Romans, Chapter 10, verse 5 to 15.
St Matthew, Chapter 14, verse 22 to 33.
Rev Tom Mumford
May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A storm, like the one in our reading from Matthew’s gospel, would not have been (and is not) unusual on the Lake of Galilee. The lake is surrounded by steep-sided hills making it particularly vulnerable to the winds. The storms on this lake can be violent, and indeed, as it says in Matthew’s account, the winds and waves battered the boat. As in other storm narratives in the gospels, the disciples here are terrified. And I don’t blame them. This is a big lake, also known as a sea. It is deep, this is a storm, and they’re in a first century fishing boat: hardly the HMS Victory. But here, they’re also terrified for another reason: something is approaching them on the water.
Out of the wind and the rain, out of the wild and whipping waves, out of the darkness, Jesus speaks to them: ‘Take heart,’ he says, ‘it is I; do not be afraid.’
Now, having just witnessed the feeding of the five thousand, the story we heard last Sunday, you could well imagine that the disciples might be a bit overwhelmed by all this ‘miracle stuff’ You can imagine their thoughts: “First he does that thing with the bread and fish, and now this: walking on blooming water?! What have we got ourselves into? Can we at least have a moment to process this?!” But not our Peter. Ever impetuous, he asks Jesus to prove its him, and to let him walk on the water too. ‘Come’ Jesus responds. But no sooner had Peter begun to walk on the water, when he realises that, actually, this isn’t a great idea, it’s pretty scary with these winds so strong – I don’t want to do it anymore.
He reminds me of when I was a child, faced with a big climbing frame. I was confident until I got on it, but when I got a bit higher, it was all too much, and I needed my dad to save me. ‘You of little faith,’ Jesus asks, ‘why did you doubt?’ Then they get into the boat, and the winds stop. At this point, as if the disciples needed any more convincing, they are said to have prostrated themselves in front of him to worship. Now they really believed that Jesus was who he said he was. They knew he was of God.
There’s a story about a wise spiritual teacher who was once asked whether they believed that the miracles of Jesus, recorded in the New Testament were true, whether they really happened. ‘Whether they really happened?’ Questioned the teacher, ‘Oh, the truth is much more important than that’ And it’s for these important truths that we must always seek in scripture. We must read the words on the page, yes, but we must also read the love between the lines, as it were. And when we do so here, what we see in this story, is not just a miracle of God, but a parable, a truth, about who Jesus is, and what that means for us.
We can see this more clearly when we take a wider look at the biblical tradition. Here, violent seas usually point to those chaotic powers that can engulf us and our lives: those of worry, of stress…but in scripture, it is always God that has the last word. It is always clear that God has won the victory. Here’s just one example from Psalm 107: ‘they cried out to the Lord in trouble, and he brought them out of their distress and made the storm still’ It is God that calms the storms, it is God that brings the peace. And this, I think, is what Matthew is telling us here: God is here, God is with us – that is who Jesus Christ is.
And it’s what Jesus says that really strikes me in this story: his words to the disciples and to Peter. Firstly as he approaches his terrified friends: ‘it is I, do not be afraid’ And then, as Peter calls out in fear of his life, ‘Lord save me!’, Jesus takes his hand and says ‘why did you doubt?’ It’s here I think Jesus gets right to the heart of it all: ‘Don’t be afraid’ Jesus says, think of the big picture. No matter what happens, I am still here. I will always be with you. There’s no need to doubt. What I am is always true.
And so God in Jesus doesn’t just speak into the winds and waves of the Galilean lake, but also into the winds and waves of our lives. The gospel writer here helps unveil a little a more of the bigger picture, a little more of the reality of God: And that is that we, as Christians, are in the most profound way, belated. In other words, everything that is truly important to our fates, and I mean truly important: that of our sin and our salvation (not Brexit and the state of the House of Lords), has already occurred, or has at least been initiated, if not yet accomplished. Our fate is secure, Christ’s victory is won; we are simply waiting for the final consummation, or as we say in the Creeds: Christ’s coming again…whatever that might look like. This is the Good News, this is the lens through which everything must be seen!
Now this doesn’t mean the current state of play, our very real anxieties and worries, not least in the face of a pandemic, don’t matter, far from it. But it does mean that we must see them in the light of the hope of God in Jesus Christ. The hope that says this is never the end. That love always wins. That love has won. Because when this is truly known and felt, truly lived, these worries begin to subside, eventually the anxieties loses their grip. And in that we experience peace. The winds and waves in our lives calm, the storms pass.
And this is the truth we must hear today. That through Christ we find God, and that in him we need not be afraid, we need not fear, we need not doubt. That in him we find safety, we find love, we find rest for our souls, and food for the journey on.