"Discipleship Is A Growth Process”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 10, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 105:1-6; Matthew 14:22-33


    This morning I want to return to where we left off from last week’s lesson.   As you may recall, Jesus and his disciples watched as five to ten thousand people ate together by sharing the food they had brought with them.  Our lesson today begins with what happened after their meal.  Jesus directed his disciples to sail home while he stayed behind to dismiss the large group of people. (Matthew 14:22)

    We get more insight into why Jesus did not sail with them when we read about this event from the Gospel of John.  Anyone who could get a group that size and that ethnically diverse to share their food would make a fine leader for Israel.  John wrote that leaders in that group were about “to seize Jesus and make him king by force.”  (John 6:14f) 

    Jesus did not want his disciples to be a part of this interaction so he sent them home without him.  He intended to walk home by traveling around the north end of the lake.  Because the large crowd had walked around the lake to greet Jesus, he had postponed what he came to this desolate place to do.  He wanted to be alone to work through the beheading of his cousin John.

    Now that we have set the context of our lesson for today, we can turn our attention to the drama that was about to unfold.  The people had been dismissed, Jesus had his down-time and the disciples were on their way home.  Lake Galilee is well known for its storms that suddenly appear out of nowhere.  These storms pack severe wind gusts and produce enormous swells that can easily scuttle fishing boats. 

    Being caught in the storm himself, Jesus probably looked down on the lake from his vantage point high in the hill country and noticed that his disciples were in trouble.  They were struggling to bring their boat closer to shore – a strategy used by fishing vessel crews when they were caught in severe storms.  Jesus hurried down to the lake to help them.       

    What has intrigued believers for years is that Jesus was reported to have walked on the water.  In fact, in our pew Bible the subtitle for these verses is, “Jesus Walks on the Water.”  Please listen carefully to what I am going to tell you because I do not want to spoil any imagery that you have been taught for years.     

    When this event is described in verses 25 and 26 there are two Greek verbs in the text that are different.   In verse 25 we have a verb -- thalassan – that can mean “walking on the water” or it can also be translated “walking toward the water.”  In verse 26 a different Greek verb is used (peripatein) which has only one meaning, “walking in the water.”

    This means that there are two acceptable interpretations to this event.  One is that Jesus literally walked on top of the water during a fierce storm.  The other version is that Jesus ran toward the water and actually waded into Lake Galilee to help the crew stabilize their boat

    The manner in which Jesus and his disciples came together during this fierce storm really does not matter.  What happened next is the core meaning of this story.  While fearing for their lives, several of the disciples noticed a shadowy figure moving toward them.  When Jesus heard their fears that a ghost was approached, he yelled back, “Relax!  Calm down.  It is I.”  (Matthew 14:27) 

    Peter exclaimed, “Lord, if it is really you, invite me to come to you.”  Jesus said, “Sure!  Jump out of the boat and come.”  The lesson says, “He got out of the boat and began working his way toward Jesus.  Suddenly, he became fearful of the wind and the overpowering waves.  He sank beneath the waves and he yelled out, “Save me, Lord!”

    Our lesson indicates that Jesus grabbed a hold of him and said, “Where is your faith, Peter?  Why are you afraid?  Do you honestly think I would tell you to get out of the boat if you were in any danger?” 

    We know from the Gospels that Peter’s faith repeatedly failed him.  Jesus had his patience tested many times when his disciples’ attitudes and responses reflected few of his teachings. He knew that faith and trust were qualities that cannot be taught.  They have to be developed through constant practice.  Jesus knew that the enemy to faith’s development is fear. 

Jesus had the ability to stay grounded with both of his feet in the Kingdom of God.  This enabled him to interpret the movie filled with the drama of living that his sensory organs were recording.

    The important lesson that needs to be stressed today has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus actually walked on the water, nor the importance of Jesus’ ability to calm the fears of his disciples. What mattered to Jesus was reflected in his words, “Where is your faith, Peter?  Why are you afraid?  Do you honestly think I would tell you to get out of the boat if you were in any danger?” 

    When we experience our faith failing us, it generally comes when we are stressed, tired, disappointed in someone’s behavior, or when a loved one is suddenly swept from our lives.  In other words, we experience our faith failing us when we are emotionally overwhelmed by what is happening in some current moment. Life can change in a flash and few of us are prepared with responses that reflect our faith.

    For example, recently a young man had been doing too much celebrating during Cup Match weekend when he decided to drive home. After smashing into two cars, he ricocheted into a couple’s tent as they slept. The father of three children has since died from his injuries.  His wife is still hospitalized but is expected to live.  Very few people are prepared for such an event.

    We fail in our discipleship all the time.  Fear is a very powerful energy.  Sometimes the responses of others hurt us beyond measure.  Sometimes we become angry at God.  Sometimes we do not understand why life has no guarantees, particularly when we have done everything we know how to do to live in accordance with our understanding of God’s will.  We love our neighbors.  We step out on faith and then life appears to pull the rug out from under our feet.

    All failures of faith will become our teachers when we remember that we are attached to the vine that is pruned quite frequently so that it will bear more fruit. (John 15:2)  Being able to hold on to our faith is not a given.   However, when we are hurt, we can grow patience and perseverance.  When we are disappointed, we can grow understanding that life is not always fair.  When we suffer losses we can grow in our trust that our future will be brighter than it is today.

    Last Sunday we experienced Holy Communion by taking the fruit of the vine and bread into our bodies.  By this act, Jesus was teaching his disciples, during their last supper together, that the power of the universe is within them standing ready to grow by leaps and bounds each time they use it.  (John 16:13) 

    When we make no judgment about the circumstances surrounding us and when we think to ourselves, “What can I do in this situation to become part of a solution?” a powerful and unexpected energy is released from within us.   

    Some years ago a woman stood in front of a United Airlines ticket agent sobbing and hyperventilating. She was experiencing a complete emotional melt down.  As she feebly attempted to communicate why she was upset, she told the agent that she had waited at the carousel in the baggage claim area and her luggage never arrived. 

    He listened patiently as she told him about the items she had purchased for her grandchildren.   He ushered her into a side office as she continued with her story, he responded with words that were reassuring and comforting. He asked if she still had her baggage claim numbers.  She did and he entered them into the computer terminal.   He invited her to follow him to a side room near the baggage claim area.  He opened a door and there sat her suitcases.  Her luggage had been put on an earlier flight.  

    She was an infrequent flier and did not know that such a practice can happen.  She not only hugged him but she wrote the President of United Airlines to tell him about one of his exemplary employees and how he had helped her deal with a major crisis.  That agent was Tom Ziesemer, a man that a number of you have met.  Tom is the husband of my sister, Jane.

    Instead of beseeching Jesus to save us when life becomes complicated, we need to realize that we are setting ourselves up to hear the Master ask, “Where is your faith?  Why are you afraid?” Jesus is depending on us to be his disciples that make our faith visible.  We cannot continue to be needy people that are always looking to Jesus to save us from our circumstances.  We are the ones that must extend ourselves so that we become the light in someone else’s darkness.

    Eventually, Peter discovered the power of his inner world and conquered his fears.  A number of Biblical scholars believe that the earliest Gospel contains the memory of Peter’s sermons that were recorded by a young man named Mark.  Mark’s Gospel supplied the footprint for Matthew and Luke.  Mark also gave testimony to Peter’s growth.   Just as Peter’s faith evolved after repeated failures, so does our faith. 

    We must remain patient when our faith fails us.  For faith to become a rock upon which we stand takes time and practice.  Jesus wanted Peter to stand strong in his circumstances and never doubt or be afraid of anything that life presented to him.   Eventually Peter learned how to live without allowing fear to dictate his responses.  At the end of his life, Peter told his executioners that he did not want to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.  According to early Christian sources, the Romans crucified him upside down.   

    When the storms of life rage, we are the ones who need to be a part of the solution that calms the emotions and spirits of others.  This is what discipleship looks like.  This is how discipleship transforms our lives.  This is discipleship at its best.