Sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! — Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.
Let’s set the scene: Jesus was just told that His cousin, John the forerunner was murdered at the behest of Herod. When Jesus tries to recuperate, John’s disciples have joined His and swelled their ranks. As we heard in last week’s Gospel, He fed them in the wilderness. Now He must recuperate. He sends His disciples ahead on a boat while He goes off up the mountain to pray; and He prays deep into the night.
As darkness descends on the sea, the wind picks up. They are experienced fishermen and not concerned at first. Then the wind drives even more. Last time they were in this situation Jesus was with them but sleeping. This time Jesus is not with them. For 9 hours they battle the waves and the wind. Then, if things weren’t bad enough, they see a something off in the distance. They become even more frightened. What is this “THING” that is on top of the water? They were seasoned fishermen and they had never seen anything like this. IT’S A GHOST !!!
Jesus speaks calmly to them: “Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.”
This is an astonishing declaration. Jesus said things like this many times when they were visiting Jerusalem, at the feasts, and He was teaching the people. It’s all over the Gospel of John — but in the synoptics, it is rare: “Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.” He is telling them that He is God and that He is in charge of the situation.
Protestant scholars try to find ways to dismiss such statements as if they are unique to John’s Gospel, and thus, somehow, don’t count. But here it is in Matthew: “Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.”
Peter is still in his impetuous stage. In a strange mixture of both doubt and faith he says: “IF it be Thou, command me come to Thee on the water.” Rash, and full of faith, yet spoken in the subjunctive, “IF it be Thou, …”
Jesus said: “Come.” And getting out of the ship, Peter walks on the water toward Jesus. But he did the very thing that Jesus commanded him not to — he did not cease his fearing, and so he began to sink; and he begs Jesus to save him. Taking Peter by the hand, Jesus very gently rebukes him. It sounds much harsher in English. In Greek it is more like “little faithed one, why didst thou doubt?” It is a tender rebuke — a rebuke one might give to a child: “Little faithed one”: Keep coming back Peter; you’ll get this eventually.
And Jesus takes a humbled Peter in the ship and the wind ceased. And the other disciples get to make the acclamation that Peter had made: “Thou art the Son of God.”
And when they get to Gennesaret the people recognized Jesus. He has been there before. So they brought the sick to touch the hem of His garment.
Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing.
So as the people of Gennesaret now know they are in need of healing. So we are also in need of healing: Healing from our wounds, healing from our fears, healing from our mixed faith that is ready to move forward IF — IF our fears can be addressed.
And Jesus says to all of us here: Be of good cheer; I AM; cease your fearing. To Him be glory always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.