Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pentecost 13 Sermon -- Matthew 14:22-33 (LSB Proper 14A)

August 10, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped [Jesus], saying: ‘Truly You are the Son of God.’”

As the Gospel narrative of Matthew progresses, the statements about Jesus’ identity increase in degree. After the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds recognize Jesus “as one who had authority” because of how He taught and what He said. The centurion knows that Jesus can make people well and says: “Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” The disciples see Jesus calm a storm and wonder: “Just what sort of man is this?” And in Nazareth, the villagers ask: “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

But on this day, the statement about Jesus’ identity is not asked in the form of a wondering question. Nor is the statement that Jesus is some sort of teacher or prophet. Rather, there is a declaration that Jesus is a Deliverer and “the Son of God.” And how does this statement of identity develop in the minds of the Twelve? By what they experience and witness.

As we heard from the Gospel Reading, the disciples’ sea voyage was not typical. The boat was “beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” Their trip was reaching the point of no return. “In the fourth watch of the night,” the voyage was still not completed. Even with at least four experienced sailors on board, the disciples’ boat had only traveled several miles in over six hours. Think back to what the Lord God asked Job in the Old Testament Reading: “Who said to the sea, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?’” Certainly none of the Twelve would have raised their hand and said: “That describes me.”

But there is an answer to the Lord God’s question. And it is seen in the events on the Sea of Galilee. For what happens “in the fourth watch of the night,” as the disciples fight the winds and waves that torture them? “Jesus came to them walking on the water.” He tells them: “Take courage; it is I. Do not be afraid.” When Peter starts to drown, it is Jesus who “reached out His hand and grabbed hold of Him.” When Jesus steps into the boat, “the wind ceased.”

Just who is this Man? Who is it that walks on the water, gives courage to the frightened disciples, rescues Peter from drowning, and calms the wind? It is precisely who the people in the boat call: “the Son of God.” None other could accomplish such things, no one else than the One “who said to the sea, ‘Thus far shall you come and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed.’”

What we see depicted in the Walking on Water miracle is the fullness of Christ’s incarnation. The fullness of His abilities is on display. The events on the Sea of Galilee are what happen when the One “by whom all things were made” enters Creation and dwells in it. We all hear every Christmas Day: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things were made through Him, and without Him not one thing has come into being. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.”

It is the testimony of John, one of the Twelve in that boat, who witnessed the water-walking, heard the call to courage, saw the rescue of Peter, and confessed: “Truly you are the Son of God.” Because this is what the Incarnation is all about. The Lord God who asks the questions of Job is in the flesh, coming to the disciples in the middle of the sea, bringing them to safety by having full command over the creation. This incarnate Lord God is also our “Rock and Fortress and Deliverer,” who bears that identity and name which no one else has.

You have learned the Second Commandment: “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.” And you have learned that a proper use of His Name is “to call upon it in every trouble.” But whose Name is it? What is the identity of the Lord, your God? It is none other than the same Christ, the same “Word who became flesh” and dwelt among Peter, John, and the rest of the Twelve. It is none other than the same Lord who asks Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” It is none other than the same Lord that David prays to: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

That is the Lord whose Name you “call upon in every trouble.” It is that Lord to whom Peter cried out: “Save me!” It is that Lord to whom David called: “Deliver me.” It is that Lord about whom Job says: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” You are given the privilege to call upon that Name with the promise that He who bears it will answer.

The Lord God asks: “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?” To those questions, Job, David, Peter, and you and I must answer: “No.” But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, says: “Yes. I have done all those things. I have walked on water. I have passed through the gates of death and blown them wide open. I have comprehended the expanse of the earth, because I caused the world to exist.”

And yet, the answer of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, goes further than just answering in the affirmative. He says: “I have done all those things for your benefit. I have done so, in order that I might be your Rock, your Fortress, and your Deliverer.” He says: “I have descended to the depths of Hades, so that you do not have to. I have had the gates of death revealed to me, so that you may live. I have created the expanse, so that you can receive both temporal and eternal life through it.” That is the significance of having a Redeemer who is none other than the Lord God in the flesh, who we claim “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. . . . and was made man.”

It is that Lord God who directs you to “call upon [His Name] in every trouble.” The same command was given to Job and to David and to Peter. They all learned to obey it. You must learn to obey it as well. And just how is such obedience learned? It is learned when imperfection and frailty and weakness all confront you. It is learned when you experience what Luther called Anfechtung or tentatio: the trials and afflictions of life, when the winds are against you, when you are tortured and assailed in daily life by the world and Satan and your own sinfulness.

But it is then that you call on the Lord your God, the same One who pulled you from the drowning waters of Holy Baptism and made you His child. It is then that Christ provides His aid and delivers you. It is then that the words of David become your own: “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.” The call goes out to the Lord God, who again reaches out His hand and keeps you from drowning eternally. And even those of little faith, who have all sorts of doubt and despair wracking their minds, souls, and spirits, receive the deliverance that Christ provides.

This is what the “true Son of God” promises to you. This is why He teaches you to pray: “Deliver us from evil.” It is not a trite thing or an empty privilege. The Lord God who “shut in the sea,” who “has seen the gates of deep darkness,” who “comprehended the expanse of the earth” does not deal with trivialities. Rather, He is involved in matters like the absolution of sin, destruction of the bonds of death and the grave, and deliverance from Satan’s captivity. That is what He promises to you who have been given His Name and told to call upon it.

The Lord God brought such things to Job and to David and to Peter. He has the same here for you on this day, as you cry out: “Lord, have mercy and save me.” He delivers it to you who on this day “take the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.” Jesus’ identity, what His Name means, is seen in what He does. And you make the confession about Him: “Truly you are the Son of God!” You make that confession when you call out to Him and none other to deliver you. And as you do so, you are saved, just as has been promised.

The prayer of David is yours, because you have the same Lord God that Job did, and you make the same confession about Jesus as the Twelve. So you may say: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” That is what is promised to you, who have been given the Name of the Lord as you were drowned in your baptisms and raised to call upon it in every trouble. So receive today and forever the forgiveness, life, and salvation promised by Him who “truly is the Son of God.”

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

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