Year A Proper 14, 9 August 2020
Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“When We Have Too Little Faith (In Ourselves)”
Collect: Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
There are few sermons I can remember decades later. The best sermon I ever remember hearing live was while I was in seminary. They had hired one of the greatest sermonizers in the world. His name was Fred Craddock. He had written a textbook called Preaching. It was as simple as that. He was so very well known and well respected, that he could write a book called Preaching, and no one would question the hubris of that title.
Fred Craddock came and preached and gave a great sermon. I still remember bits and pieces of it. Later that same evening a local preacher, Dr. Kinney, the Dean of the seminary from Virginia Union University, gave a sermon on this passage. I will never forget it.Most people stop at the pithy phrase, “If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat.” I thought that is where the sermon would end, like most sermons on this topic. Dr. Kinney went further.
He likened us to Peter. He talked about how Peter had the faith, that he wanted to get out of the boat. That was one thing, a great thing, that he was actually able to get out of the boat and walk on the water. And then some people say that Peter lost his faith. But I’d like to take a look at the passage again. “Then Peter got out of the boat. He started walking on the water and came towards Jesus.” He actually had the faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water. “But then he noticed the strong wind and he became frightened.” In other translations of this it says that he “saw” the wind. Now, you can’t “see” wind. You can see the effects of the wind. I think that’s why he became afraid. I think of the times we are going through now and all that is going on in our society and it causes a lot of fear, if you let it.
Fear is something that can get a hold of us if we see things and don’t have the faith to know that God is bigger. He “saw’ the wind but really it was the effects of the wind, the dark clouds moving so quickly. He saw the waves. Look at the waves on a still lake, like this one. It is a lake. We can call the Sea of Galilee a sea, but it was really just a big lake. He saw the effect of the wind on those waters and it caused him to be afraid. It caused him to let go of the faith that had him step out of the boat in the first place, that had him walking on water. It caused him to think, “I can’t do this.” That is where fear comes in. That is the devil whispering in our ear, “You can’t do this.” And what does Jesus say? Come, come out and walk on the water.
We know that Jesus was where Peter had his faith, because as soon as he starts to sink he says, “Jesus, save me!” He doesn’t have a lack of faith in Jesus. Where is his lack of faith? His lack of faith is in himself and who God made him to be. God made us to follow wherever He calls, even if it is to walk on water. He calls us to have faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed. We can move mountains with faith that size. Peter’s lack of faith was not in Christ or in God. Peter’s lack of faith was in Peter. God help Peter. And for me and for you, maybe that is where our lack of faith is as well. Maybe we lack faith in who we are in Christ. May God forgive us and help us when we have that lack of faith. We have been provided all we need. We have abundance. God is God of everything. Why are we afraid? If we are afraid of death, death will come. Death will come for all of us, but Christ is with us. Christ is Lord of life and Christ is lord of the world to come. He sits at the right hand of the Father. Of what should we be afraid? Nothing! Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
I still remember that sermon. I still remember Dr. Kinney imploring us to have faith in who we are in Christ. Brothers and sisters, that’s the only word I can give you today. When we have faith to move mountains, when we have faith to step out of the boat, when we have faith to walk on water, we need to have faith in who we are because of WHOSE we are. We need not fear these days. We need not fear. For Christ is always with us!
And when the disciples who did not have the courage to get out of the boat saw Jesus and Peter get back in the boat, it says the winds ceased. Those things they were so afraid of just stopped. And then those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And if we believe that to be true, what do we have to fear? Remember that this day, because God is with us, even in the midst of the storms of life. We have nothing to fear. Thanks be to God.