The audio version of this sermon can be found here.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“Ye of Little Faith”
The words of Jesus, more than any others, would bring tears to the eyes of his disciples.
The 12 have good reason to have lessened in faith. In fact, in Mark’s Gospel, they have accused of having no faith at all.
But it is clear that fear has gripped them. What started as small worries have grown in their minds to full-blown fear.
I asked my son Jacob this week what he thought fear was.
He said, “It’s like being in a store and you don’t know where your parents are.”
Fear is not only a sense of loss, but also the feeling that things are going to get worse.
With this, most basic definition, we could say that fear is the antithesis if hope- which is a good feeling about the future.
It is amazing about fear- that a small amount of it, if unchecked, can grow into something big even when there is little evidence that things are actually getting worse.
The disciples have been running the gamut of fear and hope all day long. They woke up this morning with the news that Jon the Baptist has been executed on a whim, and Jesus is in mourning. If John was killed, they have good reason to fear for their lives. Then, the number of followers doubled over night as the followers of John flocked to a new Shepherd in Jesus. Fear returns for the disciples. There are too many people to take care of, and they beg Jesus to send the people into the towns to eat. But Jesus being Jesus makes the food last, and the disciples faith and hope are restored. But it fades again.
Case and point: So after the feeding of the 5k Jesus sends the disciples to get started on the journey across the lake. By midnight Peter and the other disciples are in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. It’s nighttime- not a great time for sailing. All they have as they bail out water is the dim light of their lamp. And they cannot see the shore. The winds pick up, and the sea churns. The disciples are fearful of their lives. They have been in this situation before.
In Mt 8 the disciples are again at sea and the story starts terrorizing the boat. But this time Jesus is there, asleep. They wake him up and he says, “Ye of Little faith” to them, and then calms the sea. And the disciples ask each other- who is this guy- who even the seas and the wind obey him? Remember that question- we’ll come back to it.
That was then- and this is now. And where is Jesus?
Jesus has been trying to get some alone time for 3 chapters. His mentor John is dead, and he goes to the mountain top to pray and be alone.
We all know that feeling of finally getting some peace and quiet. For me it was sitting on the couch after the kids go down and before the first one of them wakes up, Ashley and I listening to the crickets.
Jesus’ time on the mountain doesn’t last long. He probably feels the wind whipping up. He thinks of his followers who are probably feeling abandoned and scared.
So he descends the mountain in search of them.
The disciples are losing hope and replacing it with fear. They feared for their lives this morning in the abstract, but now it seems likely. If the Mountain is where you go to get close to heaven, the sea is where you are closest to hell. They are reminded of the superstitions of their day. Many believed that the sea was the refuge of the damned. That all those lost souls that died at sea and were not given a proper burial were haunting the place. They believed that the sea below led straight to Sheol or Hades. And the waves would take your life in a storm and remain indifferent to whether you live or die.
So when they see a figure in the dim light reflecting from their lamp on the water, they assume there is only one thing it could be: A ghost there to take them down through the depths of the water, and down to the land of the dead.
Jesus approaches and says, “It is I, do not be afraid” but really the greek tells us that he says, “I am” not ‘It is I’” which the Hebrew word for God.
But while he’s still a way off, Peter asks to join him walking on the water.
Peter, who is the curious George of the New Testament, says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you.”
What is Peter thinking? A second ago he was convinced that he was going to his watery grave, but he sees Jesus and now wants to get out of the boat?
Whatever the reason he starts out of the boat. But then the fear comes back. Notice that the wind does not increase, but rather he notices the wind more.
He says, “Lord, save me”
Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs his friend and they make it back to the boat. He calls the wind and says those words, “ye of little faith” did you know that Jesus says this 6 times in all of the gospels and 5 of them are here in Matthew. And all six are directed to Jesus’ disciples. Not tax collectors or Pharisees, but to the very people who should know better, having seen all the miracles.
Little faith seems like a good qualifier for it, when the bonfire of their faith has been reduced to a flame the size of a pilot light.
It reminds me of a story of a young monk who was supposed to be a lawyer but for some reason decided to become a monk and get that terrible haircut. In the solitude of his room at night- the fear of life and death overcame him. Feeling that he was unworthy- that the sea of his sin was going to drown him. Any noise he heard made his fear worse- any shadow became the devil. Since he was keeping others awake at night his mentor, a man by the name of Staupitz.
Staupitz came into the monk’s room and said, “Martin, why are you shouting?”
Luther, exhausted by his own fearful imagination turned to his mentor and explained that he was nearly out of hope and full of fear. He told him that the sins were too many, that his errors to great, and that God could not and should not save him.
Staupitz looked at his student and uttered these words, “Say to God, I’m yours; save me.”
In deed arguably Luther’s entire catalogue can be reduced to these five words, uttered from the depths of self-inflicted darkness.
So, is a little faith enough? I think so. The kids sing this song, This Little Light of Mine, and our faith is often as small as that. We sing, don’t let Satan blow it out!
Like a kid lost in a store, like grown men shaking at the indifference of the sea, Luther repeated these words over and over.
Sometimes that thing that looks like a Ghost is really Jesus walking on water. And even when our fear gets the best of us, a little faith can put us in the same boat with our messiah.
I’m yours. Save me.