Wishing for Miracles
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
After all that has gone on in 2020, aren’t we all wishing for a miracle or three? I bet a lot of us wish we could “walk on water” right out of this year and into, say, 2033? Beam me up, Scotty! But the Bible stories of miracles don’t seem to help us today. Really? Walk on water? Only if it takes us somewhere there isn’t any Coronavirus, right?
Well, our story this morning picks up after one miracle – the feeding of the 5000 - and jumps into another miracle – or maybe two. First, we have Jesus walking on water to the disciples, then we have Peter walking on the water toward Jesus.
I know many of us either skeptical of miracles or downright disbelieving. I would guess all of us are wishing the Coronavirus would miraculously disappear. Many people simply dismiss the miracles in the Bible. The story is told that Thomas Jefferson took scissors to the Bible and clipped out everything that he felt was “supernatural” so that the only thing left was a “rational” Scripture.
Just before the Scripture we read this morning, Jesus fed the 5000, everyone has had a toothpick and gone home, it’s just Jesus and the disciples. He sends them on ahead. We might assume he was still trying to get that quiet time he went out into the wilderness to have before the 5000-plus people showed up hungry. The disciples get in their boat and head across the water. A storm comes on and they aren’t making much headway. Notice the Gospel does not say they were frightened by the storm. These were experienced fishermen. They had been out in a squall before. Then Jesus shows up and they think he is a ghost and they cry out with fear. Jesus says to them, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Now, cut from the scene for a moment so I can say this: remember when we were in the Gospel of John and I told you that Jesus often used the phrase “I am.” He said, “I am the gate,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the bread of life.” I reminded you that in Greek the words “I am” are “ego eimi.” This is the same way the Greek would translate the words from Hebrew that God uses to identify himself in conversation with Moses. Moses asks God, who shall I tell Pharoah sent me? God says tell him “I am.” We translate that word “Yahweh,” but it is the same word. So, I think in part, what we have here is Matthew reminding us that when we are fearful – of circumstances, of difficulties, illness, economic stress, relationship challenges – God speaks the same word to us. “Take heart, I am God, do not be afraid.”
So back to our story. Peter hears Jesus say this and he says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Wait! Cut from the scene again. I don’t know what you are thinking, but I am thinking – “on the water? On the water?” Peter might as well have said, “Command me to fly to you on a broom!” Had I been in Peter’s shoes I would have at least thought, if not said, “First off, I know I can’t walk on water and secondly – have you looked at the weather? I am not putting one foot out of that boat. Not now, not ever!” Jesus can command all he wants, I don’t think I have the faith to get out of that boat. Not one leg, not one foot, not one toe.
But, back to the story. Peter does get out of the boat and gets about halfway to Jesus when he starts to sink. He calls out, “Lord, save me,” and Jesus “immediately reached out his hand and caught him.” Then he says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Cut from the story. Now, I don’t want to overanalyze this but there are a whole lot of issues here that don’t have a thing to do with the water. Most of them revolve around that “little faith” comment Jesus makes. If you ask me, I think it took a WHOLE LOT of faith to ask Jesus to command him to get out of the boat. I think it took – if you will forgive the expression – a BOATload of faith to get out of the boat. How can Jesus say, “you of little faith?” If I were in Peter’s sandals I doubt I would not have had faith enough to do any of that.
How about you? Would you have put even one foot out of that boat? When it comes down to it – at some point in life - we are all going to find ourselves in the same boat that Peter and the disciples were in, if we haven’t already. There we are heading across the sea of life and the storm comes. We can battle all we want and make no headway. We can wonder if we will ever make the far shore, our destination. How would you react if suddenly the living Christ himself suddenly appeared heading your way? Would you cry out with fear? Would you ask him to command you to get out of the boat and come to him? Would you be willing to put even one foot out of that boat? What do you do when the storm comes and your boat is at sea?
It is certainly not an utterly equivalent story, but a few years back, we put Caroline on a plane to Long Island, New York to go to orientation to begin college studies at Hofstra University. She flew alone and she was flying into a different airport than when she and I flew up there together back in the spring. We had talked with the admission people at least twice before to confirm that she was coming in on Monday, a day early, in order to be there on time for things when they started Tuesday morning, so we assumed someone would be there on campus to meet her. She arrived at JFK airport and successfully hailed a taxi to take her out there. One of the things we learned from this experience was that is not the way to go. There is a shuttle and a train, the LIE, and then a bus to the college. Also, it saves you from dealing with creepy cab drivers who want to know how many boyfriends she had!
Well, anyway, she arrived on the campus probably somewhere around six o’clock and since everything closes as five o’clock there is no one around. The offices are locked up and, did I mention, there is NO one around. Well, she calls us and I can imagine the panic I would have felt if I were her, can’t you? So, I am thinking, if nothing else, we’ll get another cab and get her to hotel for the night. But, you never know when a miracle comes to you across the water. Tammy, overhearing our phone conversation says, wait a minute. She gets on her phone and calls a fellow teacher whose parents live just about fifteen minutes from the campus of Hofstra University. Turns out her teacher friend, Karen, is right there on Long Island. Tammy tells her the situation and before she even finishes Karen says she will get in her car and be there on campus in fifteen minutes. I stayed on the phone with Caroline until she got there. Karen took Caroline to her parents’ home, fed her and put her up for the night. And, oh, by the way, turns out Karen’s dad is on the Board of Trustees of Hofstra University! To me, Karen was the miracle. To me Karen got out of the boat. She didn’t know Caroline. It was late. She was probably tired and yet, and yet, she got out of the boat. So you tell me – was the miracle Jesus walking across the water or Peter getting out of the boat. I might be the type to even thrown a leg over the gunwale of that boat. Karen didn’t stop. The storm, the dark, the place, the time didn’t stop her.
What’s the bottom line here? After all, we are a bottom line people aren’t we? We want simple answers to the most difficult questions. What’s the point of this story? That Jesus can walk on water? That Peter can, but only for a few steps? The people who first heard this story believed in miracles and miracle workers apparently because there were lots of stories of miracle workers. And it is odd that they told this story about Peter when he was the “Rock,” the one who the church was “built on,” supposedly. Doesn’t show him in the best of light. Certainly the Gospels don’t show him as infallible as the Church later claimed he was as the “first Pope.”
So, truth is, I don’t know. Don’t we all wish there was a miracle cure for the Corona virus? But I wonder if it would really matter. Because there will be some other storm. There will be some other virus, some other crisis, some other disaster, conflict, war, disease or problem. Why doesn’t God just make everything perfect? Of course, my definition of perfect might be very different from some of yours wouldn’t it? Might that not be a problem? The miracle I want might totally clash with yours.
In the meantime perhaps this story reminds us God is still God, and the God who came to us in Jesus still comes to us across the stormy seas.
When this Savior commands us to get out of the boat, will we? Bottom line good news? Jesus still saved Peter, in spite of his “little faith.” I pray we will all have at least enough faith to step out of the boat when Jesus calls. But in the meantime, will we have faith that God is still God, the great “I AM?” AMEN.