Time after Pentecost #19 (A)
In the 1960’s, there was a very popular television show called “Candid Camera.” How many of you remember it? (I guess we’re showing our age! J) The show involved hidden cameras filming persons being confronted with pranks or unusual situations – and watching how they reacted – often with increasing embarrassment or frustration. Of course, the best part was watching the reactions of those persons when they were finally told: “When you least expect it…Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”
Today’s gospel describes how Jesus appeared to his disciples in a totally unexpected place and time. The disciples had suffered through a long night of whipping wind and whopping waves. Yet, they are still struggling to get beyond the midpoint of their journey. Land is yet a long way off. Certainly, this was no time to expect visitors – especially from someone who was not in a boat. And yet, when they least expected it, suddenly – there was Jesus, walking toward them on the sea!
This was no Candid Camera prank – and I guarantee you, those disciples were not smiling! Jesus’ appearance in that situation is so unexpected that the disciples do not even recognize their Lord. Their reaction in the face of this utterly unpredictable encounter is one of terror and fear. Fright closed their eyes and hearts to the true identity of their visitor. Because they don’t expect to be seeing Jesus walking to them on the water, they jump to a more “logical” conclusion and decide that they are seeing a ghost. Their fear sees only a terrifying apparition instead of their beloved teacher and master.
Are we sometimes like those disciples? I think that we are. Sometimes when we are feeling battered and stressed and overwhelmed by storms in our lives, it is really hard to believe that Jesus is with us. We do not expect to see him and to experience his loving presence. That is why we, like those disciples, sometimes react with disbelief and fear when he comes.
But still Jesus comes, even when we least expect him. He will not leave us to face our problems alone. When we are facing struggles and chaos and storms in our lives, Jesus will always be there with us, come what may. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) That is his unbreakable promise, and that is certainly shown to be true in today’s gospel. When the disciples were far away from land and felt utterly alone – even when they least expected it – Jesus came to be with them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid!” So it is with us. When we need him most, may we expect Jesus to come into our lives and calm our fears. Expect it! Expect it!
The other thing to expect is that with Jesus, we can do things that may seem to be impossible. I think that is the significance of Peter’s getting out of the boat and starting to walk on the water toward Jesus. For a moment, he forgot that this was something that he normally could not do. For a moment, Peter was focused only upon his Lord and trusting in his command. And so for a moment – for a brief and wonderful moment – Peter also walked on the water!
But as we heard in our gospel text, Peter started to notice the strong wind – and he became frightened and started to sink. Instead of fully trusting in Jesus, he began to consider the impossibility of what he was doing – and his faith wavered.
Our gospel tells us that Peter “doubted”, but the original Greek word (distazo) is not the one that is normally used. Distazo means “vacillation” rather than “skepticism” – such as what the disciple Thomas later had after Jesus’ resurrection. In the entire New Testament, the word distazo is used only here and at the very end of Matthew’s gospel (Mt. 28:17) when the disciples worshipped Jesus but also “doubted” – distazo – “vacillated”.
Surely that also describes us as well! We want to trust in Jesus – and when we do, with him we can begin to do wonderful and even impossible things. But then, inevitably, we then start to hear and think about all the negatives – all the reasons why we cannot or should not do what we’re doing in Jesus’ name. And so our faith begins to distazo – to vacillate.
The message here is not “don’t vacillate”. Try as we might to focus only on Jesus, as sinful and weak human beings we will fall short of doing that. Try as we might to do otherwise, our faith will begin to waver and we will start to fail.
But when we do, may we then like Peter cry out, “Lord, save me!” “Lord, give me your power and your love! Help me, save me!” And then, as he did for Peter, Jesus will reach out to us and save us – he will give us the love and power and peace we need when we are feeling overwhelmed and sinking down. Expect it! Expect it!
Martin Luther, whenever he was feeling overwhelmed and feeling totally inadequate for his ministry of being a reformer of the Church – would cry out, “I am baptized!” He would remember that in that sacrament, God made him a promise that he would always be with him – even during the hardest and lowest times in his life.
And so it is for us. Through this Sacrament, which Charlie Canning will be receiving in a few moments from now, God unites us to Jesus – and nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us from his love. Sometimes we may fail to remember that, and sometimes our faith may vacillate, but Jesus will always be there for us come what may. Jesus will give us the love and power and peace that we need, even in the stormiest times of our lives.
That is Jesus’ promise to us. And that is our hope, now and always. Expect it! Expect it! Amen!
Pastor George Karres
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270