19th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:9a, 11–13a; Romans 9:1–5; Matthew 14:22–33
Look back to the sky! If we are finding it hard to live the Gospel, maybe it’s because we have taken our eyes off Jesus.
Aman said, I thought when I got older I’d have fewer temptations. Instead, I have more.
A woman said, I thought when the kids grew up, I’d have more patience. Instead, I have less.
A teenager said, I used to find it easy to obey God’s law. Now I find it harder and harder. Do any of these statements describe you?
Do you find yourself tempted frequently? Do you find yourself impatient with loved ones? Do you find it harder and harder to obey God’s law?
If you do, then today’s gospel reading may have an important message for you.
Astory will illustrate. It’s similar to the one in today’s gospel.
In the early days of sailing, a boy went to sea to learn to be a sailor. One day when the sea was stormy, he was told to climb to the top of the mast. The first half of the climb was easy. The boy kept his eyes fixed on the sky. But halfway to the top, he made a mistake. He looked down at the stormy waters. He grew dizzy and was in danger of falling.
An old sailor called out to him: Look back to the sky, boy! Look back to the sky! The boy followed the old man’s instructions and finished the climb safely.
The boy’s mistake was the same one Peter made in today’s gospel.
He took his eyes off his goal and looked down at the stormy sea, just as Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked down at the stormy sea. This is what often happens to you and me. We start off our lives fine. We have our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus But then something happens to make us take our eyes off Jesus. We look away from Jesus. And that’s when we lose our balance. That’s when we begin to sink.
Let me give you a concrete example.
In his book The Taste of New Wine, Keith Miller describes an event that changed his life. It took place during the summer after his first year at college.
One night Keith was seriously hurt in a car accident. He lay on the side of the road an hour and a half waiting for an ambulance. Fully conscious, he began to pray. As he prayed there in the darkness, a remarkable feeling of peace engulfed him: I thought to myself “what a shame to find out that this kind of peace is a reality so late in life.” For the first time I was not afraid to die.
Keith said he realized at that moment that even if he died, he would die knowing that he had made contact with something personal and something real. Whatever it was, it was the most important thing he had discovered up to now in his life.
Keith recovered from that accident. He returned to college and was elected president of his fraternity in his sophomore year. Soon he got caught up, again, in the excitement and glamor of college life.
In short, Keith turned away from Jesus, whom he had met on the roadside. After graduation, Keith married and went to work for a Texas oil firm. But he didn’t find the happiness he dreamed of.
One day Keith became so depressed he got into his company car and drove off. After driving for a while, he pulled over by the side of the road, turned off the motor, and just sat there.
Keith always believed that there was one more bounce in the ball. After a couple of martinis and a good sleep, you could always start over again tomorrow morning. But now there was no tomorrow morning. He had reached the end of his rope. He looked to the sky and shouted to God: If there’s anything you want from me, take it. I really mean it!
That was years ago. But something came into Keith’s life that day that never left. There were no flashing lights, no claps of thunder, no mysterious voices. There was only the realization of what it is that God wants from us. God doesn’t want our money, or our time. He wants our will; and if we give him our will, he’ll show us life as we’ve never seen it before. It’s really like being born again.
Keith had once more focused his eyes on Jesus. And at that moment he rediscovered the same deep peace that he had found years before, lying by the side of the road.
We can all relate to Keith’s experience. There were times in our lives when we experienced the powerful presence of Jesus. But then, like Keith, we took our eyes off Jesus. We turned away from Jesus to other things. And, like Keith, we lost our balance.
Today’s gospel reading invites us to take an honest look at our lives.
If we don’t experience the spiritual peace and joy we once did, maybe it’s because we have taken our eyes off Jesus.
If we find ourselves in danger of being swallowed up by the storm waves of life, maybe it’s because we have turned away from Jesus.
Today’s gospel invites us to turn our eyes back to Jesus. It invites us to say with Peter, Lord, save me!
If we accept the gospel’s invitation, I can assure you we will experience what Peter did. We will experience the hand of Jesus reaching out in love to us.
We may not experience it instantly and miraculously. But if we keep calling, we will indeed experience it. And we will say with Peter, Lord, you are indeed the Son of God.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, Keith Miller found you in a car accident by the side of the road.
Elijah the prophet found you in the whispering sound at the entrance to a cave.
Paul found you in a flash of light on his way to Damascus.
And Peter found you in the midst of a storm at sea. Help us find you again. Help us reach to you. Help us experience, again, your saving presence in our lives. M.L.
Series II 19th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:19a, 11–13a; Romans 9:1–5; Matthew 14:22–33
Two stories Trying to live a Christian life today is a lot like trying to walk on water. Years ago Roger Bannister was a track star at Oxford University in England. He was so good that his coach believed he could break the four-minute mile something no one in history had ever done.
Roger was not so sure. Yet because his coach believed in him, he began to believe in himself, also.
Then came the morning of May 8, 1954. The first thing Roger did when he woke up was to look out the window. The weather was cold and windy. It was a terrible day for running a race.
Roger telephoned his parents, who were planning to drive up for the meet. He said to them, “Stay home! It’s a bad day! I won’t run fast.” His parents came anyway.
Only a small crowd was on hand when it came time for the race. The runners lined up, the gun barked, and the rest is history.
Three minutes and 59 seconds later, Roger collapsed across the finish line. He had become the first man in history to break the four-minute mile.
Nineteen days later, an Australian runner, John Landy, became the second man to accomplish the feat. This set the stage for a dream race between Bannister and Landy, a few months later, in Canada.
Landy led the Canadian race all the way right into the final straightaway.
Then he did something he should never have done. He glanced over his shoulder to see how far behind him Bannister was. That was all Bannister needed. He shot past Landy to win the race.
There are two striking similarities between the story of Bannister and Landy and the story in today’s gospel.
In today’s gospel, Jesus called out to Peter to come to him across the water. Because Peter believed in Jesus, he stepped out of the boat onto the water.
Peter found himself doing the impossible simply because he believed in Jesus. If Jesus believed Peter could walk on water, then Peter believed it, too.
In a similar way, Bannister found himself doing the impossible because his coach believed he could do it.
And so the first similarity is that both stories are about one person’s faith in another. This brings us to the second similarity. As Peter walked across the water to Jesus, he suddenly grew alarmed. For a brief moment he took his eyes off Jesus and looked down at the turbulent water. That was his fatal mistake. He began to sink.
In a similar way, John Landy grew alarmed about Bannister. For a brief moment he took his eyes off his goal and looked back at his opponent. That was his fatal mistake. He lost the race.
And so the second similarity is that in both stories, the person grows alarmed, takes his eyes off the goal, and falters. The story of Bannister and Landy and the story of Peter and Jesus contain an important, practical message for each one of us in this church. It’s a twofold message. First, the stories underscore the importance of faith in our lives.
We are a lot like Peter in today’s gospel. Jesus has called us to be his followers in this modern 20th-century world. Trying to follow Jesus today is almost like trying to walk on water. It’s next to impossible.
But Jesus believes we can do it. So, like Peter, we should believe we can do it, too.
Second, the two stories underscore the importance of keeping our eyes on our goal.
As Peter walked toward Jesus, he suddenly became alarmed at the high winds and the high waves. For a brief moment he took his eyes off Jesus. He began to focus on the impossibility of what he was doing.
And that was his fatal mistake. He began to sink. We are a lot like Peter. There are times when we grow alarmed at the high winds and the high waves of being a Christian in today’s world. And, like Peter, for a brief moment we take our eyes off Jesus.
And that is our fatal mistake. We begin to sink.
This raises an important question. What should we do when we find that we have taken our eyes off Jesus? What should we do when we find that we are sinking spiritually, just as Peter found himself sinking physically? The answer is so obvious that we almost miss it.
We should do exactly what Peter did. We should cry out to Jesus. Or to put it in a more familiar way, we should turn to Jesus in prayer.
And when we turn to Jesus in prayer, he will “stretch out his hand” and rescue us, as he rescued Peter.
And at that moment, when he puts his hand in our hand, we too will experience what Peter did. We will experience Jesus for who he truly is: the Son of God.
And so the message in today’s gospel comes down to this.
If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of today’s world, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on him.
If, however, we should take our eyes off him as we will certainly do from time to time we should do what Peter did. We should call out to Jesus for help.
And in the process of being helped by Jesus, we will discover what Peter did: that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God.
Let’s close with these words of the prophet Isaiah. They fit today’s gospel beautifully.
Israel, the LORD who created you says, “Do not be afraid. . . . “I have called you by name you are mine.
“When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. . . . For I am the LORD your God, the holy God of Israel, who saves you.” Isaiah 43:1–3
Series III 19th Sunday of the Year 1 Kings 19:19a, 11–13a; Romans 9:1–5; Matthew 14:22–33
Trust in God Ask God to direct our lives.
J esus grabbed Peter and said, “What little faith you have! Why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:31
In August 1996, the New York Times carried a front-page story about a 10-year-old autistic boy named Taylor.
Much of the time Taylor lives in a fantasy world, like other autistic children. He is withdrawn from reality. He also suffers from a speech and learning impediment that limits his ability to communicate with people.
One hot August afternoon, he wandered off alone into a swamp on the edge of Florida’s Elgin Air Force Base. It is an extremely hostile area infested with poisonous snakes and man-eating alligators.
For the next four days, he swam, floated, and sloshed his way through 14 miles of swampland. A year before, the same swamp claimed the lives of four army Rangers on training maneuvers.
Taylor’s journey was lit up at night by thunderstorms that stabbed the swampland with bolts of fearful lightning.
On the fourth day, a fisherman spotted Taylor bobbing up and down in the East Bay River. Except for cuts and scratches over much of his body and being very hungry, he was fine.
Because he is autistic, Taylor has said very little about his four-day adventure. About all he had to say was, “I see fish! I see lots of fish!”
Residents around the swamp call Taylor’s survival a miracle. Taylor’s family think his autism may have helped him to survive. His sister explained why, saying, “Taylor doesn’t know how to panic. He doesn’t know what fear is.”
And this brings us to today’s Gospel. Taylor’s lack of panic and fear stands in stark contrast to the panic and the fear of the disciples in today’s Gospel.
What lesson might we draw from the way Taylor responded to his ordeal and the way the disciples responded to theirs?
Elizabeth Cheney suggests an answer in a poem about a robin and a sparrow. It goes like this:
Said the Robin to the Sparrow: “I should really like to know why these anxious human beings . . . worry so.” Said the Sparrow to the Robin: “Friend, I think that it must be that they have no heavenly Father Such as cares for you and me.”
I believe it is right here that we can learn something from Taylor’s experience.
So many times when we are overwhelmed by problems, we go into a state of panic as Peter did in today’s Gospel.
This is easily understandable as an initial response to something. But it is less understandable as a reflective response by a Christian who was taught by Jesus to look upon God as a loving Father.
It betrays a deep-down failure to understand that the steering wheel of the universe is in the hands of a God who loves us far more than we love ourselves.
It reveals a deep-down failure to grasp the fact that Jesus taught us to pray to God, in the Lord’s Prayer, with the calm and peaceful trust that a small child has in a loving parent.
Or, we might say, with the same calm and peaceful trust of an autistic child lost in a swamp. An example of the attitude we should strive for is that of Saint Thomas More. He rose to prominence when King Henry VIII made him chancellor of England in 1529. But tragedy soon struck his life.
Henry divorced his queen and remarried. To combat civil and religious opposition to his marriage, he ordered key officials of the state to sign a document swearing that the marriage was valid.
Henry also let it be known that if they refused, they would be tried for treason.
Of course, Thomas More refused. He could not swear to something he knew in his heart to be false.
Shortly afterward, he was arrested, imprisoned for 15 months, and then executed for treason.
Before the execution was carried out, he wrote a letter to his daughter Meg, saying what he would do if panic and fear began to overwhelm him. He wrote:
I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ. . . .
And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. And, therefore, dear daughter, do not let your mind be troubled. I t is this kind of loving trust in God and God’s concern for us that today’s Gospel invites us to have.
That leaves us with a practical question. What should we do if we do not have this kind of loving trust? We should do exactly what Peter did. We should do exactly what Thomas More said he would do. We should call out to Jesus.
Or to put it in a more familiar way, we should turn to Jesus in prayer, as Peter did. And we should ask him to rescue us from our fear and panic, as he did Peter.
Then, when Jesus takes our hand, we will experience what Peter did. We, too, will say to Jesus what he did: “You are truly the Son of God.”
Let’s close with these words that the Lord God spoke through Isaiah. They fit today’s Gospel beautifully:
The Lord God promised, When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. . . .
“For I am the Lord your God. . . . Do not be afraid I am with you!” Isaiah 43:2–5
This is the Good News contained in today’s Gospel. This is the Good News that we celebrate in this liturgy.
This is the Good News that Jesus wants us to carry forth into the world as we leave this Church today: “Fear not! I am with you!”