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How will you know Him?

Romans 10:5-15 Matthew 14:22-33 

When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.” “Come,” He said. Matthew 14:26-29.

This is a strange story that has captivated the Church for two thousand years. The early Church used the story to buoy up the spirits of those who faced persecution and death for the sake of their faith in Jesus.

In Matthew chapter 14, the disciples are still coming to terms as to Who Jesus is. Matthew is leading them on in their understanding, from the time Jesus called the four fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John, in chapter 4, to the amazing declaration at the end of this story, when those in the boat cried out, “Truly, You are the Son of God!” In being a part of the miracles, the disciples learn more of the identity of Jesus as the Messiah.

He is the demanding Lord Who is present with those in need, Who exhorts His disciples to trust Him and not be afraid.

Twice, the disciples acknowledge Who Jesus is, probably still trying to grasp what they have seen and heard. There is the account recorded here in our text today. Then in chapter sixteen, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Finally, in chapter 17, Peter James and John are present at the Transfiguration, and hear the voice of God Himself, speaking to Jesus: “You are My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him." Their growing realisation is confirmed by God Himself.

Matthew is leading us too, toward a fuller understanding of the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. Perhaps Peter can be a mirror for us. Lord, if it is You ...' implies that Peter cannot be sure the figure walking upon the waves is Jesus, unless that Figure should call him out there on the deep waters.

As we see Peter, peering out of the boat into the storm-tossed, angry seas, we may well wonder if that very thought was on his mind. Is it a ghost, or is it the Lord?

The first impression was that He was a ghost. Lord, if it is You… we hear him cry above the roar of the gale… Here we have a question that deserves an answer: Who is Jesus? What does He look like? If you met Him in the street, would you know Him? In today's scripture, a group of Jesus' own disciples have difficulty recognising Him.

They don't know that the figure who walks among the roaring waves is none other than Jesus himself. At early dawn, they see a terrifying sight – a figure walking toward them on the sea! Terrified, they cry out with one voice: “It is a ghost!"

Then Jesus called to them. "Take heart, it is I; don't be afraid."

Possibly, the gale tore away His words. They still were not sure who – or what – he was, for then Peter called back: Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.

Jesus once told the disciples that if they had even as much faith as a grain of mustard seed, they could do all sorts of amazing things, but there is something astonishingly brave about Peter’s words. Would we have that sort of faith? "Lord, if it is you, command me to risk my life, to tempt death, and walk out across many fathoms of dark, threatening sea." Jesus is the One Who extravagantly, recklessly, invites us to leave the safety of the boat, to step into the wild sea, to test the waters, to show what our faith is made of.

Perhaps sometimes it is hard to recognise Jesus because He comes to us in so many different forms. "Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me," goes the old hymn, for another day, another situation. The words of another hymn seem more appropriate in this situation: "Jesus calls us o'er the tumult of our life's wild, restless sea…” In today's Gospel, however, Jesus doesn't simply call us o'er the tumult. He doesn't even call us out of the tumult. He calls Peter into the tumult, as Peter calls out, Lord, if it is you, command me to walk on the waves. The Church has always had missionaries. Not all are called to serve in dangerous areas, but there are missionaries – some of them young, single women, or young couples with children, working in many distant and dangerous places around the world; often in constant peril. Around the world, there is more persecution of Christians today than in any other period of history. 

 Over the years, many missionaries have lost their lives. Where Bill and I grew up, in Leeton, the Roberts family had an uncle, who went as a missionary years before to South America. He was eaten by cannibals. Years after that, the two who had gone with him and survived, went back, possibly, they feared, as dessert – but in time through their ministry of care, the whole tribe became devout Christians. Those missionaries, as many have, heard the Lord calling them out of the safety of the boat, to put their lives in danger and at risk of death. On mission fields, as well as in the comparative safety of Christendom here in Australia, Paul’s letter to the Romans 10:15 is a signal reminder: And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. There is an urgent need here in Australia for vast multitudes to hear the Word, and believe.

By the end of today's reading, the storm is stilled, the raging waves are silent, and the disciples are safe in the boat, but not before Peter, the premier disciple, has made an astonishing journey of faith.

 The disciples, awe-struck, said at the end of today's Gospel, Truly, You are the Son of God. They confessed that Jesus is the One Who is able to show us the true nature of God. He is able to command us, to do amazing, risky, Godly tasks. He is not only our comforting Friend, but also our demanding Lord.

Down the years, great works of humanitarianism have been the result of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of people such as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King and countless others; many of whom, like King, were martyred; who feared neither death, nor man, but went into the storm, knowing that the Lord of the storm, the conqueror of death, was with them.

Like the disciples, now we know the identity of this mysterious Person! We know it is the Lord, because it is He Who calls us in His Name. There’s one more important point to be gleaned from this mysterious story. There come times in life when we feel that we are the very end of our tether.

Like the disciples, we fear the storm will overwhelm us. Maybe our storm may be a sinister report from a medical scan, for ourselves or a loved one. Maybe it’s a failing relationship, or creeping debt, or the death or imminent death of someone we love; even relentless dementia, draining our mind or the mind of someone we hold dear. Whatever form our storm may take or be taking, it’s gathering pace.

That’s when we need to hear those comforting words calling to us above the storm: Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.

Someone wrote out a list of how many times those words, ‘Do not be afraid’ or variations, appear in the Bible. It’s 145 times

The Lord Who comforts us in our trials is also the One Who calls us forth in His Name.

Not everyone is called to do dangerous or exciting deeds. Most of us are called to serve Him where we are, where we live, in our local Church, but everything we do – the smallest deed done in His Name is dear to Him. The Church, the Body of Christ, calls us to all sorts of everyday tasks within the community of faith.

Whether to small deed or large task, it’s quite possible that this compelling, demanding, passionate and compassionate God of ours is calling You out of the boat.

Let us pray:

Lord, we come, because you have called us together. You have called us by name, and summoned us forth to be Your disciples. Reveal Yourself to us, Lord. Show us Your glory. Speak to us so that we will know that the One who meets us in in our worship, is the One who calls us to witness and service, every day. Reveal Yourself to us as Lord and Saviour, Friend, Redeemer and Comforter of our souls. Amen. 

Tuggeranong Uniting Church 13 August 2017

 

 

Tony Lang

The Rev Tony Lang is a retired Presbyterian minister. He provides regular preaching support to Presbyterian congregations in Newcastle and the Hunter as well as Uniting Church services at Wangi, where he lives. Tony has also been a regular preacher at TUC, when he and Janet have been visiting Bill and Jenny. Tony is also a poet and writer.

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Comrie Street
Wanniassa ACT 2903

PO Box 423
Erindale Centre ACT 2903 

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering and ministry.

We aim to help people have life to the full. We welcome people into a our Christian community where they can connect with God, with one another and with opportunities to make a difference in our changing world.

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