13 August 2017

By the Water with the Word of Christ

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.  Thus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, the Lord called forth the Light out of the darkness, and out of the waters He brought forth life.  Not only that, but He determined and established the boundaries and purposes of the waters throughout His good creation.

When God condemned the unbelieving world through the waters of the Flood, He also brought believing Noah and his family safely through the waters in His mercy.  And when He drowned hardhearted Pharaoh and all his host in the waters of the Red Sea, the Lord led His People Israel through those same waters on dry ground.  So did He also lead them through the waters of the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

And in the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, immediately after He had come up from the water, there came again the Spirit of God moving over the water as a Dove, and the voice of the Father from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”  He thereby sanctified the Jordan and all water to be a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins.

In each case God was pointing to the salvation that He has now accomplished by the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son.  For it is by your Baptism into His dying and rising that you are re-created in the washing of the water with His Word.  Your old, unbelieving Adam is drowned and destroyed, yet you cross through the waters with Jesus into His Church, and within that holy Ark of Christendom you are kept in safety in His Word and faith, unto the Life everlasting.

By the authority of His Word, His command and His promise, Christ Jesus has made you a child of His own dear God and Father through Baptism in His Name.  So also by His Word and Spirit, He continues to nourish you in body and soul with His very own Body and Blood, as surely as He fed the Five Thousand with a few loaves and fishes.

It is immediately after that feeding that Jesus sends His disciples on their way, within the boat which is for us a sign of His Church, through the water to the other side.  So does He call you to pass through death into life, through the waters of your Holy Baptism into His Resurrection and His Life.  The crowds who would crown Him as their earthly king are sent home, but He Himself ascends the mountain to pray.  For He is your merciful and great High Priest, who has risen from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father, where He has prepared a place for you in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, and where He ever lives to make intercession for you.

But even as He prays and intercedes (for them as for you), His disciples find themselves in the midst of a fierce storm, fighting a strong, contrary wind throughout the night.  The water rages against them, as towering waves toss them about and threaten to capsize their little fishing boat.

With or without nautical experience, is it not easy for you to envision the scenario?  And do you not face storms of your own kind, in which the wind and waves are set against you in the world?

You may have some sympathies for Simon Peter, in particular, as you think of him out there on the water.  Sure, he had asked Jesus to call him out there, and he stepped out of the boat onto the waves.  But what had he gotten himself into?  And what predicaments do you find yourself in?

Perceiving the turmoil all about him, and the violence of the wind, Peter lost faith in the power of his Lord.  The storm loomed larger in his eyes and in his mind than the Son of God, and the waves of doubt came crashing down upon him.  Turning his attention away from the Word of Jesus to the chaos and confusion all around him, he began to sink.

Yet, Christ does not allow the weakness of Peter’s faith to bring His Apostle to ruin.  Nor does the certainty of your salvation depend on your ability to keep from doubting.  It rests entirely on Christ Jesus, His mercy, and His Word.  For the One who calls you is faithful; He will do as He says.

Bear that in mind, and cling to that sure and certain hope, as you are tossed about by the assaults and accusations of the devil, and as you are sometimes overcome by the scary, stormy world around you.  For you are surely no stronger or more faithful than Simon Peter.  And even though you know better — from the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, the promise of your Holy Baptism, the nourishment of the Lord’s Holy Supper, and His gracious providence of body and soul to the present day — how often don’t you succumb to doubt and fear and sink into hopeless despair.

Do not be surprised that the disciples were not ready for their Lord to approach them on the water.  Like you, they were still learning to expect His help.  In the meantime, seeing what they did not understand, they fell back into superstition and imagined they were seeing a ghost.

Little different from those who look upon the Church as just a bunch of superstitious nonsense: “A place to go on Sunday mornings, maybe — just in case — but certainly not a source of any real consolation.  I mean, come on!  A Pastor going on and on about things you can’t even see, and the hopeless repetition of rites and ceremonies too medieval in their origins to be of any substance.”

Such attitudes exist, yet, they are nothing more than crying “ghost!” at the presence of the Lord.

But Jesus catechizes you and all of His disciples to set aside such human ignorance and to rely upon the almighty power of His Word.  Because your fallen flesh is slow to believe, and it is difficult for you to take your reason captive in the obedience of faith, He comes to your rescue, as He did for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

Here, then, is the Gospel, cloaked in all the power of simplicity: Jesus “came to them.”  He saw their distress, and He moved to bring salvation, just as God so loved the world by giving His only Son.  This is the very essence of His grace.  The Lord, your Savior and your God, He comes to you in peace, though you are unable to come to Him or to save yourself even in the least.

Though the disciples were hindered by the power of the wind and frightened by the torment of the sea, Jesus is Lord of all that troubled them.  And so He came, “walking on the sea.”  St. Matthew states it so matter-of-factly, this amazing miracle of Christ Jesus.  Amazing, that is, to our reason and our finite senses.  But the reality of Jesus walking on the water is more certain than the “reality” of “simple water only,” which many of the disciples knew so well as fishermen by trade.

So it was that Peter exercised his faith in seeking to join the Lord on the sea, despite all that his past experience had taught him.  He did not question Jesus’ ability to stand on the waves.  Nor did he question Jesus’ ability to bid him do the same.  He asked only that his Lord should call him.

As St. Peter would later write in his second Epistle, by the Word of God the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  So, now, with a single Word of divine command from the lips of Jesus, the water does what water cannot do.  As though it were solid ground, it supports the feet of the Apostle as he walks out to his Lord.

And Peter trusted to begin with.  He had faith in the Word of Jesus, as demonstrated by the fact that he got down out of the boat onto the wild surface of the water.  That much is exemplary.  But otherwise, he did nothing remarkable.  Simon Peter merely walked, as he had no doubt been doing since childhood.  The miracle was not in Peter’s feet, but in the water upon which he walked, which, at the Word of its Creator and Lord, performed beyond its natural abilities.

In the same way, when the same Lord Jesus Christ commands this same Apostle and his fellows to baptize all the nations, water must again obey and do what “simple water only” cannot do.  Therefore, have no doubt, but firmly believe, that by your Baptism you are buried with Christ in His death, and you are raised up with Him as a beloved and well-pleasing child of God.

Peter walked out on the water to Jesus, and in the end he returned upon the water with Jesus.  For the Lord was with him and upheld him in adversity.  On his own he was nothing.  By his own power he could do nothing but sink.  Yet, by the power of the Lord, by the Lord’s choice and calling, Peter became the first Apostle of an Apostolic Ministry through which Christ Himself builds and sustains His Church on earth.  It stands upon the washing of the water with His Word, and it is enlivened with His Body and Blood, given and poured out by the hand of His servants.

In much the same way then, Jesus brought peace to His disciples with His calming, familiar voice, urging them to take courage and banish fear with the words: “It is I.”  There’s a lot contained in those few simple words.  This is no ghost out on the water, but the Man, Christ Jesus — their familiar Friend, their Teacher and table Companion, real and in the flesh.

But He is more!  For the Man who stands before them on the water is not only the Son of Mary, but also the Son of God, the great “I AM,” God Himself incarnate.  By His presence, the disciples may be certain that no longer are they at the mercy of the wind, but rather subject to the mercy of their Savior.  He whom winds and waves obey has not left them alone in the storm.

Nor has He left you.  For Christ Himself is with you always, as He has promised, most especially in His Word, and above all in the Sacrament of the Altar.  He is here with you, not in the unveiled brilliance of His majesty — which your sinful, mortal flesh could not bear — but hidden in the familiar elements of bread and wine, such as you might find in your own cupboards at home.

In these ordinary elements, by and with His Word, the Son of God gives you His Body to eat, which He once offered on the Cross for the forgiveness of all your sins; and He pours out the Cup of His own Blood, by which you are made alive, righteous, and holy before the Throne of God.

By this salutary feast you are strengthened and sustained upon the waters of your Baptism, lest you sink like Peter into despair and drown under crashing waves of doubt.

Consider that, although Peter did begin to sink, the Lord did not allow him to go under, but immediately stretched out His hand to save Peter in spite of himself.  So does Christ stretch out His hand to you, to lay hold of you in mercy and uphold you with His Body and His Blood.

Therefore, do not despair that you have not stood perfectly, but rather give thanks that you have not perished altogether, and ask for pardon wherever you have failed.  You thereby acknowledge the grace of the Lord who helps you, who forgives your sins and has mercy on your weakness.

Heed the good example of St. Peter, who cried out for salvation from his Lord Jesus Christ.  You, likewise, fall upon the mercy of your God and Father in Christ Jesus, and call upon the Lord to come quickly and help you.  For whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.

Thus do the adversities of life, and even the doubts and waverings of your faith, drive you back to the Cross of Christ.  They force you to see the futility of trusting in anything else, and they lead you to cry out with Simon Peter: “Kyrie Eleison!  Lord, have mercy!  I cannot save myself.”

And as you confess your many sins, God remains faithful and just.  For Jesus’ sake He cleanses you from all unrighteousness.  And at the right time, according to His good and gracious will, Christ will come to claim you with His Bride, the Church.  He will deliver you forever from all the storms of sin and death, having safely kept you by the power of His Word.  As even now, within the boat with Jesus, the winds and waves have ceased, and there is Peace in His forgiveness.

Therefore, take courage, and do not be afraid.  For He Himself is with you in this place.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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