Be Still My Soul
Frequently this text is preached with the theme Get Out of the Boat along the lines of a high school cheer, Peter did it; how about you? But rather than a call to action, this text is a call to quietness. Its the call of that 18th century hymn Be Still My Soul.
There are going to be storms in your life with great, heavy, wind whipped seas. They can be personal, professional, medical, financial, spiritual, emotional. And youre going to think, I wished I stayed in port. I wish I hadnt launched. You will think back to what you couldve done different to avoid coming to this point where the roiling sea is all about you.
Did you listen to the Epistle reading last week from Romans 8? It not only told us that where trouble, hardship, danger, or sword is there is Jesus with us. It told us that for His sake we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. It told is what the Lord told Paul in 2 Corinthians. That the thorn in his flesh from Satan was part of Gods grace toward him.
Did you pay close attention to the Gospel reading today? Who made the disciples get into the boat? Who made them go on ahead of Him? Jesus. Do you think Jesus didnt know what was going to happen to them while they were out there? Do you think Jesus didnt know the wind would be contrary to them and so the waves would mount against them? And do you think the Lord Jesus doesnt know what boat Hes put you in, what seas Hes set you to sail on? Do you think He couldnt put you in a different boat in more placid seas? No, the boat youre in be it leaky, storm-tossed, cramped, in danger of sinking is the one the Lord in His grace wants you in.
Not only did the Lord send them out in a boat He knew would be buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. He left them in it. Mark tells us that Jesus saw them straining at the oars. We know from the time indicators in the text that Jesus sent them away at about sunset, but He waited till the fourth watch of the night to come to them, that is between 3 and 6 AM. Jesus left them out there 8-9 hours.
As Gordon Lightfoot sings, Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours? How long have you been in the boat the Lord put you in? How long has the Lord watched you painfully strain against Satans fiery arrows, against dashed hopes, against unnamed fears, and unseen but real foes? As the Lord remained on a mountain praying for His storm tossed disciples, so our Lord Jesus intercedes for you in heaven above, but He seldom acts quickly.
Well see in our Bible study on Genesis how Joseph formulates a plan to help his brothers although it will put them through extreme mental anguish, trouble their conscience, and afflict some of their bodies. Do you think your Lord, doesnt do similar things? We know thats whats going on in our text because Mark tells us. He says that this incident was about the fact that the disciples did not understand about the feeding of the 5,000 but their hearts were hardened. Being made to get into a boat that was going to be buffeted by waves; be left in that boat to make their way painfully, and Jesus coming to them the way He did was all so they might understand who Jesus is and what He is able to do.
Jesus has a Joseph-like plan. He comes to the disciples in their troubled condition and purposely gives them nothing to rely on but His Word. When the disciples first see Jesus they think He is a ghost. This is what Jesus wanted. Mark tells us, He meant to pass them by. What would you think if you saw a figure walk by at night, on wind whipped seas, after 8 hours of rowing? I think Id scream in terror, but Jesus immediately answers their fears with, Be of good cheer. It is I. Dont be afraid.
Jesus comes to you too in your dark nights and heavy seas, and He can come in ways that terrify. You pray the Lord come with healing in His wings, and more sickness follows. You pray He come not in terrors as the King of kings, and He comes as the Almighty, Sovereign Lord who can do anything He pleases with you. You struggle with sins, Death, and the Devil and you appear to be in the struggle all alone. Or worse as Jacob finds in Genesis, you think youre struggling with sin, Death, or the Devil only to find it is with God you have been struggling all night in prayers, in tears, in hopelessness.
But the God whose mercy endures forever; the God who will not put out a flickering candle; the God who took on flesh and blood just so He could take on your Sin, Death, and devils wills to be with you in your struggles. He doesnt leave you on the high seas of life alone in your beleaguered boat. He comes to you in real, tangible ways, but those ways can easily be dismissed. And they were by the disciples in the Feeding of the 5,000. Even after they saw what Jesus could do with 5 loaves and 2 fish there hearts were hardened as to who Jesus really is and what He is able to do.
Jesus couldnt be coming to them walking on the sea. No man could do that, and thats all Jesus was to them: a man. Look at what you see the man Jesus doing. What man could keep the Law perfectly? What man could not have one lewd thought, unbelieving fear, or little doubt? What man could give His life for the sins of the world? What mans blood could wash away sins? What mans death could appease the wrath of God? And what man can put Himself on you by water? What man can send your sins away from you by words so God cant ever find them? What man can give you His Blood for Wine and His Body for Bread so that you may eat, drink and live forgiven forever?
Well no man could do any of these things, and thats the point; Jesus is no mere man. Hes also true God begotten of the Father from eternity. Jesus is God the Son; the Second Person of the Trinity. This is what the disciples had missed in Matthew up till now. In chapter 2:5 in the flight to Egypt Matthew shows the Old Testament confesses Jesus is the Son of God. In 3:17 at His Baptism, the Father declares Jesus is His beloved Son. In 8:29 the demons declare Jesus is the Son of God.
But the disciples didnt get this. Their hearts were hardened even in the face of the miracle of feeding thousands. So Jesus sends them to school in a boat on a wind-driven sea. He shows up in a terrifying way and the only comfort He gives them is His Word. Be of good Cheer. It is I. Dont be afraid. Will they take His Word and have the comfort?
Now follow closely. The disciples were scared, tired, and worn out, but they were not in danger as they were another time they crossed the sea with Jesus in the boat. Here no one is in danger except Peter who got out of the boat and tried to walk on his little faith, tried to do what only Jehovah can do based on his believing. Note what happens. He sinks, and we know from John 21 that Peter was a good swimmer, but now he casts all reliance upon himself away and simply cries out, Lord, save me! And Jesus, Jehovah in flesh and blood, does so without delay.
In the Old Testament Jehovah alone is shown to be able to rescue from the sea. He does it in the crossing of the Red Sea. He does it in the case of Jonah; there too a man is put through much to learn the gracious ways of God. And Psalm 107: 23-32 foretells our text. It says men go down to the sea in ships, and Jehovah commands and raises the stormy wind which lifts up the waves. Then men cried to the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them from the seas and brought them into safe harbor. When the disciples saw Jesus rescue Peter and the wind die down, they saw the Jehovah of Psalm 107 and confessed Jesus is the Son of God.
The message here for you is that Jesus will bring you safe to shore in the boat He has put you in. He has put you into the boat of the Holy Christian Church through Baptism and by grace into whatever boat you find yourself in life: be it parent, child, father, mother, businessman, citizen. And the seas are His too. Whether medical, financial, physical, emotional all the oceans are His, and He knows the course you must sail through them to reach His goal for you: everlasting life.
The Lord will do this for you despite your doubts. Can you believe Jesus says, It is I, and Peter replies, If it is you? Its Satan who uses ifs in the Great Temptation and at the Cross. If you are the Son of God make bread from stones and come down from the cross. Yet, Jesus humors Peter. He lets him try what he hasnt the faith to complete, but this leads to Peter calling out in faith. Even though his faith was identified by Jesus as little, it was enough to call on the name of the Lord. As Romans says, the essence of the Gospel is Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Call on the Name of the Lord though youve been hardhearted to how He is able to feed millions by His Body and Blood in Communion. Call on the Name of the Lord though youve doubted its power in Holy Baptism. Call on the Name of the Lord though you have such little faith in what He can do. Call on the Name of the Lord though you have complained about the wind, the waves, and the boat youre in. Your flesh and blood Lord will answer to give you courage and comfort in the boat youre in.
But by all means stay in the boat of the Church. Dont think you need to show more faith or courage than others. Dont think Jesus is waiting for you to step out of the boat. On the contrary, He says in the Psalm 46 that when the waters roar and foam we are to be still and know that He is God. In Psalm 131 He bids we have a clam, quieted soul like a contented child on his mothers lap.
Though there are boatfuls of sermons out there urging you to get out of the boat, dont. Go with St. Augustine on this one. Although the boat is thrown into disorder, it is still a boat. It alone carries the disciples and receives Christ. Its in danger indeed on the water but there would be certain death without it. Therefore, stay in the boat and call upon God. (ACC, Ib, 12). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20110904); Matthew 14: 22-33