Some of the most fun I’ve ever had was to drive to the end of Centennial towing a small sailboat, and parking at the launching area on Oak Hollow Lake. I would put my boat in the water and go sailing away in a gentle breeze. I’ve found nothing else as relaxing. But I have a collective memory – that is, I collect, or gather up all the times I went out, and no one particular outing is more memorable than most of the other times.
Well, maybe there was one time that I remember vividly. The instructor told the class that to earn a required sailing permit, we did not have to prove we knew starboard from portside, or knew how to roll up a sail and secure it to the mast with a loop every two feet. No, we had to prove that we could turn the boat over in deep water, get thrown out, turn the boat right side up, crawl back in, and sail to the pier. That was our graduation exercise.
My youngest daughter, then about 16, was a good swimmer and we had the required life jackets. That exactly what we did. We turned the boat over, falling out as it went. After seeing that my daughter was safe, and that we could turn the boat right-side up, I wondered how deep the water must be right there. I supposed it must be 50-60 feet or more. I’ve never forgotten that particular incident. After all, there was an element of danger. Obviously, we survived.
We can imagine that Jesus was often in Peter’s boat, and there’s no record in scripture of how many times they had an uneventful turn across the Sea of Galilee with smooth sailing. So there has to be a reason, that when Matthew was picking which of the many stories about Jesus, he included this one. We already know that the story was preserved by word of mouth for two or three generations of early Christians before Matthew compiled and wrote down his narrative of the man Jesus.
While the story contains a miraculous quieting of wind and wave, the real point of the tale is not that it shows the love and power of God over nature, but rather, the love and power of God for people who are often caught in the grip of one storm after another.
You see immediately there’s a lot more here than wind and water and Jesus’ mastery over the elements. Matthew has already illustrated the power of Jesus over nature in the miracle of feeding the five thousand with a small lunch of five loaves and two fish.
Now he is showing the disciples and us that Jesus is more than a wonder-worker, a magician. Jesus is ready to still the storms of life. And I’ve lived long enough to know that for most people, the accumulation of sins over the years would make an unbearable burden unless some relief is found.
Especially the Prayer of the Day makes a significant mention of life-storms. We remind God of what weighs heavily upon us. “Storms rage around us and within us. We are afraid. Deliver us from fear. Preserve us in the faith.” Are not these concepts familiar to each one of us? We’re not pulling on life jackets for an exercise in water safety on Oak Hollow Lake. We are trying to keep faith in difficult times.
This is deadly serious business and only the presence of Jesus our Savior can bring us through the storms of life that threaten to undo us. From the cradle to the grave we all suffer hurts, wounds, injustices of all kinds. Some of our troubles may be earned by our own bad decisions. Troubles that we bring on ourselves are the worst sort.
I grew up confessing every Sunday that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
“We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we do and by what we have left undone.
“We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
Did some of you recite these or similar words every Sunday? Would you be willing to hold up a hand if you had to visit the priest or grew up confessing every Sunday that you were sinful and unclean?
I’ve heard that lawyers for the defense do not want Lutherans on the jury because Lutherans are literally hung up on guilt and we’re mostly ready to say before any evidence is heard that he or she is guilty as charged. After all …
But did Jesus call for confession of sins before he stilled the storm?
The second picture of God set forth in story form is that God is a God of mercy. Jesus held out his hand to Peter. He is ready to help, ready to take on whatever is our condition, our need, and our pains.
In the church where I grew up, there was a large, tall and wide, stained glass window of Jesus the good shepherd. He was carrying a lamb and leading a flock. That picture of a merciful God is the opposite of how God was portrayed in Luther’s time.
Then, with the pope and the congregation in Rome leading the way, the teaching of the church was that you could buy a paper that said you were assured of your forgiveness.
Does that sound like the God who made the world in order to have people who would love him? God sent his son who was born as a spiritual necessity of a virgin, that is, without the necessity of any human action.
Born, like the Christmas carol says, “Born that we no more may die, Born to raise each child of earth, Born to give us second birth.”
How often do we repeat Peter’s optimism that we can indeed walk on water, but instead we become frightened, fearful that we will fail, that God will take away our faith, fearful that the storms of life will bring us to ruin.
After all, any day’s news is most likely filled with stories of death and destruction. Boston marathon? Florida nightclub? Charlottesville, Virginia?
No wonder we are afraid for our safety on the highway, afraid for our safety in a crowd, afraid for safety in a relationship?
If we are in a good place, will it last? If we are in a negative situation, will it go on forever? Will we ever find life without danger, without fear?
When Peter’s excursion on the water was cut short by his own lack of faith, Jesus had great compassion on him, enough to take him by the hand and gently with great feeling, asked, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”
We all have life experiences which we cannot handle without faith in the God of love.
And when he speaks with love, forgiveness, and forbearance, we also will live in worship of God, and we will say of Jesus with great faith and confidence, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Lord have mercy upon us all.