Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany - Matthew 8:23-27
Our psalm said – Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. I am not very good at that. I tend to be an anxious person. If I were in that boat on the Sea of Galilee that day, with the waves and wind swarming all-around me, I would not ascribe glory to God. I would be shaking Jesus like nobody’s business to try and wake him up. I would awaken the Lord, not ascribe glory to him. That is human nature, though. When control leave us and we discover ourselves weak and vulnerable, despair can creep in and we turn every which way to find safety and comfort. More often to ourselves more than anything. Hoping that we might overcome some great obstacle or danger in front of us on our own. American ingenuity and all that. Or we do end up turning to despair because we think everything is hopeless. We can’t fix it so why try. Let’s turn back and go the way we came. God doesn’t care about us, he wants us to perish. Control over our lives often leading to great and grave danger.
Israel realized this full well. At least for a moment. Faced with an obstacle they could not move, they were prepared to give up, to turn back and accept the punishment of Egypt. Needing a miracle, they saw their God split the sea and bring them redemption. They, of course, would forget, and so were reminded of this event by Moses in Deuteronomy, Joshua in his book, and Ezra at the return from exile. Psalms 66, 74, 77, 78, 106, 114, and 136 all sing of this story of God’s work amongst his people at the Red Sea. Receiving regular remembrance of what has been done in the past so that the future might look a little different. Needing to be told these things.
I have never seen the sea split, or mountains moved, but I have been at the mercy of creation more than once. Earthquakes and wildfires. Racing a storm in a dive-boat off the coast of Maui. Riding out the worst storm of my life in the Caribbean, where you find yourself on a cruise ship being sucked into the bed then kissing the ceiling in the same breath. Hiding in basements from tornadoes. Not my favorite thing. Wishing I had a thermostat for the outdoors during this time of year. All things that I can’t control, nor start or stop. Creation having more power over me than I over it, and yet, I have lived to tell the tale. I lived to be reminded of my own survival. But do I ascribe to the Lord glory and strength in this? Do I turn to God and give thanks for the fact that I have not died or even been injured? The answer is no, I don’t. In the midst of every trial and temptation of life, I will complain about the hardship, find like-minded souls to share my pain, but never actually rejoice in the Lord. My own frailty and inward turning, turning towards my own ego and self, would prevent, especially as a man, from admitting that just getting through tomorrow, for some of us, often takes an act of God. God intervening for my own salvation and redemption.
Christ calming the storm on the sea is always one of those stories we get in Sunday School. It usually comes with Jesus standing on the prow of the boat, arms outstretched, with the waves and wind fading into the background. Maybe with flannel-board-Jesus, you would have the ship and the disciples and Jesus, with waves that you could move around to mimic the storm. You’d have the kids blow. A fun story for the kids. What some see as a nice fairy tale, but that’s about it.
The Epiphany season of the church year is the time in which we delve into these stories to discover that this baby born in the barn, this Jesus of Matthew 8, is the very same God from Exodus who parted the Red Sea. This Jesus is this God, whose voice, whose word, commanded the creation of the waters. Who breathed life into dust and made you. Who raises the dead. Here in the boat, Jesus is not a good teacher, a Rabbi, a guru, or a political figure. He is the God-man having power over what he has made. Making Jesus, your Jesus, more than a friend or companion. He manifests himself as the Lord Almighty having come for you. Who we see actually does care if you are perishing. Does care if you are dying. Cares enough to have died in order to bring resurrection to light. To grant unto you the last rescue you will ever need. Life and salvation even in the midst of death and destruction.
I wonder how many times the disciples went out on a boat and were reminded of this wave-commanding Jesus? I wonder how many times they told this story to make sure the hearers knew that Jesus is more than a good guy. More than someone with some nice words to tell? He is the voice of the Lord who commands the wind and sea. Who can quiet them down like a baby on a car ride. Christ intervening into the everyday things, the storms to save us more often than we can count.
I love his response to the disciples, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” This has always been used to justify the thinking that with the right faith, or the right amount of faith, God will save you or reward you somehow. I don’t think this is what Christ is speaking of. It is almost as though he says to them, “Why are you afraid, it’s only death? Why do you not trust that even if the sea swallows you whole, I am the Resurrection and the Life. You, who trust in me, though you die, yet shall you live.”
What have you lived through? Where has God’s grace touched your heart and life without you knowing it? Or maybe you do know it and we need you to preach. To tell us of the mercy of God that we might be reminded of God’s active work in our lives.
We need our own Red Sea reminder. We need our own bumpy boat ride in order to remember the works of Christ on our behalf. Because we are a forgetful people. We have church every week because we are a forgetful people. I can forgive your sin each Sunday, and then you come back and need to hear it again. I can tell you of the cross each Sunday, of the call of Christ upon your life to be raised, to live in him. And so we are given these reminders quite naturally. We do have that hill outside Jerusalem where this same Jesus who calms the seas took the nails for you and for me. The same Jesus who protected that little boat from capsizing willing went to death for you. Where over 2000 years ago, 60 generations previous, God intervened in your life to rescue you from the thinking that you have the control over everything. Because it was so long ago, he grants us daily reminders of that event to keep our eyes focused on Christ so that the storms of life are just speed-bumps along the way. The reminders found at the font and table. Where our baptismal remembrance, which you should take advantage of as often as possible, reminds you that you were brought through the waters of regeneration by the hand of God. The Table being where you receive the assurance that the body broken and blood shed was for you, because Jesus is one who cares about whether you are perishing, so he grants life and salvation to you that you can hold in your hands and taste with your tongues. Our Red Sea. Our moments to hold to in order that we might be sure that whether we ascribe to him the glory due his name or not, all the glory is still his because of what he has done for you. Thanks be to God. Amen.