Sermon for 11 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Matt. 14:22-33
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Someone ~ unfortunately I don't recall whom ~ has observed: "Remember, if everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane. When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it."
The famous novelist, James Michener, has this interesting insight in his book Chesapeake: "A ship, like a human being, moves best when it is slightly athwart the wind, when it has to keep its sails tight and attend to its course. Ships, like people, do poorly when the wind is directly behind, pushing them sloppily on their way so that no care is required in steering or in the management of sails; the wind seems favorable, for it blows in the direction one is heading, but actually it is destructive, because it induces a relaxation in tension and skill. What is needed is a wind slightly opposed to the ship, for then tension can be maintained, and juices can flow and ideas can germinate; for ships, like people, respond to challenge."
In today's gospel, Jesus also teaches his disciples and us a basic lesson about sailing. This is a different kind of sailing though. It's a kind of sailing which involves our daily living in this world and our Christian faith. There's a deeper meaning to this gospel passage, which is, at once, quite brilliant, quite simple, quite beautiful.
This deeper meaning shines through to us when we read the story as an allegory. The boat and the disciples in it represent the Christian Church and all Christian people. Indeed, one of the early symbols of the Church was a ship ~ even today, some churches are built in the shape of a ship. Moreover, a boat is the symbol for the World Council of Churches.
The wind and waves beating against the boat, along with the darkness of the night, represent this world with all of its temptations, struggles, conflicts, challenges, sorrows, problems, and so on. There are countless storms that we must face as we live in this world. The average human being experiences everything from personal inner conflicts, fears, doubts and hatreds to outward storms involving other people and all of nature.
Everywhere in this world storms rage ~ pollution, which is killing us and this planet; massive starvation, wars, tragic disasters, unemployment, greater divisions between the rich and the poor, an alarming number of violent television programs and movies, more mean-spirited conflicts and divisions among Christians ~ you name it, the wind and waves are beating against us on all sides.
Today's Church, we Christians are tempted to give in to this world's wind and waves, just as the disciples were tempted long ago. When the storms of this life toss us about, we, like the first disciples, become terrified. We panic, we live in fear, we doubt, we may also attempt to avoid the wind and waves by running away.
However, the Good News of this story is that Jesus comes to us and is with us as we journey through this world's wildest storms. R. E. Lybrand tells the following story:
"An old merchant ship was caught in a dangerous storm on the high seas. The winds were wailing and the waves were pounding the little vessel. All of a sudden the captain ordered a young sailor to climb the main mast and set free the sail which had become tangled. When the young sailor got half-way up the tall mast, he became frightened by the storm which was tossing the boat through the water. Looking down he screamed, "I'm going to fall! I can't go on! I'm afraid the storm will throw me down! What shall I do?" The captain yelled in reply, "Look up, young man! Forget the storm. Just keep looking up and you won't fall!"
Is that not why Peter too fell? Did he not lose his focus on Jesus? We as Church and Christians need to keep our focus on Jesus, by looking up at him always. It doesn't matter how strong the winds blow or how high the waves toss our boat about ~ if we keep looking up in faith to Jesus, we shall be safe. As we keep sailing along through life's journey, Jesus gives us this gift of faith in him. It is all sufficient, it shall see us safely through even the most ominous of storms.
We cannot avoid or run away from life's storms. We can, however, sail through them by remaining in the boat and keeping the gift of faith alive to ride out this world's winds and waves. Therefore, Jesus has provided us with his ship ~ the Church, so that we are able to safely survive, learn and even grow in faith as we journey through life's storms. By coming to Church regularly, hearing God's Word, sharing in Christ's Meal, by prayer, Bible study and fellowship with other Christians, by lovingly giving of our time, talents and treasures in response to all that God has done for us ~ Jesus strengthens our faith, in order that we are able to sail safely through all of this world's storms.
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