Jesus is always with us
Aug 9 “Jesus is always with us” Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
I have never been a boater. Id’ rather splash around in streams and creeks, fly-fishing rather than tossing a worm and bobber and waiting. I have vivid memories of camping at Lake Wallowa as a child, putting pop cans in a stream to keep them cool, and renting a rowboat to explore the lake. The water was so clear you could see the bottom far from shore, the rocks menacing in the cold depths. Clutching my life vest, I shrank from the water in the bottom of the boat, certainly rising, imperiling this fool-hardy adventure. I was only too happy to get back to the shore. Never again, I swore.
We have all heard sermons about Peter walking on the water, encouraging us to keep our eyes on Jesus so we will not sink amid the waves when trouble arises. It is such a familiar story, I won’t quote it here, but encourage you to read the story again if you need a refresher, as well as the story of Joseph being sold into slavery. Even in such harrowing experiences, God’s hand was with both men, using their experiences to show His faithfulness. We don’t have the benefit of having Jesus physically with us, so what does this passage mean for us, in this time of fear and suffering? Do we still believe that Jesus will come walking on the water to save us?
We are not told if Jesus meant for this episode to be a teaching lesson. Perhaps he is taking the shortest route between point A and point B, out for a morning stroll. Perhaps he wasn’t intending for Peter to join him on the waves but allowed Peter to again follow his impulsive and non-reflected ways. This story is easy to see in our minds, and perhaps we even think we would be successful where Peter failed, but do we really have experiences that would relate to this? If we were in church, this would be the time to ask for personal stories of leaps of faith and how Jesus caught us and brought us to victory.
We should note that the disciples weren’t out fishing or joyriding, Jesus had sent them ahead and planned to meet them after some alone time. Jesus also sends us out in His name to do what He calls us to do, strengthened by our time alone with Him and in worship individually and corporately. He may not be physically with us, but His presence is always with us, the Spirit dwelling within us, comforting and guiding us. For us, the question isn’t “would we walk on the water and not sink?” but is “will we have the courage and faith to take that first step even when we don’t have Jesus physically there?” Will we boldly follow Him even when we don’t have a clear path to Him and to where He wants us to go?
In such times of great uncertainty, we may be too afraid to take such a step, or carelessly take the wrong step in the name of faithfulness. Instead, we seek to do the right things, even though we might fail, with deep prayer and prior consideration of the needs of the situation. Yes, we step out in faith towards Jesus, but we also acknowledge the guidance of the Spirit, which will guide our steps and bring about good ends even when we make bad choices. Paul says in Romans 10:5-15:
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down)”or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Whether we feel like we are stepping out onto a path that feels as unsolid as water, or feel like we have feet of clay, we are still called to follow Jesus and let the power of the Spirit guide our steps. We don’t wait until we can meet together in person for worship again, we keep stepping out in faith even now, especially now, when so many people are suffering and need the words of hope, love, and salvation. We don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to take that step, we step out in faith every day and witness to Christ in thought, word and deed, praising Jesus at the start of each day and asking for opportunities to share Him with those who need Him. What are you waiting for? Somedays we will be the one who needs to hear those words again, and it is good to spend time alone with Him, but other days it is time to get into the boat and go out before Him. Peter may have tried to walk on water, but the others in the boat didn’t, and that doesn’t mean that their faith was not equally impacted by the experience. We don’t have to take the lead; we don’t have to go it alone. Peter may have taken that step, but someone needed to keep steering the boat. Others were at the ready if Peter needed a helping hand. We all play our part.
Matthew tells us that Jesus sent the disciples ahead, and then He “dismissed” the crowd. A little tidbit that we might overlook. Did He bless them, pray with them, give them some parting instructions? Perhaps we identify better with this crowd than with the disciples or Peter, as we too come to Jesus but then go back to our homes and continue with our “secular” lives of work perhaps and taking care of our families and other concerns. We don’t do anything worthy of remembrance in Scripture, we just continue our lives and seek to remain faithful. We keep sharing and serving Jesus in our daily lives, not by becoming missionaries or evangelists, but by being faithful in the roles He has given us. Jesus is always with us, the Spirit guides us and protects us.
A shared theme of today’s readings is that God can use bad experiences and our mistakes and failings to bring deliverance. Joseph’s pride infuriates his brothers, so they sell him into slavery. In doing so, Israel’s future is secured as Joseph becomes a powerful man in Egypt and saves his family in a time of famine. Paul teaches that even though we are weak and sinful, God uses that for his purposes, and provides salvation not through our merits, but solely through faith in Christ. No matter what we have done, no matter who we are, God’s grace is sufficient: ‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Romans 10:12-13). Peter’s faltering faith could lead to him drowning, literally, but Jesus is there to lift him up. We get into such scrapes too, some of our own doing and some that are forced upon us, but Jesus is there through them all, the Spirit is within us strengthening and guiding us, seeing us through to better times, carrying us into greater heights of maturity and faith.
We, too, look for ways to leverage our experiences, especially the hard lessons we have learned from life, into paths of grace to the Kingdom of God. As Joseph’s path to Egypt allowed the feeding of those who would follow his footsteps, we help others upon similar paths to ours, our experiences serving as lessons for them. We don’t just quote Scripture at folks; we show them how we have lived God’s Word and witnessed the good results that followed:
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15).
We may start fearfully, but Jesus will lead us to victory.
When I was in high school, I think, some in our family went fishing for salmon off the Washington coast. My fear of boating as a kid was still there, but so was the desire for adventure. We got up early, met the boat, and headed out as the sun was coming up. The water was certainly rougher than at Lake Wallowa, but I enjoyed the big waves, riding them up and down, so far from shore. Everyone else was in the cabin losing their breakfast, so I manned most of the fishing rods and worked hard to bring everyone’s salmon aboard, taking lessons from the crewman, watching him toss their innards to the seals back at the wharf. We start small, get some experience, and move on to greater things. God uses our failings, our faltering first steps, to accomplish greater things, as we walk with Jesus and let Him be our guide and teacher. But often, we step out on our own, sometimes blindly, sometimes with faith, sometimes not, or so we may think. But even when we fail, Jesus is there to lift us up, dust us off, and send us onward. He will see us through this.