Lord, Save Me!
The rabbis said, “Prolix prayer prolongs life.” Luther said, “The fewer the words the better the prayer.” He believed anyone uttering even a single petition of the Lord’s Prayer prayed more than adequately. Luther advised that when overtaken by sudden danger the Christian should cross himself and say, “Lord have mercy.” Famed English Baptist preacher Spurgeon said, “’Short prayers are long enough’” (Sermon Studies A, 280). And St. Peter concurs in our text praying only, “Lord, save me!”
Lord save me! Send me away from temptation. Our text is immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. Jn 6:15 tells you this crowd of people “were about to come and take Jesus to make Him king.” In response our text reports, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side.” This is a year before Palm Sunday when Jesus will accept their appellation King of the Jews and be crucified for that. Here the people want to declare Him a Bread King. They are seeking Him, says Jesus in Jn 6:26 “because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” Jesus dismisses them before the disciples can start singing with Barry Manilow, “Looks like we made it.”
Time and again I’ve pointed out how the disciples would get excited when Jesus seemed to be popular and get down when not. Read Lk. 4. Verse 40 tells you how they were all bringing their sick, demonized, and lame to Jesus. Mark 1 tells how in the morning they were all looking for Jesus. Peter finds Jesus and tells Him breathlessly, "Everyone is searching for you!" Jesus responds: it's time to move on and preach elsewhere. We think parables are a delightful way for Jesus to teach. The disciples didn’t. They ask, and you can hear the exasperation, “Why do you speak to the crowds in parables” (Mt. 13:10)? In the face of Jesus’ intense suffering in Gethsemane, bloody sweat, an angel to strengthen Him, Lk. 22:45 says, “When Jesus arose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow.” Jesus was being a downer again.
Lord, save me! Send me away from temptation. You realize this is what we pray in the 6th Petition, “Lead us not into temptation.” We’re telling our Lord that anything, literally anything, can be a temptation to us. In the days of floor-length dresses, ankles were a temptation. The good, the bad, the ugly can be a temptation to us even as a moth gets ever closer to the flame till it burns. So we pray, “Send me away from temptation even if I don’t recognize it.” Jesus sends His disciples away from temptation “while He dismissed the crowd”. Think that was easily done to 20,000 kingmakers? After doing so, Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. We ask each other, “Pray for me.” You’d be surprised, or maybe not, to see how often Luther asked for prayers in his letters. Jesus doesn’t wait to be asked. Heb. 7:25 says that He lives to intercede for us.
Connect the dots here. Rom, 1 says, present tense, “The wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness.” We just got done singing, “I am all unrighteousness. False and full of sin I am.” If you meant that, i.e. aren’t a hypocrite, that means: you pray for salvation but know you deserve damnation, you pray for rain and know you deserve hail, pray for love and know you deserve God’s holy hatred. The law relentlessly accuses and sentences the guilty to unanswered prayers or worse: prayers answered in wrath.
God the Son took on flesh and blood in the Virgin’s womb and accepted both the requirements and the penalties of the Law given to mankind. He lived a perfect life – one not tainted by raging, worrying, obsessing, lying, lusting, or hating – and then suffered a guilty, damned, death. Read James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, chapter 3, and his depiction of the torments of hell. That’s what Jesus suffered for us and our salvation. He rose from the dead because there was no Law unkept or unpaid that He, God the Son, needed to go on suffering for or keeping. Risen from the dead, Jesus lives to intercede for you. He stands before the Father holding out those nail-pierced hands saying, “Remember Father I died for (insert name here.)”
Go on. Insert your name. You ask me to pray for you. I do on Sunday mornings and during the week. Say you come by some weekday. I’m here in the sanctuary praying out loud. Say the Elder has forgotten to turn off the PA system. Well via the PA system you can hear exactly what I say in the nursery. You hear me use your name and the problem you asked me to pray about. I hope that would be comforting. Well the truth of the matter is that in heaven Jesus is praying using your name and your fears, problems, worries, temptations that no one on earth even your spouse knows. That’s what is going on right now. You just can’t hear it. But the Father can.
Lord, save me! Send me away from temptation; pray for me; and still my fears. I don’t think the insert depicts events well. Do you get that the disciples were in this boat battling waves for 9 hours? Do you get what the boat being buffeted by the waves means? Buffeted is translated for those in hell as “tormented.” Others versions have ‘battered’, ‘pounded’, ‘thrown around’. In Louisiana, every time this text or Jesus stilling the storm came up, a guy would tell how he, a lifelong fisherman, was unmanned by a sudden storm. But did you notice the storm, this time, didn’t unman them? No our text says that the disciples were hard at work trying to weather the wind and waves for hours. Then, “During the 4th watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him…they were terrified. ‘It's a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear” (Mt 14:25-26). Mk 6:48 tells you, “Jesus wished to pass them by.” Jesus isn’t walking toward them but by them. That’s what terrified; that’s what moved them to cry out.
Jesus is trying to elicit fear from them. We begin every Explanation to the Commandments, “We should fear and love God.” We chant every 1st Sunday Service, “There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared.” There are so many things calling for our fear now. Daily: social media, TV, movies, news, clickbait, and so-called science says, “Fear this.” See how Jesus escalates the fear. They had been caught in a storm another time but that time it was in the day and Jesus was onboard. Not now. Jesus purposely sent them out at nightfall and didn’t go with them. Jesus is here, but doing what no ordinary man can do. Peter verifies that it is Jesus by praying for Jesus to command him to come. Peter steps out of the boat mindful of Jesus and His command. But then he saw the wind, probably its effect on the water, and he became the person James 1 warns about, “The double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
We, or I am, easily made afraid, and the world offers me 24/7 things to fear. Headlines now read like only clickbait did. What use to be the realm of only The National Enquirer is now standard for TV news. 1 Jn. 3:8 says, “Jesus appeared to destroy the works of the Devil.” Heb. 2 tells you what his works are and why Jesus had to take on flesh and blood to destroy them. Jesus partook of flesh and blood so that through His death, He might render powerless the Devil who had the power of death and who through fear of death held us in bondage all our days. All our fears stem from the fear of death. Jesus would rid you of this burden. Those outside of Christ should fear always. Not us. With the Collect you can know that God in Christ forgives us of “all things of which our conscience is afraid.” And death is the drain such things swirl around. But Jesus says you can go having courage. We all fear Death will swallow us. We all fear that when we close our eyes here we will open them nowhere. Wrong Jesus didn’t redeem us for a world with an end but a world without end.
In the text, Jesus immediately responded to their fears. He says what He said to the paralytic: “Be of good cheer, or of good courage.” But this is not some empty words like “Hakuna Matata.” As the Words of Jesus ‘live, rise, walk’ give the living, raising, and walking so these give the cheer, the courage. Moreover, He says, not just it is I, but “ego eimi, I AM,.” The great I Am is on the scene in the flesh and blood Jesus doing what only Yahweh can do. Job 9:8 says Yahweh “tramples down the waves” and Hab. 3:15 says, He “tramples the sea.” Surely He can trample our cheerlessness, trample our worries and fears.
Psalm 53 tell us that it is the fool who says there is no God and who fear where no fear is. They fear the end of this life. They believe that if they guard the climate, stop plastics polluting, and eat certain foods, then they have nothing to fear. Jesus says if you want something to fear it’s God not devils, men, politics, not sword, famine or pestilence. In Mat 10:28 Jesus is clear: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And that One in the Person of Christ says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Is. 41:10).
How comforting, but what happens when the Lord comes to His people in some way or form they had not known before? Let our Jesus come in the shape of some affliction, some cross and we don’t recognize Him. We think we’ve slipped out of the nail-pierced hands. Peter thought that even though it was he that let go, but he returned to Jesus by the simple prayer: “Lord, save me!” And note Jesus doesn’t say to Peter, “Why did you ask or why did you get out of the boat?” But, “Why did you doubt?” Yet, even so, “immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.” Jesus does His reaching and catching today wherever Word and Sacrament are used. It’s not for nothing that since the 1st century, the Church has sung with the angels the Sanctus right before Jesus comes again in the flesh. We sing, “Hosanna” which is the same word in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English and means, “Save now!” Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20230820); Matthew 14:22-33