Fear or Faith?
Text: Matthew 14:22-33
John Ortberg in his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, tells the story of a balloon party. John and his wife are joined by another couple for a hot air balloon ride. The pilot is a young man.
Ortberg says the balloon basket is different than he expected, coming only to their knees. Any jolt or sudden movement could cause them to fall out and plummet to the ground. So they hold on tightly as they rise up into air.
Pastor Ortberg strikes up a conversation with the young pilot by asking how he got into piloting hot air balloons. “Dude,” says the young man, “it’s like this…” The young man was a surfer and got into ballooning because of an accident. He was driving a pickup truck and had too much to drink. He crashed the truck and badly injured his brother. While his brother was recuperating and not able to do much they started watching hot air balloons.
Then the young pilot said something like, “By the way don’t be surprised if things get choppy on the way down. I’ve never flown this particular balloon before and I am not sure how to handle the descent!”
That is when Ortberg’s wife glares at him and says, “You mean to tell me we are a thousand feet up in the air with an unemployed surfer who started flying hot air balloons because he got drunk, crashed his pickup, injured his brother, and has never flown this balloon before? And he doesn’t even know how to get us down?!!”
The wife of the other couple looks at John and says, “You are a pastor. Do something religious!”
“So…I took up an offering!”
Ah, fortunately it is a joke! An old one, but good.
Fear. It has a way of grabbing our attention, stealing our focus, blinding us. Fear can paralyze us, imprison us, weaken our thinking and destroy our faith.
The disciples in our gospel reading our overcome with fear. They have just witnessed Jesus feeding five thousand men, plus women and children with a lunch of five loaves and two fish. Miraculous! Stunning! mind-bending! Unbelievable!
Then Jesus immediately sends the disciples, by boat, to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He dismisses the crowds, stays behind by Himself and spends time alone in prayer. Meanwhile, the disciples encounter strong head winds that impede their progress. In vain, they are fighting waves tossed up by the wind. After hours of torment and struggle they have moved the boat about a mile and still have a long ways to go. Their lives are not in danger. But, they are tired, weary, frustrated, grumpy and ready to quit. But they can’t. So they struggle on. Then in the darkness—it is about 4 O’Clock in the morning—they see a figure walking toward them on the water. They jumped to the only logical conclusion they could! They were seeing a ghost and it was coming their way. Why are we so afraid of ghosts? Hmm.
They panic and cry out in terror. They have been fighting wind and waves for hours. They are worn out and discouraged. They are easy prey for superstition and irrational thinking. Fear seemed to be the best response to their situation. That’s is when Jesus—immediately—calms them and shouts out above the sound of wind and waves, “Take heart. It’s Me! Don’t be afraid.”
Then Peter—bold, brash and bodacious Peter—says something unbelievable and shocking. “If it is You, Master, command me to come to You.”
Jesus’ response is simple, “Come!”
And, again, unbelievably, bold and brash Peter leaves his comfort zone, climbs out of the boat, steps tenaciously onto the water and begins his journey to meet Jesus on the turbulent wind tossed waves. And he is doing it! At least until he takes his eyes of Jesus and properly assesses his situation. The roar of the wind in his ears and the wind tossed waves capture his focus and he caves into fear.
Fear has a way of taking over. It robs us of faith. It destroys our confidence in God and God’s ability to care for us. Peter sinks into the water, and as he goes under he cries out, “Lord, save me!”
Just like that Jesus is right there, above Peter. He reaches down and grabs Peter’s wrist and pulls him up above water. Together they make their way to the boat walking on water. When they get into the boat the wind calms and the waves smooth out.
Then our text says the disciples look in amazed wonder at Jesus and worship Him, saying, “You really are God—the Son of God.” As if to say, there is way more to You Jesus then meets the eye.
What are you afraid of today? What are you looking at? Is fear or faith governing and guiding your life and decisions? The focus of our faith should not be on the things of life that alarm us. Our world is crazy right now. It has always been so, but we don’t always see it. Health concerns and the virus dominate the news. Economic distress and social unrest and protests fill the news. Election concerns cause us to cringe.
So, where should our focus be? What should we be looking at? God who is still in control. When we see Jesus this way, we can be like bold, brash and bodacious Peter—we can leave the safety of the boat and follow Jesus where He leads us. We can trust Him. We can yield to His leading. We can care about justice and lend a hand in making a positive difference in our world. That is better than giving into weariness and slumping down in our troubled boats, giving in to suspicion, superstition and fear.
So, are you with me? Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and follow Him.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.