Weekly Seeds: For Faith

Sunday, August 13, 2023
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost | Year A

Focus Theme:
For Faith

Focus Prayer:
Faithful God, thank you for inviting us to come when our faith is strong and catching us when it is not.

Focus Reading:
Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

All readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 and Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b • 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Psalm 85:8-13 • Romans 10:5-15 • Matthew 14:22-33

Focus Questions:
What is the most faithful action you have ever taken?
How has your faith been tested?
Have you ever tested God with an act of faith?
How have you experienced the presence of God when your faith faltered?
How has God overcome your doubts?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

I wonder if the other disciples ever looked at Peter and thought, “There he goes again.” Peter was an interesting character who seemed to have more issues than strengths. He displayed a distinct and consistent lack of patience. He was impulsive and did not seem to think before acting or speaking. Yet, Jesus chose him to fulfill a particular role in leading the early church. Perhaps what made him so impetuous would be necessary components to a fruitful ministry after Jesus physically departs from the earth.

Jesus had a long view on Peter’s development and growth as a disciple and future leader of disciples. Peter’s mistakes never seemed to call his prospects into question. In fact, Jesus obliges Peter more often than not. In this week’s text, for example, if Peter wants to walk on water, then Jesus says to Peter, “Come.” When Peter’s initial success morphs into failure, Jesus is there to catch him. Peter, the former fisherman, gets caught in the net of Christ’s love, safety, and assurance. Maybe the response to that failure was an even more important demonstration than the ability of someone to walk on water. No one, in fact, actually needs to walk on water. Many of us desperately need to know that God will catch us when we can’t.

Peter represents all of us as disciples. Much like the beloved disciple in John’s account, Peter’s arc in Matthew has a significance beyond himself. We are invited to consider ourselves as Peter…and Jesus’ response to Peter as an example of Jesus responding to our actions and attitudes:

Although the story of the stilling of the storm appears in all the synoptic Gospels, only Matthew tells about Peter’s experience. Peter is the first disciple called, the first named in the listings of the disciples, and generally is the main actor among the disciples in much of the narrative. In his mix of faith and doubt, Peter exemplifies the experience of most followers of Jesus. The “archetypal disciple,” his experience is our experience. Peter seeks out and receives Jesus’ teaching (15:15; 18:21; 19:27–30; 26:33–34). He draws close to Jesus even while exhibiting a frailty in his faith and following. It is Peter who affirms faith that Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the living God,” yet he does not seem to understand what it means to be the Messiah (16:16, 22). When called upon to watch with Jesus, Peter falls asleep (26:37, 40). When Jesus stands arrested and accused, Peter bravely waits nearby in the courtyard, but to all who question him he denies ever knowing or being with Jesus (26:69–75). It is this same Peter who steps out in faith to walk on water but finds himself frightened and sinking until Jesus takes his hand.
Anna Case-Winters

Do we ever find ourselves in situations where we have a certain degree of confidence…yet, we would appreciate Jesus taking our hand?

Peter’s courage and confidence were consistent aspects of his character. He often moved with certainty, even to his detriment. Yet, Peter was not immune from having doubts or wavering in this extraordinary experience of following Jesus. What saves Peter over and over again is his proximity to Jesus. When he falters, Jesus is always close enough to steady him.

Faith comes through the journey. In Matthew 13, Jesus explains the power of faith using the analogy of a mustard seed. In other words, it starts small and grows. In this passage, we see a demonstration of how the faith of the disciples has bloomed since the first difficult sea crossing.

Jesus asks, “Why did you doubt?” The verb translated as “doubt” is the Greek word distazo, which can mean “hesitate” and signifies the kind of “personal confusion or uncertainty that prevents action or commitment.” It is a term that characterizes Jesus’ faltering followers both then and now. Nevertheless, there are signs of promise and progress among the doubting disciples in this second story of a storm at sea. When Jesus calms the storm in the first story (8:23–27) the disciples respond with wonder and ask “Who is this?” Now they respond with worship and confess, “Truly you are the Son of God” (14:33).
Anna Case-Winters

We remember that crossing turbulent seas serves as a recurring theme in the biblical narrative. The Exodus story takes the children of Israel from captivity to promise with the crossing of the Red Sea as a sign of God’s provision, power, and authority. Even the primordial waters covering the earth at Creation depict chaos and lack of purpose. In Matthew, there are multiple sea crossings that demonstrate Jesus’ identity as Sovereign and Creator. The Son of God reigns over the seas and all creation. When our journeys become fraught with chaos and calamity, we can also turn to the One with power in his hand and voice.

Like the Exodus sojourners, our response to the challenges found on the path to promise can betray lack of faith in God, in one another, and ourselves. We can seek the comfort of the familiar rather than the hope of the uncertain. Peter’s walk on the water encourages us to face the possibility of failure as part of our growth as human beings:

Surprisingly, the Bible contains a Museum of Failed Discipleship. Over and over again the Gospels record the stories of the disciples’ spiritual failures. If anyone were trying to write a fictional, legendary account of the life of Jesus, this would not be the way to do it. We tend to cover up our heroes’ faults, and we’re even more likely to gloss over our own colossal flops. Instead, the Gospels allow us to see the disciples’ failures—and most of those stories came from the disciples themselves. This not only adds to the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts; it also encourages us in our own faltering attempts to follow Jesus.
Matt Woodley

Jesus does not condemn Peter for losing his way; he asks a probing question that invites Peter to consider why he hesitated, even as he was doing this miraculous thing. Sometimes, it is at the height of success that the greatest doubts plague us. It’s not just in the valley when our faith is questioned; it can also be on the mountaintop. Perhaps for Peter, who often seemed to act without thinking, his hesitation came when he intellectually processed what he was doing. This is not advocating for divorcing human reasoning from our faith but recognition, with humility, that we do not have all the answers. Faith acknowledges that God is God, and we are not.

With the disciples in a boat (14:22), Jesus performs more Godlike actions. He again calms stormy seas (Exod. 14–15; Ps. 69:1–3, 30–36; cf. Matt. 8:23–27) and walks on water (Job 9:8; Ps. 77:16–20). These acts demonstrate God’s control over the waters (Gen. 1:6–10) and contest an imperial tradition in which emperors claim sovereignty over land and sea. They also demonstrate God’s concern for disciples battered by the storm. Peter imitates Jesus walking on the water, exhibiting both faith and unbelief, and evoking Psalm 69, a psalm of deliverance. The scene ends with the storm calmed and the disciples’ confession, for the first time in the Gospel, of Jesus’ identity as God’s agent (14:33).
Warren Carter

They are in the boat, but they aren’t fishing for food. Jesus had promised to teach the disciples to fish for people; in this moment, he invites them, and us, to cast the net for faith.

May it be so.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come. There are victories whose glory lies only in the fact that they are known to those who win them. This is particularly true of prison, where one must find consolation in being true to one’s ideals, even if no one else knows of it.
I was now on the sidelines, but I also knew that I would not give up the fight. I was in a different and smaller arena, an arena for whom the only audience was ourselves and our oppressors. We regarded the struggle in prison as a microcosm of the struggle as a whole. We would fight inside as we had fought outside. The racism and repression were the same; I would simply have to fight on different terms.
Prison and the authorities conspire to rob each man of his dignity. In and of itself, that assured that I would survive, for any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure. I never seriously considered the possibility that I would not emerge from prison one day. I never thought that a life sentence truly meant life and that I would die behind bars. Perhaps I was denying this prospect because it was too unpleasant to contemplate. But I always knew that someday I would once again feel the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine as a free man.
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lay defeat and death.
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

For further reflection
“Believe something and the Universe is on its way to being changed. Because you’ve changed, by believing. Once you’ve changed, other things start to follow. Isn’t that the way it works?” ― Diane Duane
“Sometimes beautiful things come into our lives out of nowhere. We can’t always understand them, but we have to trust in them. I know you want to question everything, but sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.” ― Lauren Kate
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ― Corrie ten Boom

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.