Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, AD 2020

Matthew 14:22-33; Job 38:4-18; Psalm 146:5-10

It’s a common saying, almost a cliché, in the church to say, “God is in control.” It’s a saying which is absolutely true, but doesn’t on its own give us a good idea how to feel about it. Now it’s generally pretty easy for us to accept the phrase with the implication that “God is in control, and He knows what He’s doing.” We don’t usually think of God as in control like a four year old with an RC Car – yes, he’s “in control, but get ready to hear smashed glass or falling furniture.” No, we usually don’t doubt the competency of God, that he is able to control all things. Rather, we doubt that God’s control is good, that it is “for us” and for our good. We think of it like a very competent dictator in control. We don’t doubt the control, but we’re not exactly comfortable with it. So “God is in control, and He knows what He’s doing” doesn’t help us feel any better about it. What we need is “God is in control, He knows what He’s doing, and it’s for your good!”

This is the promise we are given to trust in, but for the more analytical it can be difficult. God does not reveal to us the ins and outs of His control of the world. We may not see exactly how He is working in each event, now or ever. He doesn’t give us a satisfying explanation for why some are saved and not others, for example. Some are saved because of God’s work in Christ, choosing them, giving them the Holy Spirit that they may believe in Christ’s sacrifice for their sins. Those who are not saved reject that, all on their own. We cannot by our own reason explain how this works, but trust that it is true. So in His word, our Lord does not explain the workings of his rule, but again and again shows us His faithfulness to us so we may trust in Him.

The disciples just experienced the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. While the disciples wanted to turn people away to fend for themselves, Jesus miraculously made enough food to feed all those people out of five loaves and two fish. Counter to the disciples’ thinking, Jesus both had the ability to and wanted to feed all those people. How did he feed them? Nobody knows, but Christ fed them to teach about his character. Both his power and compassion were greater than they knew. Now, in our gospel lesson, Jesus sends the disciples away on the boat so he may dismiss the crowds. Fully in control, Jesus is ready to demonstrate his identity again.

After dismissing the crowds, Jesus goes to a mountain to pray alone. The account begins with Jesus and the disciples separate, at a distance from one another. Yet Jesus is praying, interceding for His disciples continually with His Father. So too with us, many time it feels like Jesus is far away, but we are always on his mind, and as we pray in the Holy Spirit, Christ prays for us, perfect prayers to the Father that He always hears. Even when we do not pray, Christ is praying for us. How much more should we pray, knowing He cares for us?

While Jesus is on the mountain that evening, the disciples are in the boat traveling across the sea. As happens on the sea of Galilee, a great wind arises against them and the disciples’ boat is being beaten by the waves. Unable to sail, they try to make progress by rowing. Many of these disciples are experienced fishermen, and there is nothing to suggest this is something they haven’t seen before. Still, the rowing is hard, and the progress is so slow that they are still working into the early morning.

Then, before the dawn, the disciples are terrified, but not from the storm. No, do not confuse this with the account of Jesus calming the storm. The wind and waves are difficult, but the gospel suggests no terror on account of them by these experienced mariners. As we read, “when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.” It is Jesus Christ walking on the sea that strikes fear in their hearts.
In terror, the disciples see what “God is in control” really means. Jesus pulls back the veil, revealing his divine power, telling them to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. For in the midst of a turbulent sea, in the darkest part of the night, the creator of both comes striding out to them as if walking on solid land, undaunted, unhindered. The deep does not dare to pull him down and the waves do not dare envelop him because He is their Lord and creator. And deep inside the disciples’ hearts grows the terror which knows that there is nothing in them which can stand against this power and pure righteousness. So out of their fear and adrenaline they do the only three things they can – they are terrified, the say “It is a ghost” and they cry out in fear.

Jesus Christ, our mighty God and ruler of the earth, immediately replies, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.

To their terror he replies, “Take heart.” Have courage. There is no need to be frightened, but rather be encouraged by what you see. For this Jesus Christ who walks upon the sea is true man, and is friend of sinners. He is in control for your good. He will not tame himself or his power. He will not be any less good, or lenient toward sin. He will seek your salvation with all He has. He will humble himself for your sake, that you too may be saved. So despite what you see, despite the fear, take heart. Your God is with you. He is drawing near.

To the cry, “It is a ghost!” he replies, “It is I.” The disciples in their fear turn to superstition and folk religion about ghost and spirits. These are fearful things, but at least gives them some comprehension and control. In similar way, we turn God’s things into common sense objects we can control. Christ comes to us in His body and blood, and we think, “well, it’s not really his body and blood. It’s a good reminder, it’s a symbol. It’s an important rite, but let’s not get too hung up about it.” Yet this is Jesus, the king of the universe, coming to us in His body and blood. He is hidden here with us, under bread and wine, but with the disciples in our reading we see who this Christ really is.

It is I.” I AM. Jesus Christ is the one who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, “I AM WHO I AM.”  “I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:14-15).  He is the one who speaks to Job:  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). Jesus Christ is the one who determined its measurements, who laid it’s cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy. He is the only who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” No, he is no ghost, but the true God and creator of heaven and earth, and also man, Jesus Christ.

For to the cry of fear, Jesus replies, “Do not be afraid.” “I am not here to destroy you, but to save you. I am in control for your good. While I rule the sea and stars, day and night, the expanses of the heavens and the terrors of the deep, I am also a man like you.” For in his compassion, the Son of God took on human flesh and was born of the virgin Mary to save us from our sins. This did not make him any less than He was, though he did not fully demonstrate His divine power as he walked the earth. This God-man, being man, could live as man and fulfill the law for all humanity, you and me. Being God, His merit was great enough to cover all of us and forgive all our sins. For Jesus is truly unveiled on the cross. There you see who God really is, that He would send His Son to die to for sinners like us out of love, with no worthiness in us at all. Risen from the dead, we too will rise with him.

For He says, “All who believe and are baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Today little Seia died and rose with Christ. Her old Adam and all her sin she inherited from her parents and will ever commit since was drowned in the water, and her new man rose with Christ in her. By the power of the Holy Spirit she has received Christ and all his benefits – forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

While Seia has received the beginning of the life to come, that old sinful Adam is hard to drown, and she will be living every day in that baptism – turning from her sins and seeking forgiveness and Christ. This is called repentance and faith, and it is the life of a Christian. So we see with St. Peter, who hearing Christ’s words asks to walk out to Him on the water. Christ tells him to come, and Peter steps out of the boat, and greater than any prophet had done before, walks on the water toward Jesus.

Yet like so many of us, Peter takes his eyes off Jesus. He focuses on the rising wind and the thrashing waves. He forgets that Jesus is in control of them for Him. He doubts. He begins to sink. He cries out in his last bit of faith, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reaches out his hand and saves him, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” There may be times for all of us, and for Seia, where we take our eyes off Jesus. Times when we look at the circumstances and forget who is controlling them for our good. These are times when our faith is so small that we feel like we are sinking beneath all the evils of this life and all we can do is cry out “Lord, save me!”

And little faith is all that we need. For even with only a little faith, Jesus is there. Jesus immediately responds. He sends us His Word and the consolation of other Christians to strengthen us. We can bring those desperate cries of faith to Him and He hears them, even if they aren’t eloquent, even if they are angry. So it is vitally important that we continue to fortify our faith – hear the Word of God preached, gather with believers, and receive His body and blood. Even the smallest, weakest faith he will not ignore. A smoldering wick he will not put out. Therefore, continue this life of faith started in baptism. Strengthen and share the Word of God with Seia as she grows. Bring her to church where God provides His gifts for her so she may know He is in control for her good, and for all of our good.

In life, Jesus may seem far away, He may seem near but threatening, or we may be overwhelmed and can only cry out to him. He is in control, he knows what he is doing, and it is for your good. He is faithful forever.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
 who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
       Praise the Lord! (Psalm 146:5-7;10)


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