Pastor Michael Frye:
In the mid-twentieth century the most economical and popular way to travel great distances across the country was by train.
There were normally a couple of Pullman cars with sleeping berths for overnight travel.
Tommy was taking his first train ride with his parents.
When it came time to go to bed, his mother put him in the upper berth and told him not to be afraid because she and his daddy were in the berth beside him, and that God was there to watch over him while he slept.
The lights went out, and he did pretty well for awhile, but the train lurched forward a couple times and shook him awake.
“Mommy, are you here?”
“Is Daddy here?”
“Is God still here?”
“Yes, dear, God is still here; now please go to sleep.”
This same routine went on every fifteen minutes or so until about 1:00 in the morning.
“Mommy, are you here?”
“Yes, dear.” Suddenly, a deep gruff voice barked from the other end of the Pullman: “Yes, your mommy’s here; yes, your daddy’s here.
Now get quiet and go to sleep!”
There was a sudden silence throughout the Pullman car, and then a little voice whispered once more: “Mommy, was that God?”
Is that not, indeed, the case with us as we are maturing in our faith?
Our faith needs voices and visions and feelings in order to sustain us; it needs to grow.
We need to reach that point where we know that God is present, even when we cannot sense or feel God’s presence.
But the lack of a mature faith does not mean that we have lost our faith.
It does mean that where it is lacking, Jesus is there to lift us up and bring us forward.
Our Gospel lesson for today is a good reminder of that fact.
It is a continuation of the story we had last week with Jesus feeding the multitude of people.
After all were fed and left, Jesus still wanted to have time to himself to pray and deal with the loss of his cousin, John.
So, he sent the disciples to the other side in their boat while he stayed behind.
The Sea of Galilee was surrounded by mountains, and it was subject to sudden storms with raging winds and torrential rain.
The disciples knew that lake well, so for them to be frightened by this storm meant that they knew what the wind and waves and rain could do to their boat.
(We have to remember that in those days fishermen and sailors believed superstitiously that when storms arose, it was because of demons who were churning up the waters).
Then, if that weren’t enough, they saw the figure of a man walking on the water toward the boat.
“It’s a ghost!”
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” Jesus said in an assuring voice.
Of course, they were thrilled to see Jesus and hear his voice, even if they were baffled as to how he was walking to them on the choppy waves.
But Peter, good old Peter, just had to meet Jesus out on the waves.
Surely enough, Jesus gave him the command, and he stepped out onto the waves and started toward Jesus.
Again, a strong gust of wind frightened him and he began to sink.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt,” Jesus said, as he raised Peter from the waves and took him into the boat and calmed the storm.
Now, you notice, Jesus did not say “You of no faith,” because he knew that Peter and the others did have faith in him.
Their faith had not yet matured to the point that they had complete trust that God would be with them in all situations.
Martin Luther saw such miracles as this as parables of life.
When Christ comes into our lives we should expect that storms will follow.
Luther believed that auch miracles teach us “the nature of true faith, how it braves the battle and the storms and comes to Christ relying upon his help.”
Theologian Richard Van der Loos went so far as to say that the fishing boat which was once in distress on the Sea of Galilee has been converted into the ‘ship of the Church.’
In fact, the very word we use for this place in which you are sitting is “nave,” which is Latin for ship.
Look at its shape, the rafters above me; turn it upside down in your mind, and you will get the picture.
You and I are literally in the same boat as Jesus’ disciples.
We are dependent upon him for assurance, and hope, and salvation from the storms that pervade our world today.
God sends us out to confront the storms of life with the knowledge that Christ is weathering those storms with us every step of the way.
We should remember that Jesus came, not only to motivate us through our faith, but also to help us to resist our fears.
John records Jesus’ words in his gospel: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid,” and to let fear be cast out by “perfect love.”
In his book, “There Are Demons in the Sea,” Dr. Richard Carl Hoefler observed “There are times when fear is good,” because it can keep us from things that could harm us, and “there are times when fear is an ally of faith and not its enemy.”
The Psalms are filled with positive views of fear:
“Serve the Lord with fear.” (Psalm 2:11);
“In thy fear will I worship.” (Psalm 5:7);
“I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Psalm 34:11); and in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
This is not the kind of fear that filled the disciples in their boat on the stormy sea; rather it is a healthy respect for the power of God.
Is this not the real message of the Gospel today–not how much faith we have, but how much power God has over our lives?
This world needs the Church’s faith, and its fear of the Lord, in the worst way these days.
As two world leaders are threatening to bring “fire and fury” down upon one another, it stirs up a frightening storm among many nations and cultures.
This can cause instability and a sense of dread and hopelessness.
But the Church has hope; the Church has love of God and love of neighbor; the Church has stamina and resilience that has moved it through many storms and conquests in its twenty centuries of existence; and the Church has faith in Jesus who promises to bring calm to those storms that cross our path.
The Church (and that includes you and me) has a mission in the midst of the storms of this present age, to share the word that our God is a loving and all-powerful God who is very much present in this boat we share called earth.
God will never abandon us or leave us lost.
For nothing in this world (no other power, no other being) is powerful enough to keep him away.
In the name of Christ, and for his sake.