Monday, August 11, 2014

Jesus Sustains Even When Your Faith Fails

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way [2] from the land, [3] beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
 28 And 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 and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, [4] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33 (ESV)
“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
The story is one of the more beloved stories of the New Testament, Peter trying to listen to Jesus and walk on water. His fear getting the best of him. And Jesus saving him when his own faith fails. We can see ourselves in the picture. Our own life of faith is so often like that, it often fails us. We find that we aren’t at all successful in what we have set out to do. We try to walk on the water. To walk in the ways of Jesus. To love our neighbors as ourselves. To be patient and calm, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  We have the best of intentions, but as the head wind blows and the waves crash around us, we find our own faith fails us, but Jesus never does.
The disciples, imagine what they are going through. It’s been an exhausting past few days. Also for Jesus. They have received news of John the Baptist their beloved friend being beheaded, and as Herod begins to think that Jesus is his reincarnation they head for the hills. They want to go out into the wilderness and enjoy some rest, stay out of the lime light for a bit. Instead they are met by crowds of people wanting to be healed, wanting to hear Jesus preach good news to the poor. They want to be comforted in their sorrow. So the disciples, all their fears piqued, find themselves feeding five thousand men, and all their women and children. Jesus ends the episode in prayer, sending the disciples ahead. He disperses the crowd and spends the night praying.
I don’t know about you, I’ve spent a few nights in prayer. They usually mark the climaxes of what are called the dark nights of the soul. Nights filled with anxiety and distress, wrestling with God as he conforms your will to his despite all protest. It was such a night for Jesus as he contemplates not only the death of John the Baptist, but what this means for his own life as a prophet and the cross he must bear, and even the lives of his disciples and friends and what he has gotten them into. But then prayer is the best way to handle those sleepless nights. The disciples take note as they get in the boat. All night fighting the head wind, all night being tossed to and fro by the winds and waves. And there in the predawn dark they see a man walking on the waves. And they are scared. Then they hear the voice of Jesus. Peter wants to walk but his faith fails him, and he doesn’t manage to accomplish what he wanted, but the Lord lifts him up and leaves his fear and despair to drown in the waters, calms the storm and brings him to the other side. It wasn’t Peter’s faith or lack thereof that made him a disciple or kept him in the faith but the hand of Christ.
And so it is that despite our best intentions we often find ourselves like Peter. Exhausted from life, worn out from all that happens around us. We watch our friends die, our parents, our children. Helpless in the boat we try to row as the waves crash against us. We try to walk on the water, to walk by our faith and hold ourselves up and strong. And then we find ourselves sinking in despair as we realize that we haven’t been able to pull it off. Tired and exhausted we can barely come up with the energy to feed ourselves, much less a stranger we don’t know. Exhausted with mounting pressures at work and home where we find ourselves criticizing colleagues rather than helping, we lash out at the bum saying, get a job. The waves have us. Despair and fear grab hold around our ankles as we begin to sink under. We wonder how it is we could ever dare call ourselves Christian again. We’ve failed so badly.  Then we realize only Jesus can save us. And then there he is, his hand gripping us and pulling us up and out of the waters of baptism where our old Adam is drowned in daily repentance. Hefting us into the boat and calming the storm, having compassion on our souls and feeding our faith with forgiveness in his body and blood given for us on the cross that we might have rest.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

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