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Sermon ~ “Come!”

Matthew 14:22-33
Uniting Church of Australia,
Mount Barker SA

13 August 2017

1.

Lake Galilee, looking towards Bashan, Israel. Coloured litho.

I was a young lad, when it all happened. Nobody took much notice of me, but I was around and could hear and see. My uncles and older brothers were fishermen, and they often took me along as a helper.

Amongst these strong men, I did not need much space in the fishing boat, so skinny was I then. I lived with my family near the lake; we called it כנרת ים, Jam Kinneret, or Lake Galilee. It is a remarkable lake, full of fish, good water, almost like a paradise with nice beaches, and when you look at it from the mountains, it seems to be endless.

My parents had a little farm, about an hour or so away from the shore, near Capernaum. But I spent a lot of time at my uncle’s place, right by the lake. It was much more interesting. Looking back after so many years, well, almost my whole life, I still smile about it. My cousins and uncles called me Addie, my nickname for Adriel, or what you would translate as “Of God’s flock”.1 ] I loved to be with these guys, work with them, and see the world through their eyes.

It was a hard life on the waters. The lake looked beautiful from the mountains, deep down in the Jordan Valley as it was. But, boy, could it be rough at times. They say, the cool winds from the mountains, in particular those on the other side which are quite high, can easily stir up the waters.2 ] Sometimes it is really frightening. And yet, we had this perfect climate down there, almost tropical, and we could plant just about anything. But I loved the sea more than the land, and fishing was more exciting than looking after plants and sheep. My parents did not mind, as I had more brothers and sisters staying with them. They were happy, my uncle and older cousins looked after me. It was a great life for a boy my age.

Lots of people passed through my uncle’s town. It was fun seeing them all. Local farmers, trades people for the markets, Roman soldiers, Rabbis, young and old — there was always a crowd of people hanging around. Mind you, we hardly ever saw those from Jerusalem, down south, with us being here in Galilee, the North of Palestine. But many people from strange countries were passing through, speaking languages I never understood. No wonder — the many fishing boats on the lake brought in lots of fish much of which was sold right by the shore. I also remember the hot springs along the shores, many of the strangers visited — but I hardly ever got there.

With all these people coming through the towns along the lake, there were many stories about the world out there, which you could hear as a young lad with curious ears. Many of the older people, for instance, spoke with awe about the healing miracles by a young Rabbi from Nazareth, in many places around the lake and in Galilee. He must have been wandering around and seen all these people, many of them much poorer than my family or my uncles.

The Jerusalem people, and the Roman soldiers, despised us — they looked down at us as the trouble makers, the poorer siblings of the Jewish family. And true, there was lots of poverty down here. Later I heard that this young Rabbi, Jeschua from Nazareth, had called us Galileans “sheep without a shepherd” or the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”.

People really were talking about him. Even his family was ashamed about his teaching and healing. Other Rabbis, and the Pharisees, publicly denounced him. And you know, later he was killed, crucified like a criminal. I felt really sorry for him.

2.

Sea of Galilee (Source: unknown)

But in those days there was this really remarkable event, which I saw with my own eyes.

As so often, Jesus had been preaching to the crowd of people, this time quite a large number. They were on some barren hill near the coast, and the people did not want to see Jeschua leave them. I myself had not been with them, but heard my cousins and uncles talk about this gathering.

Anyway, all of the sudden this afternoon my rellies yelled at me to get packing and come along on the boat. Some of Jesus’ followers joined us in our boat, and a couple more boats came along as well. I hopped in and crouched at the bow.

Apparently, Jesus had asked his friends to go ahead and meet him the next day. It was already getting dark, but this did not really worry my cousins. They knew what they were doing, and even I was not really concerned when they were rowing us into the night on the lake.

But then, after more than an hour, all hell broke loose. It had been one of those beautifully warm days and pleasant evening, but now into the night the temperatures dropped quickly and low. We were halfway over the lake when a howling wind came down from the south. The waves got higher and higher, and squatting at the top of the boat, under the bow, I got drenched. I did not mind too much and neither was I worried: This has happened before, and the men at the oars always brought us back safely.

But something was different that night. After such a long time, it’s hard to put my finger on it. I have not been on the lake for a long time now. That night, I was too busy to worry because I had to throw the water out of the boat again.

Then, it became pitch dark. Rain was pelting over us — or, maybe, the spray of the waves … Still, I had no fear. I knew — God was with us. This is what my uncles and aunties were always saying. Trust, do not fear. But this black, deep darkness of the night was truly strange and frightening.

The oars-men had increasing trouble to keep the boat moving. Not only stood the heavy winds against us, but the waves now crashed over us. Some of Jesus’ friends started crying in fear. It was obvious, the men at the oars got tired. They had been rowing, it seems for hours now, and there was no land anywhere near. And still this blacked out night and the howling winds …

Then, some of the men were crying out again, pointing wildly over the waters. Even my cousins started screaming. I had a shiver running down my back, and it took me a while to figure out what I saw: The white shape of a man, standing _on_ the water.

And then we all heard him say,
“It is I. Don’t be afraid!”

I was flabbergasted. A man walking on the waters?! We can hear his voice! In the wee hours of morning — we could just see the first shimmer of light behind the Eastern mountain ranges! …

 

But now something truly crazy happened that has been staying with me all my life.

I did not know the friends of Jeschua the Rabbi well. Actually, I did not know them at all other than that I had seen them before, and now in our boat in the past few hours of the night. But somehow I was aware that they were a bit crazy — fanatical is what I would say today.

Peter, out of all, a fisherman himself, yelled out to his Rabbi:
“Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you!”

And this figure there over the waters just said:
“_Come!_”

3.

Christ walking on the waves, about to grasp
the hand of St Peter, who is sinking into the sea,
with two disciples in the boat. 
Rembrandt, ca. 1632 Pen and brown ink.

For the rest of my life I have been thinking about this. It was absolutely crazy. Simon Peter was an experienced fisherman, and so were his brother Andreas and a few others in the boat. They knew the lake. They had been on it for most of their lives. Some of them had lost friends and relatives, but these were men who knew their trade.

I could not believe what I saw: Peter putting his legs over the side of our boat, standing up —— and _walking_ towards this figure. One, two, three steps …

How was this possible? Had we drifted to the shore again? I could not really see as I was looking towards the drama unfolding.

But against the howling winds, suddenly there was this mighty yell of Peter,
“Help, save me, Lord!!!”

Sure enough, there he was sinking.

The oarsmen put their last muscles into getting closer to Peter, but Jeschua was there before us. He stretched out his hand and pulling Peter towards him.

In the abating wind we heard him say to Peter,
“What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”

Then, when we pulled both men into the boat, the wind and the waves became as quiet as a pleasant morning breeze.

 

These two lines have stayed with me for the rest of my life:

“Come!”

and

“What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”

 

Remember, I was young then, a boy, a lad. Looking back in my old age today, I can only shake my head. It was a miracle, something that nobody could ever explain. And I did never dare to ask, as nobody would have believed what I had seen. You _do not_ walk on water. Yet this Jesus did …

As crazy as Simon Peter may have been, I have always admired him for his courage. He overcame his fear of the deep and dark waters, simply by seeing and hearing his Rabbi Jesus. Against all logic, he stepped out into the chaos. At least our boat, as fragile as it was on these wild and dangerous waters, offered some safety. But _no_. One word, “Come!”, and Peter made this leap of faith.

That’s why I found Jesus’ rebuke so unfair. If anyone showed real faith in Jesus, it _was_ Peter. But he was a human being, like you and me. And humans do not walk on water. Yes, we can swim in it, but not stand on it.

“Why did you doubt?”
It is this question that remained with me. Until today.

Why do I doubt? Is there an answer? I don’t know.

What I have known throughout my life is that God the Lord, or Adonai as we call him, is with us, always: “The ‘I _AM_ who I will be!’ will be with you, always”, is what he said to Moses when he sent him to free his people from slavery in Egypt. (Ex 3,14.12).

And so he protected Joseph, the son of Jacob, and made him prosperous despite his slavery in Egypt (Gen 39,2).

On the other hand, I have since heard people talk about Jeschua the Rabbi. On the cross, in Jerusalem, they say, he cried out,

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Mt 27,46).

But then, in David’s Psalm, we sing

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Ps 23,1).

And the Jesus people today say,

“Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed” (Romans 10,11).

I was a young boy then, now I am an old man. I won’t be able to solve the mystery of Jesus walking on the water, nor the answer to this question. But this call has remained with me ever since: “Come!”

 

Rationale for the Sermon Approach:

I have chosen a narrative approach for this sermon because I could not decide on what to focus in a “normal” sermon. The pericope suggests such an approach, or I would have had to include more historical and theological context.

Also, I don’t know the audience of Mount Barker UC as I am preaching there for the first time — so I thought something most likely quite unusual may attract their attention.

On the other hand, I wanted to include a reflection about the two lines in v29a and v31b which I consider the core of the pericope. But I wanted to avoid a change of roles in the narrative. For these reasons I invented the figure of an eye witness story teller recalling a life changing experience in his early youth. As an old man, he has had enough time to reflect on his observations.

Also, I could have expanded the theological reflection in part 3. but felt that I should give more life to the story. Most of the people will “know” it, but I hope I could add some more local colour …

There does not seem to be much of an agreement about the location of the story. But with the Mount of the Beatitudes near Capernaum at the NW shores of the lake, to sail “across” could have meant south to Kinneret, i.e. along the Western shores of the lake.

 

Image Sources

  1. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
    <images@wellcome.ac.uk>
    <http://wellcomeimages.org>
    Lake Galilee, looking towards Bashan, Israel. Coloured lithograph by Louis Haghe after David Roberts, 1842.
    1842 By: David Robertsafter: Louis Haghe.  Published: 1842]
    Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/>
  2. unknown
  3. The Trustees of the British Museum. Used with permission.
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Footnotes

  1. <http://www.sheknows.com/baby-names/name/adriyel>
    Numerology: SoulUrge Number: 6
    People with this name have a deep inner desire for a stable, loving family or community, and a need to work with others and to be appreciated.
    Expression Number: 11:
    People with this name tend to be idealistic, highly imaginative, intuitive, and spiritual. They seek after spiritual truth and often find it. They tend to be visionary and may inspire others. If they fail to develop their potential, they may become dreamers, or misuse power. [top]
  2. <http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/ednk-seaofgalilee.html>; <http://www.sdrock.com/files/docs/life-groups/study-guides/2005-11-06-studyguide.pdf>; Stefan Inniger, Exegese zu Matthäus 14, 22-33 (no date), p5-6 <http://www.innigers.ch/Predigten/Exegese%20Mt%2014,22-33.pdf> [top]

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