“Uncertainty Breeds Fear or Faith”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – August 13, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 105:1-7; Matthew 14:22-33

    This morning we are going to consider what happened immediately after Jesus spent the day teaching, healing and eating with 5,000 people.  Last week, we learned that Jesus had just heard about the senseless beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist.  He wanted to be alone to sort out his feelings and to pray. 

    If there was ever an opportunity for Jesus to say, "Where was God during this occasion?" this was the time.  However, Jesus never questioned God about what was happening among people who were still spiritually asleep.

    King Herod got drunk at his birthday celebration when he promised to give his stepdaughter anything that she wanted as a reward for her sensuous dancing. After consulting with her mother, Salome requested the head of John to be brought to her on a silver platter. (Matthew 14:8)  

    Since this was an occasion when Herod's entire court was celebrating his birthday, the deed was done.  Herodias had her revenge.  She hated John because of the numerous times she and Herod endured John's public humiliation and condemnation of their relationship.

    Jesus got into a boat and rowed it to a place where he could find solitude.  Upon his arrival, he noticed that a large crowd had followed him on the land.  He took pity on them and began teaching and healing.

    After they shared the late afternoon meal with each other, Jesus wanted to pursue his desire to be alone. He dismissed the crowd and directed his disciples to row their boat to the opposite side of the lake where he would join them later. Jesus entered into a period of solitude.

    According to Matthew, the disciples were far out in the lake when they encountered one of the fierce storms that appear to come out of nowhere.  Early that morning while it was still dark, Jesus decided to go to the disciples who were struggling in the wind.  The disciples became frightened by what they saw coming toward them. The figure looked like a ghost.  Jesus announced who he was and told them not to be afraid.

    Peter wanted to get out of the boat and come to Jesus.  Jesus invited him to do so.  However, he became afraid of the strong winds and began to lose his balance.  He called out to Jesus to grap hold of him.  Jesus did so and then asked him why he was afraid.  

    Now, of course, the big elephant in the room that has always accompanied this drama is whether or not Jesus actually walked on the water. Numerous people have totally dismissed the Gospel account as nonsense.

    A number of life's most valuable lessons are missed because people throw the baby out with the bath water.  The message of this passage had nothing to do with people walking on water.  Jesus had just asked Peter a question, "Why is it that when gale-force winds were blowing and you lost your balance, you called out for me to save you?" 

    This question has a timeless quality to it.  Maybe we have felt the same way during moments that produced insecurity and uncertainty when our faith did not appear to be working for us.  

    If we want to grow spiritually, we have to recognize and embrace our fears by interpreting them as a warning that new skills are about to be added to our lives.  A threatening experience may be our private and personal wrestling partner, one that no one else has.  Threatening issues are always our private tutors that encourage our growth toward character and skill development.

    Who cares about the science of how Jesus and Peter met in the water.  There are Greek words in this Gospel account that can also be translated that Jesus was walking near the water's edge where the strong winds had carried the disciples' boat.  We should not become distracted by the translation that tells us that Jesus was actually walking on the water.

    The point of the story was that Peter's faith was floundering even though Jesus was standing right in front of him.   How many times do we find that our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak?  We know that everyone dies, but it becomes a very intense and personal matter for us when death comes to one of our loved ones. We should fully expect that our flesh is weak particularly when threatening experiences are new ones. 

    I am a pastor that would have been contented to remain in my small West Virginia congregation for my entire career. What has always given me security and confidence is doing what I enjoy, not where I do it nor the accolades that may result from my doing it.  My preference has always been to fly under the radar for most of my life and do the best I can where I am. 

    A time came when I was asked to become the next chairperson of the Board of Directors of a sizeable corporation.  I was asking myself, "Are you kidding me?  Why me?  Isn't there someone infinitely more qualified to do this?"  I knew very little about Robert's Rules of Order.   

    The Board members were most intimidating to me, e.g., there were physicians, architects, bankers, accountants, attorneys and CEOs of companies.  I did not sleep a wink the night before my first meeting.  Fears of failure lurked everywhere.  I had never held a position of leadership outside of the United Methodist Church.

    I was standing right where Peter stood and thinking, "Save me," knowing that God has always been with me.  However, emotionally, I was a wreck.  Every airline pilot has his or her first maiden flight with an airplane filled with passengers.  Every surgeon has cautious feelings while operating on his or her first patient. 

    This is life coming at us and we have to break through our insecurities and uncertainties by simply stepping up and dealing with what is in front of us in the most creative ways that we can.  No one can do this for us.  If we refuse life's calling to us to deal with unfamiliar circumstances, we put our growth on hold.  Fortunately for us, God is very patient with all of us.  

    Maturity, confidence and faith are not automatic qualities that develop because we are getting older.  These are skills of spirit that are forged in the fires of our fears.  They can easily breed uncertainty, insecurity and hesitancy.  This is perfectly normal for everyone of us.  We only learn how we are wired when circumstances cause us to use circuits that we never knew we had.      

    In spite of the fact that Peter brought a sword to a prayer meeting and used it on an unarmed man, in spite of his denying three times that he knew Jesus, the Master said to Peter, "You are the foundation that will support those who follow me." (Matthew 16:18) 

    Last week was our Council meeting.  There were numerous members that voiced their concern about the future of our small church-family.  This was a unique moment to ask if we are driven by fear or faith?  If we turn back the pages of history and look at Jesus and his twelve disciples, Centenary is miles ahead of where they were. 

    They were isolated in an obscure part of the world. They were not located in Alexandria, Rome or Athens.  No one of note ever heard of Judea. The group was surrounded by people who could not read or write.  Their religion was centered in a Law Code of "Thou Shalts."  Jesus never ventured more than 90 miles from where he was born.  He was killed by the Romans. 

    There was no justice.  Life had not been fair.  For most people at the time, Jesus failed.  However, Jesus knew that it only takes a small spark to get the fire going.  Jesus provided that spark and let go so God could do the rest.

    When we are afraid of failure, the missing ingredient in our life is what God can do through our presence in the world.  What was missing in Peter's life was the lack of experience in dealing with the issue of drowning. 

    When we experience enough moments that evoke our insecurity and uncertainty, and learn to punch through the barriers those moments represent, we develop faith and trust that cannot mature in us by any other way. With constant practice, we can become invulnerable to what used to evoke our fears.

    We have to approach the sport of living like an athlete that wants to win.  When we treat life like a game, we always bring our best to the next event even when that event looks impossible to accomplish.  When our fear of failure looms, we must remember that the Creator of the universe has our backs.  God knows how to make the impossible happen. (Matthew 19:26)

    There are a good number of people who will never believe this unless they have evidence. The next time you discuss this with doubters, ask them how Jesus' teachings reached every country and province in the world in the 21st Century.

    Jesus did not have a publicist or a marketing specialist.  He did not have access to social media, YouTube, the Internet, printing presses, a book distributor, or television and radio with satellite links to the world.  Jesus just stood firm when he was among people and said:

All of you can do better than this. If you listen to me, I will teach you new ways to interpret your life-experiences.  They all have a purpose for your spiritual development once you assign a meaning to them that will encourage you to make choices that will cause you to grow.

    Do not underestimate Centenary's reach.  We must remember what God did with a teacher and a group of men who were flawed.   They had no formal education and they definitely were not very religious. (Luke 9:54)

    Right now, what we know about our world is that very few people are teaching spiritual growth or how to creatively interpret life.  People need to dream bigger dreams, speak with words of encouragement and become a friend that supports others on their individual journeys.

    Currently the world appears to be filled with people whose profound insights are filled with criticism, negativity, blaming, slander, false educated guesses and all manner of personal attacks. They remind us of members of the Sanhedrin who were threatened by Jesus' message.  There are only a few visionaries among them that give hope, support and encouragement to those who are attempting to lead.

    It is our job to step-up and become the cheerleaders for everyone we meet.  God will do the rest with results we will not live long enough to see.  We need to learn to look at ourselves as planting seeds for the next several generations. 

    All of us are grateful to those who paved the way for us.  Now, it is our turn to continue the practice for tomorrow's world.  One of the qualities of life that separates people is that so many of us show up in our relationships with our own agenda, an agenda that too often lacks love. 

    All of us need to remind ourselves and everyone else that we are one people.  Everyone of us is a daughter or son of our Creator.  The best way to prove the truth of this is to make this understanding visible by how we live.   



Merciful God, we thank you for surrounding us with treasures that can be discovered and used by everyone.  Yet those treasures are like a burning bush.  As Moses turned aside to seek your presence, so must we.  It is we who must search for your guidance.  It is we who must desire peace, kindness and compassion when there are moments when we experience the temptation to respond otherwise. You designed us for growth while leaving the pace of that growth up to us.  With grateful hearts, we come this morning celebrating our faith and our journey with you.  Amen.  



Loving God, we are so thankful for our lives and the beautiful tapestry that can be created when we allow you to weave the threads of our bittersweet moments into a work of art. 

So many times, we become caught on the edges of an experience that we feel is so unjust and unfair, without ever knowing how that experience might be preparing us for a more fulfilling future.  We are quick to judge our circumstances without knowing how one piece of the puzzle fits so perfectly into another, a process that we only recognize through hindsight.  We marvel at how failure can lead to an open door, how a fractured relationship can lead to one that heals, how a change in our job status can lead to a remarkable opportunity or how frustration can inspire our creativity. 

Help us, O God, to trust your guidance in how we interpret the unfolding of our lives.  Only when we doubt your presence do we find ourselves blind and lost.  Only when we forsake our trust in you, do we find ourselves seeking fulfillment in places that cannot provide it. 

Lord, help us to be more open to the movement of your spirit.  Help us to lead others to the discovery that they, too, have a spirit that can inspire them to heights of happiness they have never known.  Help us to remember that if others are ever going to discover what Jesus taught, it may be up to us to do the teaching. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .