Lord, Save Us!

Matthew 8:23-27 & 14:22-33

“Lord, Save Us!”

March 18, 2018

 

          The disciples are out in a boat. A terrible windstorm comes up and they’re afraid—they’re bailing to beat the band, flailing around and wishing they’d said goodbye to their families. Meantime Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. Finally they think to wake him up, crying out, “Lord, save us!” Good call--Jesus saves! A few chapters later, it happens again: boat, storm, fear, flailing around--until Jesus comes to them walking on the waves. Peter wants to try that too, and he does for a moment. Until he notices the wind and the waves, panics and starts to sink. So he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Good call again—Jesus saves!

 

          I told a story on Ash Wednesday as the season of Lent began. I want to return to it now, as we near the end of Lent. Years ago I knew a man who got a new job at an insurance company downtown. It was a big promotion for him to a mid-level management position. He now had a whole team of people reporting to him, and no longer did he work at a cubicle; he had an office, with a door that closed! He was feeling pretty good about himself. But almost right away he started to struggle. There were a couple of computer applications that he never quite got the hang of. His supervisor was concerned because he wasn’t tracking his budget very well, and his team members were concerned that wasn’t keeping up with their work flow. But he didn’t want anyone to find out he didn’t understand those applications, so he kept that to himself and tried to compensate by working harder. Of course that didn’t help and at his six month review it was made clear that he would lose his job if things didn’t improve.

          He was literally returning from that fateful six-month review, back to his office with the door that closes, when he saw something he’d never noticed before. Around the corner from his office, on the very same floor, was a sign above a doorway. The sign said, “Tech Support.” So desperate was he at that moment that he poked his head in the door, and cried out, “I’m about to lose my job because I don’t understand two applications. Can you help me?” The woman at the desk said, “Of course, that’s what we’re here for. What’s your name?” She looked at her computer screen and said, “How about if someone stops by your office tomorrow afternoon?” Not only did they help him learn and feel confident with those applications, every time they were updated, they came back and got him up to speed again.

          He said to me, “Do you mean to tell me I went through all that stress, that I almost lost my job, for nothing? That all along all I had to do was ask for help?” Of course, he already knew the answer. What I was thinking was this: whenever we start bailing and fearing and flailing around, do you mean to tell me that all we have to do is ask for help? All we have to do is cry out to Jesus to save us? But of course, you already know the answer. If Tech Support saves, just think how Jesus saves!

 

          As I studied for this sermon I looked back at some previous sermons I’ve preached on these scriptures. One that caught my eye I preached during a capital campaign at another church. The problems with that building were so critical that if tuckpointing and drainage work weren’t done, it really was in danger of collapsing, falling apart. But we weren’t certain we could raise enough money to do the work. Several people asked me, “What are we going to do if we don’t raise enough money? What’s the back-up plan?” So in the sermon I tried to encouraged people, like Peter, to step out of the boat in their giving, to take a leap of faith in their generosity. And I said there really wasn’t a back-up plan except, like Peter, to cry out, “Lord, save me!”

          I wish I hadn’t said that. Or I wish at least that I’d put it a different way. Because when you’re out in a boat and a storm comes up, when the building is leaking and you don’t know what to do, crying out, “Lord, save me!” is not a back-up plan. Crying out, “Lord, save me!” is the plan.

 

          Most Bible commentaries agree that Matthew intended these stories of disciples, boats and storms not just as miracle stories, but as parables.1 The metaphor of the disciples in a boat, shaken by wind and threatened by waves, is a symbol of our life together in the church. In fact, one of the most common images for the church in early Christian is a boat. Here’s one that goes back to the 2nd century, from the catacombs beneath Rome:

 

It’s a simple picture, representing the church.

          In the Greek Orthodox Church, the disciples in a boat was a common icon for Christians contemplating the life of the church:

 

 

 

This picture shows Saint Nicholas, who lived in the 300s, as one of the disciples in the boat with Jesus:

 

 

 

And the image of the church as boat continues into modern church art and architecture. Here’s a beautiful church window from the 20th century:

 

 

 

 

It is a picture of the church.

          The image of the church as a boat is apt because, of course, the church is always facing some storm or other.

  • The first storm was the ascension of Jesus into heaven. One moment he was with the disciples; the next moment he was not, or at least not in the same way. They stood there staring into space, wondering What are we going to do now? Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always some kind of storm.
  • And then Gentiles started believing in Jesus and wanted to worship and pray and even eat with these Jewish Christians, which the rules strictly prohibited. What are we going to do now? they wondered. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm.
  • And then the Romans started persecuting Christians—burning them alive or throwing them to the lions if they wouldn’t renounce Christ. What are we going to do? they wondered. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm.
  • You may know that the Methodist Church—then known as the Methodist Episcopal Church--split ages ago over whether Christians could participate in slavery, and it didn’t reunite for almost 100 years. For generations they wondered, What are we going to do? Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There are some pretty big storms out there.
  • I remember when people wouldn’t attend worship at my home church if there was a woman preacher. It seems silly now, but there were strong feelings about it back then. What are we going to do? they wondered. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm.
  • And of course you know what the United Methodist Church is struggling with now—whether or not LGBT people will be truly and fully welcome everyone the way all people are welcome here. I know--people won’t always worry about this, but right now there are strong feelings about it. What are we going to do? people are wondering. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm of some kind or another.

 

          Here’s the thing: In Matthew 8 when the church—I mean, when the disciples in the boat—were being swamped by the waves, do you remember where Jesus was? He was sound asleep! Not the slightest bit concerned. And in chapter 14 when the church—I mean, the disciples in the boat—were being battered by the waves, far from land, where was Jesus? He was taking a walk on top of the waves. In fact, Mark adds the detail that Jesus intended to walk right by them, not understanding why they were so worked up.

          Jesus is simply not preoccupied with our preoccupations; he is not worried by the things that upset us; he is not caught up in our anxiety and negativity. He’s seen storms come and he’s seen storms go. Therefore he can sleep right through them; therefore he walk right over the top of them. He can silence a storm with just a word. The trick isn’t to never be afraid of anything; the trick is knowing whom to call out to when we are afraid. Because Jesus saves. Crying out, “Lord, save us!” isn’t the back-up plan; crying out, “Lord, save us!” is the plan. The answer to so many, perhaps all, of the churches problems and concerns is just to stay in the boat and cry out together, “Lord, save us!”

 

          Now, there is another sermon in this Bible story. I mean, what about Peter? He didn’t stay in the boat, right? He got out of the boat and at least started to walk on water. And if I had time, I could preach you that sermon. There comes a time in every Christian’s life when you’ve got to step out of the boat. Every new ministry in the church was started by someone who dared to step out and try something new. Every social change comes about because someone dares to step out of the boat.

  • This church building hasn’t always been here. Someone dared to dream of building a beautiful church at the corner of Henderson and High, and someone dated to ask people for money to build it, lots of money. They stepped out of the boat, and here we are today.
  • And, for example, mission trips don’t just happen. Patti and John and Dan research projects and raise money and twist people’s arms to go. They step out of the boat every year, and think of all that’s been done.
  • And Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges, and John Wesley and all those kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School speaking to legislators and marching on Washington. Ministries happen, the world changes, because ordinary people step out of the boat. Maybe you will too.

 

          But I don’t have time to preach that sermon today. And anyway, I think the message that’s needed most right now is the one about staying in the boat. You’ll notice that eleven of the twelve disciples did not step out of the boat, and nowhere does Jesus criticize them for that. There’s a lot to be said for just staying in the boat. The answer to so many of the church’s problems and concerns is just to stay together and cry out, “Lord, save us!” Because, you see, the trick isn’t to never be afraid of anything; the trick is knowing whom to call out to when we are afraid. Jesus saves. Crying out, “Lord, save us!” isn’t the back-up plan; crying out, “Lord, save us!” is the plan. Why? Because Jesus saves.

 

 

1 See for example Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 95.

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