TITLE: Big Trouble in a Small Boat SCRIPTURE: Matthew 14:22-33
Jesus walked on water. Peter tried, but fell into the drink.
This story has inspired many others -- among them an apparently true story about Mark Twain visiting the Sea of Galilee with his wife, Olivia. It was a nice moonlit evening, and Twain thought it would be romantic to take Livy for a ride in a boat on the lake. He escorted her to the lakeside, where they found a man with a rowboat. Twain asked him how much he would charge to take them out on the lake in the moonlight. The man, seeing that Twain was nicely dressed in a white suit and Stetson, offered to take them out for twenty-five dollars.
Now that was more than a hundred years ago. Twenty-five dollars was a lot of money in those days. I went to an online inflation calculator to see how much twenty-five dollars in 1900 would be in today's dollars. It would be more than six hundred dollars today. Six hundred dollars for a boat ride in the moonlight.
Twain was a successful writer, as you know -- and Olivia came from a wealthy family. Twain could have afforded a twenty-five dollar boat ride. But he was also a sensible man who didn't like "being taken for a ride," as the old phrase goes. So he thanked the man, took his wife's arm, and started back to their hotel. As they left, he was heard to say, "Now I know why Jesus walked."
The story of Jesus walking on water is found in three of the four Gospels -- so the early church obviously thought it was important.
In Matthew's account, Jesus had just finished feeding five thousand people, starting with just a handful of food -- but all of them ate and were filled. A big miracle!
Then Jesus decided to go up the mountain to pray by himself, so he dismissed his disciples. He told them to get in their boat and row to the other side of the lake. We usually call it the Sea of Galilee, but it was more like a big lake -- 13 miles (21 km) long and 8 miles (13 km) wide -- not a huge lake, but a big one.
You can get into big trouble on a lake in a small boat. This lake was especially troublesome because of the way the hills formed along its shoreline. When the winds came up, as they often did, the hills would channel the wind across the lake. It could get vicious in a hurry.
That's what happened here. The disciples, at Jesus bidding, got into their boat and started across the lake. They rowed and rowed and rowed some more, but the wind was against them and they made little headway.
If you have ever rowed a boat, you know that it is hard work. Most of us wouldn't last a half hour rowing hard against the wind -- but these were fishermen -- tough-muscled --determined. I'm sure that they were frustrated, but the story says nothing about them being afraid -- at least not yet. They knew storms, and they weren't afraid of this one.
Finally, during the fourth watch -- perhaps around dawn -- these disciples saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. And then they were afraid. It wasn't the storm that scared them. It was Jesus. They thought they were seeing a ghost. How else could they explain a man walking on water? But then they heard Jesus' voice over the sound of the wind. "Take heart; it is I," he said. "Do not be afraid."
So Peter said, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." "If it is you" isn't exactly an affirmation of faith.
But Peter said, "If it is you," and Jesus replied, "Come." So Peter stepped out of the boat into the water. He had stepped out of perfectly good boats on many occasions, but usually in shallow water. But now he was in the middle of the lake and a storm was raging. As soon as he got out of the familiar boat and into the unfamiliar raging water, he said, "Whoops!" The Bible doesn't actually quote him as saying, "Whoops!" but it says that "he noticed the strong wind (and) became frightened" -- which is the Bible's way of saying, "Whoops!"
And then Peter began to sink. And he cried out, "Lord, save me!" And Jesus "reached out his hand and caught him, saying, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'"
"You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When Matthew wrote this Gospel, Christians were being persecuted. Peter was already dead -- we think that he was crucified, as were many Christians of that era. Christians had stepped out in faith to join the church, just as Peter had stepped out of the boat in faith. Now they were scared -- scared to death. They wondered where God was. Was God dead? Was he in hiding? Did he care? This story spoke to them of assurance in the face of fear. It spoke to them of salvation in the face of disaster. It said to them that Jesus was with them -- even in the midst of the raging storm.
That was the "then" story. What is the "now" story? What does this old story of Jesus and a frightened apostle have to do with us today?
The answer is that we, too, are often afraid. And, just like Peter, the things that we fear are often real. In Peter's case, he was afraid of the storm -- of the wind and sea. As a fisherman who lived among other fishermen, he undoubtedly had known men who had died in storms on the Sea of Galilee.
Even today commercial fishing is a dangerous occupation. In March, the fishing boat, "Alaska Ranger," sank in the Bering Sea. The last report I saw had four men dead and one missing. The miracle was that many of the crew survived.
So Peter was afraid. He was afraid his time had come. "Lord, save me!" he cried.
And the early church was afraid. "Lord, save us!" they cried.
And we are afraid. We are afraid of a thousand things. Some of us are afraid of dying. Others are afraid of outliving their money. "Lord, save us!" we cry.
Listen to the prayer requests during our prayer time, and you will hear about some of the things that scare us. Cancer is one of those. Doctors have made so much progress in fighting cancer during our lifetimes. Fifty years ago, people wouldn't even say the word, cancer. They would just look at the ground and say, "It's bad." But now there are many cancer survivors among us -- and many others asking for prayer for cancer. While cancer isn't the certain death sentence that it used to be, it still strikes fear in our hearts. "Lord, save us!" we cry.
We're afraid of war and terrorism. "Lord, save us!" we cry.
We're afraid of five dollar gasoline. A year ago, it was half that price. What will it will be next year? "Lord, save us!" we cry.
Like Peter, we're afraid of storms. (PREACHER: Personalize this for the dangers that threaten your area -- thunderstorms, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) "Lord, save us!" we cry.
We're afraid of the Chinese. During the Korean War, we were afraid of the Chinese army overrunning ours. Now we're afraid of Chinese workers taking our jobs. "Lord, save us!" we cry.
I am afraid for our economy. In recent years a few people have gotten enormously wealthy, but the middle class is getting squeezed. What a terrible thing it would be to lose the middle class -- to have only rich and poor. "Lord, save us!" we cry.
I'm afraid that I haven't done enough. In Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that a great deal hangs on whether we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty. A great deal hangs on whether we welcome the stranger and clothe the naked. A great deal hangs on whether we visit the sick and those in prison. Jesus said:
"Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family,
you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).
Like most of you, I have helped some people, but failed to help others. Like most of you, I have sometimes stopped to render assistance, but at other times have passed by on the other side.
What then shall we say when we meet Jesus on that great day? It would be foolish to say, "I did my best," because Jesus knows better. It would be foolish to list the things that we've done right, because Jesus knows the things we've done wrong. We can only cry, "Lord, have mercy! Lord, save us!"
And when we cry, "Lord, save us!" just as he did with Peter, Jesus will say, "Come." We will feel the tug of his strong arm pulling us upward. He will say, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
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