9th Sunday after Pentecost
29 July 2012
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. You prefer to think of happy times in a sail boat, a fun water taxi on the Chicago River, or a peaceful fishing boat on a small lake. Maybe even smaller waters, such as the British pool in which Ryan Lochte has earned his gold medal. But it can be dark, and deep, and deadly. And so it is that you try to forget about the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Titanic, or the all-but-forgotten Amalia, which carried dozens of Lutherans on their way to America in 1838.
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 lashes out against Olympic gymnasts in discouragement, when they fall from the high bar, or Olympic swimmers when they get fourth in the 400 meter. It blows against you as needed repairs to church facilities pop up. It hurls it's forces against you in budget shortfalls. It gusts against you as illness or lack of strength.
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.
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. This is not Caspar the friendly ghost, or some "grim, grinning ghost, come out to socialize" at Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion. They fear it is an evil, demonic spirit who would harm them.
You are full of fear too. You fear crime. You fear psychotic grad students, breaking into movie theaters and unleashing evil. 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 such evil spirits 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.
It is interesting that from the earliest days of the Church, it has been understood that St. Mark records Peter's preaching. Peter omits this embarrassing detail of the episode, when Jesus calls him to join the Savior on the waves.
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.