We are always learning to trust God.
There is always something new to test and challenge our faith in him every day.
This year we are learning to trust God, individually and together as church, in ways we never anticipated. The truth is we are not “all in this together” in the same way during 2020. Some have been hit harder with what they’re experiencing and feeling, others are being more severely tested in different ways.
Lutheran Community Care tells me that they are seeing more people – students, professionals and people from all walks of life – looking for basic assistance, such as food relief. I heard this week that in one of our Lutheran schools alone 25% of families have indicated financial hardship. More pastors than normal are currently on leave for stress or mental exhaustion, and most express a depletion of mental energy. Some have indicated they are in a very dark place.
At some point we all come to the end of our inner resources. Who hasn’t called out to God at some time “Lord save me!” when we fear going under, as we are swamped by demands, sucked under by self-doubt, overwhelmed by unmeetable expectations, afraid we won’t be able to get through whatever “it” is.
In Matthew 14:22-33, twelve disciples of Jesus are rowing hard into the night against the wind. They don’t know if they are going to make it to the other side in the darkness. Jesus comes to them on the water. They may have lost sight of him, but he hadn’t lost sight of them. In fact, he had been praying for them on a hillside overlooking the lake where they were struggling to stay afloat. As he comes to them, the disciples think he is a ghost – they, like us, question whether there is anything or anyone real to hang on to in the darkness.
Jesus says: “It is I; don’t be afraid.”
Fear is the dangerous undertow, the rip that threatens to drag us away from God. Fear threatens to engulf the disciples in their boat. Fear is what paralyses Peter, and makes us feel like all we are doing is treading water before we drown. Fear makes us tired, wears down our faith and creates doubts about God.
To the disciples’ fear, and to our own, Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The phrase “It is I” is actually “I AM”, the sacred name of God in the Old Testament – the God who made order out of the chaotic watery mess that covered everything at creation, who opened up a path for the Israelites through the Red Sea, who rescued Jonah when he was thrown overboard, and the God who has pulled you through the waters of your baptism and saved and rescued you for all eternity.
Peter grew in confidence at the sound of Jesus’ voice. Peter says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Now I would have said “If it is you Lord, come here and get in the boat with us!” or “If you really are out there stop the storm”. But Peter doesn’t just ask Jesus to do something for him to fix everything, Peter asks Jesus to tell him to come out on the water and walk to him through the wind and the waves!
So Jesus takes Peter at his faith and invites him to step out on to the water, to walk on top of and through the chaotic sea to him. Sometimes Jesus calls us to come to him in situations where we have nothing but his promise and invitation to stand on. Faith is never mere bravado, it is walking towards Jesus, listening to his call to come to him through anything life throws at us, daring to believe we will not go under.
Peter only goes under when he stops focussing on Jesus. Now normally Peter could talk under water, but this time he has to. “Lord save me” he blubbers. And Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs Peter, keeping him from going under.
When they reach the boat where they were literally “all in it together” they worshipped Jesus, recognising him as Lord and God of the waves, and of their lives.
“Lord save me! Lord have mercy!”
On a recent trip to Mt Gambier the service began with these very words. We come to Jesus, together in the same boat in worship, saying “Lord save us” – for ourselves, for those we know and love who are hurting, for the church, and for a suffering world.
We look to Jesus to help us, when what needs to be done is overwhelming or simply beyond us. We put our hand in his outstretched one and we trust him, with our own life and death, and with his world. We dare to believe he can handle what we can’t, provide what we need, and give us the strength we don’t have to walk on, and walk through whatever it is we face.
If you are going under right now personally, or fear for the future of your church, Jesus comes to you in this story and these words. He reaches through them to grab hold of you so you don’t go under, but stand, and even walk on and through whatever threatens to sink you – walking towards him. One day we all have to go under – 6 feet under when we die but even then faith walks through valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil for the Lord is there too with us, his hand reaches into the grave and will one day pull us out – that’s his promise, the word on which our faith is based, and by which we live, and live through anything.
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