Sunday, August 10, 2008

He Is I AM

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Matthew 14:22-33

The disciples had wanted Jesus to send the crowds away so that they could get some food for themselves, because, you’ll recall, there wasn’t enough with just five pieces of bread and two fish. But Jesus had different plans. We’ll feed them with what we have.

Now Jesus was sending the disciples away. Get into the boat and go to the other side. And Jesus was also now sending the crowds away as well. Now He would have His time to be by Himself to pray. Presumably, He would meet up with the disciples later. But how would He get there? He was sending them to the other side, was He planning on walking around the lake? Or did He already have in mind to meet them out there on the water by simply walking on it?

Whatever He had in mind, we know that what He really needed was the time in prayer. A phone call in the middle of the night is the last thing we want. Jesus wasn’t awakened from sleep, but was once again interrupted from His prayer time. He saw the disciples out there in the middle of the lake being battered by the wind and the waves. He created those things so He decided He’d come out and give them a hand. No need to find a boat, He’ll just walk on out there.

Now, I’m with the disciples in being terrified at the sight. It’s the middle of the night, they’re being hit hard by the elements, and here’s this figure walking toward them on the water. I’ve never seen a ghost, but I think that’d be my first thought as to what I was seeing. But ghosts don’t talk. Well, in the movies they do. But an apparition is a ghostly appearance of a person. This ghost they were seeing began to talk. He says, “Hey guys, it’s me, relax.” He doesn’t even say His name. He just says, “It’s me, don’t be afraid.”

So how did they know it was Jesus? Well, if they thought they were seeing a ghost, they may have thought they were seeing a ghost of Jesus. But it’s not only what they were seeing, it’s also what Jesus said. He didn’t need to say, “It’s me, Jesus.” All He needed to say were the words that He said. And although every English translation I looked at used the words, “It is I,” what He actually said was, “I am.” In other words, He wasn’t just saying, “Hey guys, it’s me, it’s going to be okay.” What He was saying is “Don’t be afraid, I’m not a ghost, I’m God.” I am the one who parted the Red Sea in order to bring the Israelites out of their slavery. I’m the one who created the very waters of the earth. I am the one who always has been, who is, and who always will be. I AM. No matter the circumstances, I AM.

There’s something very important about what Jesus is doing here. There were moments when Jesus made a big deal about His glory and His grace, moments that were removed from the day to day lives of the people of God. Moments that weren’t in the thick of difficulties and real life dangers. At His Baptism it was abundantly clear who Jesus was. At His Transfiguration He clearly made known who He was.

But we need more than just a mountain top experience to know who our God is. He is also the one who comes down that mountain and into our lives where we have real needs like being fed. Where we face real dangers like being dumped into the swelling waters. Jesus is all over that. He’s there. He’s been there and done that. He, the Lord of all creation, is the I AM. That’s all we need to know.

And so Peter, ever the impetuous one, takes Him up on His statement that He is Jesus, the One who has come claiming to be the Messiah, the one who is equal to God the Father. “Tell me, then, to come out to You.” “Come on out, the water’s great!” came the response from Jesus.

Was it faith that prompted Peter to step out of the boat? Was it his infamous impetuousness? Whatever it was, he stepped out and walked on the water. Did the other disciples, seeing this, want to go out also? Well, they didn’t really get the chance, because Peter decided it wasn’t enough to focus on what had gotten him out there—Jesus, the I AM. He decided he needed to take stock of his situation. After all, it wasn’t every day that he was out on the lake literally on the lake. And even more so, in the midst of some pretty bad weather. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. He began to focus on all that temporal stuff. Not that it was easy to ignore it. But what was more powerful in his mind at the moment was the stuff of the moment. The wind. The waves. The new-found ability to walk on water! This wasn’t a good thing at the moment. All this was more powerful than the one in front of Him, the I AM, the one who was and is and will always be. The one who created all the stuff he was afraid of with the simple speaking of a word.

There’s comfort in the words of the I AM: “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” It sounds like a rebuke because it is a rebuke. But the comfort is abounding. He doesn’t say, “Peter, where is your faith?” He rather affirms that he actually has faith, little though it be. What does faith do? It always looks to Jesus. Never to ourselves. Never to the wind and the waves. To the troubles of our lives, the dangers we face. The doubts we harbor deep inside our hearts. Faith looks to Christ alone, the great I AM. And that’s what Peter did, He cried out to His Savior. “Lord, save me.” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He reached out and saved. His hand went out and grabbed hold of Peter. Isn’t it interesting that Matthew says that Peter started to sink? Peter knew how to swim. Couldn’t he have gotten back into the boat by himself and be hauled in by his friends? Of course, but some people drown because of panic. He had been walking on water because he was focused on Jesus. When his focus went elsewhere he became afraid.

His cry for Jesus to save him was exactly what he needed to do. Jesus alone can save us from ourselves. From our desire to look elsewhere. From our tendency to focus on the here and now rather than the one who is always with us and always in existence. But not just as all-powerful Being, as Savior. Walking on water and on to the cross where He also cries out to His Heavenly Father. A cry of desertion, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Jesus did not forsake Peter out on the water because of his little faith. He reached out and saved him. Neither does your Lord forsake you, for your very Lord was forsaken in your place.

The Ruler of the Universe walks on water. He doesn’t just tame the storms, He comes to you in the very storms of your life. He comes not to berate you for your at times little faith. He comes to save you. He comes to give you courage and hope. The Lord of Life walked the land in order to suffer on the cross. He is not proud. He doesn’t take joy in our suffering. He simply comes to us in the midst of it and offers us Himself. That’s why, whatever you’re experiencing in your life right now, your Lord invites you to partake of Him. He reaches out His hand to you and gives you Himself, His Body, and His Blood, for you, for your forgiveness. For your life and eternal welfare. Take heart, it is Him. The I AM is with you, always. Amen.


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