This sermon series about owning one’s faith is inspired by the work of www.sanctifiedart.org. The liturgical help and scriptural framing were beneficial for my study and sermon writing. Each week a phrase from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” is highlighted and viewed through the life of the disciple Peter.

You may click here to read the passage, which is Matthew 14:20-33

Introduction

Today we continue our series, “Figuring Out Faith,” and we are taking phrases from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” and looking at them through the lens of Peter’s life. Today the phrase is, “He to rescue me from danger.”

This is very important to think about, because what bigger danger is there to discourage, defeat, or deflate us than misunderstanding what faith looks like?

I’m going to summarize the text and then I’m going to ask you a question. DO NOT answer the question out loud. You will want to answer the question out loud. DO NOT answer the question out loud.

Two other gospels tell this story, so I will pull a few details from those stories as well. 

Jesus and the disciples have fed 5,000 people, not counting women and children, so maybe 8,000 or more. Jesus wants to pray in solitude on the mountain side and he wants to do ministry on the other side of the Sea of Galilee tomorrow or the day after. The Sea is 8 miles wide. Presumably, the disciples think Jesus will join up with them later and presumably do so by taking a boat—you know, like most people. 

Sea of Galilee from Wikipedia

It is late at night. In good conditions, it could take them 2-4 hours to sail and row across. In hard conditions, because they would be going against the prevailing winds, they would not leave port.

The disciples get on the ship and set sail. At three o’clock in the morning, they are in peril as a storm kicks up wave after wave. The billows are breaking over the boat and they are taking on water. They are four miles in, only halfway, but the sky is so dark and the waves so high that they cannot see the other coast. Do they dare turn back? 

I wish Jesus was with us. Remember last time? Well, I mean, the wind and the waves were beating us up, and he was asleep, but once we woke him up, he told the winds and the waves to be still. I sure wish he was here right now.

In the darkness of 3 am, they saw Jesus standing atop the waves, and it scared the living daylights out of them. Jesus immediately said, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me. Take courage.”

Hmm. Courage. And Peter thinks, “Courage means that I must get out of the boat and walk with Jesus.” And he does, and he does! And he walks on the water, but then he takes his eyes off Jesus. Maybe he gets disoriented in the dimness and darkness and begins to sink and reaches up and asks Jesus to save him.

Jesus says, “You have so little faith. Why did you have doubt? I mean, we fed 8,000 people together. You saw me walking on the water and you must have believed I could help you do the same and you did. So why exactly didn’t you think you could keep at it?” They got into the boat and the sea calmed down and the disciples worshipped Jesus.

Here is the question, what is the danger in our passage? (pause)

Possible Dangers to Our Faith in the Passage

Is the storm the danger? Or is the danger Christ who told us to get in the boat and either did know the storm was coming and endangered us, or didn’t know so why do we think we wouldn’t be put in another position like this again? 

Or is the danger to our faith the thought that I’m here in a boat in a big, chaotic sea and God is high up there somewhere on a mountaintop unseen, doing (literally) only God knows what? 

The Sea of Galilee is 8 miles wide and the gospel of John tells us that the disciples, at this point, are only 4 miles across. So, is the danger of our being so stubborn and so committed to a plan that we are unwilling to turn back even though we are only halfway—neither here nor there? Is the danger in thinking that it’s full steam ahead no matter what?

Is the danger having a form of internalized guilt of not wanting to disappoint Christ, so you don’t want to let him down, so you are just a good soldier and you put your chin into the wind and you trudge on? He said go and I’m going. Full steam ahead no matter what.

Or is the danger a seemingly too ambitious faith, a naïve faith that says, “I will take Jesus at his word and take courage and step out of my comfort zone?” 

Or is the danger in judging someone else’s authentic trust in God’s ability to do the unimaginable and calling it naïve?

Or is the danger having a faith that can’t see beyond the boat or beyond the storm? 

Or is the danger thinking that the sunny days of feeding over 5,000 are sure signs of God’s good presence and the cloudy days are signs of God’s absence?

My goodness, this passage is working us over this morning!

What a Healthy Faith Can Look Like

What does faith look like? And what endangers us and our faith? 

Depending on the situation, faith may look like staying in the boat. Faith can look like staying put. Something happens and we are filled with anxiety and we have trouble being patient, kind, and trusting, so we just do something so that we feel something is getting done, even if it means stirring up drama. So sometimes staying put is faith because we are faced with the fact that we are have limited control and need God. Faith can look like that.

For those who are engaging with faith for the first time or engaging with your faith again, faith may look like having a willingness to get in the boat in the first place! You never imagined you’d be in such close quarters with other believers, and here you are. Faith can look like that.

For some of us, faith looks like a battered boat with a leaking hull, a broken mast, and a torn sail because we have come through rough waters. What faith looked like was ups and downs in the darkness, and thanks be to God, through sustaining grace, you somehow kept your hands on the oars and didn’t abandon ship. Faith can look like that.

For some of you, it is night and day like the first and second part of the passage. Earlier in life, it felt like you were with Jesus feeding the 8,000 people. Life was grand, fruitful, sun-filled, magnificent, and full of abundance—there were leftovers! 

And then, or now, there are clouds. The disciples are sailing at 3 am—it is pitch black. Life is disorienting and it’s scary. And you need to hear from this text that the storm doesn’t mean Christ is absent. Faith can look you someone doing the best they can in the darkest moment of their life. Do you hear me?

For some of you, you felt called to step forward like Peter, to do something in your life that you never saw anyone else do, something you never imagined you’d be able to do yourself: own a business, to go to college or to live above “just getting by,” to be able to travel to that special place, to have a lasting and happy relationship, to have a family, to fulfill that dream in your heart.  

For some of you, at some point, you could not have imagined that you would come to a place where you could live so fully into your identity and values with the freedom you feel right now. Some of you desire that right now. Faith can look like getting out of the boat and covering new waters. 

Some of you have a dream in your heart right now. Some of you have a seed that has been planted in your and this passage speaks to that and says, get out of the boat. Take it to heart. Faith can look like risk.

For some of you, like your pastor, you stepped out of the boat, not because you were confident but because you were called—there’s a difference. It’s nice to be both, but both are not required. You stepped out because you were called and you desperately look for the reassuring face of Christ, but God the waves are distracting. 

You stepped out—in my case, to do something that is against the odds, to build with you a fully welcoming, inclusive, hospitable, patient, and kind neighborhood church that is fully devoted to embracing all while embracing the life-changing ways of Jesus. 

That we would live into our Christian heritage and understand that God calls not just “all men and women” as our ordination liturgy says, but God calls all genders and folks from all orientations and all walks of life to faith and ministry, and that we would move well beyond welcome, to belonging, service, and ministry together so that the church and Poughkeepsie can flourish.

My, my, my, in America the wind blows against us. I am not stupid. I am not deaf. I am not naïve. I hear the wind. I see the waves. I feel the billows break. Faith can look like us doing what we are doing. 

See if you can find an amen after this. Think of your life. Think of the storms and the waves you have ridden out in your life. Think of the funeral homes where you’ve cried in the parking lot. Think of the elevator rides in the hospital where your stomach sank. Think of when you got that stack of bills and you looked at your checkbook and you said, “Never mind the money, I don’t think I have enough checks left in my register to pay this!” Think of the pictures you held and it felt like a hole was burning through your chest and you just didn’t know how you’d get through the day. 

Church, friends, and guests, the waves may be over our heads, but they are always under the feet of Jesus. 

The Community of Faith

We are Christians. We are beautiful. We are fragile and we are strong. 

We are Christians. Jesus is with us, be not afraid. 

We are Christians. We work and we row together. No one is in the boat alone.

We are Christians. We weather storms together. We do what is necessary to keep the church afloat. If that means bailing water, so be it. Moving chairs, so be it. Picking up stray pieces of paper off the floor, so be it. Teaching Sunday school, so be it. Handing out bulletins, taking up offerings, signing up for coffee hour or the potluck. Showing up and memorial services and bearing witness through encouragement up, “Remember, the Lord said he will meet us on the other side of this. Keep rowing. Keep going. I’ll take your oar while you grieve.”

We are Christians. Our faith looks as different as our faces.

Jesus’ words in verse 27 are plural, not singular! “You all don’t be afraid! Take courage, you all! I am here with you all.”

Christians, God is with you. Whatever your situation, God is with you. Big or small, God is with you. Sunshine or rain, God is with you.

In or out of the boat, God is with you. 

In the crowd as you serve. On the beach, as you think about getting in the boat of discipleship, he is with you. In the storm of life, he is with you. 

Atop the waves, he is with you. In the trials, as you sink, he is with you. In your prayers, when you call, he is with you.

He to rescue us from danger, so believe. Believe with confidence or believe with fear. Peter was afraid and was saved! The disciples saw Christ and they were scared, and they were saved. 

Whatever it is that God is calling you to do, do it knowing Christ sees you and cares. 

What is the danger? 

The greatest danger to me (to me) is not the danger of the world, though there are plenty of dangers as I have fairly noted. The greatest danger to me is not the danger of the world. 

The greatest threat is facing the danger of life without the church and Christ in your life. Don’t go at these waters alone.

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