The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany| January 30, 2011| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Matthew 8:23‑27
Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” St. Matthew 8:23‑27
You are sitting in the nave. That’s what it’s called. It’s the part of the church building where the Christians gather together to receive from God and to give to God. The receiving comes first. This is why we say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” God adopted us as his children in Holy Baptism, putting his name upon us, claiming us as his own. As he said through the prophet Isaiah:
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
As God’s people, created by him, formed by him, redeemed by him, we receive our identity from him. We are who and what he says we are. We are Christians. Christians belong to Christ. They bear his name. They are joined to his death and resurrection. He is Immanuel: God with us. He is God with us and we are with him.
So when Jesus gets into the boat we get in with him. The sea is beautiful! A light breeze is enough to fill the sails. The blue sky reflects on the water. It is calm. It is peaceful. It is a natural reflection of the supernatural communion between the Creator and us, his creation. All is calm. All is bright.
And then the storm comes. Now here’s a fact for us to chew on. The storm comes because we got into the boat with Jesus. It was no accident. Peace with God through Christ means war with the devil, the world, and our flesh. The peace, calm, and serenity that we enjoy with God through his Son exists within a cosmic battle of good against evil that will not abate until the end of the world. That battle is only dimly reflected by the world wars, terrorist attacks, and military adventures of governments all over the world. It is the battle over our souls.
When you get into the boat with Christ you can count on trouble. The Church cannot live at peace with the world. She may not adopt the values of the world. The world seeks its own glory. It’s that simple. The devil, the world, and our own sinful human nature all conspire to set aside God’s word and judge what is valuable by what we can feel with our senses.
But you can’t judge what is valuable in life by what you can feel with your senses. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. The sea was calm. And suddenly – without warning – the storm struck.
We have a cabin on the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake. Gunflint is a border lake between Minnesota and Ontario. It’s about eight miles long and a mile and a half wide. On a clear evening when the lake is calm you can hear a dog bark on the Minnesota side. But I have been on that lake when the wind was blowing and the waves were several feet in height and pouring over the sides of the boat. It’s a different lake. There’s nothing peaceful about it. You wonder if you’ll make it across.
Gunflint is eight miles long and one and half miles wide. The Sea of Galilee is thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. Being caught out on the lake in a storm is a helpless feeling because there’s nothing you can do about it. Oh, you can pilot the boat as best you can, but then the waves get so high that no amount of skill can keep the boat from being swamped. A storm that can swamp a seaworthy boat can drown everyone in it.
Judging from what the senses could feel the disciples were doomed. And the man they had learned to trust as their Lord and Savior was fast asleep in the boat as the boat was about to sink under the waves. Judging from what they could see, feel, hear, and smell they were going to drown. So from the terror evoked by their senses they cried out in faith: “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
Jesus chided them in love. He doesn’t chide in anger or impatience. He is love. He criticized them for having so little faith. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” They were of little faith. Not of no faith; of little faith. Their faith was weak and overwhelmed by fear from what they could see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.
The essence of faith remained, even when their senses were overwhelmed. The essence of faith is expressed in their prayer: “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” That’s faith. It confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. It cries out to him for salvation.
Their fear and helplessness stands in marked contrast to Jesus’ calmness and assurance. Jesus is true God and true man. As a man he grew tired. The crowds followed him everywhere, seeking healing and deliverance from demons. They came in the day and at night, keeping him from getting the rest he needed. He went into the Sea of Galilee to rest. And he rested. He slept.
But God does not sleep. Jesus is true God and true man. The divine qualities are shared by the human nature, but the divine nature is not limited by the human qualities. As a man Jesus got hungry, became tired, and needed sleep. But even as he was sleeping he remained the almighty God of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Jesus felt with his senses the wind, he saw the waves, and he heard the roaring of the wind in the water. Yet he was in control. He was in perfect control. He who slept and awoke from sleep because of the cries of his disciples is the omnipotent God who caused the Red Sea to part so that Israel could march through the waters on dry land. God is man, man to deliver.
He rebuked the winds and the sea. He showed himself Lord over the natural world. The dominion over the whole world that God once gave to Adam and Eve was reestablished in the Second Adam, Jesus. As the psalmist says: “You have put all things under his feet.” In Jesus we rule over this world. The sea, the wind, the waves, and everything in this world are under our power. For Christ is our brother. He wields power for us.
What did his disciples confess? They said: “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” That’s what you call a rhetorical question. They knew who this was. It was the Lord God become flesh. He became flesh and manifested his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
We don’t stay in the nave of the church. We are here for only an hour on a Sunday. Here there is peace. God carries us through our worship and praise by serving us with his gospel and sacrament. We cry for mercy and he forgives our sins and gives us peace. But the closeness we feel here remains when we leave and don’t feel it. Oh, we may feel it. Or we may not. The sun may be shining or it may be storming. Either way, we are joined to Jesus.
What does this mean? It means that he who controls the very elements of the natural world, who determines the path of the storm and whether a church service will canceled due to blowing snow, is the one who hears us and answers us when we cry out to him, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He won’t deny us because our faith is weak. Instead, he will strengthen us in our weakness. He will direct us to consider who he is, what he has done, and what he promises. When sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell all conspire to persuade us that God is asleep and cannot help us, we look in faith to Jesus and take to heart the answers to these three questions.
Who is he? He is the eternal God become flesh. He is the almighty ruler of this world become our brother, choosing to take upon himself our very nature to redeem us.
What has he done? He has not only demonstrated his power over the forces of nature. He has demonstrated his power over the supernatural powers of hell. He did battle against Satan as the incarnate God and perfect man. His life he lived not just to demonstrate divine power, but to fulfill the demands of divine law for us. St. Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle Lesson, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Jesus has fulfilled the law by loving with a perfect love. He honored the commandments of God, not out of compulsion but willingly because his very nature was love. This is what he did as our brother.
What does he promise? He promises that by his holy obedience we are now forgiven of all our sins. We are born from above by his baptism wherein God called us by name. We belong to the kingdom. Nature serves us. All the powers that frighten us, leave us uncertain and afraid, and make us doubt are under the feet of him who died for us and took away our sin.
So we are lords in this world. We rule with Christ. The millennial kingdom isn’t a mythical state yet to come. It is now. Now is the thousand year reign of Christ and he is ruling here among us, in this nave, and wherever we may go out in the world. He is ruling by keeping us, his Church, in his almighty care. He is ruling by saving sinners from their sins right out from under the power of the devil, the deceit of the world, and the strength of the flesh. He rules with his Church and his power causes us to marvel.
“Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” We know who he is. We trust in him. When our senses join together in conspiracy to throw us into doubt; when we see insurmountable problems that render us helpless; when our sins rise up to accuse us; when we face death itself ready to draw us in and destroy us; we cry out, “Lord, save us! We perish!” And he saves us. Amen