Epiphany 4 2001

Epiphany 4
Matthew 8:23-27
2001-01-28

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

A tempest, a storm is unleashing its fury on the Sea of Galilee. The waves are lapping over the side of the boat. These stout fishermen have lost their confidence in both the boat and in their own skills and abilities. They are no match for the storm. And all of the sudden, it doesn’t matter who caught the most fish, who has the nicest house, or whether or not they’ll be having leftovers again for dinner. The distractions, the petty things of this life, are whisked away in an instant. And they are afraid. They now recognize that they are frail and weak. They cannot stand against the storm. But in their weakness they learn to pray: “Lord, save us. We are perishing!” It is a panicked cry. And therefore it receives a rebuke. But the prayer was pleasing to God and He answered it.

The rebuke comes not of the prayer, but of the panic. Just because Jesus was sleeping did not mean that He had abandoned them. Just because they suddenly knew the real score and were stripped of their bravado and vain posturing did not mean that He did not love them or would fail to save them. The winds and the sea obey Him. He subdues all things to Himself. All of creation – even the ox and the donkey, even the wind and the rain, even the demons – knows their Creator, save one creature. Man alone is the rebel. He sets himself up as god. And yet, man alone, is what God became and redeems. How then will He not give us all things? How then could He allow us to perish? How then could we panic?

We have a tendency to travel through our lives as though we were safe and in control. But, every once in a while we get a glimpse of reality, of our “stability,” and it is usually accompanied – like the disciples before us -by panic. Think of the many times you have sped along the road, singing with the radio, content in your daydreams, when suddenly you have hit a patch of ice and the car has momentarily slipped out of your control. All of the sudden you are sliding. The brakes don’t work. The steering doesn’t work. Forty miles an hour felt so slow only a moment ago. Now it feels reckless and dangerous just inches from the telephone pole. You are in a panic. You, with all of your boasting about not being afraid of death, are afraid! And you are not thinking, “Oh, no, this will hurt. I am afraid of being hurt.” No, you are afraid of death. But, then, the tires find dry pavement again. The whole incident was only a few seconds long. Within a minute or two your heartbeat has slowed and you’ve nearly forgotten the entire incident. The speedometer climbs back up again along with your false confidence. The truth is you are never really in control.

Repent. When you are sliding in your car on the ice toward the telephone pole; when a shaggy, unkempt, frothy-mouthed Rottweiler blocks your path unexpectedly during your evening stroll, growling and baring his teeth, and your blue jeans all of the sudden feel paper thin and shabby against the thought of those glistening teeth, that snapping jaw; when you fall down the stairs and break your hip and cannot get up, and must wait for hours through the night in your pain until you are discovered – then you are facing reality, your true weakness, your own mortality. There is your strength, your safety. It is nothing. It is dross. Repent. You are not in control. You are frail and weak. It is only your vanity and pride that keep you from constant prayer to the One who slept in the disciples’ boat. It is only your lust and greed that allow you to so easily push Him aside and imagine yourself to be concerned instead with “practical things,” laying up your treasures here on earth where moth and rust destroy. The strength, wisdom, and skill of man is nothing on the ice, to the dog, or at the bottom of the stairs. We must learn to pray with the disciples, “Lord, save us. We are perishing!”

There is no better prayer, no higher praise, than this: “Lord, save us!” It is the prayer with which the children greet our Savior as He enters into Jerusalem that Sunday before the cross. In Hebrew, it is “Hosanna!” Translated it is, “Save us!” In contrast to the disciples’ panic in the boat, the children have the proper tone and setting for this prayer. For when we call on God to be our God according to His promise, to save us, it is our highest praise. All proper, God-pleasing prayer is doxology, that is, praise. True praise is not shallow mood setting and manipulation or self indulgent rolling around in an emotional high. Doxology is basking in the deliverance that God has bestowed upon us and saying back unto Him what He has revealed to us. For the Son of Man was glorified by being lifted up on the Cross. So we preach Christ crucified and there find our joy. Thus we pray, “Hosanna!”

By the intervention of the Holy Spirit we pray in boldness and confidence, trusting that God will be our God, that He does know best and will give us what is best and most enjoyable for us, that He will save us. Then we are really praising the Almighty, we are praying like the children who greeted the Sacrifice outside the city which purified and cleansed them. We recognize Him for who He is. Then we are praying with praise and hope as the rightful heirs of the Promise. And then, it is God who is working in us. If He can command the wind and the waves, then how much more can He turn our selfish hearts away from the petty things and unto Himself, the one thing, the only thing, needful! He has saved us, even, thanks be to God, from our self-important and self-absorbed selves.

And so it is that we embrace the ice, the dog, and the stairs which jolt us out of our ignorant complacency, which preach the Law to us in all of its sternness, which show us our death. For in such common, fearful things God teaches us our place and our reliance upon Him. In suffering, we learn to pray. God disciplines you. He does not punish you. And this He does in love – for your own good. He sleeps in the back of the boat that He might draw the disciples closer to Himself. In the same way, He seems to withdraw from you that you might pursue Him more vigorously, that you might hunger and thirst for righteousness, that He would fulfill it for you.

That is why we pray each week in the Holy Communion liturgy this greeting of the children, this prayer of the panicked disciples in the boat: “Hosanna! Lord, save us!” Jesus is entering into our sanctuary, this house of refuge, of safety, of prayer, in bread and wine. The sleeping Jesus is awakened for you. Here He gives Himself to you, His Body and His Blood, to save you. We praise Him with our plea for salvation. And He answers with His own crucified and risen Flesh for us to eat and to drink. Under such common, fearful things as bread and wine He strengthens and nourishes our faith and teaches us to pray. He preaches the Gospel to us in all of its beauty and joy. Suddenly, our priorities are realigned. Our pettiness, our arrogance, our bravado and wanting our own way are stripped away. We are left pure and holy as He is pure and holy. All of the sudden we are without blemish, without guilt, without shame or regret. He has spoken the Word. The waves of fear and uncertainty are gone. The rains pour in and we are drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. But He has raised us up again to life. For those waters have changed from wrath to mercy. We have crossed over from death to life. You are safe in His protection. He never slumbers. His watch is ever vigilant. Nothing now can harm you. No one can snatch you out of His hand. He is your God. Rage though it might, the storm cannot hurt you.

What manner of Man is this, whom the winds and the waves obey, who gave His life for you? Fathom that mystery, O Christian, for therein is your safety.

Lord, save us! Hosanna!

Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana

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