Do Not Fear
Notes from the pastor
Read Matthew 14:22–33

You know the story.  Peter, called out by a water-walking Jesus, finds himself in real danger on the storm-churned waters of the Galilean Sea and needs the rescuing hand of Christ. Water of the sort Matthew describes always represents chaos in the Bible’s language, but it is also understood as a kind of womb for new life.  Right away that lets us know that this is a story of transformation for Peter and the disciples.  Unlike an earlier episode in which Jesus calms a storm in response to the disciples’ terror, this time Jesus calls Peter into the storm.  And Peter obeys.  He steps out to face the chaos, enter the struggle, and meet Jesus where he stands; an image, perhaps, of what discipleship means.

So why does this miracle matter?  Well, truth be told, it wouldn’t matter much without what happens next.  Walking on the water to meet Jesus, Peter is suddenly overwhelmed by the raw, chaotic power of the storm.  In fact, Peter succumbs to fear so completely that it eclipses the presence of Jesus standing before him.  Suddenly, he begins to sink, and as he does he begs for Jesus to save him.  Take note the order here: Peter doesn’t begin to sink and become frightened.  Peter becomes frightened and begins to sink.

 Losing sight of Jesus in the chaos of our present moment means that like Peter we will plummet into the dark, suffocating waters of fear where we can’t long survive.  As with a body of water, the deeper you sink, the more oppressive its pressure becomes.  When we doubt that Christ can really transform our world, or when we can’t understand why tragedy and violence seem to blot out God’s presence, our existence can feel dark, cold, and sequestered.  But those experiences, while very real, are not because God has abandoned us, but because we mistake doubt and fear as obstructive to life in Christ.  Sure, we know what Paul says in Romans, that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.  Even still, we sink because we are frightened, and fear is a powerful god in our time.

The good news, however, is that the dark, cold, crushing water — the last place we expect Jesus to show up — is exactly where Jesus’s hand reaches down to Peter!  The Jesus who calls us to step out into the chaos also provides the means to emerge from the waters to new life.  The hand of Christ reaches down into the depths of our doubting, our anxieties about the future and about God, and our sinfulness in whatever forms it takes (personal or systemic), so that we become agents of God’s mercy.  Jesus is reaching into us this very moment to pull us from the cold, isolating waters of racism, political divisiveness, self-righteous posturing, and our insistence on ignoring the storm that rages around us when Jesus is actively calling to live toward a different future.

All Jesus asks is that we leave the boat; that we realize our place is with him, engaging the chaos of the world by loving our neighbors, praying for our enemies, and witnessing to a God whose name is mercy.  Amen.

Pastor Patrick Murphy

Last Published: September 7, 2017 11:52 AM
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