7 August 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The sea. It is not always the image of peace and tranquility. It can be dark, and deep, and deadly. Perhaps that is why the ancient world had many cultures that recognized this, and even had witnessed demonic activity, and merged it all into a false god of the sea.
The wind. Not the Hebrew "ruach" or Greek "pneuma" -- words that are associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. This is a different word for wind. One that can be associated with the prince of this world and the so-called "kingdom of the air" -- Satan and all his demonic forces. "The wind was against them." Indeed, the devil and all his evil minions could not stand that these men had just witnessed and received from the Lord in this amazing miracle. All hell was breaking loose to terrify these disciples, so they might consider abandoning Jesus, or maybe, if the demons were lucky, the men would drown and that would harm Jesus' mission.
The wind works against you here and now. It blows against you as a broken elevator. It hurls it's forces against you in budget shortfalls. It lashes out against you in discouragement that you perceive we are unknown in the neighborhood.
And all too often you let it win. You get discouraged from hardships and throw your hands in the air, saying, "Why is life so unfair?!" You feel beaten down. You accept the deceit as truth and let the devil make you feel defeated.
When you submit to being overwhelmed by these frustrations, you dive into the depths of unbelief. "O you of little faith!" Jesus isn't being cute here. He is serious. He is full of gut-wrenching compassion as He rebukes the unbelief. He knows that it can be deadly to your faith and condemns the short-sightedness that fears He is not able to overcome the devil and the world.
The disciples are in this boat, while Jesus goes upon the mountain to pray, just like He was planning before He fed the thousands. They are out there, and the sea gets rougher, the wind gets stronger, and they are full of fear. They are giving in to the thoughts of the evil overcoming them. Scared to death, they are fearing all kinds of evil when they see the form walking toward them.
It looks like a man walking upon the water. "It is a ghost!" they cry. And not some cute, harmless ghost like a cartoon. They fear it is a phantasm, an evil, demonic spirit who would harm them.
You are full of fear too. You fear crime. You fear financial troubles or job loss. You fear trouble in your family or having no friends. You fear for your health. Whatever it is that you fear, it comes from a lack of trust that the Lord will provide and protect you. It becomes a lack of faith.
But then they see Him. The disciples in the boat, with the wind driving against them, see a figure coming toward them on the sea. It is Jesus! Jesus, walking upon the sea!
Doing this, Jesus is clearly demonstrating that He is far more powerful than any so-called "god" of the sea. He was crushing that idol underfoot as He tread the waves.
Our Lord treads the waves of the devil's discouragements, distractions, and deceit. He is triumphant, and when He speaks "Fear not!" it is not a wish or prayer, it makes it happen! As Jesus says these words, He speaks courage into the disciples. He causes the devil to tremble.
"Fear not. It is I." Only He doesn't say, "It is I." He actually says, "I AM!" there it is again. The holy and personal name of the Lord God. I AM. There He is, I AM, stomping down the false god of the sea and treading through the devilish wind. The Lord Himself is defeating these enemies.
Peter says, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." Not simply, "If it really is you, Jesus," but "if it really is You, the Lord God, I AM, Creator and God of Israel." Jesus is not simply showing He has power and can do great miracles; this event gives witness that He is indeed God!
The Lord God tramples upon Satan for you, too. He has trampled upon him with absolute completion at the cross. There on that cross, Christ walked straight into hell and accomplished your salvation. He marched in, rescued you, who were rightfully His, and delivered you from those enemies of sin, death, and hell.
As He burst from His now-empty tomb, Christ crushed the head of the serpent He was stepping on, and kicked death out of your lives. As He leads you through the valley of the shadow of death, He keeps walking, with the sea of death underfoot, and He pulls you out to life everlasting.
Thanks be to God, our dear Lord Jesus is the Lord "I AM" in the flesh. He has rescued you as He walked upon this earth to His cross and tomb. And now He delivers that rescue to you, as He walks upon the waters of baptism, the words of His preaching, and the bread and wine that feed His Body and Blood to you. Amen.
[Thanks to Rev. Jonathan Fisk for stirring memories of great points from this text!]