sea of Galilee is not very big. In reality, you could fit four Sea of Galilees in Lake St. Clair. It has roughly 33 miles of shoreline, which Jesus and the disciples could easily walk around in a couple of days or easily take a boat from one point to another. When I was there earlier this year, we went from Tiberius to near Tabgha in less than an hour after stopping for a fishing demonstration on the sea.
Though it may be small, it can still have decent waves as heavy winds roll through like the disciples were experiencing. Yet, Jesus brought a stillness to the sea and to the hearts of the disciples once they realized it was him. It is in the stillness that the disciples came to realize it truly was Jesus that was coming to them. As he joins them in the boat, the winds cease.
The wind plays a role in our lesson from the Old Testament this morning as well. Elijah encounters God on the top of Mount Horeb. It was after the wind, earthquake, and fire that Elijah was able to encounter God. It was in the sound of sheer silence that Elijah came to know God and it was in Jesus silencing the seas that all became still and the disciples knew fully that Jesus was with them in the boat to carry them safely the rest of the way.
It is when we fall into the thinking that we must barter with God or challenge God that we become separated. Peter was separated from God as he took his eyes off Jesus and was easily distracted by the wind. It does not take much to throw us off, but when we are, it can be hard to steer the course. Peter knew all he had to do was call Jesus, “Take my hand!”
Peter needed to seem for himself that Jesus was truly there, and his faith grew as he stepped out of the boat onto the sea. He doubted just like we do, yet he knew who to call out to. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Peter had to leave the ship and risk his life on the sea, in order to learn both his own weakness and the almighty power of his Lord. If Peter had not taken the risk, he would never have learned the meaning of faith… The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. Unless a definitive step is demanded, the call vanishes in thin air, and if [people] imagine that they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics.”
From Peter to Martin Luther, we encounter faithful people that had to find out for themselves what it meant to risk and fully put your faith in Jesus. Jesus wants to hear our cries for help. He is there to hold out his hand and help keep our head above the water. What are you going to bring to Jesus today?