Command Me to Come to You

Proper 14, Year A: Matthew 14:22-33. St. Timothy’s, Lake Jackson, Texas.

What was Peter thinking? Who does he think he is? And where did he get this bizarre idea? 

The strangeness of this gospel passage isn’t so much that Jesus walked on the water. The strangeness is that Peter wants to join Jesus out there — on the water, in the stormWho is this guy?

But first, the Gospel of Matthew is clear about who Jesus is through all of the scriptural references embedded in today’s passage. 

The divine name “I AM” revealed to Moses in Exodus[1] is used when Jesus responds to the frightened disciples, “Take heart, I AM; do not be afraid.” 

Further, this passage evokes the psalm “Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.”[2]

And from Job, “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea.”[3] The scripture references may be subtle, but the gospel passage ends with the not so subtle, “Truly you are the Son of God” (14:33). 

Who is Jesus? the Messiah. God incarnate.

But who is Peter? And just who does he think he is? 

We are gulf coast people, so through our experience, we have a particular respect for wind and the water. The conditions described on the Sea of Galilee sound dangerous. And while this “Sea” is only 4.5 miles wide, as we all know, it is possible to drown in a bathtub. 

So, as the waves battered this little boat, on which there were undoubtedly no lifejackets, the threat to life was real. And in the early morning hours, the “fourth watch” which is 3-6 am, surely exhaustion was fear’s companion. 

Safety card posted on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. 2018 Holy Land pilgrimage with Perkins School of Theology, SMU and Christ Church Cathedral, Houston.

I imagine myself in this boat with the disciples, gripping the side, as wave after wave threaten to finish us. Overcome by my own feelings of terror and powerlessness, the real mind-bender for me comes when Peter wants to step out onto the water. 

Who is this guy? Arrogant fool? Out-of-touch dreamer? Or faithful and courageous lover of God?

Listen to Peter’s words: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 

Command me to come to you. 

Direct me to join you in what I perceive as threatening.

Direct me to join you in what I think is impossible.

Because the only place I want to be — is with you. 

And, there are times that may require a strong directive. A command.

Who is Peter? And who are we? Arrogant fools? Out-of-touch dreamers? Or faithful and courageous lovers of God?

Remember, the strong wind continues to blow; the water is still rough. While Jesus said, “Take heart, I AM, do not be afraid,” there’s no mention of him flipping a switch and turning off the wind and the waves.

This causes me to wonder if Peter’s words suggest his fearfulness and his faithfulness. For, those two things often go together.

Command me to come to you, Jesus.

I am curious about how Peter got to this place in his discipleship. Peter’s first encounter with Jesus (in Luke) inspires a confession: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”[4] At this point in Matthew, Peter is filled with holy imagination, open to the possibilities of the kingdom of God! 

Peter is the faithful and courageous lover of God. He is a model for us. And his words “command me to come to you”[5] is a fitting prayer for all of us in fearful and troubling times…

And indeed, these are troubling times. The sins, divisions, and failures of our society are being laid bare right now. It is tumultuous and turbulent, like a storm.

But God does not abandon us. God in Jesus is with us, in the midst of the storm. And if we fix our eyes on him, remembering who he is, we will discover more fully who we are and can be.

Jesus stands in the tradition of the prophets of Israel and emphatically preaches care for the poor, orphan, widow, the stranger, and all vulnerable persons. As you have done it to the least of these, you have also done it to me, says our Lord. Jesus lived and taught non-violence, and broke bread with sinners… 

Which reminds us that no person is beyond Christ’s redeeming power. Churches are hospitals for sinners. Churches are schools of God’s love. 

And as former South African President Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” 

And above all, that is what Jesus teaches: love. Not a sentimental love, but a strong, courageous, compassionate, and self-giving love. Love God and love neighbor … this is the command and the timeless truth that withstands and gets us through every storm.

Think of Peter’s confession, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” That kind of spiritual honesty, with God’s grace poured out, changes lives and communities … beginning with each of us.

On this day, let us pray:

Lord, command us to come to you … on the water, in the midst of the storm, in fear and in faith. 

Grant us your grace, 

As we examine our hearts and repent and amend our lives; 

As we engage in redemptive and reconciling conversations with one another and our neighbors; 

As we refuse to be bystanders when cruelty and hatred seeks to have its way. 

Command us to come to you, Lord, even in the midst of the storm! 

Especially in the midst of the storm!

And when we become fearful and begin to sink, your Holy Spirit is as close as our breath; your hand is ready to save. 

And though our faith may be little, it is not absent. So, increase it, Lord!

And fill us with your holy imagination that we may more fully envision and see your kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. May we be receivers, teachers, and givers of your love. 

Finally, grant us clarity about who we are: Courageous, faithful lovers of God, daily seeking your grace that we may more fully live into the name Christian — given to us through the living waters of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Amen.

+++

Sea of Galilee, 2018.

Video of this sermon can be found here.

[1] Exodus 3:24

[2] Psalm 77:18

[3] Job 9:8

[4] Luke 5:8

[5] St. John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. http://www.catholicprimer.org

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