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We tend to put the worst construction on life, as if whoever or whatever is calling the shots is always out to get us. Whenever something bad happens to us, or whenever we struggle in life, we tend to moan that nothing good ever happens to me and I shouldn’t expect anything different.
You know how this works. The dishwasher breaks, and as soon as we fix that the car needs repaired, and before we can catch up with that, the air conditioning goes. And we think to ourselves, “Of course this is the way it would happen! I can’t enjoy myself for a moment before disaster comes and takes it all away. Of course this would happen to me. There’s always something. Life’s a struggle and then you die.”
Or we’re not feeling well, and we go to the doctor, and the doctor discovers that something’s wrong and sends you for further tests. And in the meantime, your imagination goes into high gear, and all you can think about is that you’re going to have cancer, and if you have cancer, then you’re going to die. Or if it’s not cancer, you have something that’s going to ruin your life, and you’ll never be the same again. And because we tend to put the worst construction on it, we’re paralyzed by the fear of what could happen.
Every day, throughout the day, I repeat to myself Psalm 118.24: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I probably repeat that to myself 50 times a day. And I have no problem with the first part. Yep, this is the day the LORD has made. He’s the Creator, and he has made this day. He has once again called light out of darkness, set the sun in the sky, and done all the million other things necessary for the world to turn and for time to go on. And he has delivered us to this day. I have no problem with that part. This is the day the LORD has made. But that second part. Often, I find it difficult to get around to the rejoicing and being glad in it. There my cynicism gets in the way. “Ugh! Will this day ever end!? If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”
We tend to put the worst construction on life, as if whoever or whatever is calling the shots is always out to get us. Whenever something bad happens to us, or we struggle in life, we tend to moan that nothing good ever happens to me and I shouldn’t expect anything different.
But we don’t have to. We don’t have to put the worst construction on it, because the one who is calling the shots, the one who is finally in charge isn’t some demon who’s out to get us, but Jesus. And so no matter what happens to us, we don’t have to jump to the conclusion that the worst is going to happen to us. Instead, we can confidently expect his love and faithfulness to win out in the end.
That’s exactly what Jesus taught his disciples in our gospel reading today by scaring them half to death.
I mean, really, you have to wonder why Jesus would walk out to them on the water in the middle of the night. Jesus sent his disciples in the boat ahead of him while he stayed back to pray. And when it was the fourth watch of the night, that is, about three in the morning, they were far out to sea. And Jesus came strolling out to them, walking on the sea. How did he expect them to react!
I mean, it’s the middle of the night when bad things happen under the cover of darkness; and they’re out in the middle of the sea, which is a strange and unpredictable place with nowhere to hide; and then you see a man walking on the water and he’s approaching your boat. What else are you going to do but freak out?! And that’s exactly what they did. Matthew says, “when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘it is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear.” What else are they going to do but put the worst construction on it!
On the other hand, though, why should they be afraid? They’re disciples of Jesus, who cast out demons. There was a time when Jesus came across two demon possessed men who came out of the tombs and were so fierce that no one dared even pass by that way. Everyone stayed away. But when they saw Jesus, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?” And they begged Jesus not to torment them. And he simply cast them out. They’re disciples of Jesus, who is in charge even over the sea. There was a time when they were caught out on the sea in a great windstorm and the boat was being swamped so that they were about to drown, and Jesus was taking a nap. They woke him in a panic, saying, “Save us, Lord, for we are perishing!” And Jesus stood up, and rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm. They’re disciples of Jesus, whose power over creation is only matched by his compassion. When they brought to him those afflicted with various diseases and pains, epileptics and paralytics, he had compassion on them and healed them all.
What do they have to fear? The one who is calling the shots, the one who is finally in charge is Jesus. And that’s exactly what Jesus said. “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Despite their fear, they weren’t in danger for a moment.
And then Peter, suddenly overcome with faith that the one who controls the sea is Jesus, said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And so, Jesus did . “Come,” he said. And Peter stepped out of the boat and walked one foot in front of the other on the water out toward Jesus. I mean, why not? Jesus commanded him, and Jesus is the one who has power over all creation.
But when Peter got to Jesus, he suddenly noticed the wind and he was afraid. And to a point, you can understand that, right? Peter is standing on the water in the middle of the sea and the wind is blowing hard. You don’t have to be an admiral to realize how powerless you are against the force of the wind and the waves. Peter couldn’t help but put the worst construction on the situation. And he began to sink, and cried out, “Lord, save me!”
But come on! Do you think that Jesus would call you out to walk on the water only to let you be overcome by the wind, to watch you drown? Despite his fear, Peter wasn’t in danger for a moment! And Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased and they worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. The one who is calling the shots is Jesus, who cast out demons, who commanded the wind and the waves, whose power over creation is only matched by his compassion, who died our death so that even the grave can’t take us out of his hand, but can only lead us to the resurrection of the dead.
And that means we don’t have to put the worst construction on life. When we encounter hardship and struggle, we’re quick to jump to the conclusion that whoever or whatever is calling the shots has the worst for us in mind—that just because we face one struggle after the next means that it will always and only be that way. Or that just because we get sick means that we have nothing to look forward to but death. Or that the unknown means the future will be unbearable.
But why, of all people, should we jump to that conclusion? We know that the one who is calling the shots, the one who sits at the right hand of God, is Jesus. Jesus—the one who poured himself out for us and laid down his life for us! That doesn’t mean that we won’t face hardship. That doesn’t mean that we won’t get cancer, or even that we won’t die. But it does mean that no matter what happens to us, no matter how hard or difficult, we can expect and rest assured that Jesus’ love and care will win out in the end. We can live, confident that the love and faithfulness of God is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord. We can face each day, each struggle expecting that the one who died and rose again for us will never let us go. This is the day the LORD has made. (What do you say?) Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”