Sunday Sermon: Faith Over Fear

This story is like the second half of an unbelievable tale. Almost like the next episode on your favorite television program after the previous show ends with a cliffhanger and you’re waiting to find out what comes next.

When we last met with Jesus and the disciples, we were with them along the shores the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just fed the 5,000, which, if you remember from last week, was probably more like 10-20,000 when you include women and children. Before that, he had met their needs and cared for the large crowd that gathered around him.

The scene came in the context of Jesus needing to get away for some prayer and reflection. This after he had received news that John the Baptist, his cousin, was beheaded. So, we left the story in the midst of wonder, awe, and celebration.

We pick it up, however, with Jesus ready to send everyone out. That need for rest had not gone away for Jesus. There is no time to stay along the shores. He is desiring that long-yearned-for rest that has, so far, evaded him. The crowds are wanting to stay. The disciples are wanting to stay. Jesus, on the other hand, wants everyone to leave, so he can go to the hilltops around the Sea of Galilee to pray, contemplate upon the mission, and rest.

Jesus doesn’t let everyone stay, even though they wanted to remain with him. He sends them away. The crowds he sends out to return to their communities and homes. The disciples, on the other hand, were sent out to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Most likely, they were sent to go to another port stop upon the western shoreline of that massive lake. Regardless, Jesus sends them out into the sea and into the storm that was brewing.

The disciples were familiar with the sea its weather currents that could create situations that were difficult for those on the sea. They were trained fishermen who had traveled up and down the shores trying to provide for their families. On this particular night, there was a massive storm that ravaged the disciples as they rode the seas.

A strong and powerful storm is not that uncommon around the Sea of Galilee. Winds can come across and over the hills and cliffs. This can create massive storms, which produces large waves that push up against and can cripple a small fishing boat. These storms can take what is a quiet and serene sea and create something that would be more common in an ocean setting.

Perhaps something similar to that happened on this particular evening when Jesus sent the disciples out into the sea. You know the disciples had to be downtrodden for having been sent out to go elsewhere, so Jesus could rest. They wanted to stay, but Jesus sent them into the sea and, eventually, into the storm. After the miraculous moments at Tabgha, perhaps the disciples were expecting a smooth night where they, too, could reflect upon what had happened and remain in that emotional high.

Instead, they were sent right into the storm. Jesus sent them there, into the sea, and into the storm. They were pressed by the waves. They were trying to throw water that was filling their boat up over the sides. They were trying to survive and were, perhaps, no longer thinking of this emotional high they experienced a few hours earlier. They were in the midst of the storm, and were only focused on surviving.

Just like the disciples, we are sent out into the storms. Our storms are not necessarily raging waters, but we are sent out into the world to be a witness of Christ. When worship ends and we receive the benediction, we are sent by Christ into the world and into our lives to continue the worship by sharing God’s love. This sending comes, like the disciples, after high moments of worship and celebration where we have encountered the grace of God and called to go and be Christ-like in the world.

That sending doesn’t come in a bubble, even though we desperately wish it would. That sending comes in the midst of life and all its struggles. The sending and call to be Christ-like comes as we care for our families. It comes as we seek to navigate our careers or interests and honor Christ through them. It comes as we wrestle with health struggles and mental health complexities. It comes as we desire to be faithful as a church in our community. It comes, too, as we face unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, schools that are struggling to reopen, and racial inequality. Yet, we are called to be faithful in the midst of the storms that swirl all around us.

Instead of these moments leading us to be the best of ourselves, it is often when we experience these struggles that our faith in Christ can get overwhelmed. We forget that it is Christ who sends us and if Christ send us then he is there with us. What often happens, though, is when the storms overwhelm us our faith doesn’t always shine. We want the storms to stop, instead of seeing them as opportunities to grow in faith and share God’s love in a deeper way. We just want it to all go away and be calm.

I want us to think about this for a moment. What if this was Jesus’ intent? Perhaps Jesus purposely sends the disciples out into the storm to reveal something about himself and the mission of the church. Jesus doesn’t do anything without a purpose behind it, and I believe this to be the case here. The disciples are overwhelmed by the storms, and they are crying out to Jesus.

And Jesus comes. He doesn’t come on a boat. He doesn’t swim out to them. He doesn’t even wade along the waters. He is walking on top of the water and through the storms. It doesn’t even phase him. The storm and the gushing water doesn’t even stop Jesus. That is because Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, and is Lord of not just you and me, but the entire creation. There is nothing that can contain Christ or prevent him from the mission. When the storms are overwhelming, for Jesus life is calm and peaceful.

When we go to Jesus in the storm, we can experience the grace and peace that comes from the Lord and are able to do what seems impossible to us. That is what happens with Peter. He sees Jesus approach the boat, the disciples, and the gushing waters. He wants to go out there with Jesus, and is invited to do that. Peter goes and walks along the waters. The storms do not phase him. That is until he begins to look around and sees the water crashing along him. He remembers that there are storms all around him, and it leads him not to have faith, but to be overcome with fear and anxiety. He starts to sink in, and cries for Jesus to save him.

It is then that Jesus reaches out his hand and captures Peter. The two end up back in the boat with the disciples. What strikes me is what comes next from Jesus. His words are striking and power to Peter, the disciples, and us. “You have so little faith,” he says.

Jesus is not talking about faith as a measurable commodity. Faith is not something you can measure with a cup or a ruler. He is speaking of the quality of faith. The essence of a connection to Christ that in the midst of struggles is rooted in the hope of God and the Lord’s constant presence. A faith that does not waiver when there are struggles, but one that finds its deepest expression in seeking Christ and growing in the Lord’s love through pressing forward when the storms overwhelm. A faith that is not overcome with fear or anxieties about the ways of the world, but is a living witness of Christ’s light through the storms.

This is the faith that Christ, who is not bothered or overwhelmed by the storms, invites us to claim. A faith that is willing to be bold and willing to share hope, because of our life in Christ. Do we have a faith in Christ that is connected to the Lord even when there are storms all around us? Do we have a faith in Christ that is willing to be bold for Christ and take risks in sharing the Gospel’s hope even as the storms are raging?

If I’m honest with myself, often in my faith journey I allow the storms of life to take hold of me like Peter. I yearn to be bold, but I can let the storms overwhelm me. When this happens, I can sometimes be more interested in surviving the day than always being focused upon where Christ is leading me. I’m hopeful for the storms to end more than anything else. Does that sound familiar to you?

Does it sound familiar to the mission of the church? When the storms are raging all around us — the struggles of the world’s pressures — are we confident in our walk with Christ, with a deep faith, or are we consumed with fear and feelings of being overwhelmed? When we, in our mission as a church, are consumed with fear and being overwhelmed, we are less likely to take risks or to be bold in our walk with Christ. We are more likely to try to maintain the status quo and surviving.

I believe Christ calls and invites us into something more than just simply surviving. I believe Christ desires of something more than being overwhelmed by the storms that can ravage us.

Christ is present in the storms and is not bothered by them. We can have faith that God is present, as we seek to discern what it means to see the storms as opportunities to deepen our faith and witness in Christ’s eternal presence. We can be bold in faith, because we worship the Lord who is with us in the storms.

We cannot hide from the storms. We cannot run from them. The truth is there will be storms. There will be challenges, but Christ is there. We can have faith in that not be fearful of what we see. Instead, we can be witnesses of Christ through the storms.

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