Faith; Universal Church
Oh We of Little Faith
Gospel Reading Matthew 14:22-33
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, Mercy and Peace are yours through Christ Jesus who has been crucified, resurrected and glorified for you!
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (vs. 31) Oh you of such small faith, why do you doubt? Oh we of little faith, why do we doubt?
Sadly some who read or hear these words think that Jesus was being judgmental and critical of St. Peter; surely it is the right of God the Son to judge the hearts of men, but is this what Jesus was doing? Are we to assume that Jesus expected Peter to be perfect and immoveable in regards to his faith? How could God in one place say, “When you are weak, then I am strong” turn around so completely and criticize Peter and us when our faith becomes frail and we begin to sink because of doubt, fear and despair? So what is the lesson for us this morning? To know this we must dig deeper into our scripture readings this morning!
I. In our Gospel reading, we find the disciples alone in a boat, in the middle of a lake, which is the sea near the land of Gennesaret. Jesus had just finished feeding the 5,000 men plus the women and children, and he needed time alone to pray so he sent them off by themselves.
A. As the wind and waves grew stronger, the disciples were alone in the boat, waiting for dawn to come and their Savior to meet them as they steadily continued towards the other shore. They were about 3 ½ miles out in the middle of this sea, and it was almost dawn; a new morning was about to arrive. It was the time of morning when the eyes of men can play tricks. It can make one believe that something sinister is moving in the dark. It was during this time, that the disciples began to see a figure walking towards them on the water. This sight caused great fear inside that boat; they thought that it must be a ghost or maybe a demon coming to get them. They must have screamed out, because they soon heard the Words, “Take courage, it is I! Don’t be afraid!” Well now, they knew that voice. That was the same voice that taught them of God’s love with Words like, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my Word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) But, they must have wondered, “How can flesh and blood walk on water? As fishermen who undoubtedly knew this lake, they must have known that to walk on a sea like this was physically impossible! How can this be? Who could this be?
B. But Peter, being the most steadfast of the group knew the voice and Word of his Savior. Peter did not know how this could be but he did know who this could be. So he called out to the figure on the water that spoke with the voice of his Master: “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you (out there) on the water.” So he listened again, waiting to hear. “Come” replied the voice of his Lord, and with great excitement he threw himself upon the waters walking quickly to meet his Lord.
C. But Peter… poor Peter, just as he was almost at the Lord’s side, took his eyes off of His Lord. He became distracted by the waves and the wind that threatened to swallow him whole and carry him to the bottom of the cold, dark and deep lake! He must have felt the waves hitting his legs with ever increasing strength, and he must have heard the wind howling in his ears just before he cried out “Oh no! Lord save me (I’m sinking)!” And then just as he was about to go under, he felt the touch, no the grasp of his Savior’s strong hand and Peter began to rise out of the cold, dark water. Peter began to rise above his fears as his focus returned to the source of his faith.
D. After Jesus lifted up Peter above the waves and out of the water that threatened Him they returned to the safety of the boat and Jesus looked at all of them and said “Oh you of little faith!” Why was their faith so little? It was little because they doubted Jesus ability to come to them upon the waters! It was little because they mistook their Savior for a demon or ghost. Peter’s faith was little because He lost sight of the source of his faith and instead focused on the threat of the wind and waves. Why was their faith so little? Because their sin was so big. What is the cure for sin? Confession and repentance. What did the disciples do? They confessed the littleness of their faith by recognizing the greatness of their God and Savior Jesus Christ. Verse 33 says that they “worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.””
Please notice, that in order for Peter to be saved he had to first sink. If you or I would have been there and seen Peter rush out onto the waves to meet Jesus we surely would have admired his faith. There was no hesitation, he was called and he rushed out. But Jesus looked within the heart of Peter and saw not a big faith but a small faith, and to prove it he called upon the wind and waves to test that faith. And test it they did. Great exuberant faith would soon be replaced with fear and doubts. Now that is a heart that Jesus can work with. It is a faith that looks to Christ alone for safety and salvation. It pleased the Lord to see Peter’s faith become small. Peter had to decrease so that the Lord could increase. This is how a heart is moved to confess “Truly you are the Son of God.”
II. So what shall we do with this Word from God? What would God have us learn as individuals and as a congregation?
A. Everyone of you here this morning is facing a challenge in your life; that is certain. Some of you may be deep within turmoil, worry and fear, while others are running from it and ignoring it. These are the waves and the winds that threaten to swamp your boat in the middle of a ragging sea that once was a tranquil lake. Perhaps you are a mother or father in pain for a child who once knew the Lord but now is living a life that seems to be completely separated from the love of Christ. By way of illustration, allow me to share with you a story that nicely demonstrates both the love and anguish of a mother and the insistent love of Christ.
Illustration: Years ago in South Florida, a little boy went for a swim in the large pond behind his house. His mother, looking out the back window, saw what his young eyes had ignored: an alligator swimming on an intersecting course with her son. She ran toward him screaming. Quickly he turned and started to swim back. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. The mother lunged and grabbed his arms as the gator grabbed his legs. The gator's strength was met by a mother who would not let go.
The boy, with terrible wounds did live. A reporter covering the story visited him in the hospital and asked to see the boy's scars. The lad lifted the sheets to give him a glimpse of his legs. Then the boy asked the reporter a question. He said, “Would you like to look at my arms. I have scars on my arms, too. I've got these because my mother wouldn't let me go.” That my friends, is what a mother's love can do. Can you imagine what Jesus' love can do? The world will grab you, it will even try to kill you, rip and scar you. But Jesus will not let you go. He will hold you safe and secure in His nail-scarred hands. You can believe it. Absolutely, with security.
St. Paul spoke of an anguish very similar in our Epistle lesson this morning, when he said: “I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit-- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race. (Romans 9:1-3) Children of all ages, please listen to me, your Christian parents are saying the same thing about you to Jesus, unceasingly in their prayers. “I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit-- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my child, the fruit of my very own body!”
Christian parents do not get lost in the anguish of your fear. Do not let the winds and waves of life take your focus off of the author of your faith. Continue to pray for your child and be unceasing in your prayers. Keep your eyes on Jesus and His love for you and your child. Find security in the promise of God that states that He takes no pleasure in the loss of any child. Remember that while you were still a sinner Christ died for you and he still continues to love you, to forgive you and to strengthen you. Do you think that your child is any less important to Him than you are? Doesn’t His Word promise that “He who began the good work (of Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit) will complete it?” Keep your eyes on Jesus and remember that promise is for you and your children!
B. So what can we learn from our Gospel reading this morning as a congregation? Dear brothers and sisters, Christ Jesus also speaks to us when He calls out to us, “O you of little faith!”
1. Don’t you remember when you first loved him? You were much like Peter, rushing out upon the angry sea, thinking nothing of your own comfort and ignoring your fears. Your eyes were on you Lord who called you to come and follow. You served him so faithfully in your time and with your talents and money. The Lord’s mission was yours, to seek and save the lost! But some where along the way you have taken your eyes off of Jesus and you have become overwhelmed with the concerns of life. I know your excuses for they are mine as well. “I am so busy lately. But I will find time to get involved latter.” Or, “Between work and family, I just don’t have time to serve at church.” Or maybe “Money is tight right now. I’ll start giving more when things settle down.” Or “I’d come to Church or Bible Study more often, but Sunday is my only day to sleep in.” And finally this one, “I don’t go to Church much any more because I don’t like the Pastor.” These things are the traps of the devil set for one reason and one reason only, to take your focus off of your Savior. Your enemy seeks to overwhelm you with the doubts and fears of this world so that you might sink within the sea of despair which surrounds our every waking moment! But remember, when we are weak, Jesus is strong. When all is lost and our condition seems hopeless, if we are willing, Jesus is able to grasp us with His strong hand of salvation and return us into his loving arms. Are you willing to return to Him who first loved you? It is never too late. Listen with your heart; is he calling you to return?
2. Perhaps some of you have heard others say that our little church here is dying? Maybe you have even said it your self? If so let us consider how God spoke to us this morning within our Old Testament lesson. (1 Kings 19:9-18) The prophet Elijah was running for his life because Evil King Ahab and Jezebel had killed all of the Lord’s prophets and vowed to kill Elijah also. In great fear, and thinking that the entire Church had been destroyed, Elijah hid in a cave and called out to the Lord. And what did he say? “"I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." You who are zealous for the Lord; you who have served the Lord faithfully for all of these years, isn’t this also your cry? “We alone are left O Lord, and we are tired. Your church is dying and I am helpless to save it!” But what did the Lord tell Elijah, and how did he tell him? Did he rumble in the earthquake or roar in the thunder? No. But what did he say and how did he come? Within the whisper of the wind, the Lord spoke the Gospel; He provided hope and strength to carry on. He said, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
These 7,000 were the true ancient church that could not be seen and which Satan could not destroy! They were hidden and known only to God. This same promise is with us today and it is called the preservation of the saints. It is the promise that is present and fulfilled where ever God’s Word is faithfully preached and taught. It is fulfilled where ever a Pastor is called by two or more who are gathered in His name to speak the words of consecration upon the blessed sacraments which are then given to those who respond to the preaching of both Law and Gospel. When these things, these gifts of God are present, there the Church must be. Your enemy the devil would like to trick you and have you loose your focus and doubt God’s real presence, but it is all simply a distraction to take your eyes off of Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith! Wherever the Word of God is, together with the knowledge of Christ, there is also a church that will never be without fruit, no matter how weak it might appear to the human eye.
CONCLUSION: Brother’s and sisters, make no mistake, we are God’s church. Even though our faith may be weak because of our sin we are never unchristian but always Christian because of the Word. And where the Word is there is life, not death!
ILLUSTRATION: God’s Word, when present is able to take our “Little Faith” and create a church that will never fall. When they began to build a suspension bridge across the Niagara Gorge, it all began with a group of engineers flying a kite across the chasm; a kite that was attached to a little string. When the kite reached the other side, the string was attached to twine, and then twine to rope and then rope to wire, and wire to cable. Eventually, mighty cables were suspended from great towers and anchored on either side deep within the earth, and the bridge was built.
Dear friends, God wants this church, His church to grow by faith strong and secure, if we will let him. He wants to take our little faith that appears in times of testing, fear, and doubt and build a stronger faith that is centered in His Living Word! So when you cry out to Him, and you hear Him say, “O You of Little faith,” do not feel rejected, but fall down on your knees, confess your weakness and worship Him with joy and thankfulness. Because when we are weak, He is strong, and by His strength He shall lift us up again through His Word and sustain us through His body and blood until we reach the other shore. Now may His presence, which surpasses all understanding, give you PEACE †. ……….. AMEN