Don’t be afraid

Text: Matthew 14:25-31
Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. When they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. … Jesus spoke to them at once. “Courage!” he said. “It is I. Don’t be afraid!” Then Peter spoke up. “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”
“Come!” answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. “Save me, Lord!” he cried. At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him.

Last Sunday night on 60 Minutes the amazing story of Nick was told. He came into this world without arms or legs. He told of the shock and grief of his parents when he was born. It’s clear no one knew how to react to a baby born without any limbs. But as we watched the incredible story of how Nick deals with having no arms and legs, we couldn’t help but be amazed at all that he is able to achieve in spite of his disability. He tells how he was tormented at school and was suicidal because of it but in spite of this he became school captain, got a double degree at university and set himself up with a great job. He has spoken to school children, church gatherings, and huge crowds of people around the world. Teenagers especially have responded positively to his words of encouragement and hope. People can’t help but be amazed at how someone can be so positive, so happy and with such hopes for the future which include getting married and having his own children – all of this even though he has no arms and legs.

It would have been easy for him to hide away and give up because of the incredible disadvantage that he had been dealt and with no real medical explanation of why this should have happened to him. But instead he has made it his life’s goal to encourage and inspire those struggling with life’s difficulties and tragedies. He isn’t afraid to let his Christian faith show. In fact, he saw his disability as an opportunity for God to work through him and to be an encourager of those who in some way feel that life has treated them poorly.

Nick was asked the question, “Do you pray for arms and legs?”
He answered, “Every now and then I do pray for arms and legs. You know, I do have faith that God right now, in front of us, can just come down with his light or whatever and bang I have arms and legs. But the joy of having no limbs and being able to be used in such a unique way and powerful way for people, you can’t give me any amount of money to even consider taking a magical pill to have arms and legs right now.”

Following this there is a clip of Nick speaking to a huge crowd. He says, “I’m here to tell you that no matter where you are, no matter what you are going through, that God knows it, he is with you and he is going to pull you through.”

I think what is so amazing about this Aussie is his amazing trust in God. Sure, he wouldn’t mind being like everyone else but he believes that God is using him to help others and give God the glory.

Without a doubt Nick is an exceptional person. Our problems in life may be minuscule compared to those of Nick, but somehow we find it hard to get above our feelings of self pity and frustration let alone see our problems as an opportunity for God to work in us. We are simply overwhelmed and overcome with our difficulties to the point where we feel we are drowning and our trust in God’s goodness has vanished.

The Gospel reading today is one of those events in Jesus’ life that is well known. I believe it is a story that most of us can relate to because it tells about a man who is super confident his faith in Jesus yet finds himself sinking beneath the churning and life threatening waves. He is bold and willing to take risks on the one hand, and fearful and full of doubt on the other. He shows us what it means to swing from faith to fear in a matter of minutes – something to which we all can relate.

As you know, Peter and the disciples were caught in a storm out on Lake Galilee. Their lives were in danger. No matter how hard they rowed and bailed the water out of their boat they were convinced that they were doomed. Suddenly they see a figure walking across the water. They think it’s a ghost but Jesus calls to them above the howling wind, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me, Jesus”.

Even though the storm is still raging, Peter calls out to Jesus asking if he can walk on the water to where Jesus is.

A strange request don’t you think. If that was me in the boat I would have called out, “Jesus, help us. Stop the storm. If you don’t do something now, right now, the number of your disciples will be reduced to zero. We’ve done our best to stay afloat but you need to stop the storm immediately”. But we don’t hear anything like this. Instead we hear about Peter who is filled with such confidence on seeing Jesus that he feels he can walk on water.

It’s easy to imagine the scene. Peter swings his legs over the side of the boat. He places his feet on the surface of the water – the waves still crashing on the side of the boat and the wind whipping through his hair and clothes – he takes a deep breath and stands up. In spite of the life threatening waves, the wind and the deep water beneath him, he was walking on water. He heads to where Jesus is but the confident look on Peter’s face turns to one of fear as he looks at the churning water around him. He gets scared. His feet start to sink into the murky water below. He goes down like a stone. He knows Jesus is not far away and when everything seems to be going wrong, with the little faith he has left, he calls out “Save me, Lord!”

Remember the words of Nick recorded in the 60 Minutes program – “I’m here to tell you that no matter where you are, no matter what you are going through, that God knows it, he is with you and he is going to pull you through.”

Jesus knew his disciples were in trouble on the lake as the storm threatened to overwhelm them and their little boat. He walked across the water to make sure they knew that he was not far away and that his help was there when they needed it the most. His presence gave them confidence and certainty that Jesus would not let anything happen to them.

And then we see Peter with arms and legs thrashing away as he tries to keep himself afloat. Immediately Jesus is there reaches out to grab him and pulls him above the water that was about to overwhelm him. Those words ring true, “No matter where you are, no matter what you are going through, God knows it, he is with you and he is going to pull you through”.

This is a story about us. We know Jesus, his promises to be with us always, his very real presence in every moment of every day. We trust Jesus and his powerful love for us and yet in spite of knowing all this when we hit stormy weather and the wind and waves threaten to overwhelm us we find ourselves floundering. It seems that our faith and confidence evaporate when we are overcome with hopelessness. We start to think that no one can help us. Pastors, doctors, family members and friends can sympathise but can’t really change what is happening in our lives. I refer back to Nick. No one could tell him why he was born without any limbs. He is a bright, intelligent, obviously a very likeable young man with a special sense of humour and a special ability to communicate with others. He admits that there were times in his life’s journey so far that he wanted to end it all. As hard as he tried to fit in he would always be different. There was no way he could change. He would always be the person with no limbs and there would always be those who would regard him as a freak. I’m sure he asked “Why me?” “Why can’t I be like everyone else?” And we would say the same if we were in his shoes (that is if he could wear shoes).

There are so many times in our lives when we live in storms of worries and upsets. The death-dealing waves, the white caps, the winds of worry distract us completely. Struggle as we might to overcome the circumstances, in the end there is only one who can give us the calmness and peace that we need.
In the storm on the lake the disciples were at peace and filled with confidence even though the storm was still raging. Jesus had walked across the water to be with them and help them in their troubles. It might happen, as in the case of Nick, that our situation doesn’t change for the better but all is well because Jesus is there in the storm with us and will help us through it. A bit like the 23rd psalm where we hear, “Even though I walk through the darkest valleys, I will not be afraid, you are with me and you will protect me”.

There are also those times when our faith, as strong as it might be, gives way to fear. We can think of nothing else but the trouble we are facing. We are even distracted from looking at the one who has called us to follow him and to trust him in the midst of these storms. The worries and fears that fill our minds and souls make us forget about the one who is really in charge; the one who can really help us in our deepest time of need. Even when it seems that our faith is at its weakest and the troubles are their greatest, Jesus reaches out and grabs a hold of us and helps us rise above the storm. The water is still churning but we are safe in the arms of the one who has the deepest love for us. We are reassured again and again by the words of Jesus, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid!”

I want to finish with this last thought. When we want to come face to face with Jesus, we often go away to some quiet, out of the way place far removed from the storms of life, we seek some quiet gentle place to gather our thoughts, to pray, to feel Jesus close to us. It’s good to do this but this isn’t the only place where we can meet Jesus face to face. Sometimes we meet Jesus in the middle of a storm or when we have gone down three times and wonder if we will survive a fourth. Like Peter and like Nick Jesus will find us and rescue us when all of our strength has been exhausted. He will grab a hold of us and raise us up with a faith and purpose like we have never had before. Then too we will join with the disciples in the boat that day and worship Jesus declaring Jesus is truly the Son of God and our Saviour.

“No matter where you are, no matter what you are going through, God knows it, he is with you and he is going to pull you through”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

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